Hannah Sassoon, ‘15, one of our Farm interns, spent the summer WWOOFing in Sweden. What follows are her notes from Östra Gerum:
The parish of Östra Gerum is a single road through southern Sweden’s flat fields of rapeseed and potatoes. At the middle of the parish is a circle of stone wall older than anyone can remember. Inside the wall is a church that does not open on Sundays. You can hear the bells there every day at seven in the morning and seven in the evening.
Down the road to the south is a dairy farm. Out of the back of the barn, the farmer sells some of his milk, unpasteurized, to the neighbors. When they have carried it home, they whisper to each other about the way he keeps his cattle, but they do not complain because the milk is sweet and cheap, and because he is a good man.
Ten years ago, he taught the new neighbor Jonas how to make a haystack. In Östra Gerum, he explained, it is done with seven vertical timber poles and four horizontal wires:
Sink the poles into the ground in a zigzag line for strength
against the wind. The cut grass,
when gathered with a hay fork, must face in different
directions in order to hold together. Settle it on the wires and over the tops of the poles.
After a week the stack looks like a many-humped camel.
After two weeks the timothy stalks break.
Jonas, before he came to Östra Gerum, was a member of the Swedish Parliament. He had studied cultural heritage without ever learning to make a haystack. When he left the city and bought the farm across the road from the dairy here, he had to re-thatch the barn roof himself. Then he sewed himself a suit and married.
At the north end of the parish lives Vanessa with her goats. She is from Connecticut, studied in New York. At twenty-five, she decided to move to Östra Gerum, learn Swedish, and raise goats—at which point, so far as her father in Darien was concerned, she’d gone to seed.
Once, as she bicycled through the parish, an elk galloped across the road and leapt. Its whole enormous mass sailed over a fence and into a cow pasture. The cows looked up from their grazing. The elk did not stop running. Then, all together, the cows turned to follow it, lurching, at first, and then running, running, until the herd glided together like a single shadow, moving with this elk. At the far fence line the elk leapt again, and let itself be swallowed by the spruce forest. The cows stopped. Breathless from this dream of wildness, they bent their heads to the clover and dispersed among its purple flowers.