Today August 5th, 2014, Wendell Berry celebrates his 80th birthday. I've spent that last few hours watching videos, finding pictures and reading his words. Over the past year I've posted many of Wendell's quotes on FaceBook and plenty of people have liked and shared them. I could quote one every day for the rest of my life and never run out. Wendell Berry has written over 40 books of poetry, fiction and essays. He is a farmer, a visionary and articulate advocate for revolution. I without hesitation consider this man to be an absolute treasure, a person of appreciable consequence, an elder of celebrated stature and ultimately someone who we ought to be deeply honoured and grateful to have in our midst.
We are living at a time where we could be very well served to imitate his walk, to reflect on our responsibilities as custodians of the places we belong to and to extend caring to those very places and to each other. When I listen to him speak, I feel the ache of the land and my own ache for how things have so tragically come to be as they are. In beautiful poetic and earth under his fingernails language, he reminds us of our indebtedness to the earth and to what feeds us and the absolute necessity of knowing this and acting in accordance with this knowing. I want to walk in Wendell's footsteps with as much wisdom, caring and humility that he has so devoutly demonstrated over the many decades of his life.
I raise my glass to you dear Wendell Berry on your 80th birthday .. I have tears in my eyes for all you have done and spoken, for your great love for this earth and your responsible stewardship. You are exemplary in your humanity and humility, you are assiduously eloquent, you are a deep and courageous thinker and I hope that in the years that remain you, you will be able to bear witness to the kind of revolution that would put a tearful smile on your face, one that places land and custodianship before self-interest, one that remembers that we are nothing without land and place. A thousand thank-yous to you Wendell Berry. I raise my glass in your honour.
Love, Rachelle xo
"It is a horrible fact that we can read in the daily paper, without interrupting our breakfast, numerical reckonings of death and destruction that ought to break our hearts or scare us out of our wits."
"There are no sacred and unsacred places; there are only sacred and desecrated places. My belief is that the world and our life in it are conditional gifts."
"We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?"
"So, friends, every day do something that won't compute...Give your approval to all you cannot understand...Ask the questions that have no answers. Put your faith in two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years...Laugh. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts....Practice resurrection."
"The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life."
"The growth of the exploiters' revolution on this continent has been accompanied by the growth of the idea that work is beneath human dignity, particularly any form of hand work. We have made it our overriding ambition to escape work, and as a consequence have debased work until it is only fit to escape from."
"Freedom from narrative is a diminishment — it is not even a freedom — unless it is included with the capacity of narrative among the live possibilities of poetry… Narrative poetry records, contemplates, hands down the actions of the past. Poetry has a responsibility to remember and to preserve and to reveal the truth about these actions. But it also has a complementary responsibility that is equally public: to help preserve and to clarify the possibility of responsible action."
"There can be no such thing as a “global village.” No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity."
"I say to the young people, don’t get into this with the idea that you're going to save it and solve all the problems even in your lifetime. The important thing to do is to learn all you can about where you are and if you're going to work there it becomes even more important to learn everything you can about that place to make common cause with that place and then resigning yourself, becoming patient enough to work with it over a long time. And then what you do is increase the possibility that you will make a good example and what we’re looking for in this is good examples."
“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world - to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it. And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity - our own capacity for life - that is stifled by our arrogant assumption; the creation itself is stifled. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes, and to yield to its limits. But even more important, we must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.”
Wendell Berry Lecture
"It All turns on Affection"
The term “imagination” in what I take to be its truest sense refers to a mental faculty that some people have used and thought about with the utmost seriousness. The sense of the verb “to imagine” contains the full richness of the verb “to see.” To imagine is to see most clearly, familiarly, and understandingly with the eyes, but also to see inwardly, with “the mind’s eye.” It is to see, not passively, but with a force of vision and even with visionary force. To take it seriously we must give up at once any notion that imagination is disconnected from reality or truth or knowledge. It has nothing to do either with clever imitation of appearances or with “dreaming up.” It does not depend upon one’s attitude or point of view, but grasps securely the qualities of things seen or envisioned.
I will say, from my own belief and experience, that imagination thrives on contact, on tangible connection. For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighbourly, kind, and conserving economy.
Wisconsin Book Festival Oct 2009 (an excerpt)
Curt Meine: Wendell, when you said you don't like to speak the last word, but if you had to what would it be?
Wendell Berry: I just won't deal with it. I don't trade in that commodity .. last words or what would be the thing I would tell President Obama if I could tell hime something. I don't think it's reducible to anything short enough to tell the president. I don't think I know anything that's reducible to a last word. Our people like to trade in that kind of stuff, but it's stuff .. it really doesn't amount to very much.
What really interests me is the possibility that we humans can make sense. This is a formal issue .. the greatest urgency and gravity. What are the conditions within which we human being can make sense? Within what limits are our minds effective? I've been griping about this to some of my friends lately. We've had two generations of college bred people now who have really been indoctrinated with the idea that every big problem has a big solution .. and I just don't believe it. The big problems we have now are going to be solved if they ever are solved by hundreds of people accepting local responsibility for small problems .. they're never going to get famous, they're never going to get tenure for this .. but this is the way it has to work. We're not really very smart we humans and the idea that somebody could come up with a big solution to a big problem is always dangerous .. it always comes to the simple solutions .. people who make simple solutions always make trouble and they're always surprised by the trouble they make. So, to hell with the last words, let's try to make one sentence that's rightly positioned, within a manageable context so that we can utter it to somebody else and they'll understand it and then we'd be on our way to defining a job of work that we could actual DO.
"I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief... For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."
"I dream of a quiet man who explains nothing and defends nothing, but only knows where the rarest wildflowers are blooming, and who goes, and finds that he is smiling not by his own will."
The need comes on me now
to speak across the years
to those who finally will live here
after the present ruin, in the absence
of most of my kind who by now
are dead, or have given their minds
to machines and become strange,
"over-qualified" for the hard
handwork that must be done
to remake, so far as humans
can remake, all that humans
have unmade. To you, whoever
you may be, I say: Come,
meaning to stay. Come,
willing to learn what this place,
like no other, will ask of you
and your children, if you mean
to stay. "This land responds
to good treatment," I heard
my father say time and again
in his passion to renew, to make
whole, what ill use had broken.
And so to you, whose lives
taken from the life of this place
I cannot foretell, I say:
Come, and treat it well.
"XI" by Wendell Berry from This Day. Counterpoint Press, 2013.
"I prayed like a man walking in a forest at night, feeling his way with his hands, at each step fearing to fall into pure bottomlessness forever. Prayer is like lying awake at night, afraid, with your head under the cover, hearing only the beating of your own heart."