Tag Archive | Trees

Seeking Solace in the Woods

October 9, 2022

This year has been a struggle with the construction of the parlor, adapting to it and being short on milking labor; which has brought me to tears countless times and made me feel lonely and taken advantage of by my in-laws. I sought solace and company in the woods today. After a side stop to the orchard for an apple, I went across the empty corn fields and lush hay field, not following the contour but trying to go straight for the woods. I munched on the apple as I walked. The trees were painted in gold, yellow, orange and green. 

 I began to cry half way out. Can the woods even lift my spirits, as low as they are? I should have followed Jesse’s suggestion to spend time with my family today – why didn’t I go to Mom’s? Whilst walking the cornfield, I had to be careful to step over the corn stalks. 

Arriving at the edge of the field, I dropped down, literally on my belly to crawl under the fence. The ground is terrifyingly dry; these perfect autumn days are nice but I hope the drought ends soon. Gopher mounds piled along the fence. I waded across the narrow pasture strip, the grass still long and thick despite the drought. Squatting, I crawled under the barbed wire fence separating the pasture from the woods. A break in the buckthorn granted my passage. I ducked under clawing branches. The late afternoon soon filtered through the leaves and tree trunks. I paused to admire a spider web. A deer crashed through the thick underbrush somewhere below. I stood upon a huge drop off. 

I turned left following a deer trail. I was frustrated by how loud my footsteps were. Praying as I walked, I sought God’s presence and comfort, and hoped to find the rock that gave me such joy last week. I ducked under branches, trying to avoid tripping on others that littered the ground. Moss covered rocks and logs lay scattered here and there. At times the trail was steep and I held on to trees. Beauty surrounded me but my heart did not soar. Rock outcroppings. Fallen trees. Squirrels making incredible noise. I stepped on something hard, I looked down and saw the ivory white of a deer antler. I knelt down and picked it up. It had been chewed on recently. I held it close as I continued to walk. Crows and bluejays chattered in the treetops. I heard the twittering of other birds too but couldn’t identify them. A chipmunk scurried here and there and then disappeared. I came upon the rocks and climbed up.

As I sit on the rock to write I am distracted by a squirrel moving about in the leaves. Bounding closer, it stops and shakes its tail. It paws through a pile of leaves, digging with its little hands. Then it quickly moves on. I am so tired my vision is blurry. The woods exude beauty and peace but yet my crushed heart isn’t rising up, it’s so beaten it won’t soar. The antler and chipmunk nearly did it, but alas, even they weren’t enough. The squirrel is making a fuss, squawking like a duck. As the sun sinks lower on the horizon, reminding me I need to head back soon, so too my heart sinks lower and lower. I am also beginning to get cold. I must pull myself out of the woods now. But I really don’t want to leave. A chipmunk disappeared into a hole under a gorgeous rock outcropping that keeps drawing my attention. 

I slid my notebook and pencil back into my pack and ambled down from the rock.  I returned the way I had come, taking less time to stop and observe.

View more photos at https://www.instagram.com/bethanybenike/


An October Walk

October 2, 2022

I set out through the backyard, down the bit of driveway and road to the pasture. Dandelions nicked by the frost had blackened tips. The pasture was full of clover and thick lush grass. Field corn is being chopped on the hill above. The hoodie was a mistake, as the sun beat down I was becoming too warm. It was just past three o’clock when I set out. The trees ahead beckoned me forward, boxelders and oaks. My ankles turned on uneven ground. I observed a honeybee, grasshoppers, and a cabbage moth. I opened a gate, walk a little to the left, downhill near a bur oak, and onward to the edge of the woods. Under the fence? No, the woods are so thick with brambles, blackberry bushes that would snare me. I skirt the fence along the left, turn a little and keep going. Climbing uphill. I take in the trees along the edge, particularly walnut, aspen and birch. I crawl under the fence where the underbrush doesn’t look so thick. I continue onward, following the contour of the bluff, sticking to deer paths. I stirred up a creature, probably a rabbit. Crows chatted. Twigs snap underfoot and branches brush past my shoulders. I step over logs and fallen branches, duck under limbs, and sometimes nearly crawl; rarely do I take an easy route, no adventure in that. I am appalled at the old tires someone long ago stashed here. Dead trees litter the woods. I enjoy the light trickling through the tree branches. A buck rubbed his antlers on a tree along the path. It is so dry. I keep close to the fence line. Sometimes going further away to the right but steer back uphill. I enjoy exploring new territory. I come to a big ravine, going down and up along a fallen tree. My knees ache. My feet slide in the leaf litter. I am so happy to not be milking – I got outside of the basement too! 

