Canoeing with Damselflies

August 2, 2018

After our evening walk in July, Larry and I decided on another evening outing. This time we were going canoeing. We put in at Pritchard’s Landing (Goose Lake) around 6:30 pm. It was mostly sunny with only a few light, cumulus clouds. As always, we brought Hank, the black lab, with us. Larry was doubtful we’d see much – I guess it was just an excuse to spend some time together out on the water at pre-dusk rather than ‘researching’ for my book. It was great to get back in a canoe again after a three month absence, due to the very busy summer. Instantly, I felt my body relax even before we left the dock. Larry had a tiny cooler with some beer in it. “Want a beer?” he always asks even though I’ve never accepted – I prefer wine and cider over beer. My camera was around my neck and at the ready. Since there really wasn’t much to see, too early in the season yet for migrating waterfowl, too far out in open water for aquatic mammals, it was more relaxing than usual – I didn’t have to photograph something quickly before it disappeared. This was a good way to finish out a day. Larry paddled, with no breeze, and nothing to maneuver around, he didn’t need my help. My task was to photograph.

Every outing has something new to offer me – something that seems to be the draw of the trip. This evening it was damselflies. These miniature dragonflies, a relative of those fascinating hoverers, were everywhere and thick! I’ve never experienced anything like it before! It was incredible. They clung to our backs, hats, arms, legs. The vast lake stretched far out beyond us, its sheer size is quite humbling – reminding us humans just how small we are. Greenish yellow scum floated on the surface here and there, most likely a type of algae. If I looked just right, the water mirrored the sky. Far out across the water was a line of green vegetation, some of it lotus plants, the rest were most likely sedges – some quite tall. Far away, on either side of the ‘lake’ were bluffs cradling the valley. With the easy canoeing, the large field of aquatic plants drew near and near at a rapid pace.

Less than ten minutes out we were in the midst of a lotus patch with the wall of grass-like plants before us, they still filled me with awe. Their leaves are large and have a waxy coating. The lateness in the sun’s trek across the horizon added to the beauty and wonder of the plants, bathing them in a gentle glow. Only a handful were still in bloom – I had missed their big production this year. I enjoyed the very few blooms that were still intact. We passed by a swath of cattails, talking about our summer. Each time I spoke, I had to turn my head so Larry could hear me. Neither one of us felt the need to talk continuously so we enjoyed a lot of quiet – both lost in our thoughts, savoring being in a canoe. I continued to marvel at the damselflies, intrigued by their quantity and seemingly lack of fear. They tickled my arm while crawling up it. I accidentally squished one walking on my back, just reflex. I felt terrible when I brought my hand back, holding a severely injured damselfly. Their compound eyes are comically large. Their abdomen is incredibly long, perhaps five times longer than the rest of their body. Their translucent, silky wings extend out over their abdomen while they’re resting but fall short of the end of it. They perch on six legs, three on each side. They were all over the canoe. We went through another lotus patch. Then another area covered in algae growth. Past some lily pads to open, unobstructed water. Another large patch of lotuses at first seemed far away but we approached quite quickly. A lot of these were about done for the season beginning to brown and decay. Coontail grow thick beneath the water’s surface – some stretching just above it. Lots more green film on top of the water. Another isolated patch of cattails. We’d been heading southward, maybe a little to the southwest, Larry had turned the canoe eastward, toward the Wisconsin bluffs. I pulled off my hat to look at the half dozen damselflies hitching a ride on it. One spread out its wings, ready to take off, but then changed its mind. We continued east, past cattails and lotus plants, joined by who knows how many damselflies. Reveling in every moment of it, totally relaxed – well, I guess that’s not true, we’d been in the canoe for almost forty minutes now so my legs were starting to get cramped and uncomfortable. I stretched them out the best I could in the bow and pushed the discomfort from my mind, just thankful to be canoeing again. The sun had subtly begun to set, the golden hour was past by 7:20 pm, although it was still far from dark. It added to the peacefulness of the outing, renewing my spirit. The land east and north of us was completely filled with trees. Somewhere beyond those trees snaked the main channel of the Mississippi river. We went along a narrow path cut between the vegetation. I couldn’t identify all the plants,  probably sedges and rushes, and cattails and arrowhead plants. Arrows pointed to the sky. I had missed their blooms too. We continued along the narrow passageway, greeted by blackbird song. There were lotus plants mingling with the others. Here, there were a few more flowers blooming. A section of pickerelweed displayed their purple flowers.

Just over an hour of canoeing and we were drawing near to the landing. I marveled at the green carpet, stretched across the water – did Larry say it was pollen? I watched the landing, drawing closer and closer. Sadly, our time on the water was drawing to an end. How quickly Larry spurred the canoe to cover the distance. We pulled up alongside the dock at about 7:45 pm. I put my camera away. Larry stepped up on to the dock and went to start the pickup and back it down to the landing. Hank hopped out, trotted across the dock and explored the shoreline. I lifted myself up and sat on the dock, feet in the canoe holding it in place and carefully brushing damselflies off of me and my camera bag. Once the truck was in place, we loaded the canoe, checked each other for tag-along damselflies, not wanting to take them with us, removing them too far away from water. Despite our best efforts, we did have a couple stow away in the truck. We tried to get them to leave out the window as we drove, but at least one stayed with us. Again, I was sad to leave – not knowing when I’d be able to get away from the farm again for another visit. 

A Prairie Ramble

July 26, 2018  

It was mostly sunny with a few white, downy cumulus clouds skidding across the azure sky. Temperatures  in the eighties instead of the nineties, some relief from the extreme heat, and the humidity had gone down considerably. We had agreed on our last outing, way back in May, that we should get out in the evening instead of the morning. From Highway 84, Larry turned onto Pritchard’s road. We didn’t travel far down that gravel road before he pulled off to the side and parked the truck beside a line of trees, and a rolling prairie on the opposite side of the road. We were parked across from a moderate hill; twenty, thirty feet tall perhaps, I’m not the best at estimating distances. Larry let Hank out of the pickup. Camera ready, hung around my neck, I stepped out, went around the front to the other side. We began our walk at 6:38 pm, crossing the road, heading for the hill. This was prairie I had not traversed before. I was thrilled to be exploring it.  

Though prairie, this area was becoming woody, lots of little oak trees are starting to colonize it. We rustled through the grass, beginning our climb. Lead plants immediately caught my attention: thick, silvery green stem, compound leaves, the head fuzzy, tight cluster of  flowers. Larry continued to walk while I paused to photograph the lead plant. I only walked a few feet more, when I again stopped, this time for dotted mint. A fascinating looking plant – the flowers it flaunts are in fact leaf bracts that surround the true flower. The leaf bracts are white, shaped almost like daisy petals. A couple of them are stuck on a sturdy stem. Dotted mint is a feast for the eyes. They have character, a look of spunk and individuality, and smell deliciously, of course, like mint but the scent is far more wild than peppermint or spearmint. Pollinators also love this plant. A cluster of individual plants grew together in a patch among grasses and sedges. Larry and Hank were far ahead of me now. Not wanting to lose sight of them, I continued onward. Up, up the steep hill, through plants up to my thighs, past lead plants beginning to bloom; little tiny, purple flowers in tight clusters. It was challenging to focus the camera on the bobbing flower heads so I took a couple of shots. I had reached the top of the knoll and paused to look out. Dotted mint plants were sprinkled liberally in the valley between the dunes, up the slope and on top of a few others. These dunes were quite woody – cedar, oak, chokecherry, and some other short, shrubby plants. Many other prairie plants grew alongside the dotted mint I didn’t know and certainly couldn’t name other than milkweed. I moseyed down the dune to Larry.  

“No, we’re not supposed to pick on the SNA [Scientific Natural Area], but we’re trying to kill these things,” he explained while picking fruit off a small tree. I laughed. Larry encouraged, “wander around, take pictures.” Standing near him plucking berries, I began photographing. “Dotted mint is pretty, isn’t it?” He asked.  

“Oh yeah, I’ve never seen it in bloom like this. I’ve always only been here in September when it’s done.” 

“Mmhmm, it’s great.” 

“Oh, so amazing! I love it!” I took several photos of the dotted mint and evening primrose,a tall plant with yellow flowers coming out of tubes. Larry continued to harvest the black ball shaped fruit, placing them into a plastic jug slung over his shoulder with a string.  

“What are they?” 

“Chokecherries. They’re gorgeous.”  

“Yeah.” I snapped a couple photos. “What’s that red berry over there?” 

“Oh yeah, that’s honeysuckle. Nonnative honeysuckle.” 

“Oh.” Hank whimpered. I walked over to the honeysuckle. “I’m not throwing your stick.” We continued onward. A big bluestem plant was about up to my waist. It was thrilling to see such tall grass, a remnant of the days of massive bison herds roaming free across the prairies. I scrambled to catch up to Larry. Grass rustled against my feet and clothes. I halted, again, at a dotted mint; an ant crawled around on a leaf bract. Engrossed, I observed it for a moment. The dotted mint enthralled me. Another evening primrose caught my attention, its yellow blossom a drop of sunlight. Next, a beautiful thimbleweed plant not yet flowering snagged my gaze and admiration. Sedges and grasses mingled. Then I beheld a plant that had fruit bodies looking like apples – looking it up later, I learned it was a rose hip. I weaved my way through thick vegetation, some taller than my waist. Other areas are so dense it’d be a tangled mass to walk through. I paused to photograph bee balm, also known as bergamot. I love their eccentric blossoms, erupting from the head of the plant. Wild grapes spread their vines up and across other plants. I shuffled along for a few more steps before stopping to photograph a yellow flower, partridge pea plant – dancing in the breeze so much, I had to try holding it in place. Hank passed by me. I continued walking, trailing Larry. We ambled up and down dunes – different from over by the windmill, not as tall but thicker vegetation. I came up behind Larry, we paused while he explained what we were seeing, “aspect…more moist, accumulates, it’s steep, in view of the sun. Starts to develop woody vegetation. Just tend to see more wood in those kinds of settings. Once we get the wood it’s tough to get rid of. Get some fire in here a bit more often.”

We brushed past milkweed plants,  threading our way through the vegetation. I stayed closer to Larry, until I once again became distracted by goldenrod and a dragonfly down on a blade of grass. It was not a darner, too small, most likely a common skimmer; iridescent blue abdomen, black/dark blue head and thorax, gorgeous wings – black and blue paint splotches, lined. A train rumbled in the distance. We trudged up and down, pushing past plants. A few steps further, I halted to photograph a bush-like plant, no flowers. The path onward was narrow. I tried to photograph the landscape interspersed with milkweed, dotted mint, grass, sedge, and a few trees. Cloud cover increased. Larry identified the plant but I couldn’t hear him.  

I walked closer to him, “What kind of cherries?” 

“Sand cherries.”  

“Oh, sand cherries.” It was a low lying bush, woody stem, leaves oblong. I continued walking for a few feet then stopped to photograph more partridge pea plants, they weren’t moving in the wind as much. Their golden blossoms are quite lovely. I looked into the blossom. Yellow heads brightening the prairie. We pressed onward, talking about an author Larry had been reading, and paused to take in the scenery – prairie, plants, green, encroaching trees, and oodles of dotted mint. A train whistle echoed across the prairie. I scrutinized the dotted mint up close, observed an aster of some sort, not yet blooming. Hank panted by our side. We continued walking a few feet, before I paused to photograph a flowering spurge, its white flower has several blossoms to a stem.  

Strolling a few feet more, I exlaimed,“Oh, that’s pretty,” wild bergamot, purple flowers – so much character, crazy hairstyle; and dotted mint, grasses, and milkweed. Further onward, waning sun striking dotted mint perfectly, nearby, grew horsetail. And a little beyond that, a larger cluster of bee balm, bergamot and an incredibly dense patch of dotted mint. They marched up the slopes. Some stiff sunflowers not yet blooming. I sauntered onward for a couple of minutes between photos. We came upon a more woody area with bigger trees. Birds sang far above us. I took in the dotted mint up close, glowing in the pre-dusk sun. The golden hour had arrived. We continued strolling, chatting all the while. Larry pointed out a blazing star, a woody plant with little rose-like flowers. I stopped to photograph it. We hiked on for several more minutes.  

Larry halted to pick more chokecherries. Cottonweed stood with dotted mint and lead plant, around a patch of bare sand. Cloud cover was increasing. We pressed onward, enjoying the prairie trek. After five minutes of walking, I paused to photograph the landscape again, grasses and sedges, some bushes, but blooming flowers were absent in this section. A windmill perched on top of the hill; I could hear it turning in the wind, creaking. Was it the same windmill we parked near on our other walk? – I should have asked. We’d stopped for Larry to pick more chokecherries. While he picked, “Woa, lots of ants. Very defensive.” He laughed, picking for a couple of minutes more.  

“I see them. What kind of ants are those?”  

“I don’t know but they don’t like me picking.” 

“I’m not sure I’ve seen ants that color.” They were black with very dark red heads and large for ants.  

“Ouaza.”  

“They’re good sized too.” 

“Ouch. I’m going to quit messing with them.” He gave up and we continued walking, chatting about nothing important, wading through the prairie plants. I was getting a little sweaty, and itchy from mosquito bites. I paused at another engaging flower – a tower of white flowers that looked somewhat like white orchids, most likely teucrium canadense. Small, though still taller than me, bushy trees dotted the prairie in this area, rising up out of interesting looking grasses or were they sedges? A tall goldenrod plant. The prairie was getting quite thick, crowded by forbes rather than grass, the path narrowed again. We passed by another evening primrose. “So is this what you want to see?” I asked. 

“No. Prefer to see more of the grasses. But on these rich sites, you’re just going to tend to see that [referring to the thick forbes]. Come off the sand on the silts. But it’s fine. We would like to relieve some of the tree pressure…” 

“Yeah. Is this goldenrod desirable?” 

“Some of it. The native plants.” 

It was very thick here. Hardly any grasses. I found little bluestem, and blue bell shaped flowers. 

“This is hazelnut?” I walked a few steps, “And this is cherry?” 

Larry walked back to me, “Aha, no, that’s a green ash. I’m sorry, that is a black cherry. You’re right.” 

“OK.” All of a sudden the forbes eased up a little allowing more grasses through. Milkweed, bee balm, some kind of mint, and something else were abundant. I kept walking. Felt like we were swimming through the prairie plants.  I paused to photograph some sedges; walked a little further and stopped to photograph beautiful orange flowers, butterfly weed. Large cluster of partridge pea plants with a few dotted mint plants. Sunflowers without petals, milkweed, and grasses and or sedges joined the mix. Several stiff sunflowers, what an unimaginative name. Larry stopped to pick more chokecherries, “Really pretty cluster. Can you get a good photo?” 

“I’ll try but it’s going to be backlit.” I couldn’t get close enough to the cluster from another angle. The walk was drawing to an end. We’d gone up and down, up and down many times and weaved our way around wooded areas, making some sort of loop through the prairie. Back down hill one more time. A fantastic, lone tree caught my attention. “That is a really awesome looking tree!” Then I asked, “So they just quit farming this?” 

“Yeah.” Black eyed Susan grew alongside the road. We had to walk down the road a bit to get back to the truck. The last stretch along the road seemed incredibly long, though it was about five minutes or a little less.  

The Life of this Dairy Farmer

Jan 2, 2021:

Thanksgiving day (11-26-2020). A knock followed by the voice of my father in-law sounded on the bedroom door – perhaps the worst thing while sharing a dwelling on the family dairy farm. Jesse had gone out to milk with his mom, Karin, a while ago. Lars at my door, waking me up, can only mean something bad has happened. As I came out of sleep, I comprehended what he was saying, “Karin is in the hospital with an infection [staph] and will be staying for at least a couple of days while the doctors try to get it under control.” And with those words Thanksgiving, which wasn’t going to be much anyway with COVID restrictions, was ruined. – It had already been ruined for the other three by this point. – It was 5:30 am. Sadly it was also one of the few mornings that I had fallen soundly back to sleep after Jesse got up. Regrettably my emotional response was quite selfish. I thought I’d be able to sleep in and then begin leisurely preparing food for the meal the four of us were to share, with time to go for a walk and perhaps read or even better, write; those plans have been altered and I must admit one of my biggest faults is being extremely cranky when my plans are ruined. Again, regrettably quite selfish – trying to grow up and be less selfish is ongoing with great strides forward only to have something set me back further than the progress made. 

 I believe a little background explanation of the situation with my still fairly new husband and his parents, and the farm is needed to understand my feelings and the utter disappointment to find out I have to milk cows when I thought I would have it off. Jesse and I married on July 21, 2019. In January 2018, a few months before he proposed, and after dating for seven and a half years, we joined his parents for a family meeting with a professional psychologist who worked with families trying to farm together (adult children farming with their parents in the idea of taking over the farm when the parents retire; an incredibly stressful and challenging thing to do given that the two generations have different ideas/directions for the farm.) to talk about the future and what Jesse and I wanted to do. Jesse and his parents were uncertain about my fitting into it given that I work for my mom on her farm and am quite loyal to her. Karin perhaps was hoping I would just take over for her so she could retire (and perhaps part of Lars was thinking the same thing to a degree). Jesse went back and forth on whether or not he wanted the two of us farming together; his biggest concern was money – he thought I could milk full time for them and make more money than working for my mom. I wanted to continue working for Mom, but perhaps scale back a bit and do some milkings to help out my new family as well. However, milking isn’t my thing, and especially not the way their set up is: a tie stall, where there’s a lot of up and down or bracing myself against a cow hoping she doesn’t knock me over or kick me. (Also their cows are huge compared to the ones I am used to at my mom’s and milking takes a lot longer.) So I told all present I would be more than willing to help with a few milkings a week as long as we had a parlor. (Side note: all four of them thought I was crazy thinking I could work on both farms – they were probably right to an extent.) Jesse also wanted a parlor, which would mean no more bending over/kneeling or squatting down to milk so there wouldn’t be as much wear and tear on the body, it would be safer without going in between cows since they would be milked from behind and below with a strip of metal to protect you from being kicked, the speed is incredibly faster and the cows would no longer spend most of their lives tied up in a barn but on pasture and in a barn where they can move about freely. So Lars and Jesse embarked upon a journey of research and visiting numerous parlors, most of which were built into existing tie stall or stanchion barns. But it wasn’t until June 2020, when Lars and Karin finally agreed to putting in a parlor. Inexperience, hesitation, finding the right contractors for the job and COVID restrictions further pushed the project back, added to the decision (perhaps for manure code reasons and satisfying the permit guy in that regard) to build a bedded pack barn before the parlor meant that though the parlor should have been and needed to be built in the autumn of 2020 it was not. The need for it being the increased herd size; we’d been milking 104 cows in an eighty stall barn which meant having to switch cows in and out costing a lot of time, and the numbers were continuing to grow, especially since there weren’t just cows to freshen (calve) but also lots of heifers too over the course of the autumn, winter, and spring. The other thing was Karin was scheduled to have surgery on her hand in December and it was just her, Jesse and I doing all the milkings which required(s) two people, which given how long each milking took wasn’t enough to get the job done without wearing ourselves out too much. We desperately needed the parlor completed before Karin’s surgery. However, with all the delays, the ground to prepare the site for the bedded pack barn wasn’t even broken until late autumn and wasn’t finished before winter set in pushing the project to spring. So, I was frustrated and sad the whole autumn with this going on and wishing they had gotten the ball rolling sooner on the project and had even tried getting Lars to ask if we could put the parlor in first and build the barn in the spring, to no avail. This doesn’t justify my selfish feelings on Thanksgiving Day but it helps at least set the scene.

