Periodically, I find myself drawn over and over to a stranger, to someone I have a feeling I should have gotten to know long ago. Turns out, Wendell Berry is one of those people. I have one of his books, though I don’t think I’ve read it through. I hear his name mentioned from time to time, but not in enough context to go digging deeper. It came up again this week so I followed some links and leads and spent a little time getting to know him. I like him. I like the values he seems to stand for. I like that he expresses those values in different forms of writing (poetry, fiction, nonfiction, op-eds and essays for the New York Times and others) and seems like someone who would have been good friends with my grandparents. I like that he has long been connected to the earth through small-scale farming (as were my grandparents) and that he wrote for the Rodale Press (which they read).
I especially like that in his late 70’s he’s a strong activist for things he may never see come to fruition, all too rare in our instant gratification culture. And when I heard he was recently locked in at the Kentucky governor’s office demanding an end to mountaintop removal coal mining, I was hooked. (If you haven’t heard of mountain top removal and you value the earth, please visit http://ilovemountains.org).
So I had to know more. According to Wiki (I know, I know)…he believes the “good life” includes
sustainable agriculture, appropriate technologies, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of good food, husbandry, good work, local economics, the miracle of life, fidelity, frugality, reverence, and the interconnectedness of life.
Many of these concepts align with the work I do in promoting healthy communities. Concepts like sustainable agriculture, healthy rural communities, connection to place, local economics and the interconnectedness of life. I am also a fan of the pleasures of good food and the miracle of life, fidelity, etc. As I was learning more about Wendell Berry, I watched him being interviewed via a youtube video (Wendell Berry Discusses Life) and toward the end he said something I really appreciated. He said,
We’ve had two generations of college-bred people now who have really been indoctrinated with the idea that every big problem has a big solution…and I just don’t believe it. The big problems we have now are going to be solved, if they ever are solved, by 100’s of people accepting local responsibilities for small problems. They’re never gonna get famous, they’re never gonna get tenured for this, but this is the way it has to work…The idea that somebody could come up with a big solution to a big problem is always dangerous…it always (turns out) that it’s the simple solutions.
Right now, as the economy and politicians and high-profile leaders (and even daily circumstances, sometimes) continue to deeply disappoint, it’s easy to wonder how things are ever going to turn around. According to Berry, they will turn around when we look at one thing at a time, take care of our “house” first and have hope that one person’s effort, our efforts, can make a difference.