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The Milk House: Taking back spring

Ryan Dennis Published on 10 April 2013

We rubbed our hands between our knees, waiting for the present batch of cows to milk out. I sat on an overturned bucket; my father was on the steps that led out of the pit.

It was the middle of February, where the cold still crept through the edges of the window panes to frost the glass and froze the manure at the end of stalls. It was still the type of weather where your toes got cold through the boots and might not warm until much later in the day.

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“Spring’s coming,” my father said. “The season of new life and hope … starting again.”

“Barf,” I said.

Thinking about it now, I realize that we’re a sports family. I hesitate to use the term and probably wouldn’t to people who know us. It may be wrongly prejudiced, but it makes me think of middle-aged fathers that are a little overweight and wear sweat pants in the afternoon, and of mothers that can pack a cooler blindfolded the night before traveling to an over-publicized tournament in another part of the state.

Nor would I call us such because any of us were good at the things we played for the small school we attended. Instead, we follow sports for the purest thing they can offer: distraction.

We have our teams, for different reasons. When I was 12, I found a ’92 George Bell baseball card in the seat of the school bus and have been an avid and jaded fan of the Chicago Cubs since.

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Living in western New York, everyone was there for the four straight Super Bowl losses by the Buffalo Bills – which we thought was suffering until they just went their 13th consecutive season without reaching the playoffs.

I graduated from the University of Iowa, which pulled us headlong into college football, although we follow the less-touted basketball team almost as faithfully.

Going to the games of the high school girls’ basketball team gives us a reason to get off the hill and amongst the community every once in a while, a vested interest and something extra to analyze in the parlor.

We don’t live or die by the results, and nothing any of those teams can do will change our lives. Still, it makes for a good day to be chopping corn, find that ESPN is airing the Iowa game on the radio and talk about it later.

There is a dead space, however, in the sports that we care about that runs from the day after the Super Bowl to the start of the NCAA tournament. It is an unkind coincidence that this comes with the end parts of winter, which can be long in New York and just as merciless as the months that preceded it.

February is dark and cold. It wears on the patience of a man who has already been milking cows in a frozen barn since well before Thanksgiving.

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Trying, I follow the Irish national rugby team in the RBS Six Nations League. Although I don’t know the ins and outs of the sport, I make an effort to mention it often enough to my father to pique his interest as well.

Nonetheless, with our slow Internet connection and the awkward match times from the time difference, it is hard to watch the games and sustain the excitement. By February, the final calculation is simple: Sports fail us. We need spring to come.

It is not difficult to imagine what the turning of spring means to those who wait for it, but it is hard to express it well. Like the moon, the sea and the rising sun, the changing of the seasons is elemental to the human condition.

That means that centuries of poets and thinkers have already had their chance to do their worst. We have Virgil extolling about “fields clothed with grass,” and Edward Giobbi reflecting on “participating in Nature’s rebirth.”

Nelte Blanchon contemplates the “fragrance of the very breath of spring” long after Shakespeare writes on the spirit of youth associated with the season. We’re still barraged with the dead metaphors of the buds on the trees signifying new life and the turned-over dirt behind the plows a chance to start again.

Still, I say let the old poets rot in their graves. The bitterness of February has given me time to think about it. I’m taking my shot at what spring means to me: It’s not having to warm your hands in the flank of a cow. It’s the end of impatiently waiting for the snow to melt.

It’s the goldenrod filling the hedgerows. Spring means plowing all day until you’re so sick of the radio that you have to turn it off, but nonetheless getting to look behind you and see that you’ve accomplished something.

It’s both woodchucks and people standing in lawns on the first warm day and looking around them, dazed. It’s when there’s still hope for the Cubs. It’s not needing sports quite as bad. It is also the first day the cows are out to pasture and how they run along the fence line, kicking up their legs. It’s go time.

It’s hoping to keep moving and enjoying the feeling of being busy. It’s hoping that it’s not going to be too wet and then too dry like it was last year. It’s the faint lines of hydraulic oil left on the road from changing fields.

It means not having to sit in a cold parlor anymore, talking about what spring means. PD

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