The valley becomes increasingly deeper, wider, and prettier. Another ravine. A coyote! I just see its retreating back end but am amazed all the same. Exposed bedrock – my heart really stirs at this; rocks and trees. Moss covered dead trees lay here and there. More rocks. As I continue walking, it becomes more evident I am on a bluff. Sometimes I glimpse the pasture through the trees. I crawl up onto a rock – look down a little to my left, my heart elevated, and laugh. Maple trees. I haven’t spontaneously laughed for no apparent reason for ages. Then I laugh and cry, standing on the rock, a strange feeling – relief, joy, perhaps hope, on top of my world. A bird chirps. Our woods are so big it is fantastic exploring new places and this is another favorite spot for me. The woods are where I belong. Hopefully soon I will no longer have to milk eleven times a week, maybe just four and then I can be outside more and write. I am really close to the road now – I can hear traffic going by. The geography had been undergoing a subtle change the further I walked. Now there was more evidence of this being a bluff. 

Though I loved the spot and probably could have lingered forever, I put my notebook away, ambled down off the rock and along the path going a little more to the top of the hill. Subtly the contour of the land turned to the left, and I with it. I must be nearing where Therese and I had walked. I took in the trees and the overall beauty of the woods, allowing the healing power of rocks and trees to wash over me. Maples seemed to dominate. A beautiful basswood. Elms too, I think. Oak. Acorns crunched underfoot. I marveled at a hickory, enjoyed the smell of its fruit, and put a couple in my pocket. I found a walking stick from the myriad lying on the ground, I was in need of the support. Despite my aching body, I enjoyed the trek. There are bits of color in the leaves. A deep red stained some of the oak leaves on a nearby specimen. I could see the road – the downside of these woods. I ambled down the steep sides of a modest ravine, checking out trees with mushrooms. Forest floor is strewn with leaves and sticks. I was stunned by the dryness of the soil – we desperately need rain. I love the smell of autumn; moisture would really draw it out. A log provided a bridge across another ravine. I climbed uphill more but not toward the fence line, headed in a westerly direction. Beautiful patch of ferns. Undergrowth is not very thick here. A few dead trees lie on the ground. A handful of white pine trees gather here. I have often wondered in the past year why I married Jesse, aside from the fact he’s amazing, but why a dairy farmer? – I joked to myself, “this is why!” 

An old wire mesh fence ran along the edge of the bluff. I can’t believe they used to allow cows in here. I summit the hill and gaze at the view before me. A deep gorge with a pile of rocks falls away to my right. A ravine plunging into it. I had been expecting to find where Therese and I explored, but wait, is this the ravine where Lexie, Isabel and I stopped? I drew closer. Yes, yes, indeed it was. Now I was even more confused as to where Therese and I had been. I ambled down and up the ravine. Down to the edge, to the dropoff of the bluffside. Yes, that was the trail, those were the two white pine trees. Curious. 

Well, I wasn’t sure just how long it would take to return, so I turned to head back. Up the bluff, I climbed, soon breathless and puffing, leaning heavily on my stick despite the stabbing pain in my arms. I walked in the pasture since it was faster – the fastest way would be straight over the hill, through the fields but they were harvesting corn so that would be a very foolish idea. First, I had to figure out where to go under the fence. It was so low, I took off my backpack and camera, and crawled on my hands and knees trying to avoid thistles. Backpack and camera once again on, taking up my stick, I continued along the fence line looking for the gate Therese and I had come to, at the same time admiring the trees that were changing color. Stumbling as I walked in the uneven, tall grass. Thinking to myself how I must have looked – an eccentric naturalist. (Did I mention a machete hung from my backpack?) It was a very long walk back – forty minutes with a side stop to the orchard for an apple which I sat down to enjoy in the backyard, watching the harvest of the sweet corn and corn for silage. 

Mushroom Hunting with my Niece

September 22, 2022

Today, Therese and I went mushroom hunting in the woods. I hadn’t been out since last October so it was long overdue and great that Therese got me out there.

Instead of borrowing the ranger or a four wheeler to go across the fields to the woods, I had Therese drive us down the highway and pull off at where I thought the old snowmobile trail had been. We waded through tall weedy plants, ducked under tree branches and paused to plot our course. Clumps of horsetail and ferns populated the area, an emerald wood.

“Well, we could go up the trail over there or go up this ravine. Which one do you think we should do?” I asked.


“You know what, let’s go up the ravine, it looks challenging and therefore fun.”

“Okay,” Therese replied in full agreement and eagerness. I ambled up a pile of small boulders and fallen branches covered in moss and plants, struggling at first without being able to grab a hold of something to pull myself up and nearly losing my footing. Therese followed. I was thinking this was the really big ravine that Lexie, Isabel and I went up even though it didn’t look the same, but I reasoned it was because we hadn’t started at the bottom before and it had been April when everything looked different. We were practically rock climbing; fun and exhilarating. I paused momentarily on the ascent to observe the reptilian looking liverwort.

