Good company

I had a lovely day off today which was almost wasted entirely alone in bed. I was at a loss for things to do and hesitant because I don’t have any means of transport here at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, not even my bike. Nevertheless, I settled on taking a long walk along a local trail down the road.

I ate, dressed, and headed out the door and down the farm, already taking a big step; my past weekends I mostly spent inside because the same feeling I had this morning had a greater hold on me then.

The weather’s been so nice, especially today—mid-seventies and sunny with a nice breeze during the day. I felt warm when walking but chilly while idle. At night, it drops to the fifties—cozy sweater weather. The local orchards are prepping for apple-picking visitors and everyone on the farm is breaking out their insulated rubber gloves and heat-tech clothing. I dressed in overalls and a light sweater for the walk, hooking a water bottle on a belt loop and pocketing my state I.D. and phone, for safety measures.

To get to the trail, I walked down the narrow shoulder along Lucas Turnpike for twenty minutes, feeling susceptible to speeding cars and the wandering eyes of passing men in trucks and tractors full of hay bales. The fear of walking alone is likely universal to all women anywhere, but to ease my fears I told myself I was not in the city anymore, therefore I was safe. 

Five minutes from the path, a car slowed down for me, stopping just two yards away, and when I reached the window, which was still rolled up, an older man was pointing forward and saying something about where he was going ahead. I shook my head and waved my hand as a thank you and he drove on. I didn’t feel threatened. In fact, with his age, I presumed that picking up hitchhikers along the road was a great deal part of his culture in the past. I actually felt a small bit sorry, imagining his disappointment in how times have changed. It’s too bad the opportunities to meet someone, learn their story, and enjoy their company in their own little car until the next town over isn’t an available opportunity. It’s a romantic notion, but it’s far from reality. No one is that nice nowadays—or if they are, they’re clearly ignorant to today’s social norms. While hitchhiking has always been dangerous—I was reminded of a Joyce Carrol Oats story here—we’re more aware of it now. After imagining the driver’s story and saying goodbye to him after he dropped me off at my destination, in Oats’ fashion, the nice image turned into my dead body within an old, abandoned, and decaying haystack off of a solitary dusty road in the middle of nowhere. Not worth risking for a nice conversation.

After another few minutes, I reached the trail. Already, I was uncomfortable on the empty path. I stood perpendicular, looking both ways to see which direction to start, letting my gut make the decision. It chose to the right.

The path was beautifully treated with a narrow graveled strip for bikers, sided by thicker, softer paths of grass for walkers, and covered by tall trees and bushy goldenrod and wild pokeberry. I walked along the grass to enjoy the silence, but it still had some crunch to it from the loose gravel. After a few minutes, it was stressing me out—it grew louder and disturbed what solitude I was trying to find. There’s a strange discord between loving my solitude and feeling uncomfortable in it. I love being alone, especially back at the lodge where my housemates are always in and out, grabbing lunch mid-shift or spending their free time in the common area. It’s hard to feel alone when people are right outside your door. It’s not that I mind them there, it’s more so the paranoid feeling that they’re watching me and judging my every action—but I’m projecting my own hatred of idleness, being unproductive, wasting days in bed.

I feel like everyone is watching me when they’re around. However, I feel that paranoia even when I am alone. I suspect someone could be stalking me, watching me from behind the trees. There’s always a paranoid voice in my head that asks whether I am ever truly alone—and not in a Godly sense. That’s the territory with being a woman. The further I got from my starting point and the denser the woods grew, the more uncomfortable I became.

I was both relieved and stressed about not seeing anyone else around so far. For one, if something were to happen to me, I would have someone to call to for help. However, maybe the only other person around would be the one who’s putting me in need of help.

The gravel gave way to thicker grass and the silence rid the paranoia slowly until I felt I wasn’t even there. I couldn’t tell if it felt I’d fallen away from the world or the world had fallen away from me. The difference in feeling was heady, like I could gather up in my thoughts, forget where I was and wander into unknown territory without checking what was behind me. If anyone were around, they wouldn’t know I was. It was so silent, I could become the watcher of passerby if I wished—if anyone passed by.

I turned around, walked through the crunchier grass again, passed my starting point where a shingled wooden stand with a map was planted beyond a bridge, and continued in the opposite direction. Right as I felt comfortably and safely alone again, feeling far from anyone and anything, a large house came into sight, which stood over a creek. It had a stationary water wheel within the creek, downstream from a little waterfall. It was beautiful but I was disappointed to see something human. Behind the building (which I gathered was a barn), up a slight incline, was a tall, white house with a gorgeous porch. Beyond the house, the incline continued more and tapered out, hiding what was beyond. I presumed there were many acres of farmland for wheat or hay beyond it. 

I saw no one, which helped me study the property a little longer, looking at the house that I desired to be my own in the future. Somewhere secluded and silent save the trickle of water. 

I thought I’d turn around at this point but decided to follow the water down below. I found a hidden path through the ridge of trees that reached down into a stoney patch within the stream. I sat on a rock and just listened and thought—what about, I don’t know. I could breathe my own air, that’s all that mattered.

After twenty minutes, I ventured up the ridge to the path. On the walk back, I reflected on the bees—carpenter bees— I saw guzzling up the nectar from the wildflowers. They reminded me of the carpenter bees who ate the outdoor wooden benches at my old elementary school. I was never afraid of them, unlike other kids. In fact, sometimes they reminded me of my dad, a carpenter. He could easily fix the benches that these little carpenters spent their lives drilling holes into. He’ll like this path, I thought, although it’s not so much a hike than a walk, which isn’t his taste. I hoped he and the rest of my family would visit me soon so I could feel the company of people that isn’t strained.

The walk brought me through the paths of many animals, starting with Tiny the turkey and Clyde the rooster, when I stopped to visit them for about twenty minutes before my journey. I took their pictures and sat with them in the grass while they enjoyed my gentle pets. Tiny grew so calm I think she could’ve fallen asleep. Their company is so easy. I enjoyed it so much I could’ve stayed with them all day. I always prefer the company of animals to humans. It’s much simpler and more appreciated. 

Along the path, when the water flowed near, in a small gathering of stagnant water next to the grass, I heard frogs jumping into the water as I approached. Step by step, one after another would splash in and hide underneath the murky floor. Along the highway, I saw a hawk circling low above a mended hay field. I was welcomed back to the sanctuary by the sounds of the roosters, who crow not only in the morning. As I write this outside on a picnic table, across from chicken coops and cow fields, I’m enjoying the company of Errol the farm cat.