LAST Monday I picked garlic all day. For a couple of hours in the afternoon the smell was so pungent my eyes went cloudy.
I was staying on Homeland, an intentional community in Thora, about half an hour from Bellingen. Brian, one of the residents, has grown a big curly afro, a thick mo‘ and two healthy patches of organic garlic.
We began at eight o’clock. The task was simple: pull the bulbs out of the ground without breaking the stalks, and group them in two rough clumps – big and small.
As the hours went on I narrowed my preferred picking stances to two: sitting cross-legged and scooting forward, and standing and bending down. Both caused me considerable discomfort, but in different ways, so switching over was brief, blessed respite.
Every now and then I shifted my gaze from the bulbs at my feet to the lush field beyond, then to the orange grove and to the purple-blue hills in the distance. Suddenly the deep lungfuls of air I inhaled seemed to smell sweet again. By knock-off time at five-thirty my legs were shaking with fatigue, and I felt overjoyed to be sore and finished, not just sore.
A few days later I got talking with an Englishman in a pub. He had a miserable face, the kind you’d cast as a depression-era tax collector: sallow cheeks, a long, pointy nose, and arched eyebrows. He was a heater salesman before he packed it in for a round the world trip. He had blown 40,000 pounds (AUD$67,000) in just over a year, mainly on booze. He’d comfortably drink 15 pints in a night, he said.
I told him I’d been garlic picking for a day and that it was damn hard work. And he said, “Nah, can’t be hard, you just reach up and take them off the tree.”
The garlic patch, from a safe distance.