“Mushrooms!” Therese exclaimed, pausing to cut the small oysters off a boxelder tree, placing them into her bag. The stacked rocks were magical, moss and ferns cascading off of them, spiderwebs stretched between. A few leaves here and there. Passed by a few trees on the climb. Therese found a few more small oyster mushrooms. We carefully maneuvered around a tree and continued the steep, upward trek. Once I was up safely, Therese tossed up the bag of mushrooms. They nearly fell back down, I dove and bent backwards to grab them, almost falling over myself.

  “Don’t jump over to save the mushrooms; they aren’t worth dying for.” 

“Oh come on, you don’t think so? Why not?” I teased. Once Therese was up too, we looked around. “Wow, this is a really nice spot. I like it. This might be one of my new places.”

“Yes, it’s so lovely,” she agreed. We sat down on rocks to just take it in for a few moments. 

I looked up into the leafy, green canopy, blue sky above, “I could sit here for hours, I think. I have a snack, water, and a journal; I am good.”

“I could too.” 

We sat on the cold stones, soaking in the beauty. Chatting, unfortunately about death; it had been a rough couple of years for me. Therese was a good sport and understood I was struggling. This outing was a balm to me. I set aside these dark thoughts, focusing instead on enjoying my time in the woods with her. 

After sitting for about ten minutes, Therese said, “I could stay here all day but I want to look for more mushrooms. We should keep moving.” 

“Yeah, we should. And I am getting cold sitting here.” The spot sat in shadow. We stood up to continue our walk. More climbing, how delightful. The exposed bedrock we had to climb was about as tall as me, a bit taller. Moss encrusted a few plants here and there. Both sides of the narrow, shallow ravine were crowded with vegetation and trees. A small decaying log lay across the top of the ravine, from my perspective. Little trees on either side. I ambled up the rocks. Therese followed. Pausing, I observed the green, stringy moss feeding on the log. 

“You know what, I don’t think this is the ravine Lexie, Isabel and I climbed.” 

“I don’t think it is.” 

“The big rock is missing and it isn’t wide or deep enough.” 


“Hmm, I wonder where we are.” 

“I am not sure. But it’s beautiful.” 

“I thought the snowmobile trail was just to our left, but it can’t be if this isn’t the big ravine. Where are we?”

“I don’t know.” Over the log, we stepped up another foot or so of exposed bedrock, as the ravine continued onward up the hill. I turned around to look down the gully, the foliage making it impossible to see very far. So peaceful, minus the traffic on the road below. A peek through basswood leaves, I could see the tree cloaked bluff on the other side of the highway. A lot of young trees fill the hillside; still very green. The gully rocks seemed like they should have a stream tumbling over them. 

We scrambled up a few more feet of the ravine, and paused to take in our surroundings. Where were we? The snowmobile trail should be on our left, correct?

“Which way should we go?”

“I don’t know.”

“Should we go west? I thought the snowmobile trail would be over there.”


I led the way, ducking under branches and weaving through skinny, small, young trees. We didn’t go very far before we stopped again. 

“Hmm, this doesn’t look right. Maybe we should be going east instead.”

“Okay.” We turned around; Therese let me pass to take the lead. Across the stony ravine. Threading through bigger, older trees. Ferns here and there, ostrich and maiden hair. I looked up into the canopy a moment, sunlight filtering through the green, elm leaves. So peaceful. But where were we? Where is the huge ravine? Where is the snowmobile trail? How are we missing them? A small paper birch, the outer bark peeling off in curls. Several sharp-lobed hepatica (hepatica acutiloba) leaves squat on short stems at our feet. We paused to investigate a mushroom growing on a fallen log. 

“It might be a sulfur shelf,” I said. 


“But it’s too decayed. And bugs are eating it.”

“Yeah, we should just leave it.”

We continued walking. “Hmm, there’s a man-made trail there.” 


“But I don’t think it’s the trail we’re looking for.”

“I don’t think it is either.”

“We could follow it, or we could turn around and go west instead.”

“Hmm, I don’t know. Maybe we go back west?”

“Yeah, let’s turn back around and try west. I have no idea where we are.” We traced our steps, sort of, back along a narrow, long log. Leaves were still green, clinging to the trees. We stepped over the log. I believe I observed wild ginger plants here. 

“A mushroom!” Therese exclaimed.

“It looks like a lobster. It’s growing on the ground.” We bent over to look at it more closely. Not a lobster. It was too far gone to harvest anyway.

“I wish it was a lobster,” I said. 

“It would have been cool.” 

“There hasn’t been enough rain this year for mushrooms.”

“Yeah.” We stood under a beautiful oak tree. We turned around again, settling on east as our direction. 

“It’s so beautiful,” Therese said.

“People think about the importance of bringing small children outside, into the woods to appreciate it but what about teenagers?”

“Well perhaps there’d be an interest in teenagers that appreciate the woods because they were brought into them as small children,” Therese said.

“That’s true, I have encouraged a love for the woods in you since you were young.” We returned to the trail we’d found a few minutes earlier. Therese marveled in the ferns. They have a light heartedness about them. 

