I get to see a good deal of the countryside these days. Whenever I pass an abandoned farmstead, I feel a twinge of sadness.      
    I will gaze at the old barn – a sagging pile of rotting lumber, its exposed rafters looking like the ribs of a dinosaur – and think of all the animals it had sheltered.     
    I imagine all the calves and foals and kittens that were born in the barn. I try to guess where the footpaths ran – from the barn to the windmill, from the granary to the barn, from the house to the barn – as grain and water and milk were hand-carried during countless treks across the farmstead.     
    I wonder about the children who grew to adulthood as they worked that farm. I wonder if they, like me, paused during an evening milking to watch flocks of geese flying southward in the chill autumn air. I wonder if they, as I did when I was young, wished they could join the geese on their journey to the exotic southlands.     
    A crumbling farmhouse sits in a patch of weeds, its empty windows like the eye sockets of a weathered skull. Children’s laughter had rung through this ramshackle structure that a family had once called home. Babies were born in its humble bedrooms; wakes for the departed were held in its parlor.     
    The fields surrounding the farmstead are farmed with ruthless, high-tech efficiency. Once upon a time, what is now a single large field that grows a single crop was divided into several smaller tracts. Each spring, its former owner pondered upon what should be planted in these fields. Was the bottomland too wet for alfalfa? Would it be a good year for wheat? Maybe that field north of the trees should be planted to silage corn.     
    This has been replaced by a single swipe of a colossal farm implement that sows the seeds and applies a variety of ingredients that will all but guarantee a good yield while allowing the farmer to pay scant attention to the land.     
    Seeing an abandoned farmstead always reminds me of a near-calamity that happened to Dad when he was a schoolboy.     
    One March when Dad was a kid, a fierce blizzard swept across the prairie. Dad and his schoolmates huddled in their small, one-room schoolhouse as the storm screeched like the horsemen of the apocalypse. They were in the middle of nowhere and coal and other supplies were short.     
    The roar of the blizzard was abruptly interrupted by a clatter at the schoolhouse door. It was Grandpa Nelson, who announced he had come to take the children to safety.    
    Grandpa herded the kids into a wagon box that was mounted on a bobsled. Dad said he was surprised when, after he had secured a tarp over his human cargo, Grandpa joined them in the wagon box. Grandpa then lifted a front corner of the tarp and barked “Giddup!” at his team of giant Belgian workhorses.
    Dad said it was eerie. The only sounds in the wagon box were the howl of the wind and jangle of the harnesses.     
    After some time, the bobsled came to a halt. Grandpa clambered out and cut the barbed wire fence that had stopped the team. Grandpa then resumed his spot in the wagon box and again barked at the horses to “Giddup!”     
    Dad related that he peeked out from under the tarp. Visibility was zero; the air so thick with snow it seemed as if God were shaking out the contents of a cosmic featherbed. The snowdrifts were belly deep for the Belgians, forcing them to make great bounding leaps. The powerful animals lunged in perfect unison, the hallmark of a well-trained team.     
    Dad said Grandpa had to get out and cut the fence a second time, but that when the team stopped for the third time, they were standing beside their barn.     
    The kids joined hands and made their way through the swirling snow to the farmhouse. Dad said he glanced back and saw Grandpa pressing his forehead against the forehead of one of the Belgians, giving the mighty beast a silent thanks for the safe delivery of this dearest of all cargoes.     
    Technology has brought us many advances. It has freed farmers from the daily drudgery of backbreaking labor and has allowed them to achieve unprecedented levels of productivity.     
    But at what cost? Have we become so productive that we no longer have time to search the barn for a new litter of kittens? Let’s all pause for a moment this spring, cast our gaze skyward and watch the geese.
    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.