Contributed by Jon Augustine
Every morning, meridian-by-meridian, the sun eases itself out of the east and spills its light into America. Skyscrapers glare above metropolises, fog lifts out of river beds, flowers stretch open, dew drops shimmer, tree tops shine and a washed-out glow spills through the roads of our neighborhoods and city centers, lighting the way for another sleepy-eyed bustle into a new day.
For most, the sunrise is simply an unnoticed cosmic routine complementary to their own. Lit up is a money-driven world of advertisements and brick where today is bound to be just like yesterday, and tomorrow promises much more of the same.
But as the light creeps across the Missouri River into eastern Nebraska, it illuminates a separate, completely autonomous 60-acre world that exists semi-hidden among a vast midwestern galaxy of cornfield and cattle pasture. This is the world where Ross Brockley comes from.
For those who know it, the place is simply called, “the farm,” and is, indeed, a place of agriculture. It is something else, though. As American farming has become more industrialized, politicized, and economized, mention of the typical farm inspires mental images as consistent and simplified as a Wal-Mart storefront. When you step onto the farm–the section of land southwest of Lincoln, Nebraska where Ross can be found–all of your senses and perceptions of contemporary agricultural America are challenged. You are on farmland. Yes. Surrounded by very familiar farming properties. Yes. Yet every turn of the head reveals a sight you may expect from one of those dreams that gracefully blends reality with some other world buried deep in your imagination. When I arrived for the first time over five years ago, I recall wondering whether it was a time machine or a spacecraft that brought me there.
This was not a place to inspire hallmark poetry. This was not a place of tractors, plows, monster diesel trucks, ATVs, fresh red paint or any other staple of American ag-industry. This was not a place where fences were anything more than mere suggestions to chickens, pigs and goats that they’re preferred to be inside a certain perimeter. Chairs and buckets were not always sitting upright. Tools did not have a “home.” Formalities and compulsive, clean interpretations of “correct” and “incorrect” were absent.
Everything I thought I knew about what it meant to be a farmer on a farm in Nebraska was confronted, destroyed, melted, and evaporated.
Since then, though, as my role on the farm evolved from “visitor” to “helper,” and as my friendship deepened with Ross, his wife Barb, and their dog Mabel, so too has my understanding of the farm grown. While others are prone to call this place a display of ongoing eccentricity, the Brockley farm has revealed itself to me as a place where the will of chaotic and overlooked tendencies of nature are allowed a place to perform unimpeded. The human activity here is as fragile and susceptible to seasons and weather as a spider’s web.
That may sound a bit foolish or lazy when considering great feats of human engineering, but having been given access to witness their unwavering virtues long enough, Ross and Barb and Mabel have disclosed to me something so intensely liberating and true to itself that I now feel I am among eccentricity only when I leave the farm. To battle nature is the fool’s game. To be at ease in ignoring it is laziness and lack of focus. To allow for it, or, to allow it (rather than other people’s behaviors and suggestions) to dictate your sense of self and purpose, is as honest and real as a migration of birds.
In that way, the Brockley farm is like a sea, and Ross himself is like a whale leaping out of the sea. True to itself and the guts it was born with. The confidence of movements and decisions on the farm are a direct contrast to the human activity away from the farm, which consists of days that defy logic by being incredibly repetitive and directionless while compounding bewilderment, disarray and conflict.
The whims of Ross Brockley are nature at work.
This place and person is something to behold, something that the mass of western society can observe but not understand in a very whole way due to certain principles and values inherent in the western psyche. Witnessing Ross and his wife and his dog on the farm reveals something that makes so much sense in such an unexplainable way that we can only see it as utterly separate from and incongruent with our confusing, senseless, exhausting news cycle of human experience.
I find a certain relief to know that the dynamic of Ross and his farm will carry on in its own way regardless of how other men would have it happen and in defiance of the fact that what Ross does is shined upon by the same sun that lights up everything done by everybody else.