Scissors Tnto Ploughshares
By: Linda Handiak, Montreal, Canada
Travel and Transitions travel story contest participant
I couldn't blink the speck away, though I
tried desperately. Three days later a frowning ophthalmologist
warned me that an anomaly of the cornea might eventually erase my
vision. The success rate for surgery was not impressive.
Suddenly, the tiny speck blotted out my entire horizon. Where
would I work? How could I travel? At twenty-six I hadn't
seen enough of the world to fill one photo album. A timer
had been set and everything I'd hoped to see and do took on a new
I siphoned whatever savings I had into a long cherished dream of
visiting France. The French enjoyed a reputation for savoring
every drop of life's pleasures. Maybe I would learn to live
in the moment.
I wasn't interested, however, in being a tourist. My budget
and my state of mind wouldn't allow it. Tourists are detached, homeless,
flies-on-the-wall. I would have enough occasion to retreat
into detached privacy if my vision failed. Right now, I longed
for the reassuring embrace of community life and for the distraction
WWOOF, an organization that places volunteers on organic farms,
would allow me to get inside the shuttered cottages I had admired
in travel brochures. My first apprenticeship would be in the
ancient region of the Dordogne. In this land where early man
carved a home from stone, I waged a private battle.
There's something therapeutic about ripping weeds from the earth.
I felt purged by each tug. Physical pain detracts from psychic
pain, and I reveled in stooping until I was stiff and spent. I enjoyed
sound, dreamless sleep.
Brush clearing was even more satisfying. I had to grapple
with wiry arms that sometimes scratched back. Ivy was particularly
aggressive. I have seen it consume an abandoned cottage, splintering
its walls and foundation the way a python devours an alligator.
It burrowed so deep in the ground that I crashed onto my back, gardening
shears pointing skywards, as I tried to deracinate the monster.
I couldn't help wondering what made this unappealing pest so determined
My world was soon reduced to a green battlefield. I became so obsessed
with staying too busy to think that I had almost forgotten I was
in France. I arrived at my next WWOOF in Provence ready for
combat duty, but my new hosts had other priorities.
Emily and John were artists and philosophers who had abandoned fast-paced
London for a three-hundred-year-old stone cottage in France.
For them, contemplation and appreciation of my new situation was
as important as the work I could offer. They walked me through
their shaggy garden, naming all the plants with the wonder and attention
that Adam and Eve might have felt as they chose names for the livings
things in Eden. The brazen French marigolds attracted helpful
insects, while the slender, elegant chives prevented black spot
on the roses and provided shade for the cucumbers. The individual
elements worked together to create a harmonious tapestry.
Unfortunately, a scorching heat wave blanketed the entire country
shortly after my arrival, and our corner of paradise was in danger
of shriveling up. Water was seen for the miraculous life-giving
force it really is. Not a drop was taken for granted.
We took buckets into the shower so that we could collect the run-off
and feed it to the garden. We used plant-based soaps so that
water left over from doing dishes could be used on the vegetables.
Instead of randomly spraying the plot, we watered each plant individually.
Instead of giving free reign to frustration, I had to slow down
and work with patience and care. We observed the neighbors'
brittle stalks and stems with concern, but our garden rewarded us
as it exhaled a fragrant sigh of relief.
The garden was at its best mornings and evenings. I loved
the wet kiss of dew on my ankles and the rustling sounds that hinted
at furry visitors watching me with interest. Evenings were
capped off with supper under the apricot trees. The garden
would be bathed in a pink light reminiscent of the local rosé
wine we sipped.
My hosts had made a ritual of the after-dinner walk and invited
me along. I declined the first few time. Quite simply, I was
afraid. They lived on a terraced hill accessed by a winding
path. There were no street lights or lamp posts nearby, and
my night vision was unreliable. Every time they sauntered
away arm in arm and disappeared into the darkness, my chest tightened.
After about a week, I felt it was rude to keep refusing John and
Emily. Yet I was ashamed to explain my fear of being smothered
by darkness, of being isolated and separated from them. They trusted
the night and wouldn't understand such foolishness, so I decided
to take the plunge.
I stood clutching the fence post, lingering in the little pool of
light created by the porch lamp. I put one foot out the way
children test unknown waters. It disappeared. Soon all of
me would be submerged. Holding my breath, I took a few hesitant
steps behind Emily and John.
The adjustment came gradually, the way a body adjusts to water temperature.
The fields were teeming with life, the song of crickets, the scurrying
of mice and moles. Why did I equate darkness with emptiness?
The night was textured with sounds that seemed sharper without the
distraction of accompanying images. Emily and John eventually called
out to me to make sure I was still upright. The neighbors'
sheep responded, their soft questioning tones uniting us in a chorus
of awe and Communion. The night didn't erase beauty but redefined