The usual terrible human emotions that go along with such things welled up inside of me, reeling out of control – annoyance, frustration, anger, sadness, confusion, worry, fear, and of course, self pity. Beyond my own struggle with the unhappy turn of events, I was concerned about how Jesse was handling it. I rushed to the barn, arriving about ten minutes after that fateful knock. Overly dramatic? Perhaps but even so my world has been turned upside down because of it. (If you think I am being dramatic, consider: I went from putting in somewhere between twenty six and thirty nine hours of milking in about two – two and a half weeks time to just shy of fifty hours in a week and a half between Nov. 16th and 28th, and then in the following ten days fifty four hours. Doesn’t sound too bad right? Well at the same time I was also working on Mom’s farm. – Now I am not boasting or looking for pity but just wanting to explain. Also, milking cows in our tie stall barn is like doing three hours of hardcore workout without a rest. In addition, Thanksgiving marks the start of the down season. Instead of working sixty – seventy five hours a week it should be more like thirty five to forty five, providing time to rest up for the next growing season and to write (continue work on my book). (In fact, I had planned to push myself to write a lot over the weekend and go to the woods everyday, which was completely dashed. I had also planned to do a lot of writing for the next three weeks before Karin’s surgery.) 

Jesse was pretty upset too. And poor Lars was very concerned. I cried a few times throughout milking and internally cried out to God – why did this have to happen? Why couldn’t the pieces have come together such that the parlor and barn could have been built by now making milking a whole lot easier? I cried when I texted my mom and siblings later. I cried when I made the food (minus the turkey) for our Thanksgiving meal – finding myself in not a thanks giving mood but rather one of self pity. The uncertainty of it all was a smothering cloud wrapped about us. Two days later, when Karin had to have surgery to prevent the infection from reaching the bone which would have resulted in losing her finger, I was in an even sorrier shape – just a complete mess. 

She came home the following Monday but what had started as a couple of days turned into a week, which then turned into five weeks thus far. (And the original surgery that was to take place on December 18th had to be postponed – she had to be six months without infection for the surgery to happen.) She had another weekend stay at the hospital in the middle of December with an allergic reaction to antibiotics for a fungal infection on top of the staph, which added nearly an additional month to her being able to come back to the barn. – She has a pic line in so being in the barn is dangerous for her right now. The past five weeks have been just one unending milking and a time of barely holding it together. Random tears still make an appearance unbidden. Jesse, Lars and I have been living in survivor mode. Thankfully, we received help almost immediately. Beyond milking cows, Karin was also feeding calves, the two combined was a bit more than a full time job – a challenge for us other three to even jointly take over (Jesse was already helping with nearly every milking and I helped with about four a week) because we each already had/have more than full time work. (We were also, with Karin’s help, sorely in need of another person milking about five times a week as it was.) Two of our friends, married to each other, helped milk a couple of times. A cousin feeds the calves now. My nephew is helping milk while home for winter break. And a high schooler from our church is helping until mid January. 

In this struggle though, the cows that I had viewed as Jesse and Lars’ have now become mine. As help has come, I have worried about the cows if I am not the one milking them. A couple of nights, I have lain awake worrying if whoever is milking in the morning would take care of the cows with special needs – plugs, quarter milkers, manual. I find myself reassuring a cow who’s not feeling too hot, calling her dear, honey or sweetheart and gently stroking her hide. I have enjoyed some of the most glorious sunrises and sunsets I may have missed if I hadn’t been in the barn. Taken in the beauty of the frosty mornings in the waking sun. Jesse and I have had a chance to work together under extreme pressure, while we’re not at our best emotionally and survived, and without harming each other. We’ve had to struggle with whether or not we really want to keep milking cows – reassuring ourselves and each other the parlor will be built in the spring and after we and the cows are settled into the new system, milking will become much easier.

 Dairy farming, with a small dairy farm, is not for the faint of heart and it doesn’t recognize holidays, weekends, overtime, and well laid plans. Things go wrong often: much relied upon and needed equipment (with no backup options) break down, calves die, cows get sick (struggle with calving, die), the animals escape their fences, etc. – I stood helplessly and hopelessly watching Jesse struggle against a cow in labor, arm buried inside of her, trying vainly to untwist the crooked calf, with hope of saving the calf and cow waning with every pressing moment. The one thing I could help with was running to the house to get his phone and run back with it so he could call the vet. And this at the end of evening milking on Christmas day. (I don’t mean to complain or whine about our circumstances or belittle the difficulties of other people. And some people would and have asked, if it is so very bad why not sell the cows and find another job? Selling the cows is like totally changing careers but is even more than that – people who dairy farm, particularly in this manner (keeping it small and in the family so the owners are actively involved) seem to have it coded in their DNA – giving up the cows would be giving up a part of ourselves.) A cow down with milk fever on Christmas eve. Three cows battling toxic mastitis and several more with less harmful strains. Frustrated that we have to work in this system – this isn’t exactly cow friendly. But we’ve come together as husband and wife to take care of our cows. 

Back to the cows that have special needs: a plug, quarter milker, manual, (or are just mean) for those cows we write that need on a yellow piece of tape and stick it on the vacuum line above them. I was concerned that people milking without me there wouldn’t know which cows were mean. So I thought maybe the mean ones needed tape too with a note, but there are degrees of meanness. Some cows are mainly just dancing around, and although it’s annoying they won’t kick you. Some lift their legs and even swing but aren’t aiming for you, so that if you’re mindful of it you can avoid their hooves. A small handful though will take aim and strike out at and collide with you. It is important to know the difference, it helps in avoiding getting hurt and being overly nervous or scared; she responds best to gentle confidence. There are also different types of kicks: one cow pedals, we call her bicycle cow. A number of them will do short, rapid, close kicks (I like to call them soccer kicks, which are hard to avoid especially since they’re often done by short or low uddered cows, and usually connect with your hands and arms – mostly irritating more than anything else but still painful). Perhaps worse of all in terms of force and therefore pain, the fast, hard, rapid swing, the full out strike; these are the dangerous kicks, they have the ability to inflict incredible injury, possibly break a bone. (It often takes weeks for the point of contact on my leg to fully heal so it is no longer painful and tender to the touch. – and some of them left me nearly limping for a couple weeks.) Now, if you know the cow is likely to kick in a certain manner, you can attempt to avoid being hit by standing up to milk her, trying to stay out of reach of that leg but still have a hand on her back, scratching her. The problem with that is you may not be able to stand out of reach and now that you’re further away if she does strike out aiming for you, the distance will give her more force thus hitting you harder and causing more damage. Jesse says it’s best to be as close to the cow as possible (your whole body) so that there won’t be much force behind the kick, and basically just take the hit. However, I struggle with getting close to a cow that I know is likely to kick. I’m not sure I am actually a good milker because I am scared of cows. Rule number one is don’t be afraid, that being said though, you must be aware of their size and ability to kill you and respect them – they aren’t pets; the most dangerous bovines are the ones people treated as pets. If you’re afraid, they are afraid, which means they get antsy or defensive. To write a warning though for these cows really wouldn’t work so well because I feel like I would have to write a detailed description of the way in which the cow kicks. The other thing is, some cows are choosy about who they want milking them – just because that particular cow kicks me, doesn’t mean she’ll kick you or anybody else besides me. But some cows are mean to everyone. 

The other “rule”, as it were, to milking cows is know the cows. Each has her own personality (though some are bland, or not very noteworthy – like some people), knowing who you are milking and her personality will aid you in being a better milker – it’s good for you and the cow. If you know she is a nervous cow, give her plenty of warning you’re there, make sure she sees, hears, and feels you, and don’t make any sudden movements. Talk lovingly and sweet to her. Being aware of who the cow is and her personality can save both of you. The best thing for mean (or nervous) cows is having a second person there, scratching the base of their tail – this helps calm them down. 

A cow named Fun seems to just enjoy life – eat, dance, and be merry. If she isn’t eating she wants you to stroke her forehead or cheek. She dances while you’re milking her but she won’t harm you. Now, 418, she is a crazy cow, either she’s trying to kill you or she won’t take any notice of you at all; she kicks, headbutts and even bites the other cows. 530 is gentle and calm; she just wants to eat and be milked. Fudge is a brown swiss holstein cross so she can be cantankerous at times but mostly just fussy – she will take whatever stall she pleases, whether or not it was already occupied, and she will make it challenging to put the milker on her but only sometimes actually strike out at you. Nadine is a beauty, another brown swiss, and is terrified of everything. She does more than dance, most of the time she will swing her entire backend around, all the way over to one side and then back again and keep going back and forth until you manage to get the milker on her. 373 may or may not hurt you, that depends on you and how you put the milker on; don’t squawk it and don’t be slow – she will stomp her foot though just as you’re about done putting the milker on, so be ready lest it falls off. 12 is patient, calm and kind; she only lifts a hoof to let you know her teat hurts but won’t strike. 310 is gentle and doesn’t pay you much mind…and so it goes, as I said, each with her own personality. 

These cows are dear to me, even the mean ones. It is hard to see them sick with mastitis, pneumonia, milk fever, etc., or uncomfortable because of a stomach ache (generally a twisted stomach). I care about them; Jesse cares about them- their health, comfort, cleanliness, and quality of life. And not because they are the source of our income and milk, but because they are living beings.

It is interesting that of all my siblings, I am the one who is a dairy farmer. I guess you could understand why if you read my blog ‘Raised in a Barn’. A couple of years ago, Mom’s cows were all dried off at once, so we had two months without milking and it was great, there wasn’t the daily “drop what I am doing” to milk cows. However, when those two months were up and I was squatting down between them, I felt this is what my life had been missing – it is just a part of who I am and I can’t change it. I love and hate milking cows; life would be easier if it was one or the other. I know dairy farming is time demanding and challenging but it shouldn’t be this bad and won’t be this bad forever – just have to get through. ( I desire to milk half as many times for half as much time.

It’s the way of life. Very busy and crazy at times and yet quieter and more peaceful than other jobs. I enjoy the communion with the animals. The rhythm and flow of the prepping and milking process: dip twice, massage into the teat, strip the teat to squirt the milk, three squirts will do unless there is mastitis or a blood clot, dip again, wipe with a towel, hold the milker claw with one hand, with the other carefully slide the inflation onto each teat. The comforting, steady pulsating and wishing of attached milkers. We take care of the cows and they take care of us. Being able to work with family, especially my husband and nephew. Having to be more in tune with nature’s rhythms. Putting your needs and wants aside to meet those of the cows’ first. Watching the successful delivery of a new calf. Observing contented cows grazing in their new pasture. Pouring milk on your cereal that came from across the yard by your own efforts, you personally know the cow nourishing you. Teaching others in the local community how to work and care for other creatures. It is hard physical and spiritual work, back breaking, knee injuring, sometimes spirit crushing work that is also rewarding. And the decision to sell a cow is never an easy one; you always want to give her another chance. But sometimes, actually almost always, it is better for her to send her away. We are filled with sadness, even when it is an infamously mean cow, because that is another life, a sacred thing. Our cows are far more to us than mere means to an end, they are fellow beings, comrades even. (I don’t know why, but I often refer to the cows as people when I address them.) We have a mutually beneficial relationship. I believe dairy farming, small family owned and operated, is one of the truest forms of farming. Animal farming completes the nutrient/energy cycle. The best farming is dairy, with a garden, chickens and pigs. (We don’t have a garden yet but we do have an orchard – it’s easier to get food from Mom’s gardens right now.) It’s a sticky truth but society (civilization) needs farming; without it we wouldn’t have the means for culture. 

Postscript: The construction of the bedded pack barn began in late April, three weeks later than promised, and due to continuous revisions to the manure system and the delay in installation of gates wasn’t completed and ready to use until mid-September. Starting in May, with the coming of each month, we thought for sure this would be the month the parlor is built. And with the final day of each month, still no parlor, we were completely crushed. The contractor told us he would for sure get to it in December, so we thought ok, we just have to make it through until then. Karin came back to milk in late February and a young woman milked five times a week for us, so although it was far from great, at least we had some help and Jesse and I were able to have a few Saturday nights off together. However, this ended when the woman was offered another job; we knew we had been lucky just to have her for a few months but it was still a loss.  (A cousin had started doing some morning milkings in August but was absent in the fall for harvest and then sick with covid at the end of November.) Jesse and I have felt like we aren’t really living, just merely observing other people living, from a distance. On November 28th, when we thought Lars would be telling us they’d put in the parlor next week, he said it was put off until March. Jesse said, “It is like we’re inmates in a prison and our release date has come. We’ve just been handed our belongings, standing in front of the gate, waiting for it to open and just before it does, an officer rushes out and tells us another four months has been tacked onto our sentence.” We’re dangling from a cliff, losing our grip, down to a fingernail holding on, and just when we think we will be rescued, the would be rescuer turns away. Karin had surgery on her finger in December. Thankfully, my nephew came and helped out with a few milkings while home for winter break, otherwise we were totally on our own. A gal has been coming to milk Sunday nights, which is amazing. And the cousin is back to about four milkings a week. Which we are incredibly grateful for, however, it isn’t enough, and we’re still barely holding on. Hopefully, the parlor will be built in March and we won’t be disappointed yet again.

But March has come and gone and not even the demolition for the parlor has been undertaken. The only task toward the construction of it is that the pipeline was moved on Tuesday in preparation for demolition. (I promise the next few posts will be more fun and back to nature; these past two are more or less to explain my long absence.)

An Escape to the Woods

November 7, 2020

Wow, it’s been awhile since I have written anything in my journal or otherwise. Crazy  might be the best word to describe the past eight months! Unlike most people, aside from March – May, the COIVD-19 virus shutdowns and restrictions had very little to do with it. However, March and April were much more chaotic than usual due to the pandemic; food scarcity was actually a blessing for us with a vegetable farm. Our hoop houses were full with beautiful produce and people in desperate need for food with no access to it meant we were extremely busy harvesting, washing, packaging and delivering vegetables (what made it really crazy was packing for pre-orders because we had never done it before and had to work out an efficient system.) It was the most profitable time ever for our business but we’d put in sixteen hour days to accomplish it. In addition, I was working part-time milking cows on Jesse’s, my husband’s family farm as well and trying to work on my book (a never-ending project).

 As we rolled into May, a woman, Isaiah’s girlfriend (who was more like a sister to me than just a friend – the whole family loved her) brought her two daughters to Minnesota and was planning to marry Isaiah in August but left before June and never came back and cut all ties with us – breaking all our hearts.  Also in May, I switched from helping run our stall at the Rochester Farmers market to Mill City Farmers market which makes for a longer day but has been easier on my social anxiety. In June, while my heart was still trying to mend, a dear aunt of Jesse’s died. (There was also the riots in Minneapolis which affected us since we know a lot of people from there and we do business there.) We spent the summer trying to catch up on the gardens and greenhouses but never got there until the close of the season. 

IMG_8251August brought another blow to my heart (our hearts) Grandma Benike died suddenly; which hit me harder than I thought possible (more on that in a later entry). Faith, my niece (Jonathan’s daughter; my brother who lives on the farm with Mom and Isaiah, working there around his full-time job) was returned to us after her mother kept her away for roughly fourteen months, only to be ripped away again. (Custody of Faith was finally granted to Jonathan, first in December 2020 on an emergency basis and then permanently last autumn. – Faith is the family sunshine; she puts a glow in all of us; we were all devastated with her absence and worried about her safety and well being.) 

September was a race to get things done: harvesting fall crops out of the garden before the first freeze, while at the same time getting greenhouses planted for winter. I slipped in a visit to Thelma in September (and October), my surrogate Grandma. I had the task of securing a combine ride for my nephew Leo, wanting to be an awesome aunt (combines are his favorite thing) but botching it when I didn’t get a photo of him with the combine. Mom and Isaiah also had a fourth greenhouse constructed. And yet another emotional blow, we were told Grandpa was dying (I visited him a few times in October and Mom and I picked the rest of his apples despite our crazy schedule). – I was struggling with his looming death, especially so soon after losing Grandma. 

Life was in turmoil at Jesse’s farm too (I guess it’s my home too – still wrapping my head around that). There was a promise of a new milk system but hadn’t happened yet because of high lumber prices, apparently, and so many hoops to jump through for the permitting. Jesse’s  mom, Karin will have surgery in December and yet I can’t replace her but somehow will have to do just that. Although the election doesn’t affect me too much (at least emotionally or what have you), it added more stress and strain to relationships I think – well it mattered more to other people and I didn’t like seeing them so divided. I also have been trying to schedule a hayride with Aleesha’s (my sister) family since we haven’t had a chance for them to come hangout as a whole family at my new home. (I have been trying to be a beekeeper, writer and photographer on top of all that – oh and a wife! I am a woman of too many passions I suppose. – I want to draw too and of course read more. At least I discovered audiobooks on my Ipod through the library (I am technologically impaired), which has been a Godsend; it has helped me through really long, busy, sad days. I’ve really been getting into Steinbeck – introspective – hope I can write at that level, with the philosophy: “Nearly everyone has had a box of secret pain, shared with no one…” – this just fits too perfectly. Pain is a good word to describe May 30th through the present. I wonder how I can handle any more pain this year, beg and cry out to God to let Grandpa stay here longer, another year or more and to recover his good health.) The last eight months in a nutshell. 

