It is hard to know what to read first of Wendell Berry‘s.
Essayist, poet, novelist, farmer.
I don’t know if there is a progression to his work; or just an astonishingly rich collective body of work.
But I picked up The Gift of Good Land the other day, to see what he had to say in there.
And in two places, he touches on values that are learned from, but transcend working, the earth. (No doubt there are more – but I am just dipping in here and there in the book.)
The first is on p. 49 when he talks about leaving a conference he was at and driving into the desert where his real work, and love, could be found. The feeling was palpable: “I was feeling … the relief of moving from talk about problems into the presence of the problems themselves. In the presence of the problems intelligence encounters details. It is like stepping from slippery footing onto dry rock.”
He speaks here of the immediacy, the challenge and in some ways the comfort of reaching the essence, the stuff of the problem. It is only here that one can try and succeed, or try and fail; but at least one can try – and not just speculate or argue or wonder – and thus learn from one’s efforts.
And on p. 51, he quotes Charles Bowden, who wrote of the Papago Indians and what it took to survive in their trying environment:
“The man who hoarded, who saved, who said he and his blood would make it on their own… such a man led his kin to extinction… Power came from toil and could only be stored in other human beings.”
It is not just in the desert, but in all walks of life that we need each other.
We eat today what someone else planted yesterday. Of – if we are speaking of nuts and fruits – from trees that others planted years ago. The vibrancy of our knowledge and wisdom and experience (a big part of our collective commons) can only be preserved if it is shared, and given away.
Our safety is in sharing this.
In society, we preserve best what we generously give away.