“Grandma said the fiddleheads of the ostrich ferns can be eaten, right? Can the others be eaten?” Therese asked. 

“I am not sure, that’s more Grandma’s area then mine.” We fumbled down the slope a little to join the trail. Blue ribbon, mostly above our heads, tied to trees, angled down the slope, here and there, like giant spider webs. “What is it?” Therese asked.

“It’s for maple syrup. Kind of like a pipeline to get the syrup to collect at the bottom of the bluff. It’s kind of annoying it’s here all year round.” 

“Yeah, it distracts from the beauty.”

The trail slopes uphill, gradually climbing the bluff. The undergrowth is still vibrant; I wonder, is it more dense in the spring? We stepped around a limestone rock protruding from the ground, encased in dark green moss. The tree spacing in this area lets the sunlight almost flood the floor. A few tall, older trees. The trail begins to curve around the bluff, and up. A large limestone boulder rests on the hillside above us, nestled among trees. Its sedimentary layers are evident.

“Perhaps this is the snowmobile trail and we’re close to where Jesse proposed.”

“It’s so romantic. And so beautiful in here. I would love it if my future boyfriend proposed to me in these woods.”

“Well it certainly is romantic and possible you could get engaged here.” We rounded the bend, dirt exposed on the “bank” above us. “I think we’re on the snowmobile trail and somewhere in here is where Jesse proposed.” I paused for a moment, it still doesn’t look quite right. “We’ll follow the trail to the pasture gate, then it’ll make more sense.” We continued upward, short on breath but still conversing. A naked log lay across our path, we paused to observe the patterns left behind by boring insects – cool but they’re destructive. 

“There’s the fence and pasture gate!” I almost shouted. We drew up to the gate and peered through the opening in the trees. The azure sky was studded with cumulus clouds. Green pasture before us. Cornfield above it, wrapping around the contour.

“Wait this isn’t right. This isn’t the snowmobile trail, this is the wrong pasture. I have no idea where we are.”

“I think I know. Malachi and I have hunted here. Isn’t the other house right ahead of us, beyond the field?” 

“I’m not sure. It could be more to the left or maybe far to the right, and our house is just to the left. I don’t know, I can’t place where we are. It doesn’t make sense. But we’re not lost, follow the pasture and eventually we’d figure it out and find the house.”


“Or go directly down the bluff to the road. I have no idea where we are, but we’re not lost.” Small, young, paper birch trees stood on our left, their white bark almost glowing where the sun hit them. We turned back, following the trail down the slope a ways. Taking in the beauty and peace of the trees. We left the trail, ambling eastward for several minutes, continuing to wonder where we were.

“Sadly, we should start heading back to the vehicle so you can get back home in time.” it was almost 11:30 am, we’d be cutting it close. 

“I love going to choir but I wish I didn’t have to so we could stay in the woods.” 

“Yeah, I wish I didn’t have to milk this afternoon/evening, and could just stay out here.” Reluctantly, we headed back westward. If we went west and down, we’d find the vehicle. We weren’t lost. I marveled in the maple trees of various age and size as we traversed the bluffside. So lovely. Horsetails grow in clumps in an area of bare soil. Branches and logs lay strewn here and there. The bluffside was steep; each step had to be taken with care. Our feet slid in the loose dirt and leaves. Therese had found nice paper birch limbs for us to use as walking sticks. This sort of terrain was my paradise. Therese was enjoying the adventure but nervous about the difficulty of the trek. She slipped and slid roughly a foot or two and let out a shriek. “I almost died,” she laughed. 

“You’re fine. Even if we tumbled down, I don’t think we’d die. Just be sure to go feet first.” I kept walking, turned and added, “Just get low to the ground, maybe even scoot on your butt, then you’ll be less likely to get hurt if you slip.” I had already begun crouching low. Now this is an adventure. 

“But these are my nice jeans.”

“Okay, then maybe you shouldn’t scoot on the ground. Your mom wouldn’t be too happy if you wrecked them.” 

“Next time I should wear pants that can be beat up.” 

“That would be a good idea.” 

An intriguing rock outcropping sat ahead and above us. “Look at that rock,” I exclaimed. 

“So cool.” 


I turned around to see how Therese was doing. She paused against a maple tree, leaning on her paper birch stick. “Stay right there, that will make a good photo.” I took several pictures. “Okay. Beautiful.” I also took a picture of the exposed bedrock on the hillside behind her. I just can’t believe I have these awesome woods to explore. Onward, picking our steps with care, slipping often. We paused to observe some red, firm berries, Jack-in-the-pulpit. 

“They’re so pretty, but not edible,” Therese said.


I stepped down onto loose rocks near the rock outcropping. “Careful, and follow my lead,” I instructed Therese. The stones were covered in leaves and difficult to see. One shifted, tilting down, nearly knocking me off balance. “Okay, don’t step on that rock.” I gingerly stepped to the ground below. “I’ve got to check out the rock; it’s just too cool.” 