Today was my first Saturday off since the middle of April – a gift from Mom (and Jesse since he didn’t ask me to milk tonight) and a much needed break. I thought I’d have the day to myself but spent an hour and a half with Jesse late into the morning (we didn’t eat breakfast until 10:00 am) and I helped him for an hour outside, opening and closing gates and hooking up and unhooking wagons while he fed cows. 

IMG_8377At 3:00 pm, I headed out for a walk, exploring the woods, armed with a camera, water bottle, journal, and sketch pad. I wasn’t sure if I was going to take my bicycle, the four wheeler  or walk to the woods. While I was deciding, I became sidetracked by Jesse greasing the manure spreader and hooking it up – I like to watch him at work. (Watching anyone perform a task they are especially good at so it’s like an artform, is one of my favorite things.) It’s a twenty minute walk to the woods so I wasn’t keen on walking, preferring to spend more time in the woods. Jesse said we had only the one four wheeler right now, so I went in search of my bicycle. Karin had moved it; I found it in the lean-to on the old barn. Tires were low. Fortuitously, Lars was putting air in the grain drill tires. I asked him if he’d do my bicycle tires too. And while I had his attention, asked if he’d drive the tractor for a hayride tomorrow. He said yes to driving. With full tires, I set off on my bicycle. As I pedaled beyond the protection of the buildings, I was nearly blown over by the gusting wind. But undeterred, I cycled up the driveway to the other farmstead, and down the lane to the pasture. The gate was closed though cows are nowhere near this pasture – rule of the farm, close every gate you open just to be on the safe side. Bicycling along the eastern top edge of the hill, traveling uphill, was quite the workout – long time out of practice. 

Leaving my bicycle behind, I walked down the hill towards the woods, snapping photos along the way – just in time for the golden hour. I ducked under the fence where it was high, at the mouth of the ravine. Pausing ever so briefly to take more photos. I feel like a kid – although, anxiety aside, I rarely feel thirty one. A light feeling sweeps over me, a great weight lifted; entering the woods always feels this way. (The day was warm, seventy degrees Fahrenheit, sunny, the breeze kept it from feeling hot.) Inspired, I desire to explore, play, draw, write, photograph. I walk a few steps and halt, fascinated by a large, fallen tree. I sit down and begin to write.

 After awhile, the sun fades and is gone, I will have to chase it by going higher up and further in. I am mindful of hunters – the one blot of exploring the woods at this time, I am sad to share them. I haven’t been to the woods since May, so I desperately needed it. – The best medicine for my tired, sad soul and my mental health, and spiritual health too. This is where I belong – creativity and childlike wonder and abandon can flow. Thought I’d draw but I think it is too late now – hopefully in a couple of weeks I’ll come back. Trees creak in the wind. Leaves rustle, retained only by oaks. Getting cold now that the sun has moved on, I set my pencil down to chase the last bit of it before I must head back to beat the dark. 

IMG_8417I had sat too long writing, the golden light for good photography had gone. But it was only 4:40pm so I walked through the woods, pushing back tree branches and ducking under others, trying not to get caught on buckthorn. With the fading light, I took less photos than I otherwise would have. I find what I think is a dried up oyster mushroom on the boxelder tree I like to use to get over the fence. I yank it free and immediately smell it; and then put it in my pocket to take home and if I remember, to show Mom. I continue on, stepping over branches, sticks, and stones. Hear a few gun shots. Constant background noise of the neighbor’s corn dryer. The ground is blanketed in gold and brown leaves. My footfalls are obscenely loud. I approach the old stone foundation and can’t resist taking some photos. (I watched the golden sun rays shrink away, retreat northward, and then fade away while I sat.) I ran a hand along the stone before I walked away; surprisingly it was quite warm. Again, I think about how it would make a perfect childhood fort. 

I walk onward, touching a few trees here and there, ducking, crouching, and stepping over forest debris. I somewhat follow a deer trail, sometimes a very definite trail and at other times it is less obvious. I zig-zag through the trees, searching for the easiest path. The soft uneven ground turns my ankle and my feet have been slipping around inside my shoes, creating sore feet. I also bruised my shin trying to climb up on the log earlier. I cross the first ravine at its narrowest point, the second one is a bit trickier. It strikes me as odd that I haven’t heard any bird sounds. Leaves on the ground, several feet away, rustle, either a passing squirrel or deer. Strange how animals of vastly different size make about the same amount of noise. I pause briefly by the big limestone rocks – I just love them. Along the top of the hill is the fence and soon I am near the gate, which had been my destination and yet I am not ready to quit walking; I  just started. Why hadn’t I come out sooner? Well, I’ll go a little further. I step onto the man made trail – follow the yellow leaf road. I imagine it had been carpeted for me: a nice, soft, plush layer of golden brown maple and oak leaves – such a delight to walk on, very noisy though. I have a burning desire to walk barefoot, but don’t. Down and around the hill I mosey, wishing the sun wasn’t disappearing so I could keep walking. I amble along the side of the hill, marveling at the graceful, slender maple trees. (I should take off my shoes and socks and walk barefoot in the leaves, really feel a part of it, but again, I don’t.) 

Now that I was walking in the woods I really wanted to keep walking. However, I don’t want to get caught out in the dark, so I stop and turn back at the gaping ravine that puts an abrupt end to the path. On the way back, I walk more quickly. I follow the trail all the way up to the gate, climb up and over. Down on the other side I walk through the pasture, up the slope and along the top, following the fence line, unable to resist taking a few more photos, as I return to my bicycle. I didn’t realize the easy bicycling was over, almost entirely downhill on the way out, meant that bicycling back would be challenging. I don’t get very far before I pause above the pond to photograph the sunset. But now I have to give it all I’ve got to get up the hillside.

IMG_8475I pause again, and then with considerable effort keep going up and around the pasture hill, and then a short, gradual decline to the gate, I am careful not to wipe out on the deep tractor ruts on the hillside. Since I have to stop to open the gate to get through and close it again, I take a few more photos. I throw my leg back over the bicycle and stand to pedal up the long incline of the field/pasture driveway, proud of myself I don’t have to get off to walk my bicycle up the slope. Finally, I pull up on to the main driveway, connecting the two farmsteads to the highway. I thought it’d be easier going being gravel instead of dirt and grass, not so. I groan inwardly when I remember the gravel road has a slope too, yet another long challenging incline – just half a mile away now. I struggle up this slope too, standing to have more leverage. Around the group of maple trees by the bend in the road and soon I am finally going downhill again. It is almost dark when I cycle between the shed and dairy barn to the old bank barn near the house, on which the lean-to was built where I’d found my bicycle. I struggle to get it back in but manage the task.

 I lay down in the grass under the yard light, across the driveway from the barn, worn out. It may be the last time this year to lay in the grass, so I linger. That was a good exercise – I need to ride my bicycle more often. Unfortunately, I may not get another opportunity with winter fast approaching and the uncertain weather of November; and it may very well be Thanksgiving weekend before I have another chance. My backside is sore but surprisingly my legs are not. I long to have more free time to exercise and to write.

Spring on the Prairie

May 4, 2018 

We turned off of Highway 84 on to a very small, minimum maintenance road, actually to say ‘road’ paints the wrong picture, it’s nothing more than a bumpy driveway, and even ‘driveway’ seems a generous description, barely big enough for Larry’s truck. A farm was on our left. The little road went into a grove of trees, privately owned land on either side. The road plunged down a sketchy slope – I’m not sure a vehicle without four wheel drive could have made it. The lane was a tight squeeze. We continued to jostle along the road, over small branches and down and up out of ruts. The lane was sand, not gravel or black top or even dirt, sand. Not far after the plunge, the landscape opened up on the right. Prairie, gently rolling, dotted with trees. Trees flanked our left, most were quite scraggly looking. The truck climbed up a gentle slope. The trees on our left gave way. A parking area was designated by green, mowed grass and a couple of wooden fences. A windmill loomed on our left. Larry parked the truck.  

The windmill stood as a sentry over the prairie, standing watch over the past and the present. The presence of the windmill made me thoughtful. This had been a farmstead, the Lamey family homestead. I chatted with Gene a couple of times but regret I hadn’t started the conversations years before, perhaps I would have a clearer picture of his family’s history here. No time to linger and ponder though, I had to keep up with Larry; we had another mission for today’s walk. 

Larry and I decided to walk on the prairie this morning instead of canoeing because I wanted, needed, to see the spring flowers, particularly pasque flowers while they’re in bloom. I keep missing the passing of seasons of the prairie – especially the various wildflowers in bloom. And right now, the pasque flowers were blooming.  

We began our walk at 7:15 am. It had rained the previous evening, and the prairie was still wet. It was a beautiful, sunny morning. A train whistled in the distance. Birds twittered around us. The prairie grass rustled against our feet. Larry talked about the prairie as we walked. We found our first flower blooming. “Prairie buttercup,” Larry identified the plant. It has a long, round, stocky, green stem, long narrow leaves,and small yellow petals. The center of the petals was green. Each plant had a few stems with several blossoms. Water droplets clung to the plants and the blades of grass, adding beauty to each plant. The prairie buttercup plants grew in clusters together. I paused to photograph them. Larry continued to walk. Bird song filled the air, excited over the arrival of spring. I only took a couple of photos before ambling on. I had to walk fast to catch up with Larry. We paused to look at a sedge plant – its flower petals long. We continued walking and found another patch of buttercups peeking through the tangle of matted grass. Again, I paused to take a couple of photos. I found a violet plant not yet in bloom. We continued onward, each step a noisy ruckus in the dried, dead grass of last year.  

Larry spotted the first pasque flower and drew my attention to it.  

“They look like fairies!” They’re the perfect first flower to bloom in spring – ethereal and ephemeral. Their satin petals seemed almost to glow. They reminded me of jellyfish. Pasque flowers are otherworldly. I circled around the first patch of blooms. I was elated – I had wanted to see these for many years but kept missing them. Now, here they were before me; lovely and elegant. The photos I’d seen hadn’t prepared me for the experience of seeing them.  

“Beat up by the rain. Pretty though. They do have a lot of blossoms this year. Many times they don’t,” remarked Larry. He added, “Must have been a good growing year last year for them.” Birds twittered around us.  

“Yeah.” I took several photos. “I think they’re extra pretty because they seem random and are in a cluster. They’re not sprinkled everywhere.” 

“I know it. I know it. Makes them more precious.” 

“Yeah.” Like the buttercups, they peeked up through the grass.  

“Good seeing them,” added Larry.  

I enjoyed being serenaded by birds as we chatted and while we walked. We’d pause for a couple of minutes taking in the first cluster of pasque flowers. Larry turned away first and I followed after him. Hank, the black lab, wasn’t as interested in the flowers. – We hadn’t walked very far before we stopped at the next flowering plant. “Looks like some kind of cinquefoil,” observed Larry. The blossoms weren’t yet blooming but they seemed on the verge of doing so. We continued walking for another minute. “More pasque flowers.” I bent down to take a couple of photos.  

Larry pointed out another plant, “Rose hyssop.” We’d halted our walking. Larry spoke again, “Got old dug ways in here, you know, what we walked in on. And a road through here. Find an old photograph and look for the road.”  

“OK.” As Larry spoke, sandhill cranes were calling. A group of cedars dotted the little bit of prairie in front of us; about ten trees. The little bluestem was golden, patches of green carpet between each individual clump.  

“Meadowlark,” observed Larry. Robins, redwing black birds, chickadees, and song sparrows also filled the morning with song. We continued walking, the grass rustled and crinkled against our feet. Birds sang continuously, merry it was finally spring. Again we paused, this time admiring some sedge plants. “I find these sedges as cute as can be,” remarked Larry. The beads of water droplets, still clinging to the grass was beautiful. 

“Aleesha says sedges are hard to identify.”  

“They are difficult but…” Larry trailed off.  

“Another good photograph, that little white flower.” A Lyre-leaved rock cress.  

Meanwhile, Hank was trotting about, too quickly to enjoy flowers, instead searching for sticks. “Leave it to Hank to find a stick,” I laughed. We’d barely continued our walk before we again paused, just long enough to photograph another cluster of buttercups. Hank whimpered, wanting to play instead of just walk. Onward we went.  

“That’s a lot of pasque flowers,” observed Larry.  

“Oh wow!” It was a jackpot. Their white, silvery satin blossoms dotted a slope, among clumps of bluestem. We halted so I could photograph them. So beautiful. I knelt down for a better perspective. The leaves, stems, and even petals were covered in fine, white hairs like hoar frost. A blaze of yellow stamens stood in the middle of the petals. Water droplets clung to them, beads on a wedding gown. I walked around them, knelt down, took a photo, and stood, walked around again looking at them from different and better angles. A train whistle sounded in the distance. Birds sang. Hank whimpered and whined, not at all interested in flowers but wanting a stick thrown for him. Larry finally caved and threw a stick, “Go get it Hank! Get it!” He took off. I laughed at his energy and eagerness. A patch of sumac grew on a slope, miniature trees, arms reaching up, waiting to be clothed. Our fifteen minutes of walking took us up and down grassy sand dunes. We’d paused on top of a tall dune looking down into a valley. The little bluestem on the opposite dune were golden tongues of flame licking at the slope. Gopher mounds dotted the opposite incline, like a bumpy skin rash. “You can see the importance in the different aspect up here. Shadow. Captures a little bit more snow. Shaded, you know. By the time the sun gets up here. Creates a little microclimate.”  

“Yeah.” 

“I wonder how the woody stuff gets in. Aspen drifts from the bluffs and along the river. You get plum, the stone, you know, travels pretty good. Kind of the first ones here. Then you get these oaks. How do they keep going? Oak wilt on some of them. There’s a meadowlark.” It was the golden hour of morning, the whole slope glowed gold in the morning sun. We continued walking. I marveled at the power of the sun to turn everything it touched, at 7:30 am in May, to gold. I listened to the joyful birds – grateful spring was at last here. Down one dune, up another, it was tricky walking in the sandy soil. I heard a sandhill crane in the distance.  

“Did I tell you I picked up a dead snake off the road?” 

“No.” 

“Had a pit tag. Called Anne to bring up the database – she kept it – one she’d followed for a couple of years.” 

“Ah, like a friend.” 

“It’s hard when it’s one that had been pit tagged.” 

“Mmmhmm.” 

We paused our walking. “Oh, that’s pretty!” A buttercup plant, blossoms open, was bathed in golden sunlight. There was a cluster of the plants.  

“With the sun on it.” 

“Sun and water droplets.”  

“Yeah.”  

We continued walking. Birds sang all around us. “Oh, look there’s a pasque flower.” 

“Ah, little pasque flower, look at you there. Free you from that grass.” Larry spoke tenderly and affectionately as if he was talking to an animal or a child. Once the flower was freed we continued walking, until we paused at another pasque flower, perfectly washed in sunshine. There were several clusters of them, all perfectly steeped in flaxen sunshine. I walked around them to capture the best angle of light. Walked a few steps to photograph another, knelt down, took a photo, stood up, walked a few more steps to a different plant, knelt down, took a photo, stood up, repeat. I repeated the process several times, with an intermission of standing to capture several clusters together. Each plant was awe-inspiring and all the more so in the honey light. A few buttercup plants grew near the pasque flowers. It was like finding fairy rings sprinkled among amber little bluestem. only they didn’t form rings. The birds sang on. I had to walk to be on the right side of them so I wasn’t casting a shadow on them. Somewhere in the distance swans warmed up their trumpets, a great wild sound; though their call sounded more wooden than brass. We continued on our way. “There’s something. A little violet.” 

Larry came over, “Let me see.” He squatted down, “Sure doesn’t look like a bird’s foot. Huh.” Perhaps it was a prairie violet instead. “Look at these mounded, velvety moss.” 

“Moss is cool looking.” I knelt down to get a closer look at the moss and photograph it, and then I stood taking in the rolling prairie. We continued our stroll. A post from surveys stuck in the ground, interrupting the flowing prairie. I paused again at a patch of violets, either bird’s foot or prairie. The blossoms were a pale purple. Larry didn’t stop, and after taking a few photos, I walked fast to catch up with him. He paused at a short tree. I came up beside him. “Little tree. It was nibbled on by the deer and it’s a poor place for it to grow.” Its leaves were just starting to burst out of their buds. A cedar tree grew underneath it. Again sandhill cranes called in the distance. Song birds continued to chirp and twitter. “Good choice to come out here this morning,” remarked Larry. We continued onward.  

“Whoa, that looks cool!” Fungus, moss, or lichen organism, I’m not sure which. I paused to photograph it. Across the way was a wall of trees encroaching on the prairie. We heard another train. Larry played with Hank. I was enjoying the bird song and the opportunity to walk on the prairie. Hank searched for a stick. A couple minutes later, “Here’s some British soldiers,” I said.  

“You think they are British soldiers?” 

“I think so.” 

“They look like it, but it doesn’t seem like the right place for them.”  

I saw a mint plant. There was a patch of open sand. We’d continued walking after taking a close look at the British soldiers. Lyre-leaved rock cress caught my eye along with several buttercup plants. I paused to photograph them, and then followed after Larry.  

 “This afternoon would be a good snake day,” observed Larry. 

  “Oh yeah.” I wished I could stay or return in the afternoon in hopes of seeing a snake. We walked up and down and back up dunes. Climbing uphill can be challenging enough, but it was quite difficult and tiring to walk up sand dunes, the sand isn’t stable; our feet slipped and slid as we climbed. Standing on top of a dune, we paused to look out over the sand prairie. It never ceases to amaze me how vast the prairie is, and yet it is only a small fraction of what it used to be. Larry was also enjoying the bird song, “Quite the repertoire.” We continued walking. Larry reached down and picked some leaves and put them under his nose to smell them, and then he put them under my nose.  

“It smells almost like a mint crossed with lavender,” I noted. 

“Smells more minty.” 

“Mmm, yup.” While Larry smelled the mint, I was studying a couple other plants. A sedge plant looked like a shooting star. Pussy toes, white fungus-like plants, almost looked like something from under the sea. “More pasque flowers,” I reveled in their beauty. We strolled onward.  A couple of minutes later, “This is bluestem, right?” I asked.  

