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On the Farm: A walk with worry

I have always found solace in the outdoors. Growing up in suburban Tampa, Florida, would seem a hard place to find wilderness, but it was there if you knew where to look. Barefoot, with cutoff jeans and no way for anyone to know where I was, I’d venture out into the swamps along the Hillsborough River in search of a place to quiet my mind. I’d come home hours later, covered in mud and bug bites.

This Sunday morning, I woke around 5 a.m. to see the sun reflecting off the trees, after days of gray and rain. I slipped into my clothes, complete with hooded anorak and bug net. I set off across our dew-covered fields, quickly soaking my pants in the waist-high grass before stepping over the barbed wire and into the neighboring woods we have permission to hike in.

It’s a place I often explore in winter but when the undergrowth and bugs become too much, I usually avoid it. I have always wondered what these woods look like in early summer, so I decided to explore. As in my childhood, I felt the need for an adventure.

The ground was spongy, though I couldn’t see it below the ferns carpeting the forest floor. I was only vaguely aware that I was being followed by a cyclone of mosquitoes swirling and humming around my head and back — I’ve kind of gotten used to them.

My boots slurped, sucked and sloshed through a boggy section before I found a deer trail that I followed until I came to higher ground. Large oak, maple and poplar trees reached up to a blue sky.

I walked with no destination in mind. A family of ruffed grouse launched from the ground in front of me. The woods were alive with bird calls, though, through my bug net, they were really just shapes.

I made my way to the edge of our neighbor’s property. The larger trees made the woods more open. I paused and tried to listen and watch and let go of all the lists and chores and tasks waiting for me back at the farm.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed during the farming season. Heather-Marie and I have learned the importance of “getting off the farm,” even if it just means stepping over a fence.

Being a farmer (I still marvel that I can call myself one), my connection to the land has become more than just a place to find peace; it has become a relationship that my wife and I rely on for our sustenance and livelihood. The connection has become one of stewardship and interdependence.

But in the past month, it has also felt like one of helplessness.

As we noted in an update we shared with the members of our weekly vegetable delivery business, the unpredictable weather and heavy rains have threatened our crops and challenged us to look at how we farm and care for our soil. We are learning, but we’re not there yet.

To the north and to the south of us, rains have devastated farms, homes and communities. A slight change in the path of a storm and our farming season would have been over.

This week, the forecast suggests a break in the persistently rainy weather pattern, but we have learned to not trust forecasts.

Our greenhouse is bursting with plants that must get into the ground. Our soil remains saturated. And our minds are never far from wondering and worrying about how it will go.

I stood there in those woods — the

angry mosquitoes looking for a way to get through my layers — and tried to enjoy the morning. But I’m not very good at turning off my brain.

I retraced my steps and returned from my walk, my pants saturated with water. I stood by the field as the sun crept above the low-lying clouds.

The tree swallows, barn swallows and bluebirds were feasting on an all-you-can eat buffet of mosquitoes. Soon they will fledge their young and be on their way until next season.

UMD journalism professor John Hatcher and his wife, Heather-Marie Bloom, operate Rising Phoenix Community Farm outside of Barnum. It’s a Community Supported Agriculture farm. Contact John at [email protected] or visit the farm webpage: http://www.risingphoenixcommunity farm.com.