The Farming Life Selected Works by Wendell Berry
The Farming Life Selected Works by Wendell Berry
When I rise up let me rise up joyful like a bird.
When I fall let me fall without regret
like a leaf.
Biography 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. Berry’s work is an ongoing exploration of man’s use of and relationship to the land, and his writing constitutes, as Gary Tolliver has said, one man’s “continuing search for avenues of reentry into a proper state of harmony with the natural world” (13). To Berry, farming the land requires the same discipline as writing a poem.
The Man Born to Farming The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming, whose hands reach into the ground and sprout, to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death yearly, and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down in the dung heap, and rise again in the corn. His thought passes along the row ends like a mole. What miraculous seed has he swallowed that the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth like a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water descending in the dark?
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 of the 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 as parts of large destructions. Excessive nutrient runoff from farms and animal factories in the Mississippi watershed has caused, in the Gulf of Mexico, a hypoxic dead zone of 5,000 to 6,000 square miles. In 40-odd years, strip mining in the Appalachian coal fields, culminating in mountain removal,
has gone far toward the destruction of a whole region, with untold damage to the region’s people, to watersheds, and to the waters downstream. There is not a more exemplary history of our contempt for small places than that of Eastern Kentucky coal mining, which has enriched many absentee corporate shareholders and left the region impoverished and defaced. Coal industry representatives are now defending mountain removal — and its attendant damage to forests, streams, wells, dwellings, roads and community life — by saying that in “10, 15, 20 years” the land will be restored, and that such mining has “created” the level land needed for further industrial development. But when you remove a mountain you also remove the topsoil and the forest, and you do immeasurable violence to the ecosystem and the watershed. These things are not to be restored in 10 or 20 years, or in 10 or 20 hundred years. As for the manufacture of level places for industrial development, the supply has already far exceeded any foreseeable demand. And the devastation continues.
The contradictions in the state’s effort “to balance the competing interests” were stated as follows by Ewell Balltrip, director of the Kentucky Appalachian Commission: “If you don’t have mining, you don’t have an economy, and if you don’t have an economy you don’t have a way for the people to live. But if you don’t have environmental quality, you won’t create the kind of place where people want to live.” Yes. And if the clearly foreseeable result is a region of flat industrial sites where nobody wants to live, we need a better economy.
â€œI am not bound for but for ground of m planted vines and
r any public place, my own where I have d orchard trees.â€?
Sowing In the stilled place that once was a road going down from the town to the river, and where the lives of marriages grew a house, cistern and barn, flowers, the tilted stone of borders, and the deeds of their lives ran to neglect, and honeysuckle and then the fire overgrew it all, I walk heavy with seed, spreading on the cleared hill the beginnings of green, clover and grass to be pasture. Between historyâ€™s death upon the place and the trees that would have come I claim, and act, and am mingled in the fate of the world.
I claim, and act, and am mingled in the fate of the world.
Are You Alright? An Excerpt
We followed the state road along the ridges toward Port William and then at the edge of town turned down the Sand Ripple Road. We went down the hill through the woods, and as we came near the floor of the valley, Elton went more carefully and we began to watch. We crossed a little board culvert that rattled under the wheels, eased around a bend, and there was the backwater, the headlights glancing off it into the treetops, the road disappearing into it. Elton stopped the truck. He turned off his headlights and the engine, and the quietness of the moonlight and the woods came down around us. I could hear the peepers again. It was wonderful what the road going under the water did to that place. It was not only that we could not go where we were used to going; it was as if a thought that we were used to thinking could not be thought. “Listen!” Elton said. He had heard a barred owl off in the
woods. He quietly rolled the window down. And then, right overhead, an owl answered: “HOOOOOAWWW!” And the far one said, “Hoo hoo hoohooaw!” “Listen!” Elton said again. He was whispering. The owls went through their whole repertory of hoots and clucks and cackles and gobbles. “Listen to them!” Elton said. “They’ve got a lot on their minds.” Being in the woods at night excited him. He was a hunter. And we were excited by the flood’s interruption of the road. The rising of the wild water had moved us back in time. Elton quietly opened his door and got out and then, instead of slamming the door, just pushed it to. I did the
same and came around and followed him as he walked slowly down the road, looking for a place to climb out of the cut. Once we had climbed the bank and stepped over the fence and were walking among the big trees, we seemed already miles from the truck. The water gleamed over the bottomlands below us on our right; you could not see that there had ever been a road in that place. I followed Elton along the slope through the trees. Neither of us thought to use a flashlight, though we each had one, nor did we talk. The moon gave plenty of light. We could see everythingunderfoot the blooms of twinleaf, bloodroot, rue anemone, the little stars of spring beauties, and overhead the littlest branches, even the blooms on the sugar maples. The ground was soft from the rain, and we hardly made a sound. The flowers around us seemed to float in the shadows so that we walked like waders among stars, uncertain how far down to put our feet. And over the broad shine of the backwater, the calling of the peepers rose like another flood, higher than the water flood, and thrilled and trembled in the air. It was a long walk because we had to go around the inlets of the backwater that lay in every swag and hollow. Way
off, now and again, we could hear the owls. Once we startled a deer and stood still while it plunged away into the shadows. And always we were walking among flowers. I wanted to keep thinking that they were like stars, but after a while I could not think so. They were not like stars. They did not have that hard, distant glitter. And yet in their pale, peaceful way, they shone. They collected their little share of light and gave it back. Now and then, when we came to an especially thick patch of them, Elton would point. Or he would raise his hand and we would stop a minute and listen to the owls. I was wider awake than I had been since morning would have been glad to go on walking all night long. Around us we could feel the year coming, as strong and wide and irresistible as a wind.
