I chose to go work at a Swedish farm for the summer because it seemed just about the farthest thing from Taipei I could possibly think of. It was no great escape—living in Taipei was my bliss, my constant, never-changing bliss. Falling asleep to the puttering of motorbikes, waking up to the lilting chatter of the ladies at the corner breakfast store regardless of month or season. There wasn’t a single morning that the breakfast store wasn’t open, and the sturdy line of palms, planted in the era Taiwan was still ruled by the Japanese, stood guard over the broad path leading towards my university, day after day.
* * *
I arrived at the farm in July, backpack slung over my shoulder. The very first thing I saw was a flaxen-haired Swede (though, I later found out he was actually Dutch) painstakingly twisting together a wire cage for a single, fat white bunny that sat imperiously at the side, munching grass.
I began to be charmed by the farm, which looked like a cross between Pee-Wee’s playhouse, Woodstock edition—and an Anthropologie catalogue set. I slipped into the role of wide-eyed city-slicker with ease, cooing over crops of smiling little daisies at every corner, marveling at the waving tufts of elkflowers in the ditch down by the parking lot, where we’d hold a swap meet on the weekends. The blueberries growing in the forest were small and so, so sweet.
And I began to be charmed by other elements of the farm. He had a Bon Iver-esque beard, piercing blue eyes, and spent his days fixing things around the farm in an oversized flannel shirt. I was intrigued by his air of pastoral geniality. To a girl recently raised in the neon-glow of nightclub bottle service, smeared mascara, and late night cab rides, he came to represent – like the farm – a certain kind of wholesomeness I became convinced was missing in my life.
I left the farm for three weeks to travel with friends in London, Reykjavik and Paris, with plans to return. He messaged me as I was sweltering in Paris in a gorgeous, parquet-floor apartment with friends, talking lazily over flat champagne and warm strawberries. “I heard you’re coming back—and I don’t think we should continue on as we did before.”
* * *
I came back to the farm in August, but to a different place than I had left. There were now sunflowers in the garden, two kinds: the classic bright yellow, and a dusky orange stunner with fragile petals. The garden had matured from its shy green self to a cornucopia of food: the sweetest little tomatoes, swiss chard, beets, carrots being pulled up every day. I was put in charge of sorting crops of string beans: dark purple, light yellow and classic green.
But the daisies were gone. The elkflower had long been made into cordial. It had become too cold to swim in the lake like we used to, after our daily work. When I took a walk through the forest, I noted with alarm that the blueberry bushes were on the decline, juice-stained leaves littering the forest floor, clearing the way for the swathes of bright red-lignonberry patches. I slept with four blankets in the bus at night, but this time, I was sleeping alone.
And to think—I had only been gone three weeks.
* * *
I wasn’t satisfied; I wasn’t heart-broken; I was plain offended. In the end, what I wanted was platitudes, even if they were empty. I wanted the “I’m going to miss you so much” and the “Stephanie, please, please don’t leave, I’ll be heartbroken when you go”.
I used to think that I needed all these verbal promises and confessions, even if I knew that they were empty. I basked in them as I did in the neon-glow of midnight convenience stores, humming with the promise— of longevity. I couldn’t imagine how I could function without them—these platitudes that were the only proof that a person was appreciated.
But the truth is that things come, they are beautiful, and then they go, in seasons that are gone all too fleetingly, without the added pressure of us silly people, trying to make them last longer than they can.
Living in Taipei, I haven’t really experienced a seasonal nature of life. Due to the nature of modern farming practices, the import- export flow and the dearth of green in cities worldwide, we have every kind of thing we could possibly want, all the time, all year round. We scuttle in and out of the shadows of looming skyscrapers, laze around in air-conditioned malls day in, day out, month in, month out. You never feel the keen lack of something—but then again, you never have the knowledge of enjoying something, knowing that you will be feeling its absence all too soon.
I always think that things would have been different, would have been easier—if we had the wisdom to say to each other: “The time we had togetherwas good, but now it’s come to an end, and we’ll both go on. But thank you.”
* * *
That summer, I learned how to appreciate the beauty of a thing in its moment whilst also understanding that it can’t possibly last—and seeing that as a beautiful thing, too. Upon my departure of the farm, there was plenty of affection, but there were no clinging entreaties, no avowals of “I’ll never forget you”. The owners of the farm kissed me on the cheek and told me that I was “just so, so good”.
For those who have been through too many seasons of life and seen too many of nature’s vicious spin cycles know that, given time, even the most gorgeous flower slips away into a faint, fond memory. Life goes on, and it’s good.
We, me and him, me and the farm, me and Sweden—had a beautiful, sun-drenched summer together, but the important thing is not to spoil the original beauty of a time by trying to hold onto it too long. Open your hands, your clenched fists—and let it go; that you might receive more.
Seasons of sun and blueberries and laughter, seasons of early mornings, late nights at the office, library study rooms, of gritting your teeth and bearing the utter mundaneness of life. None of it lasts, and the incorporation of that knowledge into your thoughts, actions and emotional well-being—that is wisdom.