BOO! And other lessons on the unexpected

Nov 1, 2023

By Julia Taliesin

“So, what made you decide to do this?” Is a common question I get when I tell people about WWOOFing (and something I ask my fellow WWOOFers).

For me, it was a breakup and job loss that happened one after the other almost a year ago. Talk about a jump scare! This dream formed almost immediately though. I knew I had to do something different with the next year of my life.

For a long time, I’d been wanting to learn more about organic farming principles, animal care, sustainability, and what it really looks like to run a farm. My WWOOFing journey actually started in January 2023, when I connected with a small farm near my home in Boston, Massachusetts, USA and started volunteering a few days a week. I wanted to take advantage of the unexpected opening in my life, so I started planning a late summer and Fall trip to WWOOF in Scotland.

I arrived at Pathhead Farm and Equestrian Centre on 20 August, so I’ve been here for about seven weeks. Everyone does this journey differently, but I knew I really wanted to sink into wherever I went. I appreciate the deeper connections you can make when you stay somewhere for a while. I’ve certainly made those, but this experience has also been so much more than I could have predicted.

Since being here, I’ve pulled many times my weight in weeds, planted seeds, painted sheds, built troughs, cared for horses and chickens, learned to ride (a lifelong dream, and now a new practice), and enjoyed many pints of cider at the local Kirriemuir pubs.

In the local pub with fellow WWOOFers and host, Ally [Left] With yet more WWOOFers at the pub [Right]

There have also been some spooky festivities afoot.

I arrived here in summer – warm weather and short-sleeves – but over my time here the weather has turned crisp, and the sun sets earlier each night. We’re getting closer to the winter solstice, and All Hallow’s Eve is not so far away.

On only my fourth day here, my host pulled me aside to do a wee photoshoot to promote the still-growing pumpkin patch. After much decorating of the onsite cafe, stuffing of scarecrows, and painting of gravestones, I can say with certainty that this year Pathhead will be home to the most magnificent haunted pumpkin patch in all of Bonnie Scotland.

Funnily enough, pumpkins are pretty much the only thing about today’s Halloween traditions America can claim credit for – and not even the carving of them. Well, pumpkins and the gross commercialization of the holiday, but we do that to everything.

Posing with two terrifying scarecrows I helped make that day [Left] Having a Barbie-core horse girl moment [Right]

Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, has origins over 2,000 years ago in Celtic pagan traditions. Back then, they celebrated Samhuinn, a Gaelic festival that marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the darker, winter season. Bonfires were lit all around town to ward off the spirits crossing the boundary to the “otherworld.” People would leave out snacks to appease said spirits, and dress their kids in properly terrifying outfits so they would blend in with the ghosties and stay safe.

Most of today’s traditions date back to Samhuinn, from pumpkin carving to guising. Scots would carve turnips into neep lanterns, the precursor to today’s Jack-o-lanterns, and leave them out on the stoop to ward off those aforementioned spirits. Lucky for us all, pumpkins are a lot easier to carve.

The tradition of ‘guising’, which us Americans have twisted into trick-or-treating, seems a lot cuter than the American tradition of praying the pop-up Halloween store at the strip mall still has one Spider-Man costume left. Kids would dress up in mis-matched outfits, maybe clothing that is too big or worn wrong, and go around performing short songs and poems for sweeties and (if you’re good enough) a few coins. I’m a born theatre kid, so little Julia would have loved this.

Most unfortunately for me, I’m leaving Pathhead just two days before the pumpkin patch festivities kick off. I’ve worked so hard on preparing the farm for this event, but I’m onto my next adventure and won’t get to see it all come together.

I don’t really mind though, because I think the experiences I’ve had along the way, and the friendships I’ve cultivated, are the real treat. When I decided to do this, I anticipated the hard work but didn’t think about all the bittersweet goodbyes I’d have to say to fellow WWOOFers and new friends. What a privilege.

Me and a little WWOOFer weeding in the beet bed [left] Dancing while weeding the strawberries [right]

I’m leaving Pathhead with a deeper understanding of my own resilience, adaptability, and strength. I listen and learn well. I’m persistent and hardworking. There were challenges to overcome, new personalities to negotiate, compromises to make, all alongside moments of deep connection, satisfaction, and belly laughter.

I head to a small family croft on the Isle of Lewis next, for about six weeks, so I’ll be sinking into a different place soon. New challenges, new skills, new joys.

Samhuinn is a time to honour those who came before, heal from our past, treasure memories, and welcome lessons. Among all the weeds I’ve pulled while here, I’ve found opportunities for each of those things. I hope you find them, too.

A selfie on my first day, happy to be surrounded by green things [Left] Posing with the beautiful horse, Ben [Right]

Julia Taliesin is a freelance writer, editor, and budding farmer from outside of Boston, Massachusetts​, in the United States. Find her on Instagram at @julestals

We’d like to thank Julia for writing this informative and open-hearted article and for sharing these fun photos with us.

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