A late spring can be like a lazy river ride

Farm Forum

On the farm Grandma watched for the appearance of the first robin as a sign of spring. It stuck with us. This year my sister sent me a text message on March 29th: “I saw the first robin of spring today!” Just like Grandma did, she spots the first robin before anyone else. Living an hour’s car drive south of us might have something to do with it-her yard and garden progress is usually ahead of ours.

The robins reappeared, yet spring was much slower this year. And the delayed season reminded me of a lazy river ride. I’ve been on a few of those. The most memorable one happened in upstate Wisconsin.

Before leaving home we were told to pack an old pair of sneakers to protect our feet from the rocks on the river bottom. I was chaperoning young people and a few of the kids didn’t get the memo and were not prepared. “No, you cannot ride an inner-tube without shoes on!” (I’m guessing it was for liability reasons).

Those who didn’t have an extra pair of shoes could either wait on the bus or ride in the shoes they had along. So one girl slowly lowered her bottom into a tube with her feet held in the air (her shoes were brand new). While another boy dangled his legs deep in the muddy water in his work boots, the same ones he wore everywhere, on or off the farm.

Early on I caught a ripple, rushing ahead of the kids. I paddled off to the side to wait for the others. It wasn’t my first river experience and I knew it wasn’t meant to be a race. As they passed by me I encouraged the others not to hurry, but to enjoy the scenery. Supposedly you could spot bald eagles along the river.

Not everyone grew up in a bird watching family, though. Watching for eagles wasn’t as fun as trying to beat everyone else to the finish line.

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After an hour most of the kids were quite savvy at spotting the undertow. If you fell out of the current you ended up at a standstill along the banks, and that was irritating.

It was possible to maneuver your inner tube back to the middle areas of the strongest flow, and to paddle along much faster than others. You could also link your own tube up with other tubes, forming a big makeshift raft. If that community raft caught the right current you could go pretty fast. Other times, linking up together just slowed you down. Hey, at least you had some company and could chat.

I took my time as I really wanted to see those bald eagles (I never did, though). Much of our group linked their tubes together and sang and splashed each other. When we arrived at the pickup point I noticed that the ‘race’ winners didn’t look very excited. They were stuck waiting for the rest of the (slow) South Dakota group to get off the river before the bus would go back to the resort.

Likewise, this spring we had to wait a long while because the ‘river’ was still frozen. Once it opened up, there was a furious rush. It’s always frustrating when you get behind and watch everyone else sneak ahead. But on a late year the anxiety is doubled. If we don’t push extra hard, will the bus still be waiting? On the other hand, if we paddle furiously to get ahead will we just end up wasting a run of good weather headed our way in the fall?

At this late hour we feel like we should have sneakers on instead of farm boots. And that’s unfortunate because farming, much like a river ride, is not a race to win. It’s more of an experience to be had.

On the river in Wisconsin the girl wearing new shoes rode the entire three hours without getting her feet wet. She danced onto the dry shore shouting “I did it!” and showing off her clean feet. She didn’t do it alone, though, she had a lot of support. Others had helped hold her feet above the water after her own legs grew too tired. Meanwhile the boy in work boots proved that it doesn’t pay to get in a hurry, or to fuss over the little things. He was one of the last people on shore.

He removed his soaked boots and tipped them out. A stream of muddy water splashed to the ground. He quietly put his wet shoes over his dirty socks and squished toward the bus. The tour guide from Wisconsin took note and laughed. “You must be the group from South Dakota.”

Andrea Beyers lives in Roscoe. Contact her at