My mom’s childhood home was a wind-tattered farmhouse in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. It juts out just past the corner of a gravel road with no intersection, leaving traffic limited to my grandparents and the neighbors, cattle farmers, who live on the other side of the corner. I remember the corner because when we visit every year or so, we come from the north and go around that same corner instead of up from the south on the road they live on. To me, it stood for isolation. An unassuming, pleasurable absence of others. My parents had both grown up in small towns, but I was a “city boy”. Privacy was a commodity -- the emptiness that rural America sprawled out of was as puzzling as it was invigorating.
A trapping shed for my grandfather stood just outside the front door, creeping its way into the grove that had shot up on the house’s north side. It reeked of stale blood and decaying meat. The sides of the shed were often adorned with some sort of flayed animal left for nature to reclaim. I did not understand why my grandfather trapped animals and I still do not, but I never questioned it. To me, it was a way of life that I would never experience and therefore could not pass judgment on. I eventually learned to tune out the sight and stench of putrified tissue, though I still noticed it every year.
Across from its entrance was a well pump and a shallow black bin. It stuck from underneath wooden planks that covered up the large pit where the water lay. There was something unnerving about the planks suspended over the well, supporting the planter boxes my grandmother had laid around the pump for her garden. I did not trust it to carry my weight ever since I had walked with my mother to the house south of hers. It had remained unlived in for quite a while, though the family that lived there before had made good aquaintances with my mother’s. They had a similar well, covered with long boards that bowed above the soil and had become ashy and gray. I went to go jump on the planks, but my mother stopped me. “Who knows how long those have been there. If you fell in we wouldn’t be able to get you out.” She said. And so I did not jump on those boards and I haven’t stepped foot above my grandparent’s well without my subconscious blaring at me and I don’t question it.
Peering from the overgrowth of the grove was a rusted-yet-operable clay pigeon thrower. Every year we would pull it out into the clearing and grab one of the several double-barrel shotguns from the basement. I was always timid around guns, though I had parents that did not want to discourage me from learning how to shoot. Holding it in my hands felt dirty, like I had something that I was not supposed to. But I did not question its authority, and I never gave up an opportunity to fire it. The release I got from firing that shotgun was visceral -- scathingly guiltful yet subliminal and freeing. It was the rush you got when you sipped your parent’s wine at Christmas dinner. Pure cardinal sin!
Now, my eyes tend to search not for what’s on the property, but for what is beyond it. Which in Nebraska is rows and columns rolling atop of one another into oblivion. It feels most vibrant during the summer months when the colors are too strong to be real. During the daytime, stalks and bushes and trees sharing their greens with one another. At sunset, the sky comes down to visit the land, drenching the hills in a crimson and fuschia. But the winter, with its debilitating grays and piercing wind, has intrigued me the most. The corn that had once glowed in sunlight and danced in the breeze was gone to either the harvest or the birds. What lay in those fields was the remnants of its civilization but also the premonition of new life. My family would remark at how depressing it all was. But I never saw it that way.
A fresh changing of the seasons was something that I wanted to greet at the farmhouse. It was untamed nature, the way we were supposed to be experiencing the cycle of life. I wondered to myself where the unbridled spirit of the natural world had been, living on paved streets that connected and winded over themselves. The green spaces with which I had grown accustomed to sighed at the coming of winter, unlike the plains of Nebraska that called out in a harrowing scream as death fulfilled its duties. The monochromatism of winter was constant year round in my life, in the concrete, the paint on the houses, the clothes I wore. But the intensity, the drama of remoteness and ruralism was something that flowed, reached out its arms and crumbled only to rebuild itself, year after year. An ebbing wash of destruction fighting a current of joy and vitality. But I knew deep down that I was not a part of that experience, that I was to be an observer forever and that my mother’s old farmhouse was somewhere I was invited to be a guest, not a native. But I have to let that cyclical routine pass by me without returning my glances, longing to be let into its grand design, and I do not question why.