After two weeks on the blueberries, Ben looks back at his time in Tweed, Ontario

As the Sun set beneath the horizon this wonderful near-wilderness was transformed back to little more than a collection of silhouettes and as the beavers began making their way out on to the pond ready for a night of both felling and foraging, I too was being called for dinner...
...And like every other night here in Tweed, dinner was left patiently waiting on the stove until each of us at the table had shared what it was we were grateful for. Simply referred to as "gratefulness," I likened this daily dose of reflection to that of saying grace - but without the religious undertones it felt more hippy-loving than God-loving. 
With a reputation for being a grumpy old man my first few attempts at gratefulnesses were done so through gritted teeth
At the other end of the scale was Alena who from California took to gratefulness like a duck to water and without wanting to roll my eyes Alena would often unknowingly have my stomach churning. Every night Alena's response would frustratingly put me to shame as despite us both in the most part being grateful for the same things, watching Alena's delivery was like bearing witness to thank-you speeches at the Oscar's - because where I might look and sound the same whether I'm at a wedding or a funeral, Alena you see would get upset simply digging over the vegetable beds for the fear I am sure of impaling the worms.

However, whilst this was at times an annoyance to the highest of orders, I was in fact very grateful to Alena who aside from the above was a really lovely girl. Very bright, I still cannot fathom how she is just 18 and whilst she may not know just yet what it is she wants to do in the future I have every confidence that she will be a success.

Alena and myself a little off course
Like Alena, Sophie too was equally lovely and as a fellow Brit I was - although I kept this to myself - especially grateful that she too was not Californian. Sophie was just incredibly sweet and I was ever so grateful of the hair cut she gave me - which I think to both of our surprise was a real success story.

But what else? Well one thing I was sure to be grateful of was the food, which John and Denice had in fact mentioned in their ad, explaining...
"We’re vegetarians who cook tasty homemade meals including Mexican, Indian, Thai and more, using the harvest from our large garden or other locally grown/produced food"
Tofu-na and sprouts on toast
Whilst I was aware that coming to Tweed meant signing up to being vegetarian it wasn't something I really gave much thought. If anything, I guess I was just intrigued to see how tasty food can really be in the absence of any meat.

So when I sat down that first evening expecting a plate full of assorted lettuce leaves my naive little taste buds were in for a real surprise. For on that first night and every night since, Denice has served up, and I don't say this lightly, the tastiest food I have ever eaten.

More's the surprise, I am at home a renowned fussy eater with a nasty habit of assuming that if I haven't eaten it, I don't like it. Well, for years this has limited my plate to simply meat and three veg, but in the spirit of what this trip is all about I am determined now to try everything at least once, and already, whilst just here in Tweed I have eaten for the very first time...
Bean Burgers, Beansprouts, Falafel, Onion & Garlic Soup, Peanut Soup, Prunes, Spaghetti, Tomato Sauce, Humus, Tamale Pie, Tamarina Sauce, Tofu, Tofu Burgers, Sloppy Joe's, Turnip and even Cheese (cheddar)
Moving on, I was grateful for their home, in which I was made to feel very welcome. In saying that this was  was of course with the exception of Black Jack who, as the youngest of six indoor cats, decided that on my first night to make my bed his personal toilet.

At first it was mildly entertaining but come the third night it was simply a cat pissing on my bed and as flattered as I was, I eventually took the decision to head upstars and sleep in the bay window which is where for the rest of my stay I would reside.
Clockwise from top left: Ivory, Yodi (Hitler), Black Jack, Annie, Cici and ___________ (I'll remember soon)
Sticking with wild animals I was of course grateful to their wider property - which including the beaver ponds, various nature trails and abundance of wildlife - is truly an idyllic setting.

Then finally of course there was John and Denice.

There were many potential hosts I could have made contact with back in December but, and I am sure you will agree, there was something special about them from the very outset:
"Why do we want to host workawayers? Our goals are lofty. In some small way…

…we hope, to inspire and be inspired to live a more ecological, environmental and sustainable lifestyle; to leave the smallest, softest footprint on the planet; to let Nature be our Teacher. To this end, your stay here will not only be a volunteer experience but also an education.

….we hope, that we and those who visit us will learn about cultures and customs from around the world and discover through experience, the common threads that unite us all; and that the friendships forged will leave us with a firm belief that peace among peoples and among nations is possible."

Well thanks to both John and Denice this last two weeks has been a constant education and their harmonious ways with the environment are just as they set out - inspiring.

The work, which itself was mainly at the blueberries has been a real pleasure throughout and this is thanks mainly to John who has not only been great company but also a great teacher.

The most wonderful thing however about John and Denice is their love for one another. Both Sophie and Alena had throughout my stay been waiting to hear the story of how they met and during my last week at dinner their wish came true. And whilst I hate to say this it was perhaps one of the nicest stories I have heard - perhaps not for the narrative or even the way it was told but how throughout Denice faced John with a look in her eyes that was really quite something else. These two really are meant for one another and never was it made more clear than on this particular night.

So with gratefulness at an end the five of us dig in to what is once again a fantastic meal. But like every meal it is made all the more special with thanks to John, Denice, Sophie and Alena who have this last couple of weeks become more like family than friends and whilst I have been grateful for many things here in Tweed, it is this I am most grateful for.

Enter your email address to receive the latest journal entries the moment they're published: