I drove the four-wheeler out to the back 40 on Saturday evening — all the way out, to where the fences create a barrier between our pasture and Peterson Slough. The last time I could access that pasture on the hilltop — the one that overlooks not only the slough but the meandering Ocheyedan River that flows between Lake Ocheda and Lake Bella — had to be about three summers ago.

High water had overflowed the waterway in recent years, creating a swamp over the path to the pasture. Ruts left by farm implements and four-wheeler drivers during the first of those wet years are still filled with standing water today.

The girls — 12- and 14-year-old nieces — wisely departed the four-wheeler’s back rack and trekked between the water-filled ruts as I deliberated my crossing options. Hmm, drive through the mud and then wash the four-wheeler? Or drive through the cattails and chance the invisible danger possibly lurking below?

I backed up, deliberating my ability to sink the machine in the mud, and steered my way into the towering cattails with my eyes shut, my hands gripping the handlebars, and praying I wouldn’t land in a mire large enough to swallow us up.

When, seconds later, I reached dry land again, the girls were cheering — not because I managed to keep the four-wheeler dry, but because they could now put more distance between themselves and a thick patch of thistles.

Honestly, crossing that path gave me a sense of freedom like I haven’t felt in a long time — a pre-COVID-19 kind of freedom. I was free to breathe the country air, sans mask, and enjoy a few moments of peace and solitude at a special area of the family farm. Even the girls were quiet.

I’ve been intentional about spending more time outdoors this summer — even when it’s hot and humid.

On Sunday, the girls and I visited the rustic trails at Lake Bella. If you haven’t been down there, it’s worth a visit. The prairie flowers are starting to bloom in Bella Park — the wild bergamot are plentiful, the yellow coneflower have opened up, and you might spot Maximillian’s sunflower or rudbeckia as well. There’s a mowed path that will take you through the prairie flowers, and other marked paths that venture under tree canopies and along the man-made lake.

The birds are plentiful, but the people are not. And, I didn’t see a single snake, so all in all it was a pretty decent nature walk.