“Okay, but don’t die in the process.” 

“It might be worth it.” The massive monolith was coated with moss, some colonizing ferns, leaves here and there. I wanted to climb it somehow but that would be too much for Therese and she was already being dramatic about our steep route down the bluff. At least she was still having fun, though she worried our lives were in danger. She was practically crawling on the ground now as she picked her way toward the outcropping. Moss stones littered the bluff just below it. Therese spied a couple, nearly palm sized rocks that were interesting and wanted to take them with. We joked about those two rocks being worth the risk to our lives. Tree limbs and logs spilled over the outcropping. We continued to pick our way around and over the smallish boulders, careful to not go tumbling down. We passed more maple syrup lines, and a beautiful patch of maiden hair. And we were back on the bottom of the ravine we started from. Our steps were still chosen with care around rocks, boulders, branches and logs, along the ravine running parallel to the road. The vegetation was a bit thicker as we neared the spot we had started from. 

“Well that was fun. Though I still wonder where we were.” 

“Yeah, and despite almost dying several times.” 

“We weren’t in any real danger. Also, my hands are freezing.” 

“Really? Mine are hot.” 

“Hmm, feel mine.” 

Therese held my hand. “Wow, they are cold.” We put our rocks, walking sticks, and mushrooms into the vehicle. 

“Well we didn’t find many mushrooms, but that was fun. I will dry the mushrooms, powder them and share it with you,” Therese said. 

“Okay.” We pulled back onto the road. I scanned the woods as we drove trying to figure it out but was still confused.

Autumn Delight

October 9, 2021

Last week, Mom and I walked along the wood edge looking for white oak acorns to give to Larry so he could plant them. Mom named tree species we passed; American elm, American basswood, black cherry, aspen, paper birch, sugar maple. Though we passed bur oak and read oak, we didn;t find any white oaks until we reached the “back” of the pasture, well a corner really. We began picking up a few that were still fully intact. Peering into the woods we could see there were more; so we backtracked to the gate and climbed over, and followed as close to the fence as we could manage, rounding the corner to the white oak tree. Bur and red oak grew nearby, we may have picked up a few of their acorns as well. We found out later, we had found an overcup oak too, which usually grows further south. Later, Larry told Mom that it is unusual for all of these species of oak to grow so near to one another. I ventured a little down the almost vertical slope but Mom didn’t risk it. Mom picked up a husk of possibly a butternut. 

The possibility of butternut brought me back today. I sit on the edge of the woods, in the pasture. The sunshine is warm and feels wonderful but the air and wind are chilly; I should have brought a long sleeve. I laid down on a chunk of old concrete, wishing it was a boulder instead; under an old, kingly bur oak, my eyes roving over the texture of its furrowed bark. A leaf or two drifts down every once in a while. I look intently at a small, white, fuzzy mushroom thriving on the crown of a dead boxelder. (Perhaps a split gill, schizophyllum commune mushroom.) Sadly the boxelder, my portal into the woods had to be cut in order to fix the fence. I am frustrated by the number of buckthorn in this part of the woods, I would like to remove them. A flush stand of nettles dots the understory. I love the collection of trees. My supplies for the woods include two journals, mushroom guide, tree guide, camera and sketchbook. Birds chirp but I can’t see them, at least two species, perhaps sparrows. Crows in the distance. A woodpecker taps somewhere above. I love the low angle of the October sun. At first I felt guilty, taking a day for myself and the woods but was reassured it’s a necessary and a good thing for me to do. Time to start walking!

I tramp along the fenceline, going south and a little downhill. A chickadee chatters, and something else too but I can’t identify it. Oak and elm gather by the fence. Further down, the head of the huge ravine, below the pond, and on the corner, a tree leans out over the fence and reaches down trying to touch it – its overall appearance has me thinking it is a willow of some sort. I draw near. Walk stooping under dead branches, wondering if I can climb up it and cross over the fence instead of scooting under the fence. Upon inspection of its leaves from the live part of the tree, I confirmed it as a willow – consulting the field guide, it is a black willow. There’s another tree growing under it or perhaps it pushed this tree over. I grab a leaf, and hold it with my mouth. I attempt to climb up, but the small branch gives way under me, so I move down to my right (up the crown). These dead branches nearly touch the ground. I try here; it’s a little unstable, but I walk up the narrow branch, holding onto others, snapping dead branches off, unintentionally in the process. Either the tree or I, or both of us, wobble; perhaps this wasn’t safe, after all I am many feet off the ground. Camera swaying. Possessing a sense of adventure and love of climbing trees, under the fence would have been faster but not as much fun. I step over branches. Some live twigs mingled with dead ones. Tree trunk widens. Some scat sprouting hairs – raccoon? Half tempted to sit and revel in the willow but desire to keep moving. I step off the trunk at the base of the tree. (Wind through the trees and dropping leaves sound like rain.)

