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This is an interview I recorded during a meeting with client Lynn Wilsher, a local RMT, who took 3 weeks holiday and went to Italy to pick olives! When she returned to the studio and I asked her how it went and she said “I moved everything, in all directions, all of the time!” I thought her experience would be interesting to hear from a movement perspective and she agreed to meet me for a few questions. I met up with Lynn in her home/studio about 2.5km from mine, where we sat on her living room floor and chatted about moving in Italy.
Me: We’re here today to talk about your recent trip to Italy where you Wwoofed, is that the right term? You wwoofed in Italy in an olive farm.
Me: And it was quite impulsive, it seemed to me because you just walked into class one day and went “I won’t be here next month.” So what was the story…?
LW: It came about suddenly when I was at my hairdresser who had been telling me about a trip to Italy she was taking for 10 days with this woman who organized Cultural Exchange Experiences, not your average tourist thing. And one of the things they did was go to an olive farm. I couldn’t afford to do it, but the subject came up every time I went for my appointment. And then on my last one, the woman who was organizing the trip came in for her hair appointment and she was leaving the next day for Italy, and she was talking a mile a minute and I jumped into the conversation and was asking all kinds of questions. Still couldn’t afford to do it, but I hung around and the subject of Wwoofing came up, that she took this group for 10 days and stayed on in Italy to do Wwoofing on the olive farm. Or farms, actually, two farms. And I was like “oh, I want that!”
Me: Suddenly it became doable.
LW: I had wanted to do Wwoofing for many years. I discovered it couple of decades ago and didn’t do anything about it and all I did was get older, but this woman who was my age was wwoofing, I was like okay, this is it.
Me: So you specifically wanted an olive farm?
LW: Well when I was looking at Wwoofing sites and they’re worldwide, I was looking at everything, so orchards of every description, fruit or garlic or goat herding or cheese making or bread making or stone walls, or large vegetable patches where you’re required to go to the farmer’s market every weekend to sell what you’ve grown. It’s all manner of things, but I always ended up in Italy and more fine tuned, I always ended up on an olive farm. And then 10 years ago I went to Sicily with my brother and sister-in-law and saw a grove of olives, and thought it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. So then after that it was like, I didn’t even bother going to the other things, I just went right to Italy to the olive groves.
Me: And found the one. And this was like a recommendation.
LW: Yeah, someone was already doing it and she was talking about the people, how kind and generous they were and the nicest people you could meet. Because there is that fear. I had this imaging that it was going to be tons of travellers passing through who are picking but it wasn’t that experience at all.
Me: One of my colleagues recently posted about some friends of hers who own an olive grove in California. And I pictured an olive grove to be like an orange grove where they’re regularly spaced and theres space between them for the machinery to go and they’re all flat and level, so that isn’t what it was like was it?
LW: Not at all. It was in the mountains, it was very steep, it was very uneven, you never knew where…sometimes the trees were sort of lined up and that’s so you can line up the long nets to collect the olives, but sometimes they were sitting there on the edge of like a cliff, the maneuvering around them, it was challenging. Every surface was challenging.
Me: So you had to do it by hand mostly?
LW: I did it by hand or with the small hand rake that is shaped like a hand and there were also long handled rakes that were battery operated to get the high olives and that was a little more brutal on the trees, there would be a lot more debris in the nets and that had to be cleared out because if you take that to the mill you pay for that and it all gets separated anyway, you can’t press that.
Me: So all the olives ripen at the same time and need to be picked at the same time? There’s a season?
LW: They don’t really ripen at the same time, lots of reasons; their position in the field, how crowded they are with other trees.
Me: So certain trees would be picked before other trees?
LW: No, it was like this is the ripening time. It’s okay if they’re unripe. They actually found that not fully ripe were better for oil. And these olives were better for oil, they were not for eating. When I think if it, the farmer did say there was one tree that she herself picked by hand because it was for curing olives and she wanted to take some to her brother.
