Picking Olives With ‘King Alfred of Wessex’

Updated on May 12, 2020
Beata Stasak profile image

Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.

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

who came to help with the harvest.
who came to help with the harvest.

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,

you would, of course, become their precious ‘King Alfred of Wessex’ before you were even born.
you would, of course, become their precious ‘King Alfred of Wessex’ before you were even born.

‘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.

Everyone started to laugh. The girl went back to her picking.
Everyone started to laugh. The girl went back to her picking.

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.

They all cheered up with the prospect of the regular homemade but humble lunch, the old farmer shared with them under his olive trees.
They all cheered up with the prospect of the regular homemade but humble lunch, the old farmer shared with them under his olive trees.

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."

Biologically derived materials already fit into how earth works. Spaceship earth can digest this stuff.”
Biologically derived materials already fit into how earth works. Spaceship earth can digest this stuff.”

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.


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    • Beata Stasak profile imageAUTHOR

      Beata Stasak 

      5 weeks ago from Western Australia

      Yes my dear Peggy hopefully we learn to look back more often on more simple lives we used to live and close to nature we once felt ...

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      5 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      I remember the chicken manure that one of our neighbors used in their garden one year from one of their parent's farms. It was a very unpleasant odor for several days until it finally blended into the soil. They waited for several weeks before planting seeds into the garden. The garden that year produced like crazy! That was many years ago in Wisconsin. There was also a plant up there that converted human waste into what was called milorganite. Our neighbor had a pickup truck and brought much of it home to fertilize our lawns.

    • Beata Stasak profile imageAUTHOR

      Beata Stasak 

      2 months ago from Western Australia

      Yes Shauna, we have to change our whole lifestyle, our own mindset and every day habits but like you said even that will not be approved from above, not from the beginning anyway only if enough people will stand up to bureaucracy and say, no there is better way to do it...change is inevitable but it takes time but it can also be uncomfortable...

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      2 months ago from Central Florida

      I think we should return to the natural way of disposing of waste, Beata. However, I'm sure that'll never happen unless individual households take up the practice. Although, that would probably end up in fines being assessed by local governments and municipalities.

    • Beata Stasak profile imageAUTHOR

      Beata Stasak 

      2 months ago from Western Australia

      My dear Shauna I remember in my granmother's days we have used all human and animal waste for the fields. I have noticed similar system in some Middle East or Asian places, countries not conquered by Romans, they use different system to us and waste, human or animal is not flushed to the waterways instead dispersed in soil, returned back to soil where it belongs. When I am passing through my own neighbourhood close to ocean and see all those pipes dispersing waste into ocean, my heart is aching.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      2 months ago from Central Florida

      Beata, what really struck a chord with me is that the Romans invented sewers to redirect human waste to our waterways rather than return it to the earth. That would probably solve a lot of our problems if we could do so. But my question is: how would that work? What would be the method?

      As always, excellent piece. Your stories are so interestingly written and always bring awareness to current issues.

    • Beata Stasak profile imageAUTHOR

      Beata Stasak 

      2 months ago from Western Australia

      Ann Carr, I am so exited to meet you here, my daughter is obsessed with English history and we went through all the legends of King Alfred and Arthur when she was little, smile it is great to meet you here:)

    • Beata Stasak profile imageAUTHOR

      Beata Stasak 

      2 months ago from Western Australia

      Thank you so much my enthusiastic readers:) I have come back to edit it as Hubpages informed me there are some language structure to be improved on, I just write too fast...thank you for understanding my message, it means everything to me...

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      2 months ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      I enjoyed your article, Beata. Thanks so much

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      2 months ago from Southern Illinois

      This was a fun read. The dialog between the young workers put the reader there.

    • aguasilver profile image

      John Harper 

      2 months ago from Malaga, Spain

      Well written and enjoyable, and shared to FB by me!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 months ago from UK

      This is a great article. It touches base on so many points. Set in the pandemic, with a group of young people representing the world of the future. It raises the key environmental issues and poses important questions. I love the wisdom from the old farmer. This is a well-written and challenging article.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      2 months ago from SW England

      I love this. It's a great way to have a serious discussion about these environmental problems of ours.

      All the world getting together and looking at nature's ways to solve many of the problems. I've been looking at my natural surroundings near the house and in the garden and I'm feeling even closer to it then ever, hoping that the decrease in pollution lately can be sustained.

      Thanks for an entertaining and though-provoking story, Beata!


      BTW, I come from the area of England that used to be part of Wessex in the south east and now live in the other end of it in the south west, so I'm familiar with King Alfred and also King Arthur of legend.


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