Marking time

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This has been a long and snowy season with little hope of winter loosening its grip any time soon. It reminds me of the good, old snowstorms when our kids were little. I don’t remember the exact year, but I remember the fun the kids had. They dug snow forts and tunnels in the walls of sliced snowdrifts lining the driveway. The drifts were as tall as the tractor cab when Mark was finally able to make it home to blow us out. The drifts at the farm were up to the roof of the milking barn. Michael decided he would make the barn roof a giant slide, landing in the drifts below. I don’t know how many hours they played King of the Hill, staging attacks on snow piles in the yard.
We don’t have as much snow this year, but there are still signs to remind us it has been a good winter. There are snow piles in every open corner of the farm. The north side of our house has drifts up to the windows. It looks like the house is snuggled down for a long, slow winter thaw. As Mark and I drove to Arlington the other day, the snow fences running parallel with the road were completely buried. In some places, as I looked out my window, I could only see a wall of snow. At least the roads were clear and dry to travel.
Despite the threat of more snow for the boy’s state basketball tournament, there are some signs of spring pushing back against winter. There is very little exposed ground, and it is a bit too cold for robins to be hopping around, but Mark did see a pontoon boat heading south for warm open waters before the road restriction signs go up this week.
The best sign of spring is the strength of the warming sun as it cuts through the morning fogs, creating slushy trails between the domes by the afternoon feeding. This is when I discover another end to winter. My damp socks expose the cracks at the wear points in my winter rubber boots as I slosh through the water puddles covering slick icy patches. If I’m not careful, my socks won’t be the only thing wet.
March calves aren’t the only babies on our farm this spring. We had our first batch of kittens born in the barn. Five new little ones snuggle with their mother and two other cats in a milking towel box filled with straw. We are surprised the kittens can breathe with all of the cats on top of them. Just as they were getting big enough to move around, their mother decided it was time to move them somewhere else a bit more secluded. So much for taming that batch of kittens. Of course, we have discovered that taming cats tends to shorten their life span. They think they should hang out with us in the barn and sleep in a stall. Our cows don’t like to share their stalls very well. We’ve had our share of fuzzy Flat Stanleys.
When we took a break from milking one winter, the cats pretty much had the run of the barn. Every stall was theirs to claim. Now that the barn is full of milking cows, the cats need to find different places to snuggle.
Mark received a picture on his phone last week. He was confused as to why a picture of a solitary cow standing in our barn would show up on his phone. I took one look and realized it was a reminder of an important moment in his life. It was the day we started milking again.
When we sold the milking herd and springing heifers in October 2020, Mark wasn’t quite ready to hang up the milking units for good. When he glanced around the heifer lot, he saw the promise of a lifetime of breeding decisions walking around. He just had to bring them on line to see how they would turn out. We started milking in March 2021 when Diamond calved. She was the first heifer to fill a stall in our empty barn. I took a picture to mark the moment. One by one, we filled every stall by the end of that year.
Time seems to be marked by the events in our life, be it weddings, funerals, pregnancies, school years, sales or even long, snowy winters. The memories serve as a point of reference in our timeline of life. Sometimes, we are surprised at how much time has actually passed since a marked moment of time in our lives. Other times, we can be amazed at how much life has been lived between marked moments. It is as if life is strung together by events through history, marking the times of our lives. All it takes is a quick reminder, a photo, of an important moment to reset our clock.
    As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark are starting a new adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.

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