Me: So you’re on foot and you’ve got these rakes and you’re walking on all kinds of surfaces and they’re not level…
LW: They’re not level. Sometimes they are slippery, they can be wet. And once the nets are on them, you can’t even see where you’re stepping because the nets create a different environment. They can look smooth but underneath that..you know.
Me: So you’re picking olives and throwing them into the net? Or do you have a basket or something?
LW: No. You rake them down and they fall and then they roll, because we’re on a hill! Everything is rolling. And you have to set up the nets in a certain way, one folded over in a certain way so that they roll in a specific way that catches them somehow! (laughs) If you do it left over right, they fall off.
Me: So there’s a real art to it, grown over centuries and people learn how to do this.
LW: They figured it out. One day we were driving and there was somebody else’s olive grove, and I saw this, it wasn’t a net, there’s something else on the ground, what is that? And it turned out that they used to use the parachutes that were left from the war to collect the olives.
Me: (Gasp) That’s so cool!
LW: Yeah! But that wasn’t efficient, because they get wet and they get heavy. So they refined it and came up with nets.
Me: What were the nets made out of? Were they also made by hand? Because you mentioned to me that one of your jobs was to mend the nets.
LW: Yeah, mend the nets. We weren’t mending them in a really refined way, it was like taking the twine and put them through and tie a knot, but I did see a section that had been repaired and it looked like it had been sewn which was much nicer. That other way, it’s not going to work forever. And the nets get kind of brutalized because everything on the ground, and there’s lots of brambles and stuff like that, sticks to it, and you try to get it up to get the olives and it’s sticking to these things, it gets wounded. It’s brutal.
Me: So it’s brutal on the nets, how is it on your body?
LW: Oh, it was great on my body. My body just loved it. It was moving all day long, outdoors, in every direction possible, feet and ankles moving every which way, all the time. Stretching, reaching. And I was thinking about how much time my arms were in the air, overhead. And they would be here, or here or here [reaching forward over and behind], and reaching way up, way over, as far as I could go trying to get everything because…it took a while to realize this; the olives fall, so you need to pick a spot and not move around too much, because there’s no point in bringing them to the ground and then trampling on them because those are now no good. So you have to watch where you’re stepping.
Me: So you stand in one place but your arms have to move all around, like painting the globe (a Restorative Exercise exercise) kind of?
LW: Yeah, I’m trying to get everything I can within my reach and then move to another spot. And also if I’m on the slant going this way and I have to brace with one leg I try to make sure I even that out by being in another position if it’s possible to brace on the other side. But everything is moving all the time, squatting, lifting. I was aware; I’m recruiting this [pointing to abs], but it’s just in response to the movement that I’m making. It’s not like okay, do 50 crunches and you’ll work it this way. It’s like all by itself it’s working this way.
Me: You’re not a stranger to movement; you’re a massage therapist and you come to class twice a week and you walk and you do all the things that I encourage people to do. You move for a living, more than most people do. So how is this different?
LW: It’s different because it’s total. Even the way I move during my work is really a repetitive strain injury waiting to happen. The walking, it’s flat and level. Actually, when my hairdresser came back from Italy and said “it’s very steep and uneven: get in shape!” So I thought okay, I’ve got to take the hills. I started taking the hills and oh wow, I’m really out of shape, because I’m walking around on flat and level all the time.
Me: You had a couple of weeks before you…?
LW: A couple of weeks.
Me: We have some pretty steep hills here in the Beach but it’s still on sidewalks.
LW: Yeah, yeah. Or even if you go through that wooded area in Glen Stewart [ravine], it’s all trails. This was very, very different. It was…(lost for words)
Me: Natural environment.
LW: It was!
Me: Do you know how old the trees were?
LW: I don’t. I know the farmhouse was 1,100 years old.
Me: WHOA! Did you stay in the farmhouse?
LW: I stayed in the farmhouse with the couple. And there are two apartments on either side of the farm house, they bookend it, they’re more modern and they’re for rent. If you just want to go and stay there. They had guests in one of the apartments at the time and they were welcome to join in the picking which they did sometimes, but they’re not Wwoofers. They’re paying guests. They only do that if they feel like having that experience. They also took their car and did their thing, but they were in the fields too.