“Yep.”  

This area of prairie was a patchwork of grass, moss and wildflowers – awe-inspiring. We continued walking. “Imagine trying to find cows out here with all the dips,” I said, thinking about the challenge.  

Larry held a plant up to my eye, “Here’s an eyelash for you.” 

I laughed softly then asked, “What is that?”  

“Grama grass. Eyelash. Do you want to take a picture?”  

“Mmhmm.” I took a photo of it and we continued to walk. Birds sang. We paused again.  

“This is mountain mint. I think. Well it might be dotted mint.”  

“Mmm, smells good.” 

“Dotted mint.” We resumed walking. We didn’t get very far before halting again so Larry could talk about the prairie. “See, most of this good prairie is, you know, clumpy. Primarily little bluestem. Some big grass, either Indian grass or big bluestem. But mostly the small stuff. There’s some beech grass along the top up there that are bit taller. But most of it is short. If you look at a lot of restoration stuff, there’s a lot of big stuff in there…when we harvest, get a lot of big grass or the spores are there and we restore it.”  

We continued walking, rustling grass. “Pasque flowers. Good bloom.” 

“Yeah.” I paused to photograph interesting dried plants.  

A little further ahead, Larry halted. “Something went on here. Got washed rock, small rock, and sorted. And a big rock too. So what do you think?” 

“I don’t know. Something happened.” I squatted down to photograph it and walked around them. “The big stones almost look like they’re in a circle. And those little rocks come out to here a little bit.” 

“Here’s a…,” began Larry  

“…piece of wood,” we both said simultaneously.  

“Huh,” said Larry. 

“Doesn’t look like the kind of rock…” 

“They’re hauled in from somewhere,” puzzled Larry. 

“Yeah, but they don’t quite look like building rock.” 

“No. But something happened, something went on here.” We walked around the area, taking it in, puzzling over it. “Go back in the photographs and try to find this spot and keep going back to find a structure or a road, the history.” 

“Yeah.” I thought it sounded like a lot of work to try to find photos and then that location – seemed impossible – and I didn’t even know where the spot is.  

“This would have been a nice spot!” 

“Yeah.” We began walking again. I listened to birds singing as we walked, took in the vastness of the prairie. It began to cloud up, but light fluffy clouds. We walked through a sea of little bluestem, past occasional mullein plants. We’d come upon a wooded area, pushed through low hanging branches, scratching at our coats, ducking to avoid being clothes lined or hit in the head. I felt thankful to be wearing a coat.  A pesky bird seemed to be yelling at us.  

Halted among the trees, “This is what happens, starts getting woody. Doesn’t burn well. …Pines. Took out the last of the pines. There’s these little oaks. We burn them. Can’t kill them…I should really come in here, cut ’em, treat the stumps,” explained Larry.  

The bird continued to squawk. We went onward, ducking under branches, pushing others aside, trying to squeeze through. And the bird squawked on. I was growing weary from the vigorous walk but enjoyed  it. We paused again.  

“Now we cross that line, more degraded part of the restoration. It’s getting sorted out…” We continued walking, falling into silence other than our feet rustling the grass. The birds kept up the conversation. Only a minute passed before I found another object of interest and paused.  

“Oh.” I squatted down to take a better look at a turkey egg. Bigger than a chicken egg, white with brown specks. A part was missing, a doorway for the poult, baby turkey to climb out of. An ant crawled on it, near the gaping hole. A tiny slug investigated it, moving in slow motion, well actually perhaps not even moving. It lay on top of an assortment of oak leaves. Green grass grew up through the leaves and dead grass. I wondered about the turkey family. Where was it? Was there just the one egg that hatched? Is the young turkey still alive? We continued walking, up another incline, and down. Up again, down again. The dunes in this area weren’t quite as dramatic, the upward climb not quite as much of a challenge. Sometimes the grass sounded deafening beneath our feet and against our clothing. We were approaching the windmill again, though it was still several yards away. We paused one more time.  

“Cool season grasses. Lot of quack grass.” Walked a few more steps, stopped. “I speculate this area had livestock and this was wintering or feeding area. Nutrients are higher which makes prairie restoration tougher.” This area was certainly less appealing. We continued walking, up the small slope to the windmill and truck, sad our morning adventure was nearly over. We hadn’t made a circle but a loop of some sort.  

Larry unlocked the truck doors. I opened up the passenger side to put away my camera. He pointed to the mailbox. “Probably a registry. You can sign it, say you were here. Pasqueflowers in bloom.” 

“OK.” I went and signed the registry, dated it, recorded some of what we heard and saw, the beauty of the day. I got into the truck, Larry and Hank were already in and waiting. We bounced along, back down the narrow, sandy lane to the highway. Before we were ready to leave the prairie, Larry took us down Pritchard’s road and pulled into the landing, then turned the truck around after a glimpse of Goose Lake.  

Back by the bridge, Larry stopped the truck. A couple of guys had a motorboat out on McCarthy Lake and were fishing. Larry was pissed and threw out a string of profanity to describe the guys.  

“Are they allowed to be in there?” I asked.  

“No, they’re not supposed to be out there.” Motorboats are quite disruptive to the delicate ecosystem of the marsh. And I’m not sure there is a large enough fish population for fishing to occur without being detrimental. But at least if you’re going to fish out there, take a canoe. The trees on the marsh were still naked. And the aquatic vegetation hadn’t yet taken off in growth. Spring was certainly late this year.  

Larry and I left the prairie. As always, I was sad to leave, never quite ready to go. Who knows how long it’d be before the next time I could escape the farm and visit again. There’s never enough time to do all the exploring I want to. 

A Day to Myself

A Day to Myself

April 11, 2020

Today, I have a very rare opportunity, a day completely for myself – no milking cows for Jesse, no farmers market and no working at Mom’s. A whole day to be me! – Which means some much needed alone time. I borrowed a 4-wheeler to get as close to the woods as possible. I brought along four journals and a water bottle; all four because I knew I wanted to write but unsure what I was going to write, so all my bases were covered. 

It’s warm and partly sunny today, with a slight breeze out of the southeast. A perfect day to spend writing and exploring in the woods – it’s a challenge to write about nature in the windowless basement. Today I get to be myself again, a child enjoying and completely immersed in nature. Birds sing overhead. Although I can hear them, I can’t see a single choir member. A bluejay calls out in alarm as I enter the woods. While still in the pasture, a white tail deer bounds away across the ravine, startled by my approach. An occasional fly buzzes around me. A spider speed walks on top of a decaying branch lying on the ground nearby. Leaves blanketing the ground rustle in the breeze. But there is another sound coming from the ground, like water being squeezed out of a sponge. 

I pause at the edge of the woods, deciding which way to go. A gaping ravine in front of me, a trail to my left – the former snowmobile trail. The old stone foundation is up and across the ravine to my right. I am giddy like a child given free range to explore, both a physical place and my imagination. I pick my way over and down the hill, trying to decide how far to go to my right before crossing the ravine. Leaves and sticks crunch softly under my steps. The forest floor is beginning to green. I soak up the sunshine and the pleasure of being a kid exploring again – and also the quiet and peace of the woods. I pause to plot my course. How shall I cross the shallow, empty waterway? The soil is a little damp by the looks, maybe a little muddy. But that’s not an issue, I’m wearing boots. Looking further to my right, I see two dead, fallen trees spanning the roughly six foot by twelve foot ravine. My soul laughs,that’s how I’m going to cross, why walk through it if I can cross it by a tree bridge – one of my favorite things as a child. Down the hill I go, across a narrow, empty waterway, spilling into the bigger ravine, and amble up a slightly smaller knoll. Touching a few trees as I walk by them. Patches of moss clinging to rocks, bare soil, and fallen trees and branches are sending up their reproductive bodies. I have two choices in tree bridges. The first is a little narrower and will require me to walk downhill several feet over fallen sticks and branches, and this end is lower than the other. It also gets quite narrow before touching the ground on the other side. The other one is wider and nearly level, only a couple feet down the hill. Both are nearly solid green wearing a thick coat of moss. With my backpack and boots on, I may be slightly less agile than normal, so I choose the bigger tree. I step over a few fallen branches and step down onto it. I start walking across. Hmm, I feel clumsy with my boots on. I slowly drop to my knees, staying balanced. I ponder, which is safer? I proceed forward a few feet. Hmm. My backpack shifts on my back each time I move forward and my knees aren’t appreciating it. I carefully go to my butt, a leg on either side of the tree and scoot forward – uncomfortable and my feet are falling asleep but it works. I stop halfway to linger there – I love the feeling that flows over me when I sit in a tree. Just taking a minute or two to enjoy the day. Deep breath in, and out. Aahh. This is what my weary soul, body, and mind needed. 

I keep moving forward, but soon come to a temporary roadblock – a remnant branch sticking up in the middle of my path. Should I stand up and step over it? This part of the tree is narrower. Trying to stand up and maintain balance while stepping over it seems a little risky. The distance between the tree and the ground is just high enough that it would really hurt and possibly inflict minor injury if I fell – also I’m not seven anymore, falling out of a tree would take a little to recover from. So I scoot up close to it, lean forward and very carefully lift myself over the top of it, while reaching ahead and clutching another vestigial branch and pull myself forward. Now still holding onto the bigger branch, I stand up and step around. Although narrow, I keep walking the remaining ten feet or so across the tree and step safely to the ground. My kind of adventure. I approach the foundation, two full walls remain and two partial. Built against the hill. The walls not along the hillside are about seven feet tall. I sit down on a moss covered rock to take it all in and write. Listening to the birds. Lars, my father- in-law, driving an old Farmall tractor is planting oats on the hillside I left behind, on the other side of the woods and pasture. All of this reminds me of the good times of my childhood. I am so happy to still be living on a farm with woods and a dad planting oats. I really haven’t lost much. Sometimes the woods are so quiet, the birds barely singing and then they are chattering loudly. The tractor noises fade into the background, growing louder and then quieter in intervals. I am living the life. So strange how comforting those old tractors are. I am a child again. And loving the smell of the dirt. I hear a hawk again and again. A cardinal whistling. The clouds increase. I look up through the budding tree tops – wait, there are four, no six, actually seven vultures circling above. Am I the reason? Maybe I’ve been sitting on this rock too long. My butt is starting to ache and go numb. Lars makes another pass, the tractor gets louder and louder and then begins to fade as he follows the contour of the hill. I watch a yellowish orange fly, wondering what kind it is. Ok, my butt says it’s time to walk again. 

I walk around the old foundation, sticks snapping under my feet. I reach out and touch a tree, most likely a boxelder, the touch turns into a hug. With the quarantine and social distancing in place because of COVID, people aren’t supposed to hug right now, so I hug the tree – no, actually, I would have hugged the tree anyway, I may actually be a tree spirit in a human body. I step around the tree observing closely a pile of moss coated stones that may have once been part of the stone structure – where are the pieces of the other wall? To the southeast, there are a lot of dead trees resting on the ground in various stages of decay, becoming one with the soil. I walk beyond the structure a few yards, turn around to take it in, then walk back. I’m taking pictures as I go – feeling a little guilty that I am using my phone instead of my actual camera – I hope next week I can come back with it. I view the foundation. I wish there had been a structure like this on my childhood farm when I was a kid – I would have made this into a fort and/or incorporated it into my play. It would have become my house – a settler living on the frontier. The north end wall has a window space. I step up to the west wall, perhaps a doorway had been here. I touch the stones, they’re cold. I spy a spider crawling around in a crevice in the stone. The hawk cries out again. A woodpecker knocks on a tree. I kneel on the ground by my writing rock. I wish I could identify all the birds I am hearing but not seeing – I need to learn the various bird sounds. I touch the stone wall, curious about its history. Was it a barn or a house? Who built it and lived here? Why’d they choose this location? Perhaps once I complete my story about the Weaver Dunes, maybe I’ll learn the story of this place. I’ve lived here for nearly nine months and this is the first time I’ve explored the woods alone, looking for my spot, a place of solitude and peace where I can be in a tree and maybe near rocks. This is so healing and refreshing. The tractor comes around again, this time from the other direction. This spot is so inspiring – I want to write about my childhood explorations and imaginings. The smell, sounds, lighting, and overall feel of this place and the day transports me back to childhood – I created elaborate stories and acted them out with either my two brothers or by myself – this spot makes me want to do that again. For better or for worse, I feel like I will always be that ten year old girl – loving nature, solitude, imagination and creating stories. I walk back inside the stone walls, up to the window and lean out – it’s a generously sized window. It appears the building stretched northward beyond this wall, the east wall continues and there are rocks here and there indicating where other walls had been. I step out both sides, measuring with my feet – the north portion may have been about twenty by twenty feet, and the bigger, more intact side would have been roughly twenty seven by twenty feet. 

I walk southwest again. Further up the hill are remnants of another stone wall. Were they built by the same person? What had that structure been? It was quite small. I step on to a boxelder tree, almost laying down but I think it is still alive. I walk up it, stepping around shoots sticking up everywhere and am able to walk over the top of the fence to the pasture. 

If I had lived on this farm as a child, my brothers, Isaiah and Jonathan and I would have favored this spot as our place to play. We may have built a fort from the branches littering the ground or from materials we scrounged up. Or we would have been content with the walls as they are. We would have divided it into rooms, with imaginary walls or boundaries. We would have made beds of old feed pallets, one for each of us. Constructed some sort of table and found something to use as chairs. We would have had a shelf for our pans and bowls, and other kitchen items. We would have made a bench of sorts for our sitting room. We’d have an awesome story to act out, lasting days or weeks. Perhaps one of us would be a neighbor living on the other side or maybe that was our stable with our horse and cow. We’d have to hunt and gather food. Keep an eye out for malicious intruders. If cousins were visiting, it would have been absolutely incredible. With just my brothers, depending on our story, I would pretend to be a boy – I wished as a kid I had been a boy, life may have been easier. The ravine would have been a dangerous, raging river – the tree the only way across. 

I pause my musings to look at a tree across the way, it’s quirky character demanding to be in its own tale. That tree could have been a significant meeting point in our imagined world.

I explore northward, following a deer trail until I arrive at a deep and narrow wash out. It is barely a crack in the earth towards its head, so I turn to my right, walk up the slope a little and then step across. I continue onward on another deer trail weaving through the trees, sometimes ducking under low hanging branches. There are various sized rock outcroppings. I pause to take a look at one and spy flowers – I wasn’t expecting anything to be in bloom. Small and dainty, somehow bridal. I take a look at the spaces between the rock layers, this might be a good spot for snakes in the summertime. Cold air comes pouring out. I keep getting distracted and stop my progress. The trees begin to change, suddenly there are more maple trees and lots of oak leaves and acorns on the ground. A couple of times my hat was almost removed from my head, grabbed by branches. I keep following a deer trail – a few spots I find tufts of fur. I’m getting really hot from the walk, and hungry. I wish I had had some sandwiches to bring along with me. There is a lone white pine tree, standing stately, so tall and elegant. The hillside curves to the right. I find a manmade trail, had it been an old logging trail or an actual road at one point? Bigger rock outcroppings are on the face of the hill. I depart the trail and walk left; I am standing on a rock cliff looking down. This is a cool part of the woods but it is too close to the highway, so my peace is interrupted. It took half an hour for me to get here while taking in the sights. I don’t linger long; I’m so hungry. I turn around and head back to the human trail, following it until it starts going too far up the hill. I turn to the side, right on to a deer trail, going back further down the slope, closer to the ravine, ambling down a smaller washout and back up the other side and keep going. I am painfully aware of how loud each step is. Ducking under branches, stepping over logs, stooping to pick up a bluejay feather; I arrive back at my stone in twelve minutes. I am so hungry. I’m craving a sandwich now. I should head back to the house but I don’t want to leave the woods, however, I need some food. Also, after sitting on my rock for a few minutes, I’m getting sleepy. 

Instead of using either tree bridge, I walk down into the ravine and then scramble up the other side. The problem with going down a hill is that you have to climb back up it – this one was steeper than I thought. The sharp incline and soft, damp soil, slipping under my feet made for a taxing climb. I reached the top out of breath and heart racing. Before leaving the woods, I walk down the old snowmobile trail a few feet to look at some flowers in bloom. It seems incredible that they used to drive Model Ts up this bluff; even if it was wide enough, you’d have great difficulty driving a modern car up this trail. 

I walk back to the metal pipe gates. After a few moments of struggling unsuccessfully to unhook the chain, I give up and climb over the top of the gate. I follow a cow path across the pasture to another metal pipe gate. This one has been damaged and can’t be opened, and it leans. Unfortunately, the ground on this side slopes down and it is leaning this way, making climbing over it from this side a great effort, I feel like I’ll fall off. Once over the top and safely on the ground, I hop onto the four-wheeler and head back to the house, a bit sad to have ended my time in the woods.

Farm Wedding: Reception (Part V)

Photo by Haley Hoeppner

We had thought about not having a receiving line but we needed time for people to move chairs to the tent and it was a sure way of greeting each of our guests. Mom was the first person; she hugged each of us in a long embrace. She seemed reluctant to let go of me, although Jonathan is younger than me, I’m still her baby. (A difficult thing anyway, compounded by me being unjustly taken away from her by the State for nine months, from April 6th – December 17th in 2004.) Then Larry gave me a long embrace, also struggling with his girl growing up. He embraced Jesse too. Then we received hugs from Jesse’s parents and sisters. Then my nieces, each waiting their turn to hug me; I gave each of Aleesha’s girls a lingering embrace, not wanting to let go. (Did the girls hug Jesse?) And of course, I had to hug Malachi too, squishing Leo in the process. He gave Jesse a handshake. I only half hugged Seth squishing Kalan. Another half hug from my brother in-law, Eric, who was also holding a toddler, Ember. He shook Jesse’s hand and complimented his singing. Lloyd, another brother in-law, somewhat hugged me around Lakira, no longer a toddler but over three, she was feeling shy too. Lloyd shook Jesse’s hand and told him he was a brave man for singing. I hugged everyone who came through, or was hugged by them. Each person, other than immediate family (with the exception of Aleesha’s girls), told me I was beautiful – and the most humbling thing, I think they actually meant it (more than just it being the thing people say to every bride). Jesse received lots of hugs too and everyone told him how well he sang, almost all of them saying they didn’t know he could sing. We thanked each of them for coming, touched that they wanted to be here to celebrate with us. Everyone had gone through the line and now most milled around over by the tent.  

