Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Gift of Good Land

The Gift of Good Land
© 1981 Wendell Berry
281 pages


Wendell Berry is a philosopher, poet, and more, but before all else he is a farmer. He is a faithful son of Kentucky devoted to the land, to the stewardship of the Earth, to the obedience to the first commandment given in his religious tradition: to dress and keep the garden. Berry has produced other collections of essays that focused primarily on agriculture, but this is the first I've read, and while I haven't set foot on a proper farm since elementary school, Berry's crafted hand makes a man ache to experience the gift of land he writes on here.  Although these essays primarily address farming, life is the subject; when Berry writes on the virtues of mowing with scythes, the essay is on man's relation with his tools. Does he use them to his intended ends or is he compelled to use them toward theirs?  A piece on the role of horses addresses the need for appropriate solutions, for sensible and sustainable approaches to the cultivation of food. A few essays simply reflect on the thoughts a farm naturally brings to mind, like those of motherhood when Berry is helping deliver a calf; he is profoundly grateful, not annoyed, to have been able to play a part in bringing the new life into the world.  Berry is an author who radiates wisdom; he notes, in considering the discovery of the New World, that we, like our ancestors come "with visions, but not with sight. We did not see or understand where we were or what was there, but we destroyed what was there for the sake of what we desired."  The partial purpose of these essays is to generate an understanding, not of what we know, but of how little we know.  As Berry muses on the patterns of nature, and attempts to teach readers how to discern and plan within those patterns -- to solve agricultural problems through agricultural means, for instance -- his study reveals how painfully arrogant we have been in the 20th century, to simply decide life was a machine that could be engineered to produce whatever outputs we wanted. Life remains stubbornly organic, temperamental even,  and responding to it requires the watchful eye, gentle hand, and sharp mind of a careful husband of the flock, a steward of the land; a farmer.

Related:
Folks, This Ain't Normal, Joel Salatin


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