When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry has been writing poetry and prose for decades. Many view him as one of America’s great thinkers and philosophers. He is a farmer like his father and grandfather before him. His son is following in his foot steps. His philosophy evolved from the soil and his connection with that soil. He often speaks of the great harm that factory farming and industrial capitalism is doing to this country and the soul of all I have a passing familiarityAmericans. I don’t know if he’s ever written about Pope Francis and Laudato Si’, but I think Wendell and Francis are pretty much in alignment on man’s relationship with the rest of creation.
Wendell’s writings remind me of Eric Sloane and his many books on early New England life such as “A Reverence for Wood,” “American Barns and Covered Bridges” and”A Museum of Early American Tools.” Eric developed a philosophy of awareness from his studies of the self-sufficiency of these early American farmers who grew and made damned near everything they needed. Early Americans, Sloan contended, were acutely aware of the natural world around them and their place in that world.
I have a passing familiarity with farming. I lent a hand often over the years on the neighboring Petrauskas farm. My first full time paying job was on the Roaring Brook Poultry Farm… for a dollar fifty an hour cash. We also had a decent sized family garden when I was young. As soon as I and each of my brothers and sisters became old enough to wield a hoe, my father gave each of us a small plot. We would decide what we wanted to grow. My father would order the seeds from the Burpee seed catalog and we would be responsible for growing and harvesting our crops. I wouldn’t have the chance to garden again until I was stationed at Fort Devens. We weren’t supposed to have gardens in government housing, but I made my vegetable plots look like landscaping. The last garden I had was in Germany when I had a small vegetable plot and two apple trees. My pruning of those trees cemented my status among the farmers in that tiny Bavarian community. Now I just grow flowers and trees and am lucky to get a few blueberries before the birds finish them off.
I haven’t read a lot of Wendell Berry, but I think I’ll make an effort to do so. I’ll probably break out my Eric Sloane books as well. I’ve already started taking down my old Foxfire books from the bookcase.
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