Her family’s small farm in eastern Massachusetts, a rarity these days, prompts Brox (Five Thousand Days Like This One, 1999, etc.) to reflect on the ways of the land—old, new, and in transition.
For three generations, 100 acres of field, forest, and orchard on worn coastal hills north of Boston have supplied the extended Brox family with a farming life. Its history goes back much farther, and the author traces the agricultural practices of the area from the eastern Massachusetts tribes, who prized the light soils of the coast and river valleys, to the early colonialists, who prized the same turf in a more permanent, enclosed fashion that struck sparks. The farm itself is a flashpoint: “Whatever the situation of the land, there is always the lay of the family as well, its tugs and tensions, and how that falls out has as much to do with the success of farming as anything else.” With not enough tillable land, and with what soil there was getting used up, families sundered “when New England girls followed the roads down from rocky, marginal Vermont and New Hampshire farms to meet industry in the first textile cities.” Similarly, though centered on the farm, Brox’s text spins out from there to the tall grass country and islands off the coast. On a larkish trip west in January one year, she sets eyes on the land where failed New England farmers next set up shop: the prairie, with its false indigo and big bluestem, its Jeffersonian grid, its sweep and swale—she practically levitates in the beauty of the landscape. She loses herself in the granite quarries that built the foundations of the textile cities and explores the freethinking, communal experiment of early Nantucket. Always attuned to the human uses of the earth, Brox finds memory, identity, and heart in the orchard on her farm.
Gauzy, reverie-like prose belies the writer’s intense awareness—historical, environmental, and psychological—of her surrounds.