Monday, December 8, 2014

The Wild Birds

The Wild Birds
© 1989 Wendell Berry
160 pages

            Within the membership of Port William, a close knit farming village, lays another  more intimate still. It is the membership of a neighborhood of families who, working adjoining lands, make it their business to help each other through life. They help sow one another’s fields, and help reap them.  Hannah Coulter, the story of a young widow adopted into this private membership, introduced it; in Wild Birds, Wendell Berry delivers six stories about its other members,  advancing through the years, and delivering a sense of real people developing through time and through their relationships with one another.  The young mature into older adults; Wheeler Catlett opens the piece as a young newlywed, tasked yet again with hunting down his drunken uncle, and closes it as an older  lawyer contemplating retirement.  There's a prevailing theme of coming of age and owning one's responsibilities here, though as always Berry creates a sense of timelessness: his characters have moments in which every season of their life is being lived simultaneously  This is best exhibited in "The Boundary", which for me is the most tender piece I've ever read by Berry, about an aging farmer who decides to go on one last patrol of his fields to inspect a boundary fenceline. Leaving home, he departs from his wife with  a hug, noting that she seems to have changed while he held her from schoolgirl to grandmother, a lifetime lived in one another's embrace. As he eases down a hill he scrambled down as a child, he relives the many times he and his fathers before him, and he and his sons after that, had walked those paths before, tended those places together.   Berry is a master at creating intimacy, inviting the reader to draw close to his characters, so endearing even in their flaws.  To read these stories is to take a deep draft of the milk of human kindness, to be loved almost by an author who delights in stirring one's soul and bringing to remembrance a sense of being at home in the world.  

Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry
Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry


  1. I only read 2 books by him, your post encourages me to read more. I like his writing a lot. A bit similar in style for me to Kent Haruf who alas just passed away

  2. My library carries several titles by Mr. Haruf, so I'll be sure to look him up. Thank you for the lead.)

    Berry is remarkable -- I find his essays evoking the same spirit as his fiction. His poems are lovely, too.


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