One of the areas that Bill leases for farming is known locally as the top of the world. Last week the evening sky was considered just right for a visit to this landmark, so we took a trip.
Here are a few things I found genuinely life giving from the past week:
Thursday morning while we were picking chard in the greenhouse for a farm stand order Mary got the call that we were in the clear to pick blueberries. We nearly dropped everything we were doing and shot down the road. As each day reveals new knowledge and new beauty, the blueberry patch had me amazