The roads to the farm are not exactly marked nor paved and you never know what you're going to run into when you venture off the beaten path in Israel. Could be amazing, could be kinda scary. As luck would have it, a car with two cute little snotty nosed, blonde kids climbing around the back seat pulled in front of us and lead us straight to the farm. We had an amazing lunch of flavorful eggplant & mint, tomato, and cabbage salads, 10 different incredible artisan goat cheeses made in house, and a silky shiraz wine also made in house by the family. Our waitress was a WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms) Volunteer from Chicago and had been living and working on the farm for a month and had no plans of leaving. The restaurant in itself is a magical place. Each table is set in its own secluded place either on a veranda amongst overgrowing jasmine, herbs and roses or under an enormous carob tree. Everything feels intimate and sacred. Guests sit on beautifully embroidered pillows as you connect with the earth that provides much of the meal you are eating.
There is so much that makes this place special but the two most important aspects are the owners, Amnon and Dahlia. They settled on the land that is now Goats With The Wind 21 years ago and have laid every stone and built every building, animal pin and veranda with their own hands and the help of their family and hundreds WWOOF volunteers. The craftsmanship is rustic yet beautiful, every detail from the tiny stones that form the bathroom building to the hand painted gates an doors that adorn even the goat's milking station. These beautiful people work harder and with more humility than anyone I have ever seen. They wake at 5:30 to milk the 160+ goats by hand every morning, which is rarely done anywhere anymore, prepare three healthy delicious meals a day for volunteers and whoever else happens to stop by, and countless other tasks necessary to keep the farm running day in day out. Farm life is not easy, but the experience it creates for those who have the chance to spend an afternoon, a month or more there is unforgettable.
After eating lunch on the that July afternoon at the table I would soon learn was called "Lavender" because of the huge plants growing all around it. I was in love. I immediately was introduced to Dahlia as she busily prepared lunch in the open air kitchen, as scrappy little kittens scurried around her feet to catch any food that may fall, and asked when could I come back. She penciled me in for the month of September. I was so excited!
September rolled around and I packed my grungiest clothes, sun hat, and a sleeping bag and headed back to the farm this time not to eat and sip wine but to work as a volunteer for a month. Fortunately we had a much easier time finding the place this time. After the customary welcoming tea on one of the many patios, they wasted no time in putting me to work. It took a little while to figure out my role. They don't like to give you to much instruction. I think it's all part of the learning process, but it also helps you to get to know the other volunteers really well, really fast because you need HELP! There is no training. Initiation involves being at the milking station at 5:30 a.m. and giving the udders your best squeeze. Apparently I was a natural because I was asked to come back the next morning.
My normal schedule ended up including morning milking, cleaning the milking station, which was literally the cleanest place on the farm aside from the kitchen, breakfast, and then working in the garden or in the restaurant the rest of the day until dinner around 7 or 8 p.m. I was fortunate to also get to shepherd the crazy kid goats as they learned where and when to come and go from the fields. I also got to go to the diary several times and help prepared and pack the cheeses and yogurt for the store or to bring back to the farm. After dinner, which was usually the best meal of your life, we would make it back to our room to pass out on a thin little mattress on the floor, also the most comfortable bed you've ever laid upon. Life was simple, work was hard but the days were fulfilling and filled me with a deep sense of peace and comfort. (Well, that is... aside from the several cases of itchy relentless ringworm I got.)
Several months later when I made the decision to leave Israel, I immediately knew I had to go back to the farm one more time before I left. Not to mention, all the mama goats had just started to give birth to a new generation of precious little knobby-kneed kids. This time I only went for a few days but it made the time all the more precious. Over those few days I was able to reflect and let the entire experience soak in. It was amazing how many laughs and stories I had to reminisce about with one of the volunteers who shared in the month I spent on the farm in September. When you have no other entertainment besides each other, the goats, sheep, cows, chickens, donkeys, turkeys, dogs and cats you learn to entertain yourselves and get excited by the smallest things, like chocolate and tee tiny glasses of wine. You laugh at everything, talk for hours and also enjoy the silence.
One of my favorite moments on the farm was daily meal time. Not only is it because Dahlia makes the most amazing meals, but also because of how the meals are shared. Growing up I remember my parents saying that meal time was sacred. The TV was turned off, you did not answer the phone, and you sat at the table until everyone was finished eating. Looking back I am so glad this value was instilled upon me, no matter how forced it was. At the farm though they took it to the next level. Everyone on the farm, which could be anywhere from 5 to 15 people shared breakfast and dinner together. The bell was rung and then you sat and waited for everyone to trickle in from all corners of the farm. Once EVERYONE was seated (Oh, and we would wait) there was a moment of silence. I don't know if it was the spirit of the place, the people or just me, but this moment became profound. I remember the first few times it seemed ridiculously long. But I quickly grew to love it. Even on the farm those few minutes of silence to stop, reflect and be thankful are so very needed and for me made meal time sacred again.
My first night back on the farm upon my revisit tears rolled down my face as we sat amongst the silence. It's hard to put into words what it means or what it feels like, but I think it is something so important and primal to have people sit in a circle around food prepared with love and give thanks in silence. Why do we not do this more often? Why must grace be spoken aloud? I don't know if it was the silence or if it was just the deep sense of gratitude that made the moments so beautiful.
So what does this all mean now that I am back in Texas? To be honest I have not sat silently before a meal since I left the farm. But I want to. My soul craves it. So as I write this I am promising myself I will sit quietly before one meal a day, everyday. As I settle back into the hustle and bustle of American urban life I don't want to forget the peace and beauty that can be found in a life of simplicity, gratitude and silence.