Ah, home. Finally, I start to relax and shed feelings of guilt. Why am I happiest in the woods? I desire to share it with someone but also enjoy going alone for solitude and moving at my own pace. I am enraptured by the trees, elm, boxelder, cottonwood, even the dead tree laying on the bank above the ravine. I step down into the ravine, breathe deeply – taking so many photos. A bright colored mushroom, golden brown like a bun, sprouts from a log. I walk a few feet down the ravine, until it curves. Distracted by the trees and then a mushroom, which is everywhere! I admire the ravine – rock strewn, trees growing out of the banks. More mushrooms. Glorious oak tree. So many mushrooms; I wish it were edible. The morning is warming as I walk. I climb out of the ravine, following mushrooms on the ground and trees. (Mindful of how I walk – heels down first. I scared up a grouse or something.) Dense undergrowth. Onward, I press, heading towards the stone foundation, so overgrown from March – very different from my visit with the girls in April. (That story is still waiting to be edited.) Torn between passing by the foundation or walking the ravine. I chose the foundation, somewhat following our path. Passing by the stones, I duck under the near horizontal boxelder. The undergrowth is so much thicker, too dense. Mosquito buzzing. Out from under the boxelder, I look back, momentarily considering climbing it. I would love the connection with the tree and it would be so easy, but I want to keep moving. I am getting hot. The undergrowth nearly obstructed my view of the small ravine ahead. Drawing up to it, legs fully extended, I step over it. Pushing past, ducking under, and dodging branches, I continue onward, arriving at the bigger ravine. I can hardly see the rock formation on the other side, toward the top of the slope. I amble down and back up out of the ravine, holding on to trees.  Mushrooms like striped moths adhere to a tree.

A few steps away, I almost stumbled over the cow skull – covered in leaves, teeth revealed. Bright mushrooms lampshade shaped on stalks, glow below the rocks. I pondered climbing the rocks, but decided not to this time. My soul lifts again – maples gorgeous, not much for undergrowth. Brown shelf mushrooms decorate trees. I am overcome with the desire to walk barefoot. Probably not a good idea – oh what the heck. I pause to take off my shoes and socks, tread on a carpet of maple, elm, and oak leaves. Enjoying being barefoot, I can really feel the woods. The sky is becoming overcast. And I am more in the breeze again. I sit down on the soft hillside overlooking the wide ravine, admiring the trees. A maple leaf dangles from a spider’s web, dancing in the breeze. A murder of crows cackle. (One calls another responds – are they talking about me?) I think this is my spot more than by the foundation; I love the openness. I hate the highway noise though. Wish I knew the names of all the plants, running my fingers along the tree bark. I looked through field guides. I had a snack, took notes, and sat for over an hour. Leaves falling on me. Getting cold after sitting awhile, I should keep moving and look for a butternut tree.  

About to put my shoes on, nah, I keep going barefoot. (Like the difference between walking in nature and driving through it – more connected.) Crows caw. Sadly, my foot falls aren’t any quieter barefoot. Up the slope to the trail, I walk across the dead tree. This is amazing. Half tempted to ditch my shoes, will be back this way; but what if I need them. I check out the trees and rocks. I round the bluff. A sugar maple had fallen across the trail. I consider climbing it, but duck under and around the branches to keep going instead. A buck scat, careful not to step in it. Searching for a butternut tree, I focus down the slope and find what I think is it. I ditched my pack and shoes, and picked my way down the slope, maneuvering between trees for support. The terrain is steep and hazardous. I paused to take photos and then climbed back up the slope. 

 Further down the trail, I found more. I stopped at a deep ravine, and sat for a while at the edge. Backtracked to pack and shoes. Climbed up the hill to the base of the fallen sugar maple, trying to identify oak trees. Up on to the maple tree, I walked along toward the crown – didn’t feel great on my bare feet but fun anyway. At the base, I put my shoes on and continued up the slope to a big oak by a rock outcropping. Reaching oak, I wrapped my arms around a thick branch, pulled myself up and wrapped my legs around it with some difficulty, trying to swing up but not strong enough, bark digging into my arms. I used to be able to do this as a kid.  I drop down, and keep going. Back to the trail. Up to the gate and over it. Along the pasture to my bike. Ducks drift on the pond. I was in the woods for five hours; where’d the time go?

