Monday, August 8, 2022

Of beasts and benches

When you’ve been hiking for 10 miles with a thirty-pound pack on your back, the thing you’re hoping most to see is a good bench—somewhere to sit. 

In general I have found that there are plenty of benches over here. Sometimes I have had to be creative and use a tree root or a boulder, but the English like their benches. 

There was the one today that was made from a massive slab of wood and had a little ditty inscribed on it: “There was a crooked man, and he went a crooked mile, he found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.”

There have been artistic benches carved with designs, there have been fallen trees carved into benches. Many have inscriptions, some are in the most beautiful of places.

I’m so grateful—especially my feet are grateful—for each and every one.

Then there are the beasts. 

When I camp out at night, I use a hammock, so I’m always among trees. There is almost always some crazy bird that squawks like crazy in the middle of the night. Or the owls hooting back and forth at each other from opposite ends of the forest. During the day I love to watch the kites, a sort of hawk, star though the air. 

There are the sheep and cows and horses that are my constant companions as I walk. Today I was climbing a hill and walking through a field full of sheep. The view from that hill was breathtaking, it was the kind of view that almost makes you cry. 

But I wonder if those sheep noticed. I did see one sheep lie down and gaze across the valley, and I hope he was enjoying the view just like I was. 

When it’s hot, the animals are usually lying down, often in the shade. Good example that!

I took a dip—a blessed dip—in the River Severn today. It had been a hot day of hiking and I was sweating all over. The river was cool and inviting. I stood for a while up to my waist in the water just enjoying it. That was when the minnows appeared.

A bunch of tiny ones swam up to my waist level. Then many much bigger ones huddled around my feet. They started nibbling at my feet. I felt like one of those wildebeests with a bird sitting on its back in the Serengeti in some kind of symbiotic relationship. I guess the minnows were nibbling at the dry skin on my toes. Anyway, it was fun.

My relationship with bigger fish has still been—alas!—non-existent.

I’ve met many swans and ducks along the way. Ducks are my dad’s favorite creature. He calls them the king of beasts. I kind of agree, I mean, which other animal can fly, swim, dive, and walk on land, not to mention be so adorable?

I’ve been happy with the tiniest of beasts—the little insects. In Ireland they pretty much ate me alive. Over here they have been on their best behavior. I’ve only gotten bitten a few times on my ankles. That’s bliss!

I’m to the town of Kingswood, almost halfway through the Offa’s Dyke trail. Hopefully I’ll meet many more beasts of all kinds, and find abundant benches!!!!

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