A few months ago, I got hooked on this Frontline special called Country Boys, a documentary following the high school careers of a couple of mountain boys living desperate, poverty-stricken hills of . . . I forget--one of those mountain places where they make coal. Eastern Kentucky, I'm pretty sure. It's phenomenal and I still think about Cody and Chris, the country boys, all the time.
So David Sutherland, the director, made a prior documentary for Frontline called The Farmer's Wife, and C and I got it the other day and just got through 240 minutes of some pretty gut wrenching stuff. This one follows the farming life of the Bushkoetters, a couple with three young girls. Darrel is married to his land, and it's kind of a one-sided relationship. He can't see beyond the harvest, but his real wife, in the picture up there, sees the writing in the crop circles: they're drowning in debt and their only hope is to leave the land, go back to school, find another way.
What amazes you while watching this is how stubborn Darrel is about it all. The American myth is of the noble farmer taking on nature and perservering against all odds. What I came away with here was not quite as noble. Darrel comes across as reckless, myopic, anti-intellectual.
It makes me wonder how the midwest can still be populated like it is--are all these people working 100 hour weeks to clear $5,000 at year's end? I'm showing my ignorance, I guess, but that was revealing, too. I've lived in farming states my whole life and known so little about farmers. I hope they're not all living this way.
The sole redeeming quality of this farming life shown in the film is the resilience of the kids. A number of shots of the three young girls playing outside, with animals--very little footage of siblin fights of any kind. They seem oblivious to their parent's stress, or cleansed of it by a life that lets them live so close to the land.
I still want to live on a farm, but now I'm pretty sure I don't want to actually work it. My ideal might be to have some of your cuter animals to look at and pet and a nice vegetable garden and maybe an orchard, but not have to do much work. I would wake up early and walk the grounds with my dog or kid or Cath and then go make tea and read some. I would have to get another farm in a different hemisphere, though, so I would have somewhere to go when fertilizer season was going on. Maybe a banana farm in Costa Rica.