As I step of my truck, I listen for the faint click of my door latching as I cautiously push it closed, careful not to scare away any animals. When my boots hit the ground, I notice that the knee high pasture grass at my grandparents’ farm now lays at my ankles, weighed down by a long night’s brutal rain. My mind wanders to a time that this field was used to grow corn, beans, and whatever else the Farmer’s Almanac suggested growing, given the upcoming year’s weather prediction. I imagine my grandpa riding up on our old, rusty, John Deere 530 tractor. Dirt on his hands and sweat on his brow. The field is now covered in a natural grassland mixture that was planted by the crop reduction program. After countless years of harvesting crops off of the field, it now lies dormant under the autumn sun.
I am immediately glad that I brought my waterproof mud boots because my Nikes would have been destroyed by the wet very quickly. I don’t know why I came to the woods. Something just told me to come here today. I figure that I’ll check my archery stands while I’m here. In recent years, these woods have failed to produce and attract trophy bucks, but my family’s hunters hope that a new food supply will change our luck. Upon entering the forest, I noticed that the newly fallen leaves on the ground are soaked due to the recent rainfall, and I sneak down the trail like a ghost down a dark hallway. As I walk, my mind is easily distracted by the beauty of fall and the little critters of the forest. The oak, birch, poplar, and maple leaves each show their own beautiful colors with the changing seasons. My favorite is the red oak. The leaves usually turn a rich red by now but this year they still are a pale green, not yet affected by the cold nights. Its leaves will usually stick around until spring, when the spring warm-up thaws their stiff stems and they finally fall to the swampy spring earth. My mind wanders in sync with my feet. I feel a squish under my feet and a sharp scent of deer droppings reaches my nose almost immediately. I scrape it off with a stick and keep walking.
I spot a fresh set of deer tracks in the mud and it looks like they came from a fairly good sized deer. I haven’t noticed any buch scrapes on any trees or shrubbery, but to be perfectly honest, I haven’t really been looking. I continue down the trail, now looking for signs of big bucks. Most of the big bucks that are shot here are never spotted on our cameras, and we just happen to catch them on their way through. I step into a clearing in the woods where we planted some corn this summer. Without realizing how careless I had been with my walking, I found myself face to face with a six point buck that had been feeding on fallen corn cobs. Busted.
The deer stares prudently at me and I look back at it. Even though it is just a deer, its glare cuts into my mind and I feel stupid for so clumsily stepping out into clear sight. I can tell that he is curious as he locks his eyes on me. His natural instincts tell him to flee, yet he watches me like a hawk. Even though I’m sure we both weren’t in the field for more than ten seconds, an eternity passes as we both stand completely still in each other’s presence.
My mind jumps back to a time I went hunting as a kid. It was the first time that I could hunt by myself, but my dad sat in the stand right beside me. Just before dark, a small deer stood up from his resting place in the field and made his way right by me. It crossed in front of me, facing broadside, at about twenty yards. I pulled my gun up and laid my crosshairs on his chest and saw nothing but brown because it was so close. I lowered the magnification of my scope and refocused. With my aim just behind his front shoulder and far enough up to make it a kill shot, I pulled the trigger.
I snap back to reality and see the buck’s white tail flash like a spotlight in front of my face. Just like that, my visitor disappears into the depths of the forest. The wild demeanor of the deer makes me think of why I love being in the woods, and I consider what my life may be like if I had never fallen in love with hunting at such an early age. I leave the field and head towards the river that divides my grandpa’s woods from the neighbors’. The walk takes a few minutes, but I don’t mind because it is filled with beautiful sights and lots of critters to keep me company. When I finally get to the river at the spot we call the second sandbank, the view is astonishing.
I stand on top of a washed out hill that overlooks the river far below. In front of me, a horseshoe of river bends around a forest floor at the bottom of a ravine. A dense forest of reds, yellows, greens, and browns positions itself in the interior of the shoe. Steep sandbanks surround the outside of the shoe. My grandma used to take my cousins to this spot in the summer and they would ride snow sleds down to the water. There is a significant age gap between my cousins and me, so I never got to go on one of these adventures. Still, I feel like I never missed a trip. I have many of my own fond memories of spending time with my grandma that don’t include this river. I spent a lot of time at this farm as kid, and there was seldom a dull moment. We ate ice cream. We played card games. We had fun. When I sit alone at their farm I sometimes feel like they’re still in the kitchen, cleaning up from supper, or they are in the bedroom taking an afternoon nap. I especially feel their presence in these woods, and watching animals run around by the river. Just like at their house, there is rarely a boring moment in the forest.
The river and view seems to have a special power. The warm breeze and sunlight make me feel comfortable at the river. It welcomes me to the woods, like a friend’s hug after a long separation. No matter what I may be thinking about, when I see the beauty of this small canyon, all worries fade. Life stands still as I dangle my legs over the edge of the bank and let my eyes wander off in the distance. When I got here, I felt incomplete, and now I feel like I know what I needed. The calmness of the forest and the serenity of the river and trees soothes me. The woods have done their work. It’s time to go.
On the walk back to my truck, I feel significantly different than when I got here. The trees are calm and the wind that felt cold and bitter earlier, turns to a breeze that gently caresses my skin. The critters of the forest are nowhere to be found, and although I walk through the forest alone, the trees and trails feel like a second home. As I get close to my starting point, I can see that the dew has evaporated off of the pasture and the grass tries to stand up once again. I glance across the field at the old farm house. It sits lonesome at the edge of the field. Barns and ancient farm equipment are scattered around the white building. I can imagine what it was like on the farm when my grandma and grandpa bought it. Cows grazing the pasture. Kids picking weeds out of long rows of beans. It takes me back to the countless hours I spent with my grandpa in their garden.
I allow these pleasant thoughts to linger in my mind as I get back into my truck and leave my beloved farm.