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Tag Archives: Wendell Berry

The Real Work

I was laid up for the last few days. I have allergies and this time of the year is always a challenge. I think I picked up a bug to give me a double-whammy. I slept a good part of Friday and Saturday and, on Sunday, was upright for most of the day.

I am not sure if I will post later. While sitting upright and not doing much else on Sunday, this Wendell Berry poem kept poking at me.

Living is paradoxical. Parker Palmer described how this creates tension in living. Just as we think everything is as it should be, something pokes at us and unsettles us, calling on us to begin our real work and commencing the real journey. Being mindful and attentive remind us to be still and look below the surface of what is happening.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

This is Athabasca Falls. The river upstream is quite wide and as it comes around the corner suddenly narrows. In Wendell Berry’s poem, it is impeded and creates a great force that carves out solid granite.

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A Vision

I am preparing to go to Miami of Ohio to attend a writing retreat. It is a curriculum theory called currere, which is the root word for curriculum and is an infinitive verb meaning to run the course of one’s life.

Currere overlaps with the methodology, hermeneutic phenomenology I used in my writing my dissertation. The two are reflective, explore one’s lived-experiences, and interpret them as data . After a person reflects on a lived-experience, they imagine how it might inform their teaching. They create a vision of the past and future in a way to create a vision for the present.

William Pinar compared this process to photographs that gain clarity as they develop. I had not used the method, but referenced Dr. Pinar’s work and he was on my dissertation committee.

Part of the process of preparing has been to use the method of currere. As I wrote, read, and reflected this Wendell Berry poem came into my view. Even though I am not teaching, I wanted to create a vision of what the wisdom might be like. As a young teacher, I can envision having used the process as a way to survive, to be still, enrich my teaching and student learning, and creating a memory native to my teaching. As Wendell Berry says, it was a paradisal dream. Hard work never is. It is its own reward.

If we will have the wisdom to survive,

to stand like slow-growing trees

on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,

if we make our seasons welcome here,

asking not too much of earth or heaven,

then a long time after we are dead

the lives our lives prepare will live

here, their houses strongly placed

upon the valley sides, fields and gardens

rich in the windows. The river will run

clear, as we will never know it,

and over it, birdsong like a canopy.

On the levels of the hills will be

green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.

On the steeps where greed and ignorance

            cut down

the old forest, an old forest will stand,

its rich leaf-fall drifting its roots.

The veins of forgotten springs will have

            opened..

Families will be singing in their fields.

In the voices they will hear a music

risen out of the ground. They will take

nothing from the ground they will not

            return,

whatever the grief at parting. Memory,

native to this valley, will spread over it

like a grove, and memory will grow

into a legend, legend into song, song

into sacrament. The abundance of this

            place,

the songs of its people and its birds,

will be health and wisdom and indwelling

light. This is no paradisal dream.

Its hardship is its possibilities.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

I enjoy Wendell Berry’s writing and recently began reading his fiction. He wrote a series of novels about a community called Port William and explores what it means to belong to a place and have roots there. He refers to these roots as belonging and caring for a place in way that is reciprocal. As I care for the place, it cares for me.

This poem is my favourite, because it is about belonging in a way that allows me to ask what it means to belong. The title reaches out and I cannot resist it. The first stanza questions the lack of belonging we experience in the modern world.

What does it mean to be radical? The word radical means going to one’s origins or roots. When I read the poem, I think of the possibilities a radical life offers. I seek my roots, the wisdom of those who came before me, and lived on the land. I trace my genealogy and tracks on the land my ancestors tilled and how it cared for their needs.

The second stanza draws me deeper. When I read it, it challenges me to think about what it means to do something that doesn’t compute, like loving unconditionally and not knowing what that means.  The third stanza challenges me to question in ways that do not result in easy answers and embrace the mysteries of living.

Do something that does not compute, make many tracks, and sometimes confuse the world. Go against the grain and do not always take the easy path. Take a proper one and understand I belong to a community of more than one.

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.

 

How Poetry Comes to Me

Much like poetry, living comes to each of us and it blunders along just out of view from us. It is like sitting around a campfire and knowing there is something outside the ring of light the fire casts.

Within the ring of light, there is a warmth, perhaps a certainty. We think we know what is happening next. In truth, the living happens just outside our reach. Wendell Berry describes it as happening, but, once it happens, we cannot be fully describe it.

Gary Snyder wrote about his poetry writing as having to go meet the poetry just outside the range of his campfire. When we are attentive and mindful of each moment and what is just beyond our reach and vision, life dances at the edge of the light, like poetry.

Instead of certain answers, we encounter questions that cannot be fully answered, but help form the conversation and poetry that is our living.

It comes blundering over the

 Boulders at night, it stays

 Frightened outside the

 Range of my campfire

 I go to meet it at the

 Edge of the light

 

The Real Work

I found it interesting that as I searched for a poem I typed in the words The Real Work by Wendell Berry. As Google anticipated, another search emerged: The Real Work by Gary Snyder. This book of essays emerged from a series of interviews and talks Snyder conducted over several years.

Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder are writers, environmentalists and farmers who live in Kentucky and California respectively. Together, they wrote a book called Distant Neighbours and shared their views about the real work they undertook as writers, environmentalists, and farmers. How each of them understood and wrote about real work echoed the other.

Real work happens not when we find ourselves going through the work aimlessly and mindlessly. It emerges when obstacles arise and we are mindful and attentive in our work. It holds our interest through baffling us and our being unsure of what to do next. As we work thoughtfully and our mind is employed in meaningful acts, our work sings like an impeded stream and makes us whole. It is like we our speaking through our work and its meaning to us.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

FATHER CHARLES BRANDT… THE LAND AS SACRED COMMONS

~ the Brandt Series ~   Fr. Charles Brandt is a hermit monk from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, who recently celebrated 64 years of ordination. At 91 years of age, his gentle activism and…

Source: FATHER CHARLES BRANDT… THE LAND AS SACRED COMMONS

In a day and age of environmental concerns, I think a post from Bruce is appropriate. It is important to keep in mind that, with each economic choice we make, there are ecological choices and consequences, some more obvious than others.

Wendell Berry writes about economy from an etymological point of view. Economy from comes from the Greek oikos, meaning to manage one’s household and is about stewardship. If we think of ourselves as living outside the environment, being a good steward seems less important. If we choose to live in the environment, being a good steward is essential to the prosperity of the world and ourselves.

To me, it is not about economy over environment. How do we understand both as interconnected, and not separate? It is not an easy question, but questions of social justice, and the environment is one, are ever easy. Being mindful and living in the moment will help.

Rivertalk

Wendell Berry wrote that “there is a great restfulness in the sounds small rivers make.” When we mindfully stand and listen and perhaps close our eyes, we hear the restful sounds more clearly. We discover being rooted to a particular place, at least for the moment.

Those small rivers invite us to jump in and paddle as a child might. What the child adds to those sounds and waves are sounds of pleasure. There is no enjoyment while standing on shore, unless we close our eyes and listen closely. Besides the child, we might hear nature speak to us as it hums gently and touches us unexpectedly.

Jeanne Lohmann counsels us to be less serious and not to look for problems to fix as we move through life. The river serves as a wonderful metaphor and life calls to us to be present in each moment and to be fully present.

is whatever comes along,
practice always here while we

keep on shore, all the time
saying we want to get wet.

But the river has ways
of sound and light, ripples

and waves that tell us:
don’t be so serious, rumble in

where nothing is finished or broken
and nothing asks to be fixed.

 

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