Me: So what was the food like?
LW: The food was rustic farm Italian so stuff that came out of the garden. They love bread and cheese and olive oil – big fans of olive oil – that’s a meal. Bread and olive oil, especially when the fresh olive oil comes in. It was wild boar season so there was wild boar involved. There was a ragout and a stew on separate occasions. And there would be like an item. So one day it was artichokes. There were artichokes in a vase and she just pulled them out, cooked up some artichokes and made a pasta sauce and took the raw ones and cut them up thinly and mixed them up with, I don’t know, some magic, and it was an all-artichoke dinner.
Me: You mentioned that massage therapy is like a repetitive strain waiting to happen. So how were your normal aches and pains? Because some people think if they do more movement it’s going to hurt more. Was that your experience?
LW: No. No. It didn’t. I wondered why my arms weren’t more sore because how was I holding them up in the air for so long and not feeling that? I don’t know why! Is it because it was all encompassing? You did some of that and then you did something else.
Me: It’s so varied. You’re never doing the same activity more than once at a time. You might go back to that position but you’re going to do a million things between them. It’s like your feet, they’re always on a different surface.
LW: Even with your hands up in the air, you might do a row of trees then you have to collect the nets and move them to a different place and now I’m down on the ground getting that all set up. It’s just complete, all day.
Me: Right. That’s perfect because even these automated farms or even machinery lines, one person is doing one specific thing. That was something that has come up in discussions; if one person is really good at picking apples and the other person is good at collecting tubers or building fires, why don’t we specialize and get together and share the bounty. It’s because that one person is doing that one activity all the time, that becomes a problem. Even if you’re not good at it, everyone has to do a bit of everything. This is proof that our bodies need more than just what they’re good at. We need to do what we’re not good and in a way you were forced to do it.
LW: That’s what I observed from the farm life. My host never stopped moving. She was always doing something. One day my backpack had snapped and I needed to get it fixed and I asked her if there was a place I could go to get it repaired and she whips out a sewing machine and repairs my bag. She said when you live on a farm you need to learn how to do everything.
Another example. There was a very bad storm two days before I arrived the likes of which they’d never seen, it just rattled the whole place, a tree came down, it took out their phone lines, the gardens were smashed and the giant pergola was heaving. A support beam was like on an angle like that. One day we couldn’t pick (you can’t pick olives in the wet) and so she goes to the shed and pulls out some pipes and has these contraptions and hooks it up…so we’re making scaffolding to hold this thing up – temporarily because you can’t deal with the repairs of that during olive season. Got to get the olives in; that’s it! She called it a winter project.
Me: How old was she?
LW: She was 64.
Me: (incredulous) SIXTY FOUR?
LW: 64. She never stopped moving. And she was tiny. She was like “this big,” and when the olive oil was put into these canisters, these big canisters, they weighed a ton and she’d be lifting and I’d try to get the other handle and she’d be like “oh no don’t, it’s heavy!” and I was like “but you’re doing it!” She’s like “this big.”
Me: Wow, that’s amazing. This was one of the reasons I went into Restorative Exercise, after a trip to Italy I noticed that the older people there–older is the age I am now, back then they seemed older–they were so healthy and they did everything on foot and they carried their groceries and they didn’t have expensive gear, they just carried them in bags up the hills, and they just did what they had to do.
LW: They just did what they had to do. And that’s what they’re always doing. Both the families I worked for had a parent who died; my host, her father died at 104 and the other one’s parent was 100 and something. This is normal.
Me: Where abouts in Italy was this?
LW: This was in Poggio La Croce. The village is this big and doesn’t even have have a store. Twenty-five kilometres from Florence.
Me: So how did you sleep?
