WELCOME to this 7th Annual Meeting of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.So how's the food? Some of this is the speech I had intended to give last year, which plans were somewhat derailed by a little problem caused by decades of eating a conventional diet out of grocery stores. I stayed up late last night reading Wendell Berry poetry, to find just the right words to begin my welcome speech. And I found them.The Apple Treeby Wendell BerryIn the essential proseof things, the apple treestands up, emphaticamong the accidentsof the afternoon, solvent,not to be denied....
Near the beginning of George Steiner's Errata, he writes about his experience with a pictorial guide to coats of arms, and how it overwhelmed him with "a sense of the numberless specificity" and how he "grew possessed by an intuition of the particular, of diversities so numerous that no labor of classification and enumeration could exhaust them."In this other essay collection from Wendell Berry from last year, he also addresses this topic in relation to place. He believes there is an enormous failure of imagination when it comes to its application to our country's communities.
But are these kids real farmers? Because alongside manual labor, some of them might also be writers. Or painters. Or teachers. Some of them might not even sell their food; they’re just into living off the earth’s bounty.
According to Gene Logsdon–to whom Wendell Berry refers as “the most experienced and best observer of agriculture we have”–the answer is yes, they’re real farmers. If they’re serious about it. If they love it. If they work hard.
We’re members of each other—all of us—everything. The difference is not whether you are or not, but whether you know you are or not. Because we’re all under each other’s influence. We’re all are affected by one another’s others lives and decisions. And there is no escape from this membership.
For anyone who has family that has lived in rural America in the past century, Andy Catlett Early Travels by Wendell Berry is a story about you. It’s all of our story. I think particularly of my dad because Andy, who this is written about from an older man’s perspective, would have been born in the same year, about 1936. This story is simple and spans only a few day’s time. A ten year old boy travels to both of his grandparents’ homes not 12 miles away from his own house. What makes this visit important was that he did it alone.
Fidelity by Wendell Berry – in these five stories, Berry revisits the world of Port William, Kentucky, the territory for all his fiction, and even some of our favorite characters like Andy Catlett, Berry’s presumed fictional persona. Berry’s fiction is both warm and harsh, in the way that perhaps only a farmer-poet-essayist-fictionwriter-activist can be.
Wendell Berry writes in “Men and Women in Search of Common Ground” of how community can bring trials and suffering, but it is in those very trials that our good hope lies. His says that binding ourselves with the closest relational ties in life offers us the only kind of freedom that has the possibility to bring flourishing.
I thought of Wendell Berry as a sort of conservative I admire. Ah, but Berry is on Shetterly's list. I was born in Virginia and my formative years were spent in the South, but my parents were both New Englanders. Yankees are conservative and Southerners too, even a boy can see. But in my childhood animosity against Yankees was a recurrent theme, and I felt it. Anyhow, I do think Berry represent a strong thread in the conservatism of the American South. Also on Shetterly's list of portraits is Margret Chase Smith who was a long-serving Republican senator for the State of Maine. Shetterly lives in Brooksville, Maine and has since he moved there right out of college. Several of his portraits are of Maine folks and there's a strain of Yankee conservatism is familiar to me visitable in those portraits. The old New England philosophy, "Use It Up, Wear It Out, Fix It or Do Without" would be just as familiar to Wendell Berry and his southern kin, but it tends to be ascribed it to New Englanders.
Near the end of my interview with Wendell Berry some time ago, we talked about facebook. The conversation started with farming, strip mining, local knowledge, topics you might expect with Wendell. It covered politics, civil disobedience, democracy, citizenship. And then we talked about facebook.
"I might have heard something of it," he said, but couldn't understand why someone would ever wish to spend so much time in front of a screen. How could you be a "friend" to another without sharing something tangible together, without having the chance to be useful to each other? I had no answers, and was sort of glad that I didn't.
I spent the day with Wendell Berry, essayist, poet, activist and Kentucky farmer. No, not in the flesh, but with his words and his love for the land. Why? Well, he's been crossing my mind now and again, his way of looking at life, his way of being in it. It's something I strive for, wish to emulate, on many different levels. And, as is so often the case, Life has a way of leading me right where I need to be. This time it was a bookstore.