THE FAMILY THAT built this humble farmhouse had a dream. They had land in America’s heartland. Acres of fertile soil, where they could tend to crops, feed their family and earn a life worth living.
What became of this family and their land? The house still stands, empty, in tatters. It watches over the acreage with its haunting windowless eyes. Cows roam the property, grazing endlessly and pausing to acknowledge the nosy visitor who dared to enter their domain.
It’s mid-May in central Nebraska. Humidity simmers on summer’s stove. The grass and weeds are tall and pungent. The trees, those that remain full of life, are budding. Soon, they will offer respite from the heat. For whom, though? Perhaps the cows. Perhaps the ghosts of time.
Traversing the backroads of Nebraska was an unexpected side show. Often, it surprised. Endless rolling hills, colored in green hues with a hint of golden yellow. Stretches of flat land that reached the horizon, and maybe further. Working farms, with machines spewing dust and diesel.
And every so often, remnants of a past life, like this wood-clad, weathered house on the prairie.
Ripping up state Highway 92, this time capsule came out of nowhere. It was startling — its starkness and pale tones and grim facade. The two-lane road has ditches on both sides, so finding a suitable turn-around took another mile or so. As my supercharged engine beer-bonged gas under the weight of my cement shoe, I returned for further exploration.
There was just enough space to pull off the road. Camera in hand, the horror-movie plot was unfolding. The brown cow — the one looking through the lens and into my soul — was displeased with my unannounced social call. His brethren didn’t seem as concerned. They continued to graze, while this one continued to gaze.
Wanting to get closer to this haunted relic, I looked for a way past the fencing. To my surprise, each attempt was met with a subtle-yet-effective electric shock. Who knew they made invisible fences for cows, too? Rather than risk electrocution and face final judgment by a gaggle of bovines, I worked the perimeter, changing lenses as needed in an attempt to capture the possible real-life inspiration for every Edgar Allan Poe short story.
The narrative of this house and its inhabitants fascinates me. The toil and struggle of the land. The distance between farms. The solitude that is both satisfying and terrifying. As my journey carried on, more of these ghoulish treasures emerged on the prairie. One, wind-blown and barely standing, had a different story to tell. Another, at the end of a long drive and tucked into a grove of overgrown saplings, was eerie. The long path to the home was like an invitation to the upside down — once you went in, you may not get out.
Grand Island, off Interstate 80, is a common fuel-and-food commune for the traveling set. Here you'll find Prairie Pride Brewing Co. Give the Barn Burn Amber a sip, and remember to tell 'em who sent ya.
It's the backroads detour. GPS routed the fastest route to my destination all based on major highways. But taking the obscure, zig-zagging route through the heart of Nebraska shaved nearly 100 miles off the trip, extended it by two hours, and gave me something no interstate through Omaha could have: perspective.
Neil Young's 2005 album "Prairie Wind" harkens to his iconic "Harvest" and "Harvest Moon" masterpieces. It marked Young's return to his acoustic country rock roots. The lead track, The Painter, sucks you into the desolate prairie he finds worthy of redemption. "It's a long road behind me/I miss you now/If you follow every dream/You might get lost/If you follow every dream/You might get lost."