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Ryan Dennis

Ryan Dennis is the son of a New York dairy farmer and a literary writer whose early essays were originally published in Progressive Dairy.

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He walked towards me with his hand out and fingers spread as wide as they go. My hand was wet with dirt and sweat. I was going to wipe it on my jeans, but he grabbed it first. “I’m here for the day,” he said. “Just a place to come down to every once in a while, get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.”

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The first few times around the field I watch the disk behind me carefully, being sure to make full use of its width and not miss any spots on the ground. I start off in a gear that is inevitably lower than the one I will finish in.

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Several years ago BBC News ran a story on Ian MacDonald, a quiet man with pink cheeks that is the last known Scottish crofter to swim his cattle across the sea from the Isle of Sky. Scottish crofting is a farming tradition in the highlands and islands of Scotland that dates back to the 19th century.

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My grandfather grew up in Germany during the second war. The eldest of a poor family, he was sent to work in other farmers’ fields in exchange for being fed that day.

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My father, in spite of himself, scratched the back of the cat’s neck when he passed by. The cat lifted his head and looked up at him. He followed the trajectory of my father’s hand with blank eyes as it slipped back into the pocket of his jeans.

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I was 12 when I first started milking. I stood on the rusted steps and looked into the parlor. Yellow rubber hoses throbbed in unison and squirmed against the lip of the pit when milk flashed through them. Each inflation grabbed the teat it held and softened its grip only for a moment before squeezing it again.

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