The Countryside 

I would be lying if I said that rural life appeals to me. It doesn’t really. 

Small towns tend to drive me a bit crazy. From a business perspective, however, it’s a wonderful environment for forming deep relationships with those who support what you’re doing. In general, I prefer lively places with a diversity of people and amenities. 

Annika grew up in Southern Estonia, and her family still has the farm that she would visit often as a child. As I’ve always wanted to see it, we decided to make the trip down.

The four hour bus ride was nice, considering neither of us slept very long the night before, having stayed out late in Tallinn at a restaurant. The long trip was a welcome opportunity to catch up on sleep. 

We were picked up by Annika’s uncle at the bus stop in Võru, and a short drive later we arrived at a grass road that led to a wide open field with rolling hills. The sauna house, where we would be staying, was situated beside a pond, while the barn and another couple buildings (including the house where her grandma lived) sat on top of one hill. Behind the large open grass was an even larger forest. 

Upon arriving, it was very clear that the once vibrant and bustling farm was in the past, and in the present it was much more of a quiet lifestyle. Though the remaining structures that housed cattle and pigs were empty, the garden remained full, providing plenty of food including cabbage, beets, potatoes, and carrots, which were all harvested and stored in the two cellars that made their home here. Many apple trees speckled the property, with wild blueberries, currants, and sumac growing nearby. 

Still left in the garden were marigolds, sugar beets, and in the two small green houses were tomatoes, bell peppers, bird’s eye chilis, and cucumbers.

Annika had warned me before. “Be prepared to work when you’re in the countryside.”

Her grandma always has a list of things to do and we worked around the farm for most of the four days we spent there. Cleaning all around the buildings, taking out the cucumber plants, and mowing the lawn were on the list among other tasks. 

Though the list seemed never-ending, there was an aspect of tending and nurturing a property that really spoke to me. I’ve often feel that much of the world I experience has a constant state of forward motion and growth, and that if you’re not growing, expanding, or building, you’re not necessarily seen as successful. 

Being in this environment, being sensitive to the weather, harvesting vegetables at the right time, and constantly maintaining the land, was a different pace for me.

One of Annika’s favourite dishes is pot-au-feu, a humble stew of vegetables and meat, in which she usually chooses pork neck. I enjoy humble one pot meals, but I wouldn’t necessarily put them on top of my list of things I would actively choose as a favourite, but when Annika made pot au feu for lunch, I understood why she loves it so much. 

It sounds cliche to say. Vegetables that you grow and harvest yourself and the closer you are to where you source your food, the better it’s going to taste. But cliche or not, it makes sense. Her pot-au-feu had candy cane beets, potatoes, zucchini, carrots, and cabbage along with pork neck. Each vegetable had their own individual characteristics and contribution to the overall stew, and we enjoyed it with leib, the traditional Estonian black bread. It was a comforting and truly wonderful meal. 

The morning of our last day, we went foraging in the nearby forest. By this time, Anneliis (Annika’s sister), Emma (her niece), and Markko (brother-in-law) had arrived, so we all went together. Hearing stories of their childhood, where they used to play in the forest and how they used to pick mushrooms from a young age were brought to life while walking through this forest. Plenty of chanterelles were peeking out of the moss, and moments of excitement and reminiscing were combined with moments of quiet and serene stillness. 

After a successful mushroom hunt, we were back on the farm, tending to last minute weed whacking and packing. By late afternoon, we were off back to Tallinn.

The running water comes from the pond nearby. The sauna is heated with wood fire. There’s flies everywhere. And showers are taken with lukewarm water. 

But in a time where the everyday luxuries we have are taken for granted, it’s amazing how taking them away helps to ground you. It brings you back to your roots and humility arises. 

I think it’s necessary and it’s a great way to reset. 

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