Picking Olives With ‘King Alfred of Wessex’
Picking Olives with ‘King Alfred of Wessex’ Alfred was a chemistry student from England, but to his fellow pickers on the organic olive farm he was just another
Before that, just like the rest of them, he was surfing the waves along the coastline in the hot months of the Aussie summer.
Due to the worldwide pandemic,
he was unable to return home.
He was grateful to have a job and a bed with tucker
every night in this foreign land.
While picking olives,
six backpackers from all over the world were
stuck on this little Australian farm
in the middle of nowhere.
They felt carefree and happy,
safe from the virus.
Far away from home, they
became like a family to each other.
The old Italian owner tolerated
their boastful antics as long as the trailers were filled up
every night, ready for the processing facility nearby.
Alfred was less of a worker and more of a talker.
But his audience, which consisted of students of his own age
were happy to be distracted from their manual repetitive work
in these ancient orchards -
exposed to the elements and bugs,
in the heat or the cold,
rain and wind or storm.
The students laughed at his name often but he just smiled: “If you were born into a posh family with parents who were obsessed with English history,
‘In my country, they used to name such a boy Ragnar Ragnarsson,’ laughed a student from Denmark, picking olives next to him.
“Cheers to our glorious past,” they winked at each other.
Alfred stopped picking and wiped the sweat from his forehead:
“I am more interested in the future, anyway. Look at the Romans -
Inventing sewers to channel human waste into rivers instead of returning it here.”
He pointed his workboot to a sandy patch under the tree: ‘ where those nutrients belong.”
“Every year we transform 100 billion tons of raw material into product.
93 billion tons of resources that are extracted from the earth.
Less than a quarter become buildings, cars and other lasting things.
Less than 10 percent cycles back into economy. “
A pale girl from Germany shouted from other side of the tree:
“Just finished my essay about it before I left.”
“Let me guess, we have an environmentalist here,”
Alfred laughed, winking at her through the prickly branches.
“So what,” the girl shouted back at him:
“Environmentalists just like you, chemists and engineers
believe in a world without waste.”
“How can we make it possible?” Alfred asked her.
“Can we afford not to?” She jumped in, moving closer to Alfred
and pointing her finger at him:”70 billion tons from 100 billion tons that we extract from the earth, gets emitted as pollution. The rest ends up as trash. “
Alfred stopped working again, mockingly putting up his arms in self-defence.
She was evidently embarrassed by her outburst but the Dane broke the silence.
“ We are used to clean energy at home we have generating incinerators, better for trash disposal than dumps.”
“We need to reuse and recycle more resources,” a girl from France added.
The German girl said: “Only 9.3 billion out of 100 billion tons are reused. You know, like biomass, food processions, composting, recycling, bio-gasification and water treatment.”
Alfred snuck behind the French girl from behind a tree, grabbing the new i-phone that she was constantly browsing on: “Someone has connection, hey? By the way, as from today, worldwide, only about a fifth of all electronic waste is recycled. We are sitting on a billion in waste of precious metals.” He was laughing and running away from her, holding her phone high above his head.
She caught up with him and he bowed to her mockingly, returning the mobile. She rolled her eyes, returning to her tree and picking up the olives spilt from her apron. Alfred squatted next to her to help her. She spat into his face angrily: “You Britons with your awful food. You are tossing one of every three bags of groceries weekly into the bin. “
“Sorry to disappoint your Parisian refined tastes, but as it turns out, we are not exceptional. Roughly a third of all food is wasted globally.” Alfred winked at her while spilling the contents of her apron into a nearby trailer.
Suddenly an old battered ute appeared on the horizon, bringing them provisions.
Alfred ran to greet him as their unofficial leader, while the rest of the backpackers spread the old sheet in the shade and passed around the sanitiser to clean
Water was a precious commodity in this part of the world, where rain comes only in the winter months, if you are lucky.
The old farmer poured his homemade red wine into old chipped mugs for them.
While they drank happily, he broke a loaf of bread to share with a big chunk of cheese. The big jar of pickled olives was opened in front of them.
“Reminds me of my old Irish church,’ a cheeky redhead announced laughingly.
The old farmer pushed his Akubra back, smiling at her:” Nature is a natural church. For our Aboriginal people, it certainly has always been.”
The German girl pushed the Irish girl aside to sit next to him: “You told us yesterday how you worked for Nasa in the Australian astronomical centre in Alice Springs before you retired. I would like to ask, as an experienced astronomical physicist, what do you think about the waste. You know, that we make here on earth?”
The old farmer smiled again, slowly chewing his bread. He pronounced: “ All the trash we make is not a sign that we are evil. It is a sign that we are dumb. All we need to do is look at nature around us where waste does not exist. Every material is either a well-designed nutrient that you can endlessly recycle or a biological one, safe to eat or compost. If we smarten up, then we realise one simple thing.. “ He scratched his head and kept chewing.
The backpackers waited but he said nothing more. It was the longest speech that he had made in his years living all alone on his patch.
“What simple thing?” The German girl nagged him, to no avail. The farmer just smiled to himself and kept chewing.
Alfred picked up his chipped mug and stood up ceremoniously: “Of course, it makes sense."
All the backpackers stood up and clinked their mugs: “Cheers to our spaceship captain. Cheers to our boss. Let us begin with not wasting a drop of his red.”
The old farmer looked around. Somehow, he felt that these youngsters, who sprang from every corner of the world that he could imagine and whose existence he was not aware of just few weeks back, were a good bunch and that somehow, the future would be in good hands.