I awake from a dreamless sleep to a sound that I imagine would be similar to an air-raid warning, or is at least as inconvenient. The snooze button on my alarm clock is swiftly punched, but at three in the morning, “five more minutes” ends as soon as I close my eyes again. I wish I was still five years old and waking up way too early out of excitement on Christmas morning, but my sleep is curtailed this morning, like many others, because I have to milk cows on my family’s dairy farm.
All of my life I felt as if I have been caught in between two worlds: high school, the rat race to a college-bound future and the pragmatic, pastoral sphere of the farmer that is so consumed by the problems of the present that looking ahead to the future is a rare indulgence. A significant amount of my time has been spent playing the tuba, helping to put a stage production together, and studying for an academic decathlon competition. But I have always felt that being a farmer’s daughter defined me more than anything else.
Hours of my life have been spent searching for newborn kittens among the maze of hay bales in the loft; milkings have flown by while singing and dancing with my mother, the strongest woman I know; mornings have smoldered away beneath the hot sun as my brother, sisters, and I picked rocks and small boulders out of a prospective corn field; rain has soaked my hair and dripped down into my shoes as the Hartle family sealed up a pile of haylage for the winter, pelting the tarpaulin-covered alfalfa with tires to resist the elements we have fought against all of our lives; and my heart has received numerous blows as I’ve assisted in bringing calves into the world who never had a chance to inhale and watched one of the most beautifully spirited animals I ever had die broken and immobile. I’ve laughed with happiness at life and cried with despair over death. I’ve watched my parents struggle to make ends meet and have despised the unhappiness that accompanies the farmer’s life. In spite of all of this, I wouldn’t trade the way I grew up for anything.
I suppose the pleasures and pains abundant in the life of a dairy farmer are a bit like the crops that are sown into the earth every growing season; they do appear to starkly contrast one another and to be completely unrelated. But what I have learned from living this life is that when I plant a seed, when I apply passion to a part of my life, it is only natural to experience the full range of emotions during the harvest. Whether what I have come to reap has prospered beyond expectation or struggled to never come to fruition, both of these outcomes are ultimately rooted in love, the intensity of which has made life worthwhile.
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