Ask a farmer why he farms, you will probably get a blank stare. Or, at best, a series of hems and haws and a lot of staring at shoes.     
    Most farmers would not know how to answer that question, mainly because it is not the sort of thing they ponder upon. You may as well ask a farmer to list all the ingredients in a chocolate éclair or how to find the men’s underwear department at J.C. Penney’s.     
    But if an average farmer were to be given the ability to unravel the mysteries of the universe, his answer might go something like this:    
    I farm for the jolt of joy I get when I see a new baby calf nursing at his mother’s side. For that indefinable something that stirs deep within me when springtime finally arrives and the aroma of warming soil wafts on the breeze. For the quiet sense of wonder that overtakes me whenever I see a golden summer sunrise or a violet wintertime dusk.     
    In short, I farm for the feelings it gives me.     
    For the first time in a long while, I was recently forced to drive an old John Deere tractor. I should not say forced because driving an ancient Johnny Popper like those we had when I was a kid was actually a treat. I forgot how maneuverable a narrow front end is and what it is like to make a turn in less than 40 acres.    
    I also recalled what life was like before the advent of climate-controlled tractor cabs. Before farmers needed a degree in chemical engineering to understand weed control and you farmed the old Gellman place instead of FSA farm No. 1152.     
    Riding around on those open-platform tractors in all kinds of weather was often uncomfortable. But I believe that it strengthened a guy’s connection with the land, his machine and himself.     
    Farming with our two-cylinder Johnny Poppers was an act of intimacy. The slow pace gave us time to truly experience our surroundings. You got to know your machine so well that you knew if one of its sparkplugs was fouling long before the engine began to miss. The steering wheel telegraphed news of every lump and pebble directly into your hands.    
    I recall how swarms of black-hooded gulls would fill the furrow behind the plow, gobbling worms from the freshly turned soil. The sleek seabirds would float overhead, their long, graceful wings outstretched and motionless. The gulls were often so low that I could plainly see their crimson beaks and their tiny white eyebrows.     
    Dad liked to stop on the headland to rest the horses. We would idle our tractor’s engines, walk around, look things over and talk about our progress. If a neighbor happened to be in the adjacent field, like as not he would join our discussion.     
    One of the things I fervently wished for back when I was a teenager was a tractor radio. I tried to carry a transistor radio with me, but its feeble speaker was drowned out by the tractor’s engine. And I quickly discovered that AM radios are extremely adept at picking up magneto static.     
    So, I would listen to the radio in my mind. My playlist mostly consisted of Top 40 tunes, but there were times when a rogue song would get stuck in an endless loop. I remember how I once got really sick of hearing “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.”     
    Much has changed since then. Farmers now ride in climate-controlled comfort, cradled in featherbed tractor seats as static-free satellite radio plays on the 50-speaker surround sound system. Our ability to tell time by the sun has atrophied. Cell phones and the internet have made reading the sky and the wind to predict the weather a lost art.     
    Modern tractors have powerful and dependable diesel engines. They also have about as much personality as a brick. There’s no longer such a thing as using a screwdriver and a matchbook to adjust the ignition points.     
    Farming has become go, go, go, fire the torpedoes, full speed ahead. As a result, we farmers have become as anonymous to one another as the lemmings on the freeway.     
    But there is an antidote. Stop for a while on the headland, rest your ponies and jaw with your neighbor for a spell. Look at the sky, pick up a fistful of dirt and smell it. Rediscover the little things that made you feel like a farmer. Get back to your roots.     
    And if it is possible, I highly recommend taking an old open-platform tractor out for a spin.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.