Clearing Land: Legacies of the American Farm

Jane Brox.

I want to say that Clearing Land makes me long for our agricultural past. But the farming past she describes so personally was never mine, nor my family’s–unless, perhaps, it was that of my Grandpa Sutton or of other, unknown, ancestors.

No, what it truly makes me long for, with its highly personal tone, is my own past, that time so easy to remember in golden tones that will never come again. It makes me grieve for a lost connection to place, and far more painful, for a simultaneous ambivalence for the place I once inhabited.

The natural beauty of Imperial Valley remains dear to me. But my real world–the irrigation, the agriculture, the dependence on driving, the feedlots and chemicals and watered lawns–have come to seem wrong.

Which is connected to the other emotional response I have to Brox’s book, apprehension for the future. How can we–humans, Americans, urban dwellers, take your pick–sustain our lives on this planet? We are too many, and we are heaped atop one another, and we make reckless decisions divorced from any sense of place or of connection to the earth.

How can we build big, sprawling cities on the most arable land? How can we allow economic systems to ruin family farms and replace them with absentee-owner corporations? How can we blithely consume foods that come from half a world away?

And what can I do about these things? It’s a mixed bag. I live in a city, but I take public transportation. I live in shared housing. I tend to give local and organic foodstuffs preference, although lower cost and convenience often win out.

It’s hard to wake up to reality. That’s why I’m grateful for books like Brox’s that open my eyes with beauty, grace, and subtlety.

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One Reply to “Clearing Land: Legacies of the American Farm”

  1. Lovely new design Kenneth. I live the new photo gracing the top of the page, too.

    I hadn’t known that you were raised on a farm. Your memories of it, and the ambivalence about such memories, remind me of my own memories of being raised in a suburb of a small northeast city.

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