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WENDELL BERRY

and The River


“ The river and the garden have been the foundations of my economy here. Of the two I have liked the river best. It is wonderful to have the duty of being on the river the first and last thing every day. I have loved it even in the rain. Sometimes I have loved it most in the rain. � — Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow


About Wendell Berry Wendell Berry lives and farms with his family in Henry County, Kentucky, and is the author of more than thirty books of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.


Rain

It is a day of the earth’s renewing without any man’s doing or help. Though I have fields I do not go out to work in them. Though I have crops standing in rows I do not go out to look at them or gather what has ripened or hoe the weeds from the balks. Though I have animals I stay dry in the house while they graze In the wet. Though I have buildings they stand closed under their roofs. Though I have fences they go without me. My life stands in place, covered, like a hayrick or a mushroom.


IT IS A DAY O EARTH’S REN WITHOUT AN


OF THE NEWING NY MAN’S


The land is an ark, full o


A Wet Time

The land is an ark, full of things waiting. Underfoot it goes temporary and soft, tracks filling with water as the foot is raised. The fields, sodden, go free of plans. Hands become obscure in their use, prehistoric. The mind passes over changed surfaces like a boat, drawn to the thought of roofs and to the thought ofswimming and wading birds. Along the river croplands and gardens are buried in the flood, airy places grown dark and silent beneath it.

Under the slender branch holding the new nest of the hummingbird the river flows heavy with earth, the water turned the color ofbroken slopes. I stand deep in the mud ofthe shore, a stake planted to measure the rise, the water rising, the earth falling to meet it. A great cottonwood passes down, the leaves shivering as the roots drag the bottom. I was not ready for this parting, my native land putting out to sea.

of things waiting.


In This World

The hill pasture, an open place among the trees, tilts into the valley. The clovers and tall grasses are in bloom. Along the foot of the hill dark floodwater moves down the river. The sun sets. Ahead ofnightfall the birds sing. I have climbed up to water the horses and now sit and rest, high on the hillside, letting the day gather and pass. Below me cattle graze out across the wide fields of the bottomlands, slow and preoccupied as stars. In this world men are making plans, wearing themselves out, spending their lives, in order to kill each other.


Contempt For Small Places

NEWSPAPER EDITORIALS deplore such human-caused degradations of the oceans as the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone,” and reporters describe practices like “mountain removal” mining in eastern Kentucky. Some day we may finally understand the connections.

The health of the oceans depends on the health

of rivers; the health of rivers depends on the health of small streams; the health of small streams depends on the health of their watersheds.The health of the water is exactly the same as the health ofthe land; the health of small places is exactly the same as the health of large places. As we know, disease is hard to confine. Because natural law is in force everywhere, infections move.

We cannot immunize the continents and the

oceans against our contempt for small places and small streams. Small destructions add up, and finally they are understood collectively as large destructions. Excessive nutrient run off from farms and animal factories in the Mississippi watershed has caused, in the GulfofMexico, a hypoxic or “dead zone” offive or six thousand square miles. In forty-odd years, strip mining in the Appalachian coal fields, culminating in mountain removal, has gone far toward the destruction ofa whole region, with untold damage to the region’s people, to watersheds, and to the waters downstream.

There is not a more exemplary history ofour

contempt for small places than that of Eastern Kentucky coal mining, which has enriched many absentee


corporate shareholders and left the region impoverished

devastation continues.

and defaced. Coal industry representatives are now

defending mountain removal-and its attendant damage to

balance the competing interests” were stated as follows

forests, streams, wells, dwellings, roads, and

by Ewell Balltrip, director of the Kentucky Appalachian

communitylife-bysaying that in “10, 15, 20years” the land

Commission: “If you don’t have mining, you don’t have

will be restored, and that such mining has “created the

an economy, and ifyou don’t have an economy you don’t

[level] land” needed for further industrial development.

have a way for the people to live. But if you don’t have

environmental quality, you won’t create the kind of place

But when you remove a mountain you also

The contradictions in the state’s effort “to

remove the topsoil and the forest, and you doimmeasur-

where people want to live.”

able violence to the ecosystem and the watershed. These

things are not to be restored in ten or twenty years, or

region of flat industrial sites where nobody wants to live,

in ten or twentyhundred years. As for the manufacture

we need a better economy.