I sat down on the bench, sitting in front of the house, next to Grandma and Grandpa Benike. Bernadette and Lexie each wanted another hug from me, which I was eager to give, those two are my snuggle bugs. The shoes were killing my feet. Elena was nearby so I asked her, “Elena can you get my other pair of shoes for me? They should be under the clothes rack in the dining room.” She went into the house to fetch my pair of flats. When she returned with them, I asked Jesse, “Babe, will you change my shoes for me”. It was a beautiful, perfect Cinderella moment, Jesse squatting down, gently taking the one pair off and putting on the other. And there was no camera in sight to capture the sweet moment. In fact, other than a couple of the girls and my grandparents no one had witnessed it. Oddly, Jesse and I had a few moments alone, for the most part, before heading toward the tent.  

Photo by Ben Paulson

Unfortunately, there was a wait for everything to be ready for the reception to begin, but it seemed everyone was having a good time mingling and chatting. Mom gave the go ahead to Jason to have Doug have the people to be seated, they’d asked us but I told them to talk to her. So Doug called everyone into the tent to find their seats. He then told everyone they were going to welcome the bridal party, but first he had them tap the table to create a beat. He announced, “Ethan Snyder and Johanna Wright,” they walked in together arms linked. “Adam Polson and Amber Hall,” they walked in arms linked, and then took their places at the table, remaining standing. “Daniel Hoeppner and Aleesha Bartelt.” They were the most joyous and comfortable out of the six. They stood next to their chairs at the table. Before he announced Jesse and me, Doug had everyone change up the beat they were creating on the table, and said something about welcoming an awesome couple. And then he said, “Mr. and Mrs. [Jesse] Polson.” Perhaps it was because I was with Jesse or the heightened joy but this entrance was less nerve racking than walking down the aisle for the ceremony had been. I still couldn’t believe it, we’re married now. My hand in Jesse’s; we strode into the tent like celebrities on a red carpet, but with way more joy. Jesse led me around the table to my spot. I have sat at the head table of a wedding a couple of times but never in the middle, actually nowhere near the middle but at the very end, so this was really awesome too. Aleesha took my bouquet and placed it in a vase in front of but between us, and then she and Jesse helped me sit down without catching my skirts under the chair. Sitting down and moving the chair in close enough to the table was a challenge. Doug handed the microphone to Pastor Ken, for him to say a prayer before the meal. Ken is another beloved pastor whose love blessed Isaiah and I. With that the guests were instructed on how to go about getting their food.  

Photo by Ben Paulson

Let the celebration begin! – with feasting and merriment. Food was brought to the bridal table in serving dishes: A fresh salad, roasted vegetables, tomato salad, pork loin, wild rice salad, bread and wine. All grown locally, right here in Minnesota; the wild rice hand harvested by Larry and friends, from a Minnesota lake. The food was absolutely phenomenal and impressed our guests. I wish I could have eaten more of it, but I was full. As the guests stood in line for food, most of them passed the bridal table so we were able to greet them again. It felt odd sitting down and eating while people stood there across the table from us, waiting for food. It also felt strange being on display, but also wonderful being the bride. One of my cousin’s kids while they were moving along in line blew out each of the candles on the bridal table as she passed them. And of course, throughout the meal, people kept clinking their glasses to get us to kiss. Seriously, why is that a thing? 

Photo by Ben Paulson

Paul Meyers, a cousin in-law to Jesse, came up behind us to greet us. He said, “Parking people was a challenge, they thought they needed to park on the road.” 

Jesse replied, “The fact that we didn’t know it was going on means you did your job well, Paul.” 

Before long, it was time for speeches. Daniel told us months ago that he was giving a speech whether we wanted him to or not. He led in the speech giving – and did it well; striking a balance between humorous and serious. Of course he had to talk about how long we had dated – “People were born and lived whole lives…when Jesse and Bethany started dating, I didn’t even like girls. Now I’m married to one.” Eight years today. He also told of Jesse telling him about me when we first started dating, how I had big arms and could move hay bales. There was a lot more Daniel could have said, he had been there through it all, prayed for us, and spent a lot of time with us, but we didn’t want the speeches to go too long. Daniel was bummed though that he forgot to say Jesse was the brother he never had. Before he finished, Daniel had everyone raise their 

glass for a toast. Jesse stood up to hug Daniel. Aleesha’s turn. She didn’t say much but the fact she said something at all was enough for me. While she was speaking, Leo sneaked around the end of the table and up behind us, lifted his arms up for Aleesha to pick him up. He’d gotten away from his siblings to find mommy. Aleesha expertly and gracefully picked him up without skipping a beat in her speech. Within moments of picking him up, Leo was asleep on her shoulder. I’m not sure if anyone else noticed him but it was so our family, always a baby or toddler in tow. Larry, Mom, and Lars all spoke too. Shortly after the speeches, Mom had Doug announce that there was plenty of food left over, particularly pork, so people should go back for more. And people did. Between greeting guests going by, Jesse and I talked to each other – about the food, and the people. The only conversation Jesse and I were able to have was with each other and Aleesha and Daniel; everyone else it was just a passing greeting. Aleesha said she liked our choice in music; Jesse made a playlist for the reception and another one for the dance. We felt bad that we weren’t able to interact with our guests more but the bride and groom are always too busy for that. (We had to tier our guest list, some people were invited to the reception only to keep the ceremony small and more intimate.) I can’t recall if there was an announcement for dessert or not, but that was more relaxed then getting the actual meal. Jesse and I were talking about getting pie and cookies when a cousin of his standing nearby asked if we would like him to get it for us. Of course we said yes. While people were eating their dessert, chatting, some (mainly kids) played yard games, Phil, Daniel, Aleesha, Amber and Adam signed the marriage license. Daniel and Haley agreed to mail it for us.  

With people fed and milling about, it was time to start the dance. Doug made the announcement for the first dance. Jesse and I like to dance but we aren’t dancers and weren’t too comfortable with the idea of people watching us dance, just the two of us, all eyes on us; so we told Doug to have our bridal party and their spouses (girlfriend in Adam’s case) join us half way through the dance. As our first song, we chose “I Swear” by John Michael Montgomery. Poor Johanna though, was without her husband, Eric had to leave early; so she danced with Ember instead, her two year old daughter. I barely noticed the others dancing with us; I looked over at them just briefly, only long enough to know they were there and that Jesse and I were no longer dancing alone. I was hardly aware of people watching us dance. I really only noticed Jesse, his arms wrapped around me, hands on my back, singing along. Still amazed we were now married. I leaned my head into his shoulder and closed my eyes, enjoying the feel of his strong chest against me. Listening to the lyrics of one of my favorite love songs, which took on a whole new meaning after I’d fallen in love with Jesse. This was contentment. We’d finally made it. The ceremony was beautiful, the food was amazing, people were enjoying themselves, so now we could relax and have fun. He looked down into my eyes, and I looked up at him. At that moment, I think we were actually the only two people there. But not star crossed lovers, no, we were battle tested over years lovers. It certainly felt like we’d earned the right to marry. The song ended. Jesse had to relinquish me to Larry for the father daughter dance.  

Photo by Ben Paulson

There was a lot of heartache in trying to find a father daughter song that would be appropriate for Larry and me. And as I passed over songs that I absolutely loved but wouldn’t work, such as “My little girl” by Tim McGraw and “I loved her first” (my favorite), I had cried and once again became filled with anger toward my dad. I was also frustrated that I couldn’t find a good song about a stepdad or a fill in dad of any type. But then I found “My wish” by Rascal Flatts. The song was absolutely perfect, bittersweet, sad and happy, slow and one of my favorites. When I played it for Mom and told her it was the song I’d chosen for Larry and me to dance to, she said, “he’ll cry and I’m going to cry.” Tears were already filling her eyes.  

Photo by Ben Paulson

As Larry replaced Jesse as my partner on the grassy dance floor, there was no remorse over who danced with me as my father. In every way that counts, Larry is my real daddy and I was happy to have him there taking on that role of honor. Larry sang along with some of the song. Happiness and contentment, pure joy, were the feelings that filled me now. I have an awesome husband. I am far from fatherless; aside from Larry, I have Lars, Phil, and several others. I am a lucky woman. I was never without a Mom, and yet I’ve gained so many of those too. And you know, I didn’t even think about my missing biological father all afternoon and evening – so many had taken his place. The dance came to an end. Larry gave me a big hug and disappeared. Jesse was immediately beside me again. Ben wanted a couple more photos of us, set against the descending sun; so we reluctantly left the dance to go back to the wheat field. (We also took a photo with Isaiah and Jonathan because we hadn’t earlier and a photo with my Uncle Don, my only biological uncle, my dad’s brother, who has been very kind to me over the years.) Before we resumed our place on the dance floor, I took off my shoes by the gift table. 

Photo by Ben Paulson

Now all our obligations, performances for everyone gathered were through, Jesse and I were finally able to relax and celebrate for ourselves. We danced. It was our playlist and we wanted to dance every dance. (The string wasn’t strong enough to hold my skirt up in a bustle, so if I did anything more than slow dancing I had to hold up my skirts so I didn’t step on them.) Perhaps it was the one thing that was truly for us. Our closest friends and family joined us. Jason made a point to dance with each of his daughters. Ever the gentleman, Malachi pulled Therese out on the dance “floor”; I thought it an extraordinarily sweet gesture – and how many older brothers would do that for their little sisters without being asked? Amber danced with her son Jadion, who’d just turned five the past week. We received compliments from our friends about the music selection. It was the first time in my entire life I danced in public without feeling awkward; even at other weddings, dancing with Jesse, I felt awkward and stiff, I was tense. Tonight that was totally gone, I wasn’t stiff, I didn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable. Why? Was it joy and happiness that did it? Or being married? What had banished those feelings of awkwardness and discomfort? I have no idea, but it was definitely absent and so very liberating! I basked in the love and joy of Jesse’s. Maybe it was just simply joy. We didn’t just dance with each other; we also danced with our nieces. A couple of them, and I can’t remember who came first, came near and I took one’s hand, she took the hand of the other, and Jesse took hers and then a couple more joined the circle. I think we had Lexie, Isabel, Bernadette, Amirianna, and perhaps Elena in our dance circle. It warmed my heart to have Jesse dancing with my nieces and enjoying them; it felt like in that moment, they had become his nieces too. We also danced with his (our) niece Lilian. Friends and other family danced around us. Jadion danced solo nearby. Daniel was jealous of Jadion’s dance moves, a five year old showing him up. Very few of our guests danced, but those who did had a blast and it was really for Jesse and I to celebrate. All of the people who danced were those that were quite close to Jesse and me. The dance was a wonderful, intimate conclusion to a beautiful, soul-stirring day. (Sad that there were a few people missing that I really wanted there; the one I ached for most was my niece, Faith.) My heart was full. Papa, God, had gone all out for me. Perhaps the most breathtaking, wondrous thing about the whole wedding, God cared immensely that the day, the decorations, the photos, the ceremony, the reception, the dance, be beautiful and everything I’d hoped it would be. He had been looking forward to this wedding too. And it was stunning. It had taken lots of prayers and a small army, but we did it. Finishing with a dance was absolutely perfect. I mean honestly, when you’re super happy and just received your heart’s desire, don’t you just want to break into a little jig? We danced and the world disappeared.  

It was growing late, the guests had dwindled away; some came to congratulate us, give hugs, and say their goodbyes, before they left. Now close friends and family were all that remained. Though we had plenty more songs yet to go through but with the late hour it was time to surrender the day and call an end to the festivities. I told my nieces that they could each pick a bouquet or two of flowers to have; they all lit right up with this simple gesture. I gave Therese my bouquet, which made her beam, but told her to promise me she would wait at least ten years.  

Photo by Ben Paulson

My sisters, nieces, nephews, and I’m not sure who all else helped clean up, take food into the house. It felt strange that Jesse and I weren’t helping and weren’t expected to help with the clean up – it went on around us without us being involved in any way. We didn’t have to take charge or manage; everything was being taken care of. And as far as I could tell, everyone was doing so willingly and joyfully. Ethan volunteered to take the suits back. Jesse and I just had to get ready to leave. The first thing first though, we needed to change. We went into Jonathan’s house. I got a bit side tracked by the situation in the living room – most of the little kids, ages five and down, were asleep on the couches, Jason asleep with them. It was so cute and so precious that I had to go back to the kitchen for my camera and then returned and took a picture. Originally my plan had been we’d change in the room I got ready in but upon seeing the uncovered windows, Jesse wanted to change elsewhere, despite me telling him no one was going to look in. Everyone who wasn’t busy cleaning up was asleep on the couches in the living room. Also, given the height of the windows, it would be quite challenging to peek in them. So instead we took our clothes over to Mom’s and into her room. 

Now this was another beautiful, wondrous, intimate moment. Mom came in with us to unhook and unbutton my dress, since Jesse was nervous about being clumsy with his bigger fingers and wrecking the dress, so Mom did it for him and then slipped out of the room. My heart fluttered. This moment took our relationship to an astounding new level as Jesse slid the straps of the dress off my shoulders and helped me step out of it. I shivered, partly from delight and excitement, and suddenly, I was a tad cool. I unbuttoned his shirt. We were now husband and wife; crazy how much some spoken words and a legal document changes everything. We were beholding each other in a whole new way; our relationship, intimacy had become deeper and soared to new heights, and to think there was even more to come. We didn’t linger long, Ethan needed the suit and we needed to load my stuff in the car. Jesse had had Jonathan hide our car just in case anyone had ideas about vandalizing it; so before we’d gone in to change, we’d asked him to bring it up by the house so we could load it up. It was parked there waiting for us. We grabbed my stuff from my room and packed it into the car, going through the checklist. Jonathan filled up a five gallon water cooler for us and put it in the trunk. Mariya, a niece, got my camera and phone from Jonathan’s house; yes, I hadn’t had my phone on me or anywhere near me since just before Judy started doing my hair. My nieces and nephews were still carrying in pies and books.  

Johanna hugged Jesse while we were still by the car, welcoming him to the family. We congregated on or around the deck. Tony apologized that he came late. We’d hugged Daniel and Haley; I think they were the last to leave besides my siblings. Mom and Aleesha had put leftover food into containers to divide up between them. Amber’s kids were giving everyone hugs; they were headed off too, back to Virginia. And so we were sent off not with a shower of rice but hugs. Each of my siblings and nieces and nephews (except for Seth and Tony) gave me hugs – all of Aleesha’s girls gave me lingering hugs.  

Photo by Haley Hoeppner

Besides the moments alone with Jesse, the building anticipation, basking in the joy and realization it was finally our wedding day, and then that we’re finally married, there were some other really amazing moments throughout that I will always hold dear. Xavier’s happiness about just the two of us having a picture taken together. Elena was in tears because she spilled lemonade on her dress. My sisters helped me with whatever I needed. My brother-in-law, Lloyd, said, “You’re a beautiful woman, Bethany,” after the dance, somehow it felt the most special of everyone telling me I was a beautiful bride. Little kids who didn’t know me wanted to hug me because I was a beautiful bride. And one of those kids, a boy named Paul, danced alongside us, thoroughly enjoying himself, by himself. When it was time for him to leave, he came up alongside of me to get my attention to tell me that he was leaving and gave me a departing hug. Our closest friends, Becky and Freddy, and Daniel and Haley danced near us. Dancing with my nieces and watching Malachi dance with his sisters. Thanking Jason for being master of ceremony and his reply, “No problem; it wasn’t much” – he did a lot. Walking up the deck steps, Therese said, “Aunt Bethany, you really are the most beautiful bride I’ve seen.” I could have cried! “Aww, thank you,” I hugged her. And Elena weighed in, “to be fair, we haven’t been to very many weddings.” Thanks, Elena. But it was precious all the same. Receiving a text from a friend reading, “Great day! Everything was beautiful, especially you! Congrats!,” with a photo of Jesse and me walking down the aisle.  

And then there were all the wondrous little morsels that I heard about later. On Saturday night, when Rachel and Haley took over pie making for my sisters, Mom overheard Rachel ask Haley if she was going to cry at the wedding and Haley responded, “ of course.” While Jesse was waiting for the go ahead to turn around to see me in my dress for the first time, he was really worried he wouldn’t like the dress, that the makeup and hairstyle would be over the top and he wouldn’t like it. Mom had overheard him say, “What if I don’t like the dress?” She assured him he’d love it. Isaiah told me later, while we were off on our photo shoot, Daniel paced by his car, practicing his speech. Isaiah said it was cute and thought it was great that we had someone who cared so much for us. Waiting for the ceremony to begin, Jesse didn’t just disappear to go to the bathroom but went downstairs to Isaiah’s apartment to get away from the chaos upstairs and to practice the song one more time. My sisters helped Jason line up the kids to walk down the aisle. Isabel was mad at Sylvia while they walked down. People oohed and awed over the girls’ dresses. Karin cried after hugging Jesse, as she turned to take her seat (and Ben caught it on camera!). Lars cried. Mom cried. Larry cried. After escorting my mom, Jesse forgot he was supposed to stay up there and started to head back up. Daniel thought about going over and picking up Jesse’s lyric sheets when they blew off the stand but decided against it. People thought the ceremony beautiful, others described it as lovely. Shirley, Jesse’s grandma, said it was the most beautiful wedding she’s ever attended. Grandma Benike was delighted that her dress matched the little girls’ dresses. People asked Mom how we managed to come up with such a good looking group for the bridal party, and received compliments on how beautiful my sisters were. Lot of people, ladies, commented to Mom on my dress and how it was so me, like it had been made just for me. Isaiah, Jonathan and Mom received lots of comments on how beautiful the farm looked, that it was a lovely and beautiful location for a wedding. (My brothers also heard people say how beautiful the whole bridal party was and the bride.) People complimented Jesse’s hair. The food was praised so much, people told me how delicious it was while we were at another wedding. At least a couple people loved our book selections. The decorations were praised. (Anna described the decorations as having, “a romantic, woodland, fairy wedding vibe.” She wrote in her blog, “Seeing their personalities and stories come together in the details was so sweet…I love how soft and dreamy Bethany’s dress was.” And, “Jesse surprised us all and sang “If I Stand,” by Rich Mullins. He did a great job and was definitely a highlight of the ceremony.”… “Everyone worked together, each using their talents and skills, and a beautiful wedding was the result.”) Xavier danced with Madison, classmates and second cousins. Jesse said only twenty percent of the people danced but Mom said the people who didn’t dance had just as much fun watching the dancing. Mom also said people really enjoyed themselves and had a lot of fun. Jesse said later, “I know it’s cliché, but while we were dancing, I wasn’t aware that people were watching us.” We received praises for using real plates. And many people wondered at the lack of biting insects, there really weren’t any. (I had prayed there would be no biting insects flying around the areas of the yard we were using for the wedding.) People in the community who weren’t even there mentioned to Mom that the food was fabulous and everything was beautiful. It was like the best dream becoming reality. Another awesome thing about our wedding was the variety of people present and that so many of them knew each other outside of knowing us. A whole community came together to celebrate with us.

