Farm News

Summer’s Gifts

photo of the tips of wheat against the sky

There is no way to sugar coat it. July and August used to be the months I simply endured. I am not a native hot weather lover. My light, naturally dry skin burns easily and if I’m not careful, the bright glare of midsummer days can easily send me reeling with a migraine. Initially, farming exacerbated this lack of affection. I carried a constant worry that my crops were in perpetual danger of wilting, burning or suffering from dehydrating winds. Past hot weather spells have hands down been some of the most stressful times I’ve experienced as a farmer. Hot weather means more time spent on irrigation duties, which cut into already shortened workdays. I think back on my early years and feel heartache and tenderness for how I suffered—both physically due to the intensity of heat and mentally for the responsibility I carried for the health of my crops and livestock. I worked long, long days, could never seem to drink enough water, ate infrequently due to the heat and stress, and worst of all, shouldered so many worries. It seemed no matter how much I did, I always felt there was more I needed to be doing to ensure I could fulfill the commitments I’d made to my families. There was no one else responsible for the success of my farm. It was up to me and only me.

I’ve come a long way. These days, I have confidence in my experience and a deep trust in the extraordinary capability of my plants and animals to persevere, to weather the weather. I’ve learned that I need not dread the intensity of light and heat, that worry is a waste of precious energy, that care of land and care of self are two sides of the same coin. I’ve learned a sort of adaptability that only my farm could have taught me. A tactical shift in my workday schedule has made all the difference. To accommodate the high temperatures, I start work at just-before-sunrise, eating lunch sometimes as early as 10:30 a.m. I take shelter in the shade through mid-day and tend to bookkeeping or tool repairs. I find time for a catnap and at least a quart of water. I return to the fields when I can sense the heat is ebbing. Refreshed, I love the feeling of this ‘second wind.’ It’s almost a day within a day. I tackle something small, tangible, necessary. A harvest of herbs, vining tomatoes up on trellis, a short weeding job. After supper, Brad and I slow our pace even more as we revel in the sunset and cooling temperature. We count chickens and shut coop doors, then take a farm walk, with no particular destination, just knowing something truly wonderful awaits.

One night a throng of fledgling barn swallows flew around our heads, singing a song of cheer. Actually, they could have been giggling instead of singing. These young fliers wobbled a lot as they practiced landing on the deer fence and bean trellis. With stubby little tail feathers, these petite chestnut and blue birds were confident enough to let us come close, but young enough to still cry out “Me! Me!” as their parents swooped in to drop off frequent mosquito meals.

One night we test dug a patch of potatoes, returning giddy to the packing shed to weigh the abundance. Three pounds of glowing golden warm fingerlings, off only one seed potato! All I could think as I looked down the long rows of healthy plants was, “Wait until our CSA families get to eat these—we’re all rich!”

Another night after watering the bed of dill—still full of this sweet aroma—Brad spotted one ripe cucumber, then another. Two slender, creamy green and white new beginnings, months in the making, now rested in my cupped hands. There are so many special places, unique to our farm, unique to this season, unique to these twilight summer moments. This especially, is the time of year when so much changes, so quickly. We can hardly find one field row that something has not, seemingly overnight, bloomed, ripened, or in the case of our oregano hedgerow, become home to a multi-cultural song of thousands of insects thrumming while they work.

These evening walks are how Brad and I remember to celebrate, in small and quiet ways, the sheer glory of summer’s heat. We celebrate the growing of this farm, the surprise of beauty, abundance, generosity down every row, any row.

We walk through the vegetable fields, past a hedgerow, across the meadow, or down our forest path. The fading heat rolls over us. We slow down. Always, always, there is something to greet, something to learn, some connection, some mystery, some fascination, some gift. Summer’s gifts.

Now, even in summer, especially in summer, this farm is my sanctuary. I have learned to dance with this heat, to appreciate its soft edges, the quality of light at dusk and daybreak, the swirl of energy it brings to life at my farm. I’ve learned to find the hare’s corners of summer days, those pockets of time I can work successfully, steadily, no burning up, no burning out. I’ve learned to pack my plants a good lunch and lots of water, and then trust they have the intelligence and resilience to thrive.

I’ve learned to give myself permission to retreat, set down the work, care for my own tired feet and thirsty body. I accept the necessity of summer, grateful for each and every drop of clean water, each and every leafy pocket of shade available to me. I allow the heat to rise and rise and rise, knowing all too soon it will fall and fall and fall away.

Which is all a means of saying that instead of being full of stress and bone-weary worry, these days I return to the house on hot summer nights full, so very full of gratitude, and joy and amazement at all there is to celebrate right here, right here at home, right in and amongst what I used to profess to dislike.

At summer’s dawn, when I go out to work, the fields are a special sort of quiet. I sink down to my knees among the weeds and vines and focus on the health, wealth and resounding hope that is right before my eyes, under my feet, at my fingertips. No matter the pressures, the uncertainty, the sense of potential loss, here among the living, my heart and head clear. I find unending comfort in the steadiness of wild creatures and thriving plants, a steadiness in the continuity of this working class, who regardless of temperature, continue threading the world together leaf by leaf, bloom by bloom.

This is how I have made my peace with weather that does not suit me. I may not be fond of ninety-degree days, but through kindness and creativity, I have found a sort of respect for July, somewhat of an admiration for August, and most certainly happiness in the heart and heat of summer. ~ AJ