Yes. And if the clearly foreseeable result is a

Some day we may finally understand the connections. oflevel places for industrial development, the supply has already far exceeded any foreseeable demand. And the


PRESENC

ST


I COME INTO THE

CE OF

TILL WATER.


Are you alright? (excerpt) We knew what we were doing, and both of us were a little

as anybody alive. But now, in venturing to worry about

embarrassed about it. The Rowanberry Place had carried

them, we had put them, so to speak, under the sign of

that name since the first deeds were recorded in the log

mortality. They were, after all, the last of the Rowanber-

cabin that was the first courthouse at Hargrave. Rowan-

rys, and they were getting old. We were uneasy in being

berrys had been taking care of themselves there for the

divided from them by the risen water and out of touch.

better part of two hundred years. We knew that Arthur

It caused us to think of things that could happen.

and Martin Rowanberry required as little worrying about


“It’s not hard, you know, to think of things that could happen.” Elton said,


“WELL,” I SAID, “DO YOU THIN GO SEE ABOUT THEM?” He laughed. “Well, we’ve thought, haven’t we? I guess we’d better go.”


NK WE’D BETTER


Winter Waterfall

The fowls speak and sing, settling for the night. The mare shifts in the bedding. In her womb her foal sleeps and grows, within and within and within. Her jaw grinds, meditative in the fragrance of timothy. Soon now my own rest will come. The silent river flows on in the dusk, miles and miles. Outside the walls and on the roofand in the woods the cold rain falls.


Along the river croplands and gard

in the flood, airy places grown dark beneath it.


Enriching The Earth To enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass to grow and die. I have plowed in the seeds of winter grains and ofvarious legumes, their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth. I have stirred into the ground the offal and the decay ofthe growth of past seasons and so mended the earth and made its yield increase. All this serves the dark. I am slowly falling

dens are buried

rk and silent

into the fund ofthings. And yet to serve the earth, not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness and a delight to the air, and my days do not wholly pass. It is the mind’s service, for when the will fails so do the hands and one lives at the expense oflife. After death, willing or not, the body serves, entering the earth. And so what was heaviest and most mute is at last raised up into song.


List of Publications Fiction

Essays

Fidelity: Five Stories, 1992 Hannah Coulter, 2004 Jayber Crow, 2000 The Memory of Old Jack, 1974 Nathan Coulter, 1960 A Place on Earth, 1967 Remembering, 1988 That Distant Land: The Collected Stories, 2004 Watch with Me and Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née Quinch, 1994 The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership, 1986 A World Lost, 1996

Another Turn of the Crank, 1996 The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, 2002 Citizenship Papers, 2003 A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural & Agricultural, 1972 The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural & Agricultural, 1981 Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work, 1990 The Hidden Wound, 1970 Home Economics: Fourteen Essays, 1987 Life Is a Miracle, 2000 The Long-Legged House, 2004 Recollected Essays: 1965-1980, 1981 Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community, 1992 Standing by Words, 1983 The Unforeseen Wilderness: Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, 1971 The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 1977 What Are People For?, 1990

Poetry The Broken Ground, 1964 Clearing, 1977 Collected Poems: 1951-1982, 1982 The Country of Marriage, 1973 Entries, 1994 Farming: A Hand Book, 1970 Given: New Poems, 2005 Openings, 1968 A Part, 1980 Sabbaths: Poems, 1987 Sayings and Doings, 1975 The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1999 A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, 1998 The Wheel, 1982


Bibliography Berry, Wendell. Fidelity Five Stories. New York and San Francisco: Pantheon Books, 1992 Berry, Wendell. Collected Poems 1957-1982. New York: North Point Press; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1987 Berry, Wendell. The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays. Berkeley: Counter Point, 2005


This book was created by Lynn Soin Yoon in the spring semester of Typography II at Washington University in St. Louis.

Wendell Berry and The River  
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