Photo by Ben Paulson

Farm Wedding: Ceremony (Part IV)

Photos by Ben Paulson

Jesse and I went into the house, along with the kids, my sisters and Jeremy, Anna’s husband. We wanted the kids to wait out the remaining hour inside the house to keep them clean. And I wanted Jesse and me to stay in the house until we were needed, so our guests wouldn’t see us until the proper time, to add surprise and awe. I asked Jeremy to put a movie in for the kids to hopefully keep them occupied while we waited. So an hour before my wedding, I sat in my brother’s living room, watching an Ice Age movie with my nieces and nephews. Thankfully, someone had thought to provide snacks for the kids. I had asked Jason to be Master of Ceremony, to keep things moving along on time and make sure people knew what they were supposed to be doing. He performed the task really well and effortlessly. Even so, while I sat on the piano bench, next to Jesse, watching the kids and the time, I kept thinking of the things people should know and make sure they had everything down. “No, no, it’s ok, everything is being taken care of,” I had to keep telling myself. From where I sat, I couldn’t tell if people were driving in. It is astounding how slow and how fast that last hour went. I was now starting to get nervous. Would it go smoothly? There’s going to be so many people watching me. Will people have fun and enjoy the wedding? Xavier, my three and a half year old nephew, kept handing pretzels to me; I ate a couple but didn’t really want any. When he wasn’t looking, Malachi took them and ate them for me. But then seeing my hands were empty, Xavier would give me more. The cutest thing while we waited, Xavier stuffed pretzels into his pants’ pocket – I wish I would have gotten a photo of that. Sylvia seemed to have the hardest time waiting, she and some of the other really little kids were running around; we had to scold them a few times. A few of them were restless while others were completely into the movie. My sisters were in and out of the living room, as was Haley. Either Johanna or Amber told me Teddie would help me get out the door when it was time. I told them politely that Michelle was already lined up to do it – another one of my mamas, and Phil’s wife. Jesse said he needed to go to the bathroom but then disappeared for awhile; I wondered where he went. I couldn’t help looking at the clock on the opposite wall; excitement and nervousness mounting. Jesse returned shortly before it was time to go out. Julia, not quite two, wouldn’t leave her sandals on her feet. So when it was time for the kids to head out, I ended up putting her sandals back on her. Jeremy had left before the kids, sneaking out while Julia was distracted. Jesse followed the kids out. 

For a few moments, I sat alone. This was it; we’re almost there! I basked in the last few moments of anticipation, like a turtle sunny itself on a log in early spring, until I became antsy.  Feeling anxious, antsy, and aware of activity happening that I couldn’t see; I moved from the living room into the kitchen and took a peek out the window. I couldn’t really see the processional, other than the guys waiting their turn. Presumably, Jason was lining up the kids to walk down the aisle, in groups of three or four. It felt strange to not be witnessing the kids walking down the aisle. (Perhaps I should have been looking out Jonathan’s bedroom window or the bathroom window on the west side of the house.) I moved away from the window and stood between the kitchen and dining room; excited and nervous. 

 

Amber and Johanna came into the house. There were still a few minutes before we were needed. Jesse should be escorting first his grandma and then each of my grandmas, one at a time, to their seats. Then setting roses on a chair for our deceased grandparents: his grandpa, Bill Polson and his grandma, Marcella Sawyer, and my grandpa Russ Mullin. (After Dad was no longer a part of the picture I had thought Grandpa Mullin would be the one to walk me down the aisle, I had been Grandpa’s little princess. He died nine years earlier, eleven days less than a year before Jesse and I began dating, in the living room where we had been waiting. I know he was there in attendance though, smiling proudly, and happy of my choice – he and Jesse would have gotten along well.) And a fourth rose for Lynn Holm, a pastor and former missionary, who mentored us, individually. He died a couple of years after Jesse and I started dating. He had come over to comfort me after Jesse and I had had a fight. Lynn saw something, obviously Jesse and I together, by the look in his eye, I could tell he saw something great and he said together Jesse and I were going to do great things. I clung to that many times whenever our relationship became shaky, rocky. Lynn watched too. Johanna pulled a chair out for me to sit on while I waited. Then she got me a drink of water because I had a tickle in my throat and was worried I wouldn’t be able to speak without coughing if I didn’t drink something. After laying down the roses, Jesse would escort his mom and then my mom. Moments after I returned the empty cup to Johanna, they disappeared back outside; it was their turn to walk down the aisle. Jesse must have completed his tasks and taken his place next to Phil, eagerly awaiting my entrance. But first, the bridal party had to walk down the aisle. Johanna and Ethan walked together leading the way. Next, Amber and Adam walked, starting when the other two were half way. Again, I couldn’t see any of this, just trusting it was happening.  

Michelle had slipped into the house when my sisters went out. These last moments seemed to take the longest. – Perhaps even more so because I couldn’t see what was happening. I stood up and went over by the door. Michelle already stood there, watching out the window. I was nervous, now. So many people. Thankfully, I wasn’t shaky; just a jumble of nerves and excitement. The last minute dragged on. My heart fluttered and my stomach did somersaults. Jason must have signaled to Michelle that they were ready for me. Aleesha and Daniel would be sauntering up the aisle, probably beaming, more than likely half way by now. This was it! The moment I have been hoping for and dreaming of for years! It finally arrived! Wow! Cue all the sappy love songs I adore and use to sing to myself, wondering what it would be like. This was it. A handsome and amazing man stood waiting for me at the end of a tunnel of people. I can’t recall who held the door open – must have been Jason? Larry waited for me at the bottom of the steps. I gripped my bouquet of flowers and stepped forward and down out of the house. Michelle held my skirts. 

How many weddings have I attended? Seven by the time I was eighteen; that I can recall. And fifteen since dating Jesse; yes, fifteen! Of these fifteen, at least ten of those couples began dating after Jesse and I had, some of them years after we started. I had witnessed twenty one bridal parties walk down the aisle; observed twenty one brides escorted by their fathers, eagerly glide down the aisle; faces aglow. For at least half of them, I fought back tears because those brides were escorted by their dads, and mine couldn’t be there. By the last five, I think I had mostly accepted that. But at every one of those fifteen, I struggled with the fact that it wasn’t mine; well less so with the last four, because by then Jesse had proposed. The last one we went to, I was making notes and thinking soon enough now it will be my turn. Strange, being at a wedding and not seeing the bridal party walk down the aisle nor the bride. Now after all these years and all those weddings, now it is finally my turn. Little girls dream of this moment, since the time they’re eight, perhaps even younger. My Barbie dolls had many weddings. I watched movies with weddings wondering what it would feel like. Jesse would tease me saying I just wanted to be married (there are plenty of girls who just want to be married) but I would reply if that was the case I would have left him years ago and found someone else who’d marry me quicker. But I wasn’t just wanting to be married – I wanted to marry Jesse. I wanted to know we’d always be together and I wanted our relationship to continue to grow and mature; we could only reach a certain point of growth and intimacy while we were just dating. Marriage keeps the relationship moving forward, growing more intimate and more loving. That’s what I wanted: A life with Jesse. (Even though my biological dad wasn’t there, his parents and all four of his siblings and spouses were; proudly and lovingly witnessing it. Each said they wouldn’t have missed it and each of those uncles have been like a father to me in the past eight years.)

I stepped down another step. Here we go. Two more steps down and I was on the ground and turned right. This was my big moment, and boy was I nervous! Look at all the people! Wait, don’t look at the people – look forward. Larry took my hand and tucked it through his arm, resting it in the crook of his arm and placed his right hand over the top of mine for a moment.  He looked at me, and asked, “Are you ready for this?” 

“Yes! I think I’m going to cry.” I looked past the tunnel of people, all those people waiting for me to walk to Jesse; he stood tall and handsome, so sure of this decision, ready for me to be his wife. Tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn’t really say why. But seeing him standing up there, waiting for me, as the groom, not an attendant at someone else’s wedding, I cried. It must have been simply because it was finally our turn. We’d battled to get to this point. There were so many times, weekly over the past eight years (well except for the past one), I had doubted this day would come. Many people doubted. And I stood by him, and at times people questioned my decision to do so. But I knew in my heart, beyond how I felt for him, that he was God’s choice for me. We were designed for one another. Perhaps that’s also why I cried, for doubting Jesse’s desire for me. And astonishment that he wanted me as his wife. I was literally moved to tears by his love for me. I only looked at him for a moment; I didn’t want the tears to spill down my face.  

Larry dropped his hand from mine and we stepped forward with Jason’s prompting. We passed under the arch (we were going to use it as a backdrop behind us but decided to use it as more of a gateway instead.) I avoided looking at the people gathered to witness the wedding, though several times I was tempted to look. Doing so would have heightened my anxiety. I had to speak in front of all these people; better not to look at them. Phil. He was safe; looking at him brought neither anxiety nor tears. Walking all over the farm in those shoes for photos was marvelous practice. I walked naturally, perhaps not quite gliding but at the very least not clumsy, graceless and no tripping or rolling an ankle, my usual walk while wearing heels. The angels must have been helping me to float along. I zoned out the audience, barely aware they were there.  

Larry and I arrived at the front, reaching Jesse and Phil, surrounded by our bridal party. Larry had also been trying not to cry. All those years I was saddened by the thought my dad wouldn’t be able to walk me down the aisle, and yet here I was with Larry, not my biological father but my real daddy; he had just lovingly and proudly walked me down the aisle. He has consistently been a huge part of my life for eighteen years. Fittingly, he wore his hair in a ponytail today; my first memory of him is that ponytail, him sitting in our farm kitchen with a bunch of farmers. Dad hasn’t been a part of my life for sixteen years; meaning Larry has been in my life for four more years than my Dad had. David had forfeited the privilege of being my daddy. Sadly, other than a fleeting thought, wondering if he knew I was getting married today, early in the morning, I didn’t think about him. Which was actually a very good thing; I didn’t need or want anything to cast gloom on my happiest day. Larry embraced me in a long, firm hug before letting me go. He then turned to Jesse and hugged him, a handshake alone wouldn’t do. Again, I had to battle back a flood of tears. This was happening. Right now, for real; no longer just a fantasy in my daydreams. (Thankfully, I had had no night time dreams about the wedding because they probably would have heaped on the anxiety.) Here, Jesse and I stood, opposite each other, with a pastor in between. – I couldn’t believe it, and yet here we were. How humbled and blessed we were to have two hundred people who love us witness our union. That fact also made tears spring to my eyes. These people loved and cared so much for us that they weren’t going to miss our wedding. A cousin of mine had forgotten to RSVP, less than a week before, she sent me a message, practically begging to come to the ceremony at least, saying they could leave before the reception, or not eat, all because she wanted to be a part of the celebration of us marrying. I was deeply moved by this. I told her, we’d love to have them and staying for the reception was not a problem, we had lots of food.  

Our choice in pastor, of half a dozen pastors dear to us, was because Phil had, according to my memory, always been a part of my life, since I was three years old. He had watched me grow up, as he said, “From a terrified teenager, with good reason, to a beautiful, confident woman,” – I, myself, wouldn’t describe me as confident but I have come a long way. I am another one of his daughters. He knows about all the painful things that happened to our family, including rejection from other pastors and church people. Instead of judging us or fleeing, he hurt for us, prayed and loved us. Although we go long times without seeing him, sometimes years, it feels like no time goes by, other than having to catch up on what’s been going on. The other reason why I chose Phil was because he could perform a God honoring ceremony without being preachy nor making non-church going guests and family uncomfortable. His wife, Michelle, is also a pastor and is like another mama to me and could have done the same thing but some people may have been uncomfortable with a woman pastor. Also, Phil needed it. Years ago, he performed the ceremony for Mom and her ex-husband. The marriage didn’t last long and went badly. Mom’s ex was an abusive man, mostly emotional but also physical sometimes and threatened to kill her a few times. It was the last wedding Phil had performed because he felt guilty for not paying attention or not seeing the red flags; but the man had everyone fooled and Phil was no way at fault. We also chose Phil because premarital counseling with him wouldn’t be churchy; biblical but not churchy. Our non-church friends that had been around for all the weekend activities were impressed by Phil and Michelle – they’re real and loving, no preaching and no judging, and they drank wine. Michelle is Mom’s best female friend. I was a baby when she became a part of our lives, less than 3 months old. She loves sharing her first time meeting me – I sat perched on Mom’s lap, tremendous amount of hair, petite, cute, round nose. She said I was a little who baby (a Dr. Suess reference). The first baby she ever liked and loved. Yep, she was a proud mama, watching me get married, for I was her first baby. I am so thankful she and Phil were able to come and to be such a huge part of my wedding. They weren’t the only non-biological family present that had known me or Jesse, or in the case of some both of us since we were babies – we are so blessed to have so many “moms” and “dads”.  

Phil greeted everyone. Starting with how beautiful a day we were given for this, exactly what we had asked for. (Mom and I prayed constantly for fantastic weather, starting a year in advance.) Then he said, “Like the day Bethany was born – a beautiful, perfect summer day, not too hot, not too cold, not humid and not windy”. After the greeting he said a prayer and then everyone sang two hymns, “Be Thou My Vision” and “Come Thou Fount”, led by our dear friends, Doug and Lynelle, who also played for my entrance. We should have just done the one song to keep the ceremony shorter but Jesse really wanted to sing them both – I paid attention to the things he actually had an opinion on for the wedding. I wanted a God honoring wedding that wasn’t preachy. The songs finished, Phil gave a message. He shared that he had the most confidence in Jesse and I out of all the couples he’s worked with that we’ll make it. He mentioned the benefits of getting married at an older age. He read the verse Colossians 3:12 – 14. Mostly he talked about love. Otherwise I can’t remember what he said. I glanced up at Jesse a few times but nearly cried each time, so I mostly looked at Phil. I started to take a glimpse at the guests watching but stopped before seeing them, it would only increase my nerves even more. Phil, being Phil, spoke longer than the five minutes I had given him. 

Now it was time for Jesse to sing a solo, one of my favorite things about the day. The inspiration came from our friends, Becky and Freddy’s wedding, the year before. Freddy sang a solo and it was beautiful and powerful. I asked Jesse if he would do the same, but he didn’t want to because he hasn’t been classically trained like Freddy. I tried again, saying he should sing “Be Thou My Vision”. But I got nowhere. So I prayed he’d change his mind. In February, Jesse went to visit Daniel for a few days. He came back wanting to sing “If I stand” by Rich Mullins, a far more complicated piece than the hymn I had in mind. But it was a powerful choice in song. Figuring out accompaniment for it was challenging, we barely made it work. Daniel couldn’t play it for us because he didn’t have access to a piano to learn it. Johanna tried very hard to learn it but with having a traumatic brain injury she really struggled. However, she found an accompaniment track for us and that’s what we ended up using. Beyond close family members, we didn’t tell people he was going to sing because we weren’t sure if it would work out. We’d discussed where Jesse should stand and look when he sang. I told him he definitely didn’t want to look at me since that would make him more nervous. The best place for him to stand was off to the side, where Doug and Lynelle had been playing the processional music and hymns. So Jesse took the microphone from Phil and walked over to the music stand to sing. I had to turn around to see him. With everyone’s eyes on him, I could look at him freely; they may not notice me tearing up. This was far more than just Jesse singing. For one thing the song he chose is a powerful song. He sang for me but he also sang because he has a passion for it; he is always singing. He was worried it was a weird thing, wondered if it was romantic. Daniel assured him it wasn’t weird and although he wasn’t singing a love song, it was romantic. But as I said, it was more than all that. I had known Jesse years before we had started dating. – He was Anna’s older brother, a college student whom all the youth kids flocked to in the summer months. As those kids also went off to college, most of them moved on, they only came back to visit. Suddenly there weren’t many of us left that were in that age group. I thought Jesse just started hanging out with Isaiah and I because he took pity on us, we sat alone at church, and because his friends weren’t in the area. Of course everyone else who took notice, knew that wasn’t why he sat with us in church and started to take me to movies. The thought of him being anything more than just a friend wasn’t even there; nice, fun, smart, but just a friend. Plus, he was just being nice, no way was he interested in me. However, he persisted. He lost the college chub, let his hair grow (summer buzz cuts were the thing before), and began changing from a boy to a man. I hadn’t thought of him as being physically attractive, although he obviously had (has) an attractive personality,everyone, even older adults, are drawn to him. I enjoyed his friendship. But two things changed my mind and started a crush for him. He sat next to me in church and sang along during worship service. Whoa! That voice! I hadn’t heard any boy, young man, around my age sing so beautifully, not even in choir. Everyone appreciates a good singer, or should, but that wasn’t all. I had a list, as I’m sure most girls do, of the things I was looking for in a man whom I’d want to marry. I wanted a man who could sing beautifully. I knew it wasn’t an important thing, not like kind-hearted, hardworking, responsible, great sense of humor, and the like, but it was something I deeply desired, and prayed for. Along with an intellectual country boy, a reader, and nice biceps, yes, he had to have muscle, but muscle that came from hard (productive) work not a gym. So it was his singing that first had me falling for him. The second thing was him asking me if he could come into my house after we had been at a movie to see a baby lamb and then held it. So having him sing at our wedding was huge. His voice was a little shaky from nerves, and not quite as powerful as the singing I enjoy when we’re alone or he sings to the cows, but it was so beautiful all the same. I admired him singing a solo in front of so many people, friends and family, people he’ll see again and have to interact with forever. Tears almost flowed. Yes, it was romantic. Ben accidently started his music too soon which made Jesse even more nervous, but he did well. Then a gust of wind came up and blew his lyric pages. “Oh no,” I thought, in the instant it happened, wondering if it would mess him up. He gracefully caught one sheet, while somehow not stumbling a bit with his singing. Another sheet floated to the ground. Should someone pick it up for him? Or should we leave it and not make it look worse? No one did move to pick it up, and Jesse kept singing, keeping it together like nothing happened. And then he was done. Our guests applauded appreciatively. He returned to his place, opposite of me, bringing the microphone back to Phil. After I turned, Aleesha straightened out my skirts.  

