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The Peace of Wild Things

Wendell Berry is one of my favourite poets. I have many favourites. It is much easier to find a poem when you have many.

We spend time each summer wandering through nature. I think for Kathy and I it is a return to our roots. We grew up in rural settings and were outdoors a lot as a result. I think as we mature, getting older is so passe, we look for the roots that connect us to the universe. Nature is one those things.

Alfred North Whitehead suggested we only need to look at nature to find the patterns we need in life.

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I Go Among Trees

I begin with an apology to followers. The email feed of those who I follow has not worked the last two days. This is the second this has happened in the last couple of months. I am not sure what has caused the malfunction at the junction, but I will look into it this weekend after my classes wrap up for the week.

Wendell Berry wrote this poem about taking time and waiting for the right time to do the work. It has been busy and I will have time with a three-week break from classes to sit among the trees hopefully literally and figuratively

I go among the trees and sit still

All my stirring becomes quiet

around me like circles on water.

My tasks lie in their places

Where I left them, asleep like cattle…

Then what is afraid of me comes

and lives a while in my sight.

What it fears in me leaves me,

and the fear of me leaves it.

It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.

I live for a while in its sight.

What I fear in it leaves it,

And the fear of it leaves me.

It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,

mute in my consternations,

I hear my song at last,

and I sing it. As we sing,

the day turns, the trees move.

The Wild Geese

Wendell Berry is a great poet and writer. Several contributors to one of the texts we use in Eco-Ethics , Rethinking Nature, refer to his thinking. I call it deep thinking and takes us to another level of consciousness where there is an awareness that we are part of something much bigger.

I read Wendell Berry’s work and enjoy it immensely. He does not suggest I think like he does or live like he does in a low-tech world. What he proposes is I take time and think more deeply. I read somewhere that Berry, when he was much younger during the 1960′s was asked to write an anti-Vietnam War poem. He responded that he would not. The person asking was surprised as they had always believed he was opposed to the Vietnam War. He responded by saying he was not opposed to that particular war, just war in general. He wrote an anti-war poem with no reference to Vietnam. When I take time and engage in thinking at this level, I come to a different level of awareness than I usually do. It does not mean that I would things differently than I currently do. I become aware of the values I hold and act accordingly. Obviously, it is tricky. What if my values sanction war? What if my values sanction a view that nature is for human consumption? I think what Berry and others get is when we go deeper and look inside we see that we live in the world and not outside it as spectators.

When I read a poem like The Wild Geese, I am struck by the message of the last line: “What we need is here.” It likely always was. I need to open the persimmon seed to find the tree which is not separate from the seed. I am not separate from daily life or the world. I am in it. I need to go deeper to find it, recognize it, and cherish it.

Horseback on Sunday morning,

harvest over, we taste persimmon

and wild grape, sharp sweet

of summer’s end. In time’s maze

over fall fields, we name names

that went west from here, names

that rest on graves. We open

a persimmon seed

to find the tree that stands in promise,

pale, in the seed’s marrow.

Geese appear high over us,

pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,

as in love or sleep, holds

them in their way, clear,

in the ancient faith: what we need

is here. And we pray, no

for the new earth or heaven, but to be

quiet in the heart, and in eye

clear. What we need is here.

Manifesto of a Mad Farmer

Tony at A Way With Words asked if I like Wendell Berry. I do and rank him among my favourite poets. When I hear or read his name, I think of this poem.

What does it mean to be radical? The word radical comes from Old English and means going to one’s origins or roots. When I read this poem, it reminds me of the possibilities in a radical life. I can seek out my roots, the wisdom of those who came before me, and lived on the land. I love the second stanza and it just carries on from there for the rest of the poem.

Do something that does not compute, make many tracks, and sometimes confuse the world of where I go. Go against the grain.

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

The Peace of Wild Things

I have parent-teacher interviews for the next two evenings. It limits the time available for posting my own words. I began thumbing through one of my many poetry anthologies and came across this wonderful Wendell Berry poem that echoed yesterday’s post, Children in ways. Two of his poems at the link are about mad farmers. Wendell Berry is a compassionate, opinionated person. When I grow up, I want to be similar.

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

What If Nature Could Remember or Dream?

