It was an oven in summer and a frozen wind tunnel in winter. The amenities along the highway were mostly outhouses, and gas stations with depressed Happy Chef diners tacked on one end. Yet the farmstead we pulled into each June after eleven hours of driving yielded sweet corn and fireflies, feral kittens and a crick—a tiny oasis one mile square. My grandfather had planted a row of windbreak pines, and uprooted from the acres musk thistle by the thousands, as well as the occasional lonely marijuana plant. Cows stared as I passed their field on the way to the ravine, their attitudes dull and xenophobic. The soil was dried mud, cracked into hexagons, broken and thirsty. But I loved to walk upon that dried mud. It was the skin of a proudly suffering brown giant, the very skin of the earth, exfoliated of foliage and showing bare only, I supposed then, in middle Nebraska.