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  • A deep sleep is no accident
    By Suzanne Atkinson - AgriNews Contributor

    It's 12:30. The night-time kind of 12:30 when it's dark and dairy farmers who've been up since 5:30 should be in bed resting up for tomorrow's onslaught of work.

    I'm awake. It's the sudden kind of awakening where you're not sure why it happened. Wide awake, I notice the outside porch light is still on and figure my husband must have forgotten it when he came in last night after giving our herd of Holsteins one last feeding of hay.

    Then I notice. He's not here. I know this before I roll over because I can't hear the reassuring, familiar sound of his breathing- the nasal half snore that can drive me crazy.

    Now I'm really awake. I listen for the sound of the bathroom fan to tell me that he's showering before he comes up. I can't hear it. The sound of his razor is another tell-tale sign for which I listen. I can't hear it either.

    Putting the pieces together, I realize he hasn't yet come back from the barn. He's been there for almost two hours doing what should be a 30-minute job. Something is wrong.

    Then I start to worry.

    Often on summer evenings he'll stay out late baling or wrapping our large round bales. Sometimes he'll be out late calving out a cow, fixing a broken water bowl or dealing with one of the many other variables that occurs here. He's a self-sufficient sort of guy who solves problems himself, rarely looking for someone to bail him out of a scrape.

    But when he's doing those sorts of things, I can't sleep. I especially can't sleep if I think he's out working on one of our perpendicular hills where there's no one to call if he does need help. On those nights I get up, get dressed and go searching for him, not hesitating to drag him home so I can get some sleep.

    In winter it's very rare for him to be delayed. And I can't think why. I don't want to think why. I want to roll over and go back to sleep. I try. I can't.

    So I get up. Barn clothes or street? I opt for the barn clothes, hurry into them and note as I leave the warm house that the starry sky is almost still. It's warmed up since I brought my six-year-old home from hockey practice through a blustery wind and blossomed into a beautiful night for star watching. I hope it stays that way.

    I can't help but remember that Farm Safety Association statistics point out that it's usually the wife who finds the farmer in the case of an accident. It makes sense because she's the one who's going to notice he's missing. I don't want to be one of those farm wives; one of those statistics.

    I dread these walks to wherever I think he is. I gather courage, wondering what I'm going to find, wondering if I'm up to coping with whatever I might find. I expect to find him busily engaged in some project, lost in his work and unaware of the time. But still, I prepare for the worst.

    As I get close to the barn I notice that all the lights are on, even the one in his office. Hmmm. He‚s been on the phone? He could have called the vet or the repairman, I surmise. As I pass the milkhouse I notice through the window that the calving jack is in it's regular spot. That's a good thing. It means he's not struggling with some crazed early calving heifer- or worse.

    As I enter the stable I see him, high up on a ladder at the far end, fixing the motor of our automated grain feeder. He's putting the plate back on, which means the job is complete.

    There's been no accident. I sigh in relief, thinking briefly that I could sneak back to bed before he notices I've arrived. But I note that the cows - all awake still, are in need of hay. He'll be a while yet. And I won't sleep until he's safely in bed.

    He jumps a little as I announce my arrival, not totally surprised to see me. He explains what went wrong, how he fixed it, and what tack he'll have to take in the next few days to ensure the repair job is permanent. We feed hay together before calling it a night.

    I go back to bed, knowing that this time I won't fall asleep before he's here. At 1:30 he finally crawls in, exhausted, knowing that the alarm will go off far too soon and the cycle will begin again. I know that too. But I'll have to hear his familiar, steady breathing before I can relax enough to fall asleep.

    I do. I do, finally.

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