Now came perhaps the scariest moment for me, the vows. I would have to speak in front of all these people. Yikes! And Phil just told everyone I’d be saying them first. Please, God, don’t let me mess up. The microphone was in my hand. Jesse put the paper with our vows in the other. Don’t mess up. Don’t mess up. I tend to even stumble over even little words like “the” when I read aloud with people listening. I totally blocked out the people watching. I almost looked up at Jesse, wanted to, but couldn’t. I was so afraid of making a mistake or losing my place, I kept my eyes on the paper. Ok, done. Had my voice begun to shake? I’m not sure, but any longer and it definitely would have. I eagerly gave the mic back to Phil and the paper to Jesse. Thank goodness that part was over – and I didn’t stumble or mess up. Phil gave the mic to Jesse. I looked into his face as he read his vows to me. Again tears threatened but I held them back. This man does truly love, cherish, treasure and adore me; and he’s been looking forward to this day as much as I have. He is totally confident in the decision he has made and is making. Wow. I am humbled when I look into those loving eyes. He wasn’t having to look at the paper as much as I did. He looked at me. Almost there. Phil took over the mic again, as we exchanged rings and repeated after him. Again, I went first. I’d given my bouquet to Aleesha for the vows, now I turned to her for Jesse’s ring, which she’d put on her thumb and I was easily able to remove and slide on to Jesse’s finger with much happiness and satisfaction. Almost there. Then it was Jesse’s turn, repeating after Phil. Then taking the ring from Daniel, he slipped it on to my finger. We weren’t quite done yet though. I’d asked Pastor Gordon, a beloved pillar of love and strength for me over the past fourteen years, with ties to all four of the guys (our three groomsmen were elated Gordon was there), to pray a blessing over our marriage. Gordon had been a huge encouragement in the last couple of weeks (he told me, “You are special. You are loved. You are a blessing.” – I had desperately needed to hear this.) Phil and our whole bridal party gathered in close and laid hands on us. Gordon was in tears as he spoke a few words about us and then prayed over us. Nearly moving me to tears. He knew all the hurt and pain I had suffered through to reach this time of blessing, and here he was speaking of his love for us, believing Jesse and I will glorify God through our union and marriage. The prayer spoken, each of us returned to our spots, the big moment had arrived – the pronouncement of marriage. But instead of “I pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Polson,” Phil said the wrong last name. We corrected him and he tried again but still had it wrong. Third time’s the charm, he got it right (Phil has a hard time with names anyway; but poor man, he had practiced it several times.) With that he told Jesse he could kiss the bride. And he did, sweeping me into his arms, one hand on my back, the other on my waist, he pulled me close. My left arm around his neck, my right hand, holding the flowers, rested on his arm. In spite of being shy about kissing me in front of people, he really kissed me. He went all out, even dipping me a little. Applause and cheers erupted throughout the guests. They had been impatiently waiting for this moment for many years, too. And just like that, we were married; husband and wife. The whole thing was absolutely stunning. I couldn’t believe it, we’re married now. Such joy! All of that work and build up, the ceremony was the shortest part of the whole affair – from figuring out my ring to us kissing in front of everyone.  It had finally happened. (Handel’s Messiah Hallelujah Chorus would have been appropriate at this point – Mom and I had thought about it and our friends would have gotten a kick out of it, but Jesse said no.)  

Everyone stood for the recessional. Johanna and Ethan led the way, then Amber and Adam, followed by Aleesha and Daniel. My heart overflowed with joy. And it spread all over my face – by the way, my smile was one of the first things that really caught Jesse’s attention, setting it all in motion fourteen years ago, while we held glass board in place and his dad secured it, in Mom’s milkhouse. We did it! Jesse had taken my hand in his as soon as he’d stopped kissing me. Not until Aleesha and Daniel walked under the arbor, did we start to make our exit, we were to have the aisle to ourselves. Walking down that aisle, we soared. Those moments truly are the happiest and most wonderful, and yet somehow even more glorious ones will follow. I wish we could have paused, that the wedding could have lasted, well perhaps not forever but longer. We did it. We’re married. Now it was alright to look at people, although I didn’t really see them. We walked together, hand in hand, under the arbor, husband and wife. If only I could describe how I felt. 

We’d no sooner walked under the arbor and Adam had his arm around Jesse’s shoulders, making a joke about being the brothers whatever Phil said instead of Polson. And Daniel put his hand on my waist, Jesse and I still holding hands, the four of us stood in an intimate circle, for a few moments before others walked up the aisle. I felt relaxed, the scariest part was over. (Also, I felt like a princess in the dress.) It was so fun and awesome to finally have my day.  

Farm Wedding: The First Look (Part III)

Photo by Haley Hoeppner

On any day, at any time, seeing Jesse creates amazing flutters inside me, my heart leaps, and I’m sure my face lights up, since a smile generally spreads across my face or at least teases at my lips. But here was the big moment, in only a few hours he would be my husband. Excitement and anticipation were building. Here it was. I had been waiting so long for this moment. Wondering how he would react when he first gazed upon me wearing the dress, about to become his wife. I think this was also the moment the jitters and nervousness began to creep in, but they were outdone by excitement, anticipation, and joy. (This is where the photography really shines – where I have difficulty describing how I felt, the photo of me says it very well.) 

Ben Paulson

The shoes and my walking ability were immediately put to the test; down the hallway, out the door and down a step. Someone, I can’t recall who, held the door open while Haley and Aleesha helped me out the door. I had to lift my skirts up while I walked so I didn’t step on them and so they didn’t drag too much on the ground.  Down a couple more steps, across the gravel drive by the garage, over the lawn to a diagonal trail to the path through the north-south windbreak on the west side of the yard. Ben led the way to where Jesse waited for me. Haley followed behind me. Ben told me Jesse was waiting around the first row of trees on my left and then walked on ahead and out of sight, joining Jesse. I turned the corner, going around the Chinese chestnut tree. Jesse stood with his back to me, several paces into the grassy strip between the rows of trees. Ben stood on the other side of him, photographing his response and instructing him. I can only imagine what Jesse was feeling during those moments of anticipation. (He told me later, he was extremely nervous, worried he’d hate the dress, the hairstyle, the makeup, worried I wouldn’t look like me.)  As I came walking up behind Jesse, Ben had to instruct him not to look yet, many times. “Not yet. Not yet. Wait. Just wait.” It was slightly unfair since I had sneaked a peek out the window and was now coming up behind him. Even from the back he looked good – tall, trim, broad, fit. It felt like minutes before Ben told Jesse he could turn and look – of course, Ben had to move faster and get on the other side of us before he did.  

Photo by Ben Paulson

This moment may be the most precious and dearest of all. There was no doubt Jesse liked what he saw. He uttered a little noise of approval that only he can make, and his mouth fell open. We no longer noticed Ben; it wasn’t that we just weren’t paying attention to him; we just didn’t even know if he was there or not so didn’t notice at all when he disappeared to give us a few moments alone. I too was awed and humbled by how handsome Jesse looked. I’ve seen him in suits and tuxes many times and already knew he looks extraordinary in them. And gray is an amazing color on him. But this, this was different. I couldn’t believe how handsome he was; I mean I couldn’t believe what an incredibly handsome man I get to marry. Wow. I am incredibly lucky; especially since he is more than just good looks. (Back around Christmas, Haley and I were talking about Jesse’s good looks and how unfair it was that he has such beautiful blue eyes with extremely long eyelashes – it’s no wonder there’s almost always a girl checking him out when we go places. The best part is he has no idea; he always tells me I’m confused.) And the way he looked at me. I am his treasure. Adoration and love were in his eyes and his voice as he spoke. Tears were there too, not enough to spill over and run down the cheeks, but plenty from a man who is uncomfortable with emotions. He immediately pulled me into his arms and held me close to his chest, resting his cheek on my head. Love stories are real. And I reveled in that most amazing embrace. Somehow, gracefully he shifted us, still cradled in his embrace, hands now on my lower back. He looked down into my eyes, with a sort of fiery intensity and half whispered, “You’re so pretty, babe.” 

“Thank you. You’re so handsome.” 

Breathing deeply, moist eyes, “I love you, babe,” in that same endearing half whisper.  

I received a wondrous gift in these moments. His response to seeing me was as beautiful and touching as I’d hoped it’d be.

 “I love you too, babe.”  Another long hug followed. I pulled back a bit to look up into his face, enjoying the strength and protection of his arms around me, “Babe, it’s finally here. We’re getting married.” 

“It’s true. Very exciting.”  

The wonderful thing about true love is that it grows deeper and stronger, each day you love more deeply, and are awed by that love. Jesse and I have experienced that increase of love for each other over and over again. Another thing that made our wedding so special, we were no longer young, love struck, love sick, star crossed lovers still in the honeymoon phase where he’s wearing blinders and I’m wearing rose colored glasses, the other is perfect and can do no wrong, the place where most marriages begin. We were already long past the honeymoon stage. His blinders had long since been ripped off and my rose colored glasses shattered. A result and exceedingly good thing to come from the difficult life circumstances we had to overcome, battle, and survive. Philip Thooft, the pastor we asked to officiate and counsel us was quite impressed with where we are at with each other. He had us go through a seminar by Danny Silk, Loving on Purpose, Defining a Relationship, but that was it. He asked us a few questions and after hearing our responses said he felt comfortable with where we were. (Apparently very few couples actually talk about the big important things before they get married: money, sex, children, dreams and goals. Jesse and I had discussed all these things, many times over throughout the years – sometimes leading to arguments and creating doubts.) Our love for one another reached a whole new level in those moments alone. After a few more moments, I have no idea how long it was, Jesse said, “Well, we should find Ben. Keep moving.” 

“Yep.”  

He took my hand in his and led me back along the way I had come. Ben and Haley were waiting discreetly by the start of the path into the windbreak. It was time to continue with the photography. Ben had us turn around and go back along the path, but continue all the way through the windbreak, to the other side. He snapped shots the whole time. Jesse joked about paparazzi. Ben did a fabulous job scouting out good places to do the photos, capturing beautiful farm scenery that lent different things to the photos. First the wheat field. Jesse and I really don’t like photos of ourselves, and Jesse really just doesn’t like to be photographed – he has a hard time being serious and not goofy. There were a few goofy pictures, but otherwise we were just so happy and Ben did such a phenomenal job capturing us that the photos turned out great and Jesse and I had fun doing them. I think it really helped that we had our friends, people who know us, taking the photos, so Jesse and I were at ease. After the wheat field, Ben led us back along the path, through the windbreak, past the tent and turning right, to the granary. (Trying to avoid being noticed by people – there was still activity going on with getting everything done in the tent. And Jesse’s grandma had already arrived.) The granary is a beautiful old building, my favorite on the whole farm. I was happy Ben had thought to do photos with it as a backdrop. He again was just shooting away, sometimes positioning us but other times just photographing us doing our own thing. So he suggested, “How about a kiss?” It felt a little silly and a tinge embarrassing and yet fun and liberating that it was now all of a sudden “ok” to kiss in front of people. Daniel came over and stood with Ben and Haley for a bit. Either Daniel or Jesse pointed out the insects getting caught in the tulle layers of my skirts. I replied, “Well, I took an entomology class so I guess it’s fitting.”  

Daniel said, “That’s the nerdiest thing you’ve ever said, but cute.”   

Isaiah came over and hung around for a few moments, I felt bad because he was on the edge of it and he seemed to want to speak to us. Ben also had us sit on the old loading dock in front of the granary. He actually had Jesse lift me up on to it, which he did quite easily. Then he lifted himself up onto it. There were some posed shots taken here but also Ben just simply caught us reveling in our joy and excitement, and love. Haley threw in the artistic shots, such as our feet. When Ben was ready to move on the steps were mentioned, but it was easier for me to have Jesse lift me up and off the loading dock. We then walked down the driveway, past the sheds, to the furthest one at the end of the main driveway. Isaiah didn’t follow. My heart ached; I knew how hard this was for him. – I was leaving him behind. We had said as children we’d get married at about the same time as each other and the four of us would be great friends. Sadly, and it does pain me, my circle with Jesse and our friends, doesn’t include Isaiah, a disparity of interests. I pray he’ll find his wife and circle too, very soon and maybe then we will all have more in common. 

Next we had to have a couple of photos with the hay bales, being dairy farmers, and already close to the shed. And of course the saga of our love story began on a hay bale. Then, we left the shed, turning right (east) to where the cows grazed, to have a couple of photos with them. Then we walked back westward, past the shed, the greenhouses, to an old Farmall C tractor. Ben had spotted it yesterday and wanted to do a few photos with it. 

“Bethany, is there any way you can get up on the tractor?” He asked. 

“No, between the dress and the shoes, there’s no way I’m getting on it.” Little farmalls don’t have steps. Haley and Jesse protested too, both saying I’d get dirty, worried about oil smudging the dress. Jesse, however, climbed up onto the tractor. We carefully got me close enough to the tractor without touching it to take some photos with it. Haley had some artistic ones taken too. Then we stood aside from the tractor and hugged. Haley had taken my bouquet to do some photos on the tractor and to free our hands. She gave them back before asking us to kiss again. So Jesse held the flowers up blocking the kiss from the view of the camera. Again, having our friends do the photos put us at ease and allowed for really great shots. It was time to wrap it up, time was running away on us and we still had to do photos with the bridal party and family. It was awesome though doing the photos far away from the yard, away from the busyness and other people. We walked around the west end of the greenhouse, between the wheat field and potato patch. Isaiah was waiting for us between the trees in the windbreak. Ben and Haley passed by, but Isaiah stopped Jesse and I. He just desperately had to tell us he was proud of us, loved us, and was happy for us, somewhat hugging us. It was moving for me, especially since it had to be hard for him to say all of that to Jesse.  

We continued on to the yard, turning left by the garage to the backyard where the ceremony would take place. It was time to do the group photos. First, Ben took photos of my sisters and me and then the groomsmen and me. Then Jesse with each of my sisters, individually and then all together, followed by photos with Mom and Larry, then Lars and Karin, grandparents, and siblings. Jesse did a photo with the nephews and I did a photo with the nieces; we should have swapped but we were pressed for time. We did a photo with his parents and siblings and then one adding his brothers in-law and nieces and nephew. We didn’t actually do a photo with just us and my siblings and sadly we didn’t get one with him with his siblings and me with mine. Instead we did photos with each of my married siblings and their families and one later with Isaiah and Jonathan. There were more photos I would have loved to do but we were running out of time since I wanted to be hidden in the house by 4:00 pm, before guests started arriving, and Ben needed to set up the sound. I also would have liked a camera on the kids at all times because they did some really cute things while impatiently waiting. (If I could go back in time and do it again, I would have just had my camera on me and taken those photos myself…why didn’t I?)

Farm Wedding: Final Preparations (Part II)

Sunday morning, I set aside my journal and pen, it wasn’t working to write and time raced toward the wedding. I had to shower, pack for the honeymoon, choose books and take them to Anna and Rachel. I had to be ready to have my hair done by noon. Inside, Mom and Cheryl worked preparing the food. Outside was a flurry of work – Aleesha took charge of remaining yard work and setting up for the ceremony. Since it was too wet to drive the skid loader on the lawn, Aleesha, Jonathan, Isaiah, Therese, and Elena hauled away the big pile of wood chips by the garage with the wheelbarrow, spreading them out on the path through the tree line, west of the wedding location. They set up the chairs, put flower pots in place and I’m not sure what all else they did, but they were hard at work all morning long making sure everything would look amazing for my big day. I’m so grateful to have siblings who love me so much. Therese and Elena also finished up cleaning in Isaiah and Jonathan’s house and Therese ironed dresses and vests. Anna and Rachel took care of decorating the tent and setting up signs. Ethan helped set up tables and Wes was helping in any way he could too.  

