Sutterfield cites Wendell Berry in lecture about living in a time of death

On April 21, 2018, Ragan Sutterfield delivered the Tippy McMichael Lecture at St. Paul Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

He posed the questions: "What are we to do if we recognize the death of the earth and her ecosystems that have nurtured and sustained our lives? What do we do if we want to take this death seriously in search for a better way to live into whatever future life there will be on the the other side of chaos and mass extinction?" As the beginning of an answer he suggests, "Find a time and a place, and make them holy."

Sutterfield, author of Wendell Berry and the Given Life, has been deeply influenced by Mr. Berry's thought. In the following video he cites a brief passage from the early essay "A Native Hill."

Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch. And to come to that understanding it is necessary, even now, to leave the regions of our conquest—the cleared fields, the towns and cities, the highways—and re-enter the woods. For only there can a man encounter the silence and the darkness of his own absence. Only in the silence and darkness can he recover the sense of the world’s longevity, of its ability to thrive without him, of his inferiority to it and his dependence on it. Perhaps then, having heard that silence and seen that darkness, he will grow humble before the place and begin to take it in—to learn from it what it is.  


Fireflies, Memories, Mental Health and Wendell Berry

Earth Day is traditionally a day of gratitude for Mother Earth, a time for celebration. But this year, we are reading daily of assaults slowing undoing environmental protections.  Has anyone in this present administration ever read a poem or essay by the activist farmer from Kentucky, Wendell Berry?  He was a National Humanities Medalist in 2010.
 
Is this administration familiar with the American Psychiatric Association research on the benefits of a natural environment? It was on September 12, 2016, that the APA noted: 

"One area of substantial research is the benefit of natural environments or green spaces which can provide a calming atmosphere, evoke positive emotions and facilitate learning and alertness. Experiencing nature helps people recover from the mental fatigue of work. Some research has found that activity in natural outdoor settings can help reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children."    

Read "An Earth Day Lament: Fireflies, Memories, and Mental Health" by Rita Watson at Psychology Today.


A suggestion to follow Wendell Berry's path of humility

Limiting ourselves to the sphere of present work requires a modesty that acknowledges we don’t have all the answers (despite our IQs or fancy data) and cannot predict the future. In this globalized era, characterized by a pervasive Internet and endless information, it seems harder than ever to take a humble approach to life’s problems. With so much information and connection at our fingertips, surely we can make the world better. Surely we can solve life’s problems.

But Berry tears away the illusion of power that so often accompanies our increased connectivity. Quantity does not equal quality. No matter what, we are still finite human beings, full of error and hubris. As Berry puts it in his essay “The Presence of Nature in the Natural World,” “Once we acknowledge, once we permit our language to acknowledge, the immense miracle of the existence of this living world, in place of nothing, then we confront again that world and our existence in it, forever more mysterious than known.”

Berry asks us to be more humble and particular in addressing problems we face—not just global problems (such as environmental and political crises, or humanitarian conflicts) but local and even personal dilemmas, too. The conservative approach to “fixing” things should be measured and humble, cognizant of our lack of control. That’s an attitude that does not describe either political party in Washington these days; neither does it generally describe our daily attitudes when tackling life’s problems. Do we really believe that life and its workings lie beyond our control? If so, will we react in fear and denial—or will we embrace our lowly and limited place in the world? 

Instead of seeking to predict, Berry suggests we should seek to “provide”: to take up humbly and thoughtfully limited actions that will best enable us to serve our families and communities in the near (not distant) future. Provision might involve eliminating debt, living within one’s means, providing food and shelter for those we love, and otherwise seeking to steward our possessions in a virtuous manner.

Read "What Wendell Berry Can Show Zuckerberg Types about Making a Better World" by Gracy Olmstead at Intercollegiate Review.


Wendell Berry in new Earth Day Journal from The Berry Center

from “For the Neighbors”

In the United States, which once were colonies, we made what we now call “rural America” a colony of the cities and the corporations. If the cities and corporations have wanted coal or copper or cotton or corn, the rule has been that they should go into the country and take its products for the lowest possible price but at an unbooked and immeasureable cost to the land and the people. 

And so we have had several centuries of plunder and waste and pollution, “backed” by concentrated wealth and power on a continental or global scale, but always enacted in the rural landscapes, country communities, and small towns, which have always been readily dismissable as “country” or “corny” or “the boondocks” or “the middle
of nowhere.” 

If all this adds up to global emergencies such as climate change, it also produces in universities, bureaus, think tanks, and the like, a hearty appetite for global solutions involving dramatic technologies, heroic breakthroughs, and epic sums of money. The necessary repairs, even so, will have to be made in the rural landscapes, country communities, and small towns where the trouble started. 

The great questions now overhanding these small rural places where the global problem will be solved are these: what will be the solutions? And How and on what scale and by whom and for whose ultimate benefit will they be installed? 

Read the whole article by Wendell Berry (and more from The Berry Center) at Earth Day Journal, Volume 1 (pdf).


Read the Introduction to "Telling the Stories Right: Wendell Berry’s Imagination of Port William"

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks. These are the instructions for telling our stories right, and stories told in this way compel us to tend the splintered light of goodness that shines through the cracks of our wounded world. But even as Hannah [Coulter] so beautifully comes to terms with the limits of her only life, she yet worries. She is unsettled by the thought that she and Nathan may have narrated their seemingly simple lives in a way that encouraged their children to leave: “But did we tell the stories right? It was lovely, the telling and the listening, usually the last thing before bedtime. But did we tell the stories in such a way as to suggest that we had needed a better chance or a better life or a better place than we had?” Hannah is unwilling to answer her own question, though she must ask it of herself—she must live in her uncertainty. She ponders what would happen if someone, “instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, [said] that everything should have been different.” In the end, she knows that such a line of thinking is the “loose thread that unravels the whole garment.” And so Hannah resists a reductive story; she refuses to tug at the loose thread. Instead, despite the imperfect nature of her life’s garment, Hannah learns to weave her narrative in gratitude.

The essays that follow are our giving of thanks, our collective attempt at telling the right stories about life and its fictional representations; they are our efforts to trace some of the narrative threads that hold together Berry’s Port William stories. We have written in hope that our words can elucidate the workings of Berry’s fiction, which makes goodness compelling to so many of his readers. What does it mean to “tell the stories right?” This is a question that haunts not only Hannah and the authors in this collection, but Berry himself.

Read the Introduction in Jeff Bilbro's post at Front Porch Republic


Wendell Berry on dairy overproduction and the destruction of small farmers

For its mistreatment of its until-now faithful suppliers, Dean Foods passes the responsibility to Walmart, which has built its own milk-bottling plant and, as usual, is competing against everybody.

The problem is a surplus of milk. Sharon Burton’s editorial, also in “The Farmer’s Pride” of March 15, and on the same subject, contains a penetrating insight: “I’m not talking about dairy farmers…I’m talking about rural America.” She is right. The story of Dean Foods’ cancelled contracts is a representative piece of the story of rural America since the 1950s, when Eisenhower’s Secretary of Agriculture told farmers to “get big or get out.”

From then until now the ruling assumption among the experts has been that there are “too many farmers.” The instrument for getting rid of the dispensable farmers has been uncontrolled production. Farm surpluses depress prices, and low prices benefit the agribusiness corporations by ruining farmers.

And so the story of rural America has been the story of the dispossession of millions of farm families, the disintegration of rural communities, and the destruction of small businesses and small towns. Carilynn Coombs’s family is one of the two in Henry County whose contracts have been broken. And those are two of the remaining small handful of families in Henry County who still live by farming.

So it has been, and so it is, everywhere in rural America.

Read the whole article by Wendell Berry at Henry County Local.


Book Reviews: Wendell Berry and others criticize the environmental movement

As Berry states from the outset, this book, like so many of his others, centers on "the relationship of our lives, and of our communal and economic life, to the lands we live from."

Looming over this relationship is what Berry calls "the ecological, agricultural, economic, and social catastrophe of industrial agriculture." We are still suffering, he argues, from the effects of the mid-20th-century "Get big or get out" agricultural policy.

With the author now in his 80s, a sense of wariness and sadness pervades Berry's writing. Of the healthy agrarianism of Port William, the fictional town about which he's written for nearly 60 years and which is based on his own home, Berry writes that it is "past and gone."

Weighing in on the environmental movement's focus on climate change, Berry is troubled. Though no "climate denier," Berry worries that the single-minded focus of this global crusade has the potential to become a fad, and to overshadow the very real need to stop other forms of environmental destruction on a local level. While Berry of course sees the need for averting climate change, he contends that the effort will little impact the life of rural land and people, which will continue its rapid decline.

Read the whole article by Eric Anglada at National Catholic Reporter.


On Wendell Berry's "The Art of Loading Brush"

In the end, Berry’s mournful story teaches us that it is not utopian, not ridiculous, to insist upon a different economy than a profit-driven capitalism, a different community than one separated by an industrially determined notion of individual freedom from a sustainable and local engagement with the land. It will take time to do, it will be complicated, it will probably not last forever, it will not satisfy everyone, and in the meantime it will have costs. But to take those caveats as proof that a thing cannot be done, that the economic and technological logic of growth is simply and always inevitable, is to blind oneself to a deeper set of possibilities: the possibility of taking collective responsibility for one’s place, emphasizing provision over profit, prioritizing public goods and public safety over corporate balance-sheets, and working out, one bit at a time, in Berry’s words, “a harmonious balance among a diversity of interests.” When it is done right, he concludes, for however long it lasts, “it is a grand masterpiece to behold”

Read "What Wendell Berry’s Brush Teaches Us About Capitalism, Community, and 'Inevitability'" by Russell Arben Fox at Front Porch Republic.


An Interview with Wendell Berry about Education

Berry: I was a very good boy until I was in the third grade. And from then on I hated school. 

David: Because you were forced to stay inside?

Berry: Well, I had experienced freedom in the countryside, and to tell you the truth there wasn’t a lot going on in school that was very interesting. But I didn’t like the confinement. I made a lot of trouble, and I didn’t understand the implication of the trouble I was making. The implication was that I was going to get sent to a military school. At 14 I went away to school with my brother, who was a year younger than I. We went to Millersburg Military Institute up in central Kentucky. And I was about as well-suited to that as I would have been to, I don’t know, an assembly line, which in effect it was. And while I was there I had the good fortune to have maybe three teachers who really did something for my education. I received kindness from more teachers than that, from a couple more. There were two curricula: The first was what they intended to teach you, the second was what they didn’t intend to teach you. I learned something from both. But I had a bad attitude that they discovered early. It was defiance. Also I learned just to slip away and go for a walk somewhere. When I got to college, I liked that. There were, oh, half a dozen teachers I found in college who really did affect me. I respected them. The ones I respected the most were the ones who were hardest on me. But they had something to offer, you see. The teacher I had most often in college was Thomas Stroup. He taught Milton. He started me reading Spenser, although he didn’t teach a Spenser class at that time. He read T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” one afternoon in his office, read it beautifully. He kicked me out of class one day and told me in front of everybody, “Your arrogance is exceeded only by your ignorance.” 

Read the whole of "Education Is A Dangerous Thing: A Conversation With Wendell Berry" by David Kern at Forma: A Magazine from the Circe Institute.