Bearing Down

There is always a burst of angst as I begin to think about what might be appropriate for this space several weeks or months out. Frequently what comes to mind, while germane at the moment, is deemed likely to be of no particular interest at press-time. However, I recently was faced with a metaphorical experience.

A few weeks ago while hiking in some isolated back country in Vermont with my wife and two houseguests, I was plagued with the thought of what I might do if a bear popped out of the woods or stuck his nose up while we shared a berry patch. I can’t say as I had a ready answer to these musings – I have only encountered or sighted maybe two or three bears while hiking in the eastern US in nearly 50 years.  But the alert sensation that kept my mind off the oppressive heat was not unwelcome. About an hour later as I was leading my friends down the trail, there was quite a bit of crashing around, panting and loud grunting in the woods immediately to our right. It could not have been deer and this was not moose country. HMMM! The evidence presented itself as two large adult black bears crashed onto the trail and at full gallop were facing me almost instantaneously as they bore onto my path. There really was nought to do but speak firmly to them in a language I hoped they would understand very quickly or I would become much too intimate much too quickly.  I assumed my full height, postured and roared at them in what seemed like a bear-ish manner. Much to my intense relief, it worked and they promptly thought better of their route and veered off into the forest. Needless to say, my hiking companions were nowhere to be seen but there was quite a bit of shouting and nervous laughter coming from way back up the trail.


I relate this story because it reminds me of the perils of farming, particularly here in the weather-weird Northeast. As carefully as we may plan our season’s crops, markets and budgets, each of us knows in our guts that we are likely to meet a bear in the road. And what will we do about it? Some will quit having already had a few run-ins with ‘bears’ over the years and decide that it is more advantageous to quit rather than fight. That ‘bear’ might be called generational transfer, the passing of a partner or another year of drought. Some will speak gently to the ‘bear’ in the vain hope that politesse begets triumph. (Sometimes, maybe.) Others will take their ‘bear’ on mano a mano and try to best it by dint of wit, fortitude, reason or guile. These are the farmers who will stay on their farms come hell or high water and make the best of whatever comes up their path.  How one meets the bear and finesses the charge has little to do with age or experience. Most of us do what we have to do at any given moment because that is our nature and we do it without thinking too deeply at that moment. A successful farmer will always do what has to be done when it has to be done because otherwise whatever it is won’t get done. Not everyone will appreciate or understand that level of cussed independence or Yankee pride. But I can tell you that getting a marketable crop out of a bad situation is as good as getting the bears to think better of having you for fun and games, much less dinner. And you did it yourself!

John Lee is the manager of Allandale Farm (Boston’s last working farm), which specializes in naturally grown local produce. Each summer, John manages an outdoor children’s program on the farm. He writes for local new outlets and is deeply involved with farming and locally grown issues in Massachusetts.

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