Photo by Ben Paulson

Choosing books to use as decoration was challenging. How do I choose just a few of my beloved books? Hmm, there were so many and I wouldn’t mind having all of them on display. How to choose, how to choose? Seriously girl, just hurry up and grab some, I told myself. I wanted a good selection, a broad selection, and some classics (partly because Mom had some really old ones that look awesome). There were several books I would have loved to put out but being more like textbooks in size, I figured they would be too big. I passed up The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and went with The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The books had to reflect my interests but also Jesse’s as well or at least of a connection to us. I had to include a couple of bee books – The Sacred Bees, A World Without Bees, A Fruitless Fall (the book that began my interest in beekeeping), Bees, and Bumblebees of North America. Alright, what else do I want out there? Obviously nature books that have inspired my writing and expanded my intellect – The Singing Wilderness, Of Time and Place, The Back Country, Desert Solitaire, Walden and other stories, The Geese of Beaver Bog, The Beaver’s Popple’s Pond, A Wildwood A Journey Through Trees, The Last Rhinos, Song of the Rolling Earth (given to me by Jesse) and not exactly nature writing but science and informational, The Wolf. A Walk in the Woods, Jesse and I both enjoy Bryson. History books – The Greater Journey, Explorer’s of the Mississippi, Canoeing Down the Great River, Minnesota. The History of Birds, not really a history book but a book on nature but mainly a really awesome looking antique book – and I love bird watching. Roadside Geology of Minnesota, because I just had to include a geology book since both Jesse and I find geology interesting. I’m not entirely sure what category it falls under but I had to include Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Field guides: Wildflowers of Minnesota, Mammals of Minnesota, Trees of Minnesota, Reptiles and Amphibians of Minnesota, Field Guide to Nature of the Midwest, Insects, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest. Classics, most of which I’ve read and partly for the antique books – Shakespeare’s Masterpieces, A Tale of Two Cities, Tom Sawyer, Notre-Dame De Paris, Robinson Crusoe, Crime and Punishment (and a book of Three Short Novels by Dostoevsky), Pride and Prejudice, Poe’s Masterpieces of Mystery – some of the classics were borrowed from my mom. Some beloved novels – The Chronicles of Narnia, The Heaven Trilogy (Ted Dekker), Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit and The Fool’s Progress. Wrap up the diversity with some Christian living books – The Sacred Romance, Desire, Waking the Dead, Captivating, Come Thirsty, Traveling Light, and Next Door Savior. Well, there’s so many more I want to include but I think that’s plenty. I stacked the books in several piles as I pulled them off the shelves, and then made several trips, taking them outside to the tent and letting Anna know to include them. Jesse should bring some of his personal favorites; so I sent him a text hoping it wasn’t too late. He brought The Backpacker’s Field Manual, A Man on the Moon, Monkey Wrench Gang, Artemis, Fallen Giants – He didn’t really have time to grab more but too bad he didn’t grab one of his agronomy books, that was a topic we were missing. They stacked two to four books and tied them together with ribbon and some scraps trimmed off my dress and sisters’ dresses. I applaud them and am extremely thankful for the effort they put into the decorating. Along with the books, we used bouquets of flowers set into little wooden boxes (made by Jesse for Rachel’s wedding last year) and little candles set on small blocks of wood – very elegantly done. (Anna described the decor

Photo by Ben Paulson

 

 as woodland fairylike.) Now that the books were delivered to Anna, I needed to shower quickly. It’s inconceivable how fast the morning was disappearing. Then there was deciding what to wear between now and putting my dress on – something easy to take off that wouldn’t mess up my hair. With help from Therese, I settled on a plain blue sundress. I still hadn’t packed yet for the honeymoon, time was running out, and other than feeling pressed for time I still wasn’t feeling too jittery yet. However, the excitement and anticipation was mounting. While packing, I was disturbed several times to answer questions. I don’t recall the questions but I remember Aleesha popping in several times. A few times in the past weeks, I had questioned choosing my sisters as bridesmaids but when that final week came and especially that morning, I knew I had chosen Aleesha well for my matron of honor. She did so much to help and was glad too. She was also bursting with joy.  

My goodness, time was flying. I no longer paid attention to all the activity going on outside, who was doing what and all that. I now had everything done that I needed to do, so I could just be the bride. Everything I needed for the honeymoon, except water, was piled neatly on my bedroom floor. Noon was fast approaching, but not quite here yet. I walked over to the other house, apparently unnoticed since someone was looking for me a few minutes later. All of the dresses including my own were now hanging on a clothes rack in Jonathan’s dining room, my shoes were underneath. The marriage license and our rings sat on the kitchen counter, a safe and visible location. I went downstairs to Isaiah’s apartment. It could be hours before the reception and supper, so I thought it best to grab some lunch quick. Leftover pasta salad from Friday night had been put into Isaiah’s fridge. I helped myself to some; eating perhaps a bit too fast but it was almost noon. I didn’t have time to enjoy a lengthy meal. When I got back upstairs, Judy and someone else, perhaps Aleesha or Elena came into the house looking for me. (It felt strange that I wouldn’t see Jesse right away when he arrived.) Ben was also looking for me. He wanted to take photos of the rings and dresses. “Bethany, can I take your dress outside to photograph?”  

Photo by Haley Hoeppner

“Yes, but quickly, so Jesse doesn’t see it.” We’d talked to Haley last night about helping Ben with the photos, particularly those of us girls getting ready and photos during the ceremony (Ben was our photographer and sound guy). Haley stood watch for Jesse’s arrival while Ben was photographing my dress. Judy and I went into the back bedroom for her to do my hair, some place hidden out of sight. Although Judy had already begun, Haley came in and took some photos of the process a few minutes later. I savored the few moments chatting with Judy – enjoying the intimacy of having one of my proud mamas doing my hair. She had known both Jesse and I since we were children and I’m fairly certain had prayed for us many times. She did two French braids, pulling them together in the back. I had gone to her house last Saturday for her to practice. A florist friend of Mom’s, who doesn’t do weddings but made an exception for me, brought a hair piece to cover where the two braids meet. She also brought flowers for the guys, parents, and grandparents, and flowers to decorate the arbor and the picket fence which was the backdrop for the ceremony. (Isaiah and Jonathan had cut some small maple trees down a few weeks ago and from them, Jonathan built an arbor.) Aleesha had brought a floor length mirror over to put in the room and one downstairs for the guys. It was fun being secreted away in the back bedroom, only my sisters, a few nieces and Haley were allowed to see me until the proper time. This was it! It was happening! It was hard to keep from smiling. I want to hold that time getting ready near to my heart the rest of my days. The intimacy, joy, excitement with my sisters, Haley, and my nieces who know me best was incredible and a true gift. And having Haley, a dear friend whom I’ve known for fourteen years, and has been close to Jesse and I for probably six years, photographing us girls getting ready was absolutely amazing – it was just great having an intimate friend, who was super excited for us, taking photos of the intimate getting ready time with my sisters. It was perfect. Judy bowed out as soon as she was done with my hair, aside from the receiving line after the ceremony, I didn’t see her the rest of the evening. Johanna started doing my makeup after Judy left. The most important thing about my hair and makeup was that neither was over the top – I needed to still look like me. I don’t wear makeup very often and I lack the skill (and desire) to do much with my hair, usually just two French braids, which Jesse really likes. His biggest complaint about some of the weddings we’ve gone to is that the bride doesn’t look like herself at all; he wanted me to look like me. Johanna, being four years older, has always thought of me as her doll to dress up; and it must be for that reason that she does my makeup so well. I’ve had it done by hairstylists and am unrecognizable – for both Johanna’s and Aleesha’s weddings my own aunts, uncles and even grandma didn’t know who I was. I’ve had a friend do my makeup and it looked gaudy and clownish. Johanna can enhance or draw out what’s there without transforming me into someone else. Strange though and oddly appropriate, my sister that I have gotten along with the least was doing my makeup. It was heart stirring for me. She may not have helped with any yard work and hardly any baking (she was feeling light headed on Friday; after a traumatic brain injury a few years ago she has become more sensitive to heat and can’t do as much as she used to) but she was there for other things; my dress search, engagement photos, taking them and making a collage poster with them to hang up at the reception, and perhaps more important than yard work or food, she was in charge of making me look beautiful but still look like myself. Of my three sisters, she was the one in contact with me the most in the months, weeks, and days leading up to this day. Of course, sometimes I was frustrated with her, but it all worked out beautifully. Perhaps the text I loved the best from her, although it was advice I didn’t need because I was already mindful of it, she sent on June 6th. I was and still am touched by it, I saved it: “Wedding preparation tip: avoid the sun like death…or be topless when outdoors…to avoid obvious burns and awkward tan lines that will detract from your beauty and lovely dress on your special day!” My beauty? My beauty. Johanna thinks I’m beautiful. It would have been more meaningful to have heard her actually say it, but still wonderful. Being sisters we neglect to tell each other we’re beautiful. I am as guilty as she is. Anyway, it was awesome having these little moments of closeness with Johanna. I am truly moved by her willingness and eagerness to do what she could to make my wedding day stunning, special and memorable.  Before she began doing my makeup, Johanna asked, “How likely are you to cry?” 

“Very likely. I almost certainly will.” 

“Ok. Then I won’t put mascara on your bottom lashes.” It feels very strange to have someone leaning over you, their face very close to your face and then using implements around your eyes. Every time I’ve had it done by a stylist I have felt very uncomfortable. But it felt perfectly natural and not at all awkward having Johanna doing it. With Johanna, I didn’t feel like I needed to apologize for my blinking. Again, I just enjoyed the intimacy of having a bridesmaid, a sister, doing my makeup rather than a stranger who doesn’t know me, hasn’t a clue the journey I’ve traveled to get to this point. It’s almost a relief and humbling to have someone who thought of you as a pesky, bratty, annoying little sister trying to make you look stunning, although she thinks you already do, on your special day. So sweet. Perfect. That is beauty. Some people do just a lot of pretending and mask wearing at weddings to keep things polite and civil. But that wasn’t happening here; despite our annoying and frustrating each other during childhood and more recently, being totally different people, seeing things in a totally different way, she was truly and genuinely happy for me, and honored to be a huge part of it. She was nervous about messing it up or poking me in the eye; as she began she said, “I’ll try not to poke you in the eye.” 

“Oh, I’m not worried. I trust you.” And she did just fine. While Johanna did my makeup, Therese was getting Aleesha ready, doing her hair and makeup. In spite of being only thirteen, she did a marvelous job. Aleesha looked positively radiant. I’m not sure there’s ever been a maid or matron of honor who has glowed as much as she did. Elena, Therese, Amirianna, Lakira, Jadion, Ember, and Elisa all came in and out while we were getting ready. Amirianna, Lakira, and Jadion all followed Amber in and clung tight to her; she was last to show up. Elena was just hanging out and Therese was waiting to do Aleesha’s hair and makeup. Poor Jadion, being a boy, was sent out pretty quickly and not allowed to return. I can’t recall if he went out before or during Johanna doing my makeup, but his sisters went with him. Ember wanted to be near Johanna. And Elisa came in to take care of Ember and get Johanna’s phone to play a video for her; she took Ember back to the living room. Therese and Elena stayed the longest but were sent out before we changed into our dresses. Haley asked Johanna about what all she was doing for my makeup and suggested she put some sort of cream/foundation on to dull the bright spots on my face for photography purposes. Haley even had some in her bag. Johanna gently rubbed some on my face in the places Haley suggested. Now I was ready for my dress.  

Photo by Haley Hoeppner

Johanna and Amber didn’t need their makeup done. Unlike Aleesha and me, they never leave the house without it on, just part of their morning routine. They did however, have to do their hair. There again though, they both did their own. Now that I was ready to go; Johanna began to do her own hair as did Amber. Aleesha’s hair and makeup was complete too. The next step was to get me in my dress, something I couldn’t do alone. Being my matron of honor, the sister I’m closest to and most comfortable with, it fell to Aleesha to help me into my dress. But before we did, Haley wanted to photograph me alongside, admiring the dress first.  

My dress was actually the first wedding detail, aside from setting the date, to be figured out. Aleesha, Johanna, Mom, and I had a day to look at dresses back in November. Leo and Ember tagged along. Mom and I were thinking we’d just decide what style we liked best and then maybe find one online to buy. The wedding consultants were fantastic. There was only one dress that they picked out for me that was an absolute no before I even stepped out of the dressing room. Several were ruled out. It was a blast. The woman pulled it out of the bag, “I know this really isn’t what you are looking for, but I think you should try it on anyway.” 

“Alright, I’ll try it.” I wasn’t impressed at first. It wasn’t even white, rather a champagne blush, and had more embellishments on it than I had been looking for. Mom and I were thinking something simple but elegant, and since I’m short, definitely not a big poofy skirt. But once I had it on, I lit right up – and everyone noticed. It wasn’t at all what I thought I would choose. Therese had asked me several weeks before, “How can a bride choose one dress when they are all so pretty?” When she first asked, my reply had been, “I have no idea.” But after trying on the dresses I knew how; you don’t choose the dress, the dress chooses you. It may sound silly but that is exactly what happens. You go in with an idea and come out with something you thought wouldn’t work at all. It was the layered skirts and something about the horsehair braid across the bottom of the skirts that appealed to me; and the roses on the bodice and top of the skirt, they reminded me of Beauty and the Beast somehow, which is Jesse’s and my favorite Disney princess movie. I feel silly and childish for feeling and sharing that I felt most like a princess while wearing that dress over the others – I wanted to feel like a princess for my special day. Johanna said I was most comfortable and confident in this dress. I loved having Mom and my sisters there for this huge moment. And it was perfectly natural to have two toddlers there with us; they behaved extremely well. One dress was a questionable color; Leo clapped when I stepped out of the dressing room and in front of the mirror. Ember thought the mirrors and the curtain of the dressing room were great fun. The dress search was when it really started to feel real.  

Photo by Haley Hoeppner

Some people don’t seem to be bothered at all by changing in front of other people; but I’ve struggled with it my whole life. My sisters have never had any problem changing in front of me; they’ve been doing it forever. So although I’m not exactly comfortable with it, it made perfect sense for us all to change in the room together and for Aleesha to be the one to help me with the dress. Wonderfully, I was too excited to feel shy about changing in a roomful. Haley, Johanna, and Amber discreetly turned away. Aleesha held my dress so that I could step into it but still give me some measure of privacy. Stepping in is slow, one foot at a time, searching for floor instead of skirt to stand on. Once I found the floor, I could step in with the other foot; not stepping on the skirts, there were seven layers, was a challenge. Then arms through and I was covered. Next, Aleesha had the daunting task of hooking the eyes and doing up the buttons. She fumbled with it a little. Both Haley and Amber had only seen pictures from a phone of me wearing the dress and none had seen it on me since Mom did the alterations. None of them being super girly, the admiration was fairly quiet. Aleesha adjusted my skirts after she finished fastening the back. Haley, of course, was quick to capture these moments with the camera.

Photo by Ben Paulson

It’s challenging to describe these preparations without sounding sappy and sentimental. – But isn’t that how we’re supposed to feel getting ready for weddings, particularly your own or that of someone close to you? All of us had waited so long for this wedding, most believing it would happen and yet doubting it ever would, so it was more than a celebration for just Jesse and me but for everyone involved. The last eight years had been filled with so many ups and downs, struggles, pain, shadows of doubt, all these things were felt not just by Jesse and I but all the people who love and care about us and knew the struggles we have faced – perhaps more felt by these people because they know and love both of us. I know all couples have their ups and downs, their struggles, but Jesse and I had more right at the start than most couples have in their entire relationship. We both brought a lot of insecurity and anxiety into the relationship, compounded by childhood trauma. His dad almost died numerous times in just a couple of months’ time only a year after we started dating, pushing Jesse out of his comfort zone and raising questions about the farm that Jesse wasn’t wanting or wasn’t ready to deal with just yet. He was thrust into a management role on the farm that shook his confidence. All in all he handled it fairly well but it almost drove us apart. Sexual abuse from my dad as a child, and the damage it did, brought a whole host of issues to our relationship. There was a lot of growing up and healing I needed to do for us to be able to keep going. Jesse had to come to terms with it and be alright with being patient with me while I continue to heal and grow. And sometimes, he wasn’t sure he wanted to deal with it. (He has never met my dad.)There were at least three times we barely made it. My poor family had to suffer through those times with me. The last and perhaps the worst time was in September 2016. Jesse was ready to be done. He wanted a break; we wouldn’t see or talk to each other for the whole month. It was heartbreaking, and yet it provided a wonderful time of healing for me. I took everything to God and spent days in intensive prayer, inviting Jesus into all the broken places, some of which I didn’t realize had caused so much damage. I had a vision. While Jesus and I were on a path for healing from the emotional wounds my dad caused, all of a sudden we were in a huge heavenly cathedral. Jesus walked Jesse and me down the aisle to Papa, God the Father, who performed the wedding ceremony. The Holy Spirit stood off to the side of us. The guests were angels and everyone was laughing, a happy, we -just-fought-a-huge-battle-and-won laugh. I hadn’t heard from Jesse at that point for a few weeks and here, God was showing me that we were already joined together by heaven. I had to wait another year and a half before he proposed though! All weddings are special but this was even more of a celebration because of the long time in coming and the fight to get here.  

It can go without saying, being the bride; I was incredibly happy and more than likely, positively glowing. I also couldn’t believe I was actually the bride this time. It was my turn. Finally! 

Photo by Haley Hoeppner

The other advantage to us girls getting ready in the north bedroom, other than being secluded, was that we could peek out the window at the guys and they had no clue. Of course, they were dressed and ready before us. Ben was taking photos of them outside in the backyard, in view of the window. But given the position of the window and time of day, they couldn’t see us. It was exciting to see them milling about in the backyard; being able to sneak a peek was thrilling and heightened my anticipation. Given the many layers of my dress, I needed help putting on my shoes. This also fell to Aleesha. I carefully took a seat, mindful of my skirts and with assistance from Aleesha slipped my feet into the shoes. Aleesha struggled with fastening them because they hook together, the buckles are just for looks. Also the hook came undone immediately on the first shoe, adding to the struggle. The shoes were slightly too big for me and not at all like what I usually wear, so I was really nervous about walking in them and not stumbling, tripping or having my walk appear clunky. Thankfully, most of the walking I would do, or at least that in front of an audience, would be done leaning on either Larry or Jesse, giving me stability.  While Aleesha was dressing me, Johanna and Amber put on their dresses. Given the nature of fancy dresses, they couldn’t zip their own dresses. Amber was already in her dress and zipped up, and in the process of zipping Johanna’s when I asked Haley to capture that with her camera. I didn’t want that moment to be missed. It can be a little awkward having a photographer capturing these intimate moments but with Haley as the photographer it wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable but perfectly natural. Aleesha wasted no time getting into her dress, while Haley photographed me by the window; she took some artistic shots of me looking out the window. All three of my sisters went with flat comfortable sandals. I had told them since their dresses were so long and being an outside wedding, I didn’t care what they wore on their feet as long as it was nice. Each of them were also wearing matching hairpieces that were complimentary to those of the little girls, but with different hairstyles that suited each, and all were low key. 

Now we were ready, or so we thought. Aleesha opened up the door and we were about to head out, when it was wondered, and I can’t recall by whom, if I needed a necklace to complete the ensemble. The consensus was yes, so Aleesha went over to Mom’s house to get a necklace. She had planned to give me hers that she wore on her wedding day but didn’t know where it was and ran out of time to look for it. That was incredibly sweet and thoughtful, truly a gift from the heart. I was deeply moved. Instead, she went and got a pearl necklace from Mom. It was extremely long, but with help from Johanna, she doubled it up to make a shorter necklace. It was perfectly natural to have my sisters fussing over me; I had always been their doll to dress up. And although youngest sister is a tough position, I believe I am very precious to each of them even though they don’t express it. Aleesha’s love for me shone through this day; she was positively glowing with joy and happiness for Jesse and me. I was overwhelmed by her joy and happiness, moved to thankful tears. Ben had come to check if I was ready just before it was decided I needed a necklace. So with the necklace now taken care of, I was ready to meet up with Jesse. I now had my something borrowed, something old, something new, and something blue – I was set.