the blooms of twinleaf, bloodroot, rue anemone, the little stars of spring beauties
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 of various legumes, their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth. I have stirred into the ground the offal and the decay of the growth of past seasons and so mended the earth and made its yield increase. All this serves the dark. I am slowly falling into the fund of things. 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 mindâ€™s service, for when the will fails so do the hands and one lives at the expense of life. 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.
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 of nightfall 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 ofthe 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.
The Satisfactions of the Mad Farmer Growing weather; enough rain; the cow’s udder tight with milk; the peach tree bent with its yield; honey golden in the white comb-, the pastures deep in clover and grass, enough, and more than enough; the ground, new worked, moist and yielding underfoot, the feet comfortable in it as roots; the early garden: potatoes, onions, peas, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, radishes, marking their straight rows with green, before the trees are leafed’, raspberries ripe and heavy amid their foliage, currants shining red in clusters amid their foliage, strawbernes red ripe with the white flowers still on the vines-picked with the dew on them, before breakfast·, grape clusters heavy under broad leaves, powdery bloom on fruit black with sweetness -an ancient delight, delighting;
the bodies of children, joyful without dread of their spending, surprised at nightfall to be weary; the bodies of women in loose cotton, cool and closed in the evenings of summer, like contented houses’ the bodies of men, able in the heat and sweat and weight and length of the day’s work, eager in their spending, attending to nightfall, the bodies of women; sleep after love, dreaming white lilies blooming coolly out ofthe flesh; after sleep, enablement to go on with work, morning a clear gift; the maidenhood ofthe day, cobwebs unbroken in the dewy grass; the work of feeding and clothing and housing, done with more than enough knowledge and with more than enough love, by those who do not have to be told;
any building well built, the rafters firm to the walls, the walls firm, the joists without give, the proportions clear, the fitting exact, even unseen, bolts and hinges that turn home without a jiggle; any work worthy of the dayâ€™s maidenhood; any man whose words lead precisely to what exists, who never stoops to persuasion; the talk of friends, lightened and cleared by all that can be assumed; deer tracks in the wet path, the deer sprung from them, gone on; live streams, live shiftings of the sun in the summer woods; the great hollow-trunked beech, a landmark I loved to return to, its leaves gold-lit on the silver branches in the fall: blown down
after a hundred years of standing, a footbridge over the stream; the quiet in the woods of a summer morning, the voice ofa pewee passing through it like a tight silver wire; a little clearing among cedars, white clover and wild strawberries beneath an opening to the sky -heavenly, I thought it, so perfect; had I foreseen it I would have desired it no less than it deserves; fox tracks in snow, the impact of lightness upon lightness, unendingly silent. What I know of spirit is a stir in the world. The god I have always expected to appear at the woodsâ€™ edge, beckoning, I have always expected to be a great relisher of this world, its good grown immortal in his mind.
â€œThe care of the Earth and most worthy, an pleasing res
h is our most ancient nd after all, our most sponsibility.â€?
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
List of Publications Fiction
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
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
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
This book was designed by Sofia Kraushaar in the Spring of 2013 for the Typography II Studio. It was printed on 28lb Hammermill paper. The typefaces used are Avenir and Din. Sofia is a Communication Design student at Washington University in St. Louis.