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Woodland Trek in Mud Season (Part II)

 I walked down the hillside toward the huge ravine. My footsteps in the snow are way too loud. Photographing and touching trees as I mosey past. Despite the trees and plants still being dormant, it is so beautiful. The ravine widens. I head towards a snowless area just above the ravine. Blue jay cackles, such a wild sound. A tall, stately eastern white pine tree beckons to me like a lighthouse – as a moth to a flame, I go to it, like the prodigal son going home. I approach. It’s a bittersweet thing – I am transported back, perhaps twenty years or so, to a place and time lost to me (when I had a dad and paternal grandparents). I pick up the familiar pine cone that is my childhood, softened by winter. Its scales are shaped like those of fish. I want to cry, tears of joy and sadness, it reminds me of my thinking tree, an eastern white pine. (You can read this story at https://bethanybenike.com/2014/04/11/eastern-white-pine/). I can smell it, feel the summer air. Picture the yard around me. I touch the bark, run my fingers across it, a blast from the past, like being able to touch a ghost, someone who is long gone from my life. (A feeling, a sense of something, overcomes me – something that is out of reach, no longer attainable – as if for a moment I am back there, I am home; I can’t explain it very well, but it’s like a part of me was left behind, back there on that other farm long ago and I didn’t know or maybe I did, but that I’ve been trying to get back. So much hurt, pain, trauma. The source of all my insecurities, my anxiety, fear, self doubt, feeling inadequate, like I can never be a functional adult (Why Jesse and I fight, and why I can get so crushed); I am stuck at this age, somewhere between four and  thirteen – when I was sexually abused frequently by my brother and then dad, when dad would say I am beautiful but could never know if it was a healthy compliment or sick perversion, so I’ve never known I am beautiful. – Wow, I hadn’t been thinking about writing that.) I want to sit against the tree like I used to do with the one in the yard but it is wet. I sit on its foot, roots, feels like sitting on Grandpa’s lap – I can’t believe he’s gone. How can a tree bring up so much feeling? I miss back then, somewhat – minus the abuse, challenges of school and growing up. I have been pushed too much this winter; Thelma said I have experienced a lot of trauma these past six months – hadn’t thought of that. (A bird that sounds like a frog croaking, like a squeaky handle, interrupts my thoughts. More woodpecker drilling. My feet are falling asleep.) I stroke the soft pine needles, smell the sweet scent. How do I heal? How do I write what I want to about my childhood and do so quickly? – remembering the good stuff and how it made me feel and then keep moving forward. Will I ever be free of guilt and shame, feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and fear (induced by interacting with people)? Here in the woods I felt free (until these musings popped up), safe, like I was myself. Perhaps it is time to pray and ask God some big and challenging questions. (My current perch isn’t working for me though.) No answers, my own inner voice was being too loud. 

Time is fading, it’s after 2:00 pm – I should be heading back. Should I text Jesse and ask if he wants me to milk? Or just go back? – I do both. But which way to go? Follow my footprints or up the man made trail and through the pasture? I begin following my tracks. The snow has become slick in the past hour, heading back up the hill is extremely difficult, feet sliding. Change in plans, I go more directly up to the man made trail, and over the top of the gate. I am really hungry but even so not ready to go back. There’s lots of snow in the shadow of the trees, I follow the fence line, still photographing. Suddenly, I heard rushing water, not trickling – curious, I want to go back to the big ravine, but don’t, I have to keep moving. Not seeking out the running water is killing me. I pass a small pond, water flowing through a pipe into the small ravine. I keep going. Beef cows are on this side now, watching. I come to the large washout, water rushing down it – tear myself away after several photos. Step over, up the dike, around the pond – I don’t have to milk tonight. Turn back, sloshing through the snow. Pretend the washout is a massive river filled gorge, taking me back to childhood again when I played in gushing torrents of waterways in the spring. I scamper down the washout, leap over it (impact too jarring), slither under the fence, and make a pit stop on a dead tree for a snack. Then down the slippery slope of the ravine, I didn’t go down too far, stepping on rocks and logs, having a blast with each well thought out step. I love flowing water. I balanced on a couple of logs. Found a bone- strange. Past the stone foundation. Should I keep going? It’s getting late and it could be at least a twenty to twenty five minute trek back up the ravine if I keep going and I want to do some more writing. 

Up the hill I go, past the stone foundation. Keep going or stop again? I pause and sit down on a log – wait this is where I began. Still in the warmth of the sun. Wispy spiderwebs criss-cross between the skeletal remains of wild mustard, and tree branches, catching the late afternoon sunshine, shimmering. The seat on the log is starting to get very uncomfortable and my neck is starting to ache, but I can’t bring myself to head back to the house yet (despite gnawing hunger too) – I am under a spell and am not ready for it to be broken. But the breeze is getting cold – I am so indecisive right now. When will I be back? Next week or next month? But I am so hungry – I must head back. Maybe there is somewhere else I can go, closer to the house. 

I walked on the east side of the hill to be in the sunshine, observing turkey tracks. So much mud. Maple trees are blooming. I was out there for about six hours. 

Woodland Trek in Mud Season (Part I)

March 6, 2021

At 11:13 am, I sat down  in the sun on a fallen tree to enjoy the woods and write. An eagle flew over my head, so low I could hear its wings. I heard squeaking and looked up, a nuthatch in the tree walked around a branch. There was another high pitched bird. And perhaps blue jays. I heard a small flock of Canada geese, maybe just two. Too much vehicle noise seeped into the woods. Water trickles somewhere nearby. I should check it out. I grow cold sitting here, the sun has moved past me. I should move too. How long will I stay? No idea. (My butt was getting numb.) I hear a tractor – someone feeding the beef cows perhaps. 

