Tag Archives: wendell berry

Returning to the World

I have been mostly away from the networked world since late March, visiting with family, then completely disconnecting for a few days last week at Fairy Stone State Park in Stuart, Virginia. I did not make any particular commitment to this disconnect but without having to monitor work or students, I found it came naturally when I was with my family in Pennsylvania, preferring to be with them in the moment without the distraction of social media and news feeds.

Once we got to Fairy Stone, it was nature itself that imposed the disconnect. Internet at the park was almost nonexistent: they suggested one particular spot where you might be able to get to access but I did not feel compelled to seek it out. Meanwhile, my phone just displayed SOS instead of bars. I’m not sure if that’s because I could still get emergency access or because the phone was in crisis mode without it and wanted to let me know.

My husband and I both found the quiet liberating and restful. We rocked on the porch of our log cabin, reading, chatting and meditating on the spectacular scenery. We explored the area and I will have some stories to tell about those explorations in later posts. Here are two pictures of the cabin (one of eight in the park that were built by CCC workers in the 1930s) and the view from our porch.

We returned home to lots of gardening so my technological disconnect continued until this past Monday when, after nearly three weeks, I opened the lid of my laptop and reconnected to the larger world, digging into a database project and meeting online with a colleague. My phone and iPad had been sufficient for use during the travels, mostly using them for reading and picture taking and game play. (I do like a bit of Wordle.)

I know my life is very different from that of others now that I am mostly retired and that makes disconnecting much easier. But, I can highly recommend trying find at least a little respite from the constant connectivity. It helped me focus my intentions upon my return related to how I wanted to spend my time and treasure in the next few months. I even generated a few blog post ideas.

During our explorations of Patrick County, we might have been living in a pre-Internet era: at some points, I was navigating using a paper map! (Yes, they still make them.) When I picked one up at the Brunswick County Visitor Center, it was from a feeling of nostalgia. But when I couldn’t get to Google Maps on my phone at some points, the map became a necessary part of our travel toolkit. It is now tucked in the passenger side pocket of the Kia, ready for our next escape.

One of my last blog posts before disconnecting was about World Poetry Day. We are now well into National Poetry Month and I want to go back to Wendell Berry as his poem “The Peace of Wild Things” was very much with me and, as the world seems to spin out of control more chaotically every day, the words continue to echo in my mind: “When despair for the world grows in me…I come into the peace of wild things.”

Here is Berry reading the poem:

World Poetry Day

From UNESCO’s website:

UNESCO first adopted 21 March as World Poetry Day during its 30th General Conference in Paris in 1999, with the aim of supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increasing the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard. World Poetry Day is the occasion to honour poets, revive oral traditions of poetry recitals, promote the reading, writing and teaching of poetry, foster the convergence between poetry and other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and raise the visibility of poetry in the media. As poetry continues to bring people together across continents, all are invited to join in.

World poetry day website

Two of my favorite poets are Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver. They share a reverence for nature that resonates with me.

Bill Moyers interviewed Berry in 2013.

Two of my favorite poems show his range of voice: “The Peace of Wild Things” and “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.”

Mary Oliver also connects nature and spirituality. Two favorites: Wild Geese and, since we are also celebrating the Spring Equinox, Spring.

Welcome, April!

April is here! I’m not a fan of April Fool’s Day which is fine since the human, furred and feathered beings I live with do not appear to celebrate, and I wouldn’t have any idea how to fool them. We lead a simple life here on the farm, and I think a prank would stand out too much to be seen for anything except what it is.

