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.