After I posted Open Heart; Open Mind, I recalled a Wendell Berry poem entitled In a Country Once Forested. I wondered what if nature really could remember? What would that be like? What if nature were a dreamer of dreams? I think Wendell Berry says it beautifully and wisely in this poem.

The young woodland remembers

the old, a dreamer dreaming

of an old holy book,

an old set of instructions,

and the soil under the grass

is dreaming of a young forest,

and under the pavement the soil

is dreaming of grass.

I think nature is can recall and able to dream dreams. It might look like this.

Open Heart; Open Mind

I walked out of the house and looked up at a clear sky. The Moon stood out in the sky and just below was a morning star. It is not a great picture, but it reminded me I live in a metropolitan area of over 1 million. I find my self rewarded when I take the time and see nature in that place. They are there; I only have to look for them.

See what I want

Hear what I choose

Instead, open my whole self.

Behold nature’s gifts

Hold close to the heart

Hidden only when I choose.

Nature waits for me

Quietly reveals its self

Open my whole self.

Sabbaths by Wendell Berry

What do I gain from taking a break; disconnect to reconnect? I think this poem speaks volumes. Jay F. Smith contributed the idea for this poem along with a brief reflective essay in Leading from Within.

In his essay, Rev. Smith indicated the Sabbath mood is “a mood resulting from a deep sense of knowing that no matter what the immediate visible, tangible, measurable ‘results’ may be, [something bigger than me] God is at work in the world” (p. 114).

Whatever is foreseen in joy

Must be lived out from day to day.

Vision held open in the dark

By our ten thousand days of work.

Harvest will fill the barn; for that

The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled

By work of ours; the field is tilled

And left to grace. That we may reap,

Great work is done while we’re sleeping.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood

Rests on our day, and finds it good.

Berry, W. (2007).  Sabbaths.  In S. M. Intrator and M. Scribner (Eds.), Leading from within: Poetry that sustains the courage to lead (pp. 115). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

In My Haste to Post I Forgot the Title

It was an interesting day. In the midst of it, Parker Palmer posted a poem by Wendell Berry on Facebook. It is a special day when Parker posts a poem by Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, or himself. The poem was How to Be a Poet (to remind myself). Wendell Berry is low tech and uses a typewriter to craft his words. Parker pointed to an aspect of the poem’s message: “Shun electric wire/Communicate slowly/Live a three-dimensional life.”The slow of life is worth something. It lets us be the person we are most fully.

Later, I began to think about two songs by two artists I enjoy and have seen multiple times live. Guy Clark sings The Carpenter and John Wort Hannam sings With the Grain. Both songs are rich with the metaphors of living a three-dimensional life. It is no coincidence the topic is that of a carpenter in both cases. It is about true to one’s self and living a life with value.


Silence, solitude, sacred

A mountain’s strength

The sky’s expanse

A lake mirrors

Words of wisdom

Spoken so softly.

Disconnect to reconnect

Listen that silent sacred space

The inner teacher beckons

Be present

Wisdom revealed

Let it heal, repair

A single thread at a time

The web of life so fragile.

Questions emerge

Hold gently

Live their mystery

They answer only when ready

Until then they lie dormant

Ready when ready

Embrace life as it is.

I salute you and take my leave for a few hours. Have a wonderful 16th of July.

A Time to Listen – Visually and Poetry

Kathy and I travel. We spend time during the summer touring Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and adjoining American states. This summer we are revisiting Waterton Lakes National Park as part of my rehab. We travel through this area regularly and it brings back great memories.

On one trip, we stopped at a provincial park just above Lundbreck Falls. Recently, I went through pictures of the Crowsnest River downstream and it reminded of what I notice and don’t notice in life. Wendell Berry wrote a beautiful piece: The Impeded Stream is the One that Sings. I realized I  heard the river before I saw it. I recalled the life around the river: cottonwood fluff flying, flowering wild rose, insects pollinating, and a musky smell perhaps of a bear recently by. The river is a living instrument sharing a song to others forming a web of life.

I read Wendell Berry’s words while reliving the picture and was inspired to write a Haiku.

Observe life’s current

Pausing, listening, caring

Present with my self.


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