I do LOVE that April is National Poetry Month. We, as a species, do not read enough poetry, I think. It’s too hard or too deep or too esoteric, perhaps, and demands a stillness and thoughtfulness that is hard to carve out in our always on lives. April has been celebrated in poetry from T.S .Eliot’s famous opening to The Waste Land:

April is the cruellest month, breedings
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

to Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales:

WHEN that Aprilis, with his showers swoot,
The drought of March hath pierced to the root,
And bathed every vein in such licour,
Of which virtue engender’d is the flower;
When Zephyrus eke with his swoote breath
Inspired hath in every holt and heath
The tender croppes* and the younge sun
Hath in the Ram <1> his halfe course y-run,
And smalle fowles make melody,
That sleepen all the night with open eye,
(So pricketh them nature in their corages);
Then longe folk to go on pilgrimages,
And palmers <2> for to seeke strange strands,
To ferne hallows couth in sundry lands;
And specially, from every shire’s end
Of Engleland, to Canterbury they wend,
The holy blissful Martyr for to seek,
That them hath holpen, when that they were sick.

My plans for National Poetry Month include reading as much by Wendell Berry as I can, creating some book spine poetry and deciding what poem to carry around with me on Poem in Your Pocket day, which will take place on April 21 this year.

Here’s your bit of poetry for today. Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things” is one of my favorites. A collage created around the text of my poem hangs by my desk.

Listen to Wendell Berry reading The Peace of Wild Things

And as a final treat…the choral version of the poem by Joan Szymko. There are lots of renditions available on YouTube. This one is from the NJ All State Chorus in 2010:

Happy April!

Happy Birthday, Wendell Berry

I just finished reading Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder, which I bought, along with Farming: A Handbook, on a recent pilgrimage to City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. I followed up with A World Lost, one of Berry’s Port William books. If I had to name one person who most inspires me, I believe it would be Berry. I have only been farming for a few years but I understand his love of the land and how it has informed both his politics and his philosophy. Berry turned 80 today.

In this paragraph from his 2012 Jefferson Lecture, Berry gives homage to others who have shaped his ideas:

As many hunters, farmers, ecologists, and poets have understood, Nature (and here we capitalize her name) is the impartial mother of all creatures, unpredictable, never entirely revealed, not my mother or your mother, but nonetheless our mother. If we are observant and respectful of her, she gives good instruction. As Albert Howard, Wes Jackson, and others have carefully understood, she can give us the right patterns and standards for agriculture. If we ignore or offend her, she enforces her will with punishment. She is always trying to tell us that we are not so superior or independent or alone or autonomous as we may think. She tells us in the voice of Edmund Spenser that she is of all creatures “the equall mother, / And knittest each to each, as brother unto brother.”7 Nearly three and a half centuries later, we hear her saying about the same thing in the voice of Aldo Leopold: “In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.”

I’ve been curating web resources related to Berry. Some great videos of him speaking and the terrific interview by Bill Moyers last fall.

American Hero: Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is an amazing human being: farmer, writer, activist. His life and work inspire me as I pursue my own odd blend of technology and farming from my “chosen and cherished small place” here at Bottle Tree Farm. Last week, I spent time watching over baby pigs and reading It All Turns On Affection, a meditation on the loss of small farmers and the peaceful, sustainable life they represent. I’ve become a “sticker,” who loves the land and my place in it. Berry is unapologetic for his belief that we need to “espouse the cause of stable, restorative, locally adapted economies of mostly family-sized farms, ranches, shops, and trades.” He goes on to link this to Jefferson’s vision of America:

Naïve as it may sound now, within the context of our present faith in science, finance, and technology—the faith equally of “conservatives” and “liberals”—this cause nevertheless has an authentic source in the sticker’s hope to abide in and to live from some chosen and cherished small place—which, of course, is the agrarian vision that Thomas Jefferson spoke for, a sometimes honored human theme, minor and even fugitive, but continuous from ancient times until now. Allegiance to it, however, is not a conclusion but the beginning of thought.

I’m excited about the upcoming interview with Bill Moyers on October 4: Wendell Berry: Poet & Prophet. In anticipation, the Academy of American Poets featured this video of Berry reading The Peace of Wild Things, possibly my favorite Berry work (competing with Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front):


Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things” from Schumann Media Center, Inc. on Vimeo.