A client told me that his father, a mostly-retired dairy farmer, says that a guy should never take off his long johns until after the corn is planted, and I bet he never planted corn until mid-May too, not like the current optimists out there. I like to recall tidbits of advice like this, on days like this year's April Fools Day. You may remember that it was quite warm, over 80 degrees where I live, that day. This was no surprise because the weatherman had been foretelling this for days before. All advice aside, it is difficult for me to accept such a warm forecast so early, so I dutifully donned my long johns that day, because a guy never wants to get caught out there in one of those open barns without enough clothing. I have done it; I don't like it. It is hard to warm up the rest of the day or even until bedtime.
So there I was, driving around with the air conditioner on in the car, and with full cold weather gear on my body, including a hat with earflaps, because a guy doesn't want to get caught with cold ears either. I had my down vest on the seat next to me too, just in case. When I got to town in the afternoon all I could see was skin: legs, arms, belly buttons, and shiny tops of bald heads. Must all be people who work inside all day, I figure.
Spring came quickly this year. We changed to daylight savings time earlier than usual, too, which I thought was just crazy, because it had only just gotten light out in the morning when the kids got on the bus, and now they were plunged back into darkness. Besides, who would ever be out golfing in a March evening and need an hour of extra light anyway? My father referred to the two time systems as "daylight wasting time" and "honest time". He said that good honest people were out working early in the morning, and daylight wasting time just gave them another hour of darkness in which to work, and that nobody wanted to work until 10 p.m. anyway. I really felt that he was right this year, until somebody decided winter was over and flipped a switch to make it immediately spring.
Spring brings renewal, and it is a great time to be out driving around. That long-forgotten color, green, sprouts up from brown landscapes everywhere. A guy can hang his arm out of the window and get a one-armed tan. All the debris and junk left out all winter show up on the roadside, and occasionally you can find something interesting. Birds come back, and cows lie on their sides, flat out, enjoying the sun. The rivers run fast and brown, and smell a bit like dirt. Spring is a time for optimists. The snow is leaving; better times are ahead. Rain makes it all fresh.
Spring is a time for farmers. Work the fields. Plant the crops. Help the beef cows calve. Even though farmers can sometimes be champion grumblers, they are optimists at heart, and spring is their time. Borrow a whole bunch of money to plant your crop, to fertilize and spray it, and hope for the best. This year, I hear optimism on dairy farms out there, even though last year was one of the all time worst years for dairy farmers that I can remember, and things don't look so hot out there this coming year either. Most of the winter guys grumbled about low prices, too many heifers coming on line, and cold weather. Now, in spring, most is forgotten. Might be building another barn, going to buy a pasteurizer, need a heifer shed, or even building a parlor.
This trait is something that I really enjoy in farmers. When the Wall Street folks are complaining that they cannot attract good help without paying $50 million bonuses, and that the world is ending as a result, it is nice to see the combination of a great work ethic and endless optimism in farmers. The rest of us should take note and learn something. There is always a lot of good, even during bad times, and when it's really bad, it almost always eventually gets better.
Of course, farmers are realists too; thus the advice about not taking off long johns too soon. No sense living in fantasy. But now I see the corn planters running, so I think its time. Fold them up and put them in the drawer. Hope to not see them until about November. Welcome to spring everyone. Thank you for keeping the rest of us inspired.
Jim Bennett is a dairy veterinarian at Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center in Plainview, Minn. He and his wife, Pam, have four children. Jim can be reached at bennettnvac@embarqmail.com with comments or questions.