I bicycled to the other farmstead around 10:45 am, just before the barn, by the driveway curving down below to the beef cow pasture; too muddy to go further. Sunny, no clouds in sight, not even a wisp, forty two degrees Fahrenheit when I left and a southwest or west wind. Uphill starting out, it was challenging and I was out of breath quickly. It was easy going once I got up the hill. I had packed water, two snack bars, a sketchbook, three journals, pencil pastels, and my camera. I sauntered down the curving field/pasture driveway, opened the gate, walked through, shut gate, wading through mud; luckily, I had worn boots. I love the spring smell of earth, mud and old, composting manure. I warmed up while strolling further down into a shallow valley. Beef cows on the hill above watched with mild curiosity. More snow covers the ground further down into the depression, my feet slipped in thawing mud and noisily crunched through grainy, melting snow. 

I reached the actual pasture, and opened and shut the gate. I halt, photographing ice from meltwater flowing down the valley and then also the frozen pond it’s headed to. A crow on the opposite slope cawed. My heart sang, wishing I was more musical to put words to it. With every step my heart lightens, enthralled by the pond. I shuffle along its west side. Step one foot on the ice to see how solid it is – cracks a bit but doesn’t break, maybe still frozen enough but I wasn’t going to take a risk. Beef cows are still watching. I snap photos of them, the pond, and crow tracks in the snow. The dike looks to be messy, very sticky clay, a combination of deep red orange and saffron yellow in color, across the top, I mosey along the north side taking photos. Becoming myself. I squat down for better angles. I can’t resist photographing a shallow washout. A crow cawed. Quiet, peaceful. I am myself again. A wise woman, my surrogate grandma, told me I should always be myself – but too often I am afraid of being hurt, and therefore am withdrawn.

I pause to study the rocks in the washout and photograph the wood’s edge, deciding where to go in – across the boxelder tree leaning over the fence, resting its crown on the pasture ground. The light is perfect. Grass and leaves, smell of autumn decay mingled with spring earth. I observe oak, elm and maple leaves. A woodpecker is at work; I can somewhat see it but not enough to identify it. Photographing trees for identification – I want to work on that this summer, being able to identify trees and other plants I am seeing, and birds by sound.

Is the water flowing in the ravine? Should I look? I slid off the log and resumed walking at 11:55 am, touching trees as I passed. I ran my fingers along the cool, textured, stone foundation and photographed it. A little bit of water flows down the ravine. I follow a deer trail, lots of droppings along it, and dip under a boxelder. A red tail hawk screeches. I tilt my head, crane my neck to see it but catch only a glimpse. No way to sneak up on a hawk. I keep rambling along the deer trail, pushing past brambles with thorns that grab at me. Admire and photograph trees – touch the ones I pass. A buck used the trail, bigger droppings, will I find a shed? Piece of a hollow tree stump sits on the side of the trail; I peek inside. Limestone outcroppings – good storybook inspiration. I cross a narrow ravine with flowing water, admiring trees. Snow crunched loudly underfoot. Two trees entwined and grew together. A nuthatch cheeped somewhere. A cow skull nearly buried in snow. I halt at a deeper ravine, considering how to traverse it. Squatting down, I pull out my journal and jot down a few notes, my backpack on a fallen tree trunk. I caught a glimpse of a woodpecker while writing – why didn’t I bring a longer lens? Downy or hairy? (I heard the sound of a large bird, particularly its wings as I wrote, wish I could identify it. Woodpecker drumming. Other birds sang in a high pitch. A squirrel stirred in the leaves somewhere.)

Time to cross the muddy, steep ravine. Carefully, I proceed down the side of the ravine, my feet slipping and sliding in the muddy earth, clinging to trees for support, to keep from tumbling. Intrigued by the curled bark of a paper birch log, I pause at the bottom to take photos and ponder where to amble up the other side – it’s perhaps seven feet deep, and steep, muddy with sticky clay. I shuffled a few feet to my right, grabbed hold of a tree and pulled myself up; it felt so good holding on to the tree, like holding a friend’s hand and not wanting to let go, I needed this comfort. The trees are like beings, consoling, loving and withholding judgment, with no expectations of me.  

Snow blanketed the ground. I pressed onward, up to the rock outcropping. Individual strata clearly visible. Limestone covered in moss and lichen, a geological phenomena in progress, the breaking down of rock to form soil. I amble up the rocks, grabbing hold of the course limestone, using trees here and there, wondering about snakes. (I love to amble up rock outcroppings.) The stones are cold to the touch. Water drips from melting snow. I needed this too. I feel like a child again, I feel safe.  After a few moments, I climb down, nearly losing footing on a patch of ice, holding on to trees to get down.

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.