It felt so good to be back out in the fields again. (This sounds like a country music lyric). The southern breeze added to the sun’s heat as temperatures pushed everyone outside in T-shirts on Saturday. Spring was claiming victory over winter once again. While the neighbors started harvesting their winter crop of rocks, we were trying to finish up last year’s project. Austin was chopping stalks in fields that were too wet to do last fall. Mark and I were cleaning up manure piles. I was driving the spreader around to piles while Mark scooped them up with the skidsteer to spread them evenly across missed spots in the field. Piles marked where the end gate was raised too quickly or where loads were quickly dumped to escape sinking deeper in a soft spot of the field. We are chomping at the bit to get going, but we have to wait for the call to the starting line of this year’s big race.
    There is something about the rhythm of a track and field meet and farming which are so similar. Both are dependent upon preparation, patience, endurance, strength and weather. You compete mostly as individuals but work together in relays. You get out of it what you put into it. There are obstacles to overcome, and you have no control over some things. Both have a harmonious rhythm. Wait. You wait for the ground to support the equipment. You wait for your event or race. You wait for conditions to be just right to start planting. You wait for the starter’s gun. Then both begin the mad dash to make your mark. In the 100-meter dash, you have around 12 seconds. In farming, you have a limited number of days to get the seed in the ground for the best yields.
    Mark was a cross-country and distance runner. He would run home from school as practice. Then after chores and milking were done, he would hit the dirt roads once again. He enjoyed running. He liked the challenge of pushing himself to the next power pole. He has the endurance to go the long haul. I like the sprints. Get me in the starting blocks and I will reach the finish line as quickly as possible. Give me a job and get out of my way. I really hated to run, especially warm up laps on a windy day. I dreaded coming around the curve, slamming head long into the wind. The next turn seemed so far away, yet you pushed your legs to keep moving, the wind resisting your forward movement until you finally reach the final turn and put the wind to work for you on the back stretch toward the finish line. I never ran more than one lap around the track. I battled with the wind on one stretch. Why would I want to do it three more times? I beat it once so I quit while I was ahead. The only obstacle I enjoyed was skimming over 10 hurdles in 100 meters.
    I think it was the Greeks who created the track and field events through the Olympics based on specific skills, many of which came from working the land. Heaving rocks and putting shot. Jumping over puddles and creeks to long jumping. Chasing lost cattle over rugged terrain like a steeplechase. Vaulting over higher expectations by financial loan officers. (OK, maybe that one is a more modern day variation). You get the idea. You can connect farming skills to many events in a track and field meet, but I think farming is most like a marathon. There will be moments when you need to break away from the pack with a burst of speed, but it is all about pacing and preparing for the obstacles ahead. There will be moments of doubt and struggle. There will be a wall to climb when your muscles are screaming to stop, but you push through to keep moving. Then, as you see the finish line, relief and joy remove the burden you have been carrying as the race comes to an end, and you once again harvested another crop.
    When you think you have seen it all, you turn your head and there it is. Something you never could have imagined. It was such a beautiful Easter evening. No one wanted to come in to the house right away. It was one of those warm spring nights when you want to savor the warmth of the moment and the sounds of spring floating in the air as birds sing their evening song. Mark noticed a heifer by the water fountain that seemed to be acting like she might be in heat. Not a good thing. She was supposed to be bred and was getting out there in age. He watched, waiting to see if any of the other heifers would ride her. He moved closer to see what her tag number was. What a relief. It was not the one he suspected. It was one who had not been bred yet. Since he was already out in the heifer lot, he wandered over to check the mineral supply box. It was OK. As he started to glance around, he spotted it.
    Mark had never seen anything like it before, nor does he want to see it again. A heifer was caught in a precarious situation. He does not know how she did it, but she was stuck in the feed bunk with her head and neck flopped over the edge. Her legs were splayed out behind her, and she could not find any traction or enough leverage to correct herself. Because her neck and head were hanging over the edge of the bunk, she was choking herself. Mark helped to right the heifer, and she escaped her precarious predicament. If he had not lingered and took time to check the heifer lot, it could have been a rough start to a new week. Instead, you take a moment to give thanks and wonder what kind of race path she is on.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net