LW: Better and better as time went on, as I worked more. I’m a bad sleeper. I’ve been a bad sleeper since I was 15. And so it was like-wow. I remember when I got to a good night’s sleep and I thought “so this is how people feel who can sleep? It’s awesome man.” Because over the course of time I’ve tried everything, so one of the things was to exhaust myself. But it didn’t work. I would be lying there completely spent physically and my brain would be…[indicates busy]
Me: So there’s something about that like your physique is tired but your brain is also at peace…
LW: Well I think part of that is because the process of picking olives was very meditative. It just was so engaging and I was so focussed. I really didn’t think of anything else except that next olive that I was trying to get to. Once that’s over there’s still tasks to do; bring the nets in, sort the olives as best you can, pick leaves and twigs out of them, bring in firewood, sweeping. You go go go. Have dinner and it’s like okay, I’m tired and really can’t be bothered to think about anything else except gotta get some sleep because I’ve got to get up the next day and go.
Me: Awesome. And what were you sleeping on, a regular bed?
LW: Yeah, it was very comfortable. It was firm. And it was so quiet.
Me: Yeah that’s another thing, it’s dark and quiet.
LW: That’s another thing. One day I got up and I thought it was morning but I looked at the clock and it’s something like 1:50 and I’m ready to go. It was because the moon was shining right in my room. And I thought oh my God it’s the middle of the night. Okay back to bed.
Me: That’s nice. Real light.
You described some of the food you ate. Did you eat more than you normally do or the same?
LW: You know I think I ate the same except that there was a big meal at lunch which is abnormal, right? And if we were in the fields and it was a nice day we would have a picnic and if it wasn’t we would have the long table, everybody around the long table. But it was like a real meal so I ate it. But I remember one day one of the workers had an upset stomach and he said it was because he ate too much and you shouldn’t eat too much when you’re working hard all day. That was counterintuitive to me. I was thinking I need to load up because I knew I was going back out there to do the rest of the day. But I wasn’t necessarily feeling the appropriate amount of hunger related to how much I was working.
Me: I think your metabolism gets to be more efficient when you are moving a lot too. You burn up everything. So just having a lot of food in your stomach means you now have to spend energy digesting. So when you had meals in the field what did that look like? Were you on the ground?
LW: Yeah, on the ground. We put this plastic table cloth and spread everything out.
Me: Nice, and you’re there with your community, talking…
LW: Well, language permitting (laughs). I felt a bond, there wasn’t necessarily a lot of talking but there’s this shared experience. I liked the whole thing of being very “in” what I was doing. Completely committed to it. Very simple, and it was so rewarding.
Me: I like what you said about all your thoughts were about that next olive. That’s focus!
LW: I want that one that I can’t quite get to! I’ve got to contort my body and climb a tree to get that one!
Me: It’s like apple picking. There’s always a better one just out of reach.
So now that you’re back, how do you feel, are you inspired to try to move more in terms of your daily activity or do you want to do that once a year…how does that look?
LW: Well I fantasize about being a farmer! Then I go down to the beach and the place where I used to hang from the rings, it’s gone and they replaced it with something stupid. That’s gone. And the one over here, they’ve taken that down and replaced it with some metal thing.
Me: Dammit! That sucks! (The hanging stations I used to take my MYDNA workshop participants – GONE!) You’re back in your environment now and you realize it’s limiting and now you are aware of it.
LW: I was aware before but now I have this very exaggerated comparison. I just did the ultimate, I think, in terms of movement.
Me: It’s hard, it’s really hard. Our environment moves us. What did you learn from your experience in terms of the importance of movement and the amount of movement required?
LW: (laughs) We need a ton. We need a ton of movement! And modern life does not lend itself. And it’s going the other way so it’s lending itself less and less; more toys and devices to help us do things so we don’t have to do things for ourselves. We don’t ever have to move our neck you know? Because you’ve got devices that will look around for you.
Me: Yes, and when we do move our heads we usually turn them left and right on the same plane. When you’re picking olives you are extending your neck and flexing it, your neck movements are so varied.
LW: Everything is varied.
Me: Well you’re making me want to go to this place. Maybe we can get a bunch of RES together and go pick the olives next year.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us Lynn!
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