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June 2011

Considering Wendell Berry in "Locality in the Internet Age"

Wendell Berry has no idea how far the definition of local will be stretched by technological ways and means. But to his point, will the outcome be a physical manifestation of our digital disconnectedness or will our digital lives inform us and make us wise? Is the obliteration of physical presence and the local an adventure in possessing information (a baseball game, a lecture, a wedding, a Eucharist?) without ever letting it impact our own person, our own place and those around us? Or, is it a new way to further, broaden and deepen the connections started in local, present, physical lives in a digital way?


Wendell Berry in Seattle, May 24

Seattle Arts and Lectures and North Cascades Institute presents
Wendell Berry
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Benaroya Hall, Seattle

Critics and scholars have acknowledged Wendell Berry as a master of many literary genres, but whether he is writing poetry, fiction, or essays, his message is essentially the same: humans must learn to live in harmony with the natural rhythms of the earth or perish. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, which analyzes the many failures of modern, mechanized life, is one of the key texts of the environmental movement, but Berry, a political maverick, has criticized environmentalists as well as those involved with big businesses and land development. In his opinion, many environmentalists place too much emphasis on wild lands without acknowledging the importance of agriculture to our society. Berry strongly believes that small-scale farming is essential to healthy local economies, and that strong local economies are essential to the survival of the species and the well-being of the planet.

Tickets for this event are available at


Transcript of Wendell Berry's remarks at Future of Food conference, 5.4.11

Remarks from the Washington Post Live Future of Food Conference, held May 4 at Georgetown University:

Our fundamental problem is world destruction, caused by an irreconcilable contradiction between the natural world and the engineered world of industrialism. This conflict between nature and human interest may have begun with the first tools and weapons, but only with the triumph of industrialism has it become absolute. By now the creaturely world is absolutely at the mercy of industrial processes, which are doing massive ecological damage. How much of this damage may be repairable by economic and cultural changes remains to be seen.


Wendell Berry cited in Mother's Day sermon

It reminds me of a poem by Wendell Berry, whose mother was a member of my church in Kentucky.  Her name was Virginia, and if I try I can still see her face looking up at me on her way out of church, the soft pouches under her pale blue eyes, the twinkle in them still.  She probably told her son, Wendell, a thousand times to sit up straight, to eat his vegetables, and to always say “please” and “thank you.”  It must have worked.  Today he is one of the most celebrated poets in America and when his mother died he wrote this poem:

I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.


Follow the link to read the complete poem.

Of interest: "You and your slaves"

How many energy slaves does a typical Canadian have at his or her disposal? Dave Hughes, perhaps Canada's premier energy analyst and the nation's former coal specialist at Natural Resources Canada, has done the math and we are not an emancipated people.

Hughes calculates that one barrel of crude (non-renewable sunshine captured in plants over the past 500 million years or so) contains approximately six gigajoules (six billion joules) or about 1,700 kilowatts of energy.

Now a healthy individual can pump out enough juice to light a 100-watt bulb or (360,000 joules) an hour. With weekends and holidays off and a sensible eight-hour day, Hughes figures that it might takes one person 8.6 years on a bicycle (or treadmill) to produce the energy now stored in one barrel of oil.

(Of course we could work those slaves 12 hours a day, seven days a week with no holidays, argues Hughes. In that case a barrel is equivalent to 3.8 years of human labor. But this columnist favours a more humane treatment.)

Given that the average Canadian now consumes 24.7 barrels of oil a year with scarcely a blink of the eye, every citizen employs about 204 virtual slaves. That's a spectacular amount of power for any mortal to wield and much more than any Roman or Egyptian household ever commanded. Or five times more than average 19th century U.S. plantation owners.


Reflection on the DC food conference: "What's the 'Future of Food' Without Food Safety?"

Food safety, in the broadest sense of food security (ending hunger) and healthfulness (being against processed foods), was discussed by many of the speakers - clearly, important issues that impact billions worldwide.  However, food safety as I live it was not on the agenda.  In fact, the only time it was discussed was when Barbara Kowlazcyk (the mother profiled in Food Inc. who lost her son to E. coli O157:H7) asked speakers on one of the panels about food safety as she lives it.  The response was the same response that I hear often -- "know your farmer, know your food" - "if you can look your farmer in the eye, you know the food is safe."  To me, it is not a satisfactory answer, not to Barbara or the 48,000,000 Americans who are sickened, the 125,000 who are hospitalized or to the families and friends of the 3,000 who die each year because of foodborne illness.


Blog Watch: On Wendell Berry reading WCW

So, when Berry reads Williams, he reads a regional poet.  When I read Williams, I read an imagist, and is some cases a near surrealist who transcends any region and, who in fact, is less likely to take me to a specific place than a poet like, say Wordsworth.  Which is Williams?  Well, in fact, through the magic of collaboration--he is both.  I come to know a new Williams by reading Berry's appreciation of him.


Wendell Berry cited on tobacco growing

Tobacco, unlike, say, opium poppy, is not an easy crop, to grow or to defend. Wendell Berry, although he doesn’t himself grow it, is surrounded by people, including family, who do and he has worked for many of them. Berry has written elegiacally about tobacco, and the essential dilemma it presents, now that demand has fallen. I can’t find my copy of that essay right now (or on the web) but the gist of it was that a high-value crop like tobacco spared the environment because by dint of skill and hard work a family could make a decent living from a relatively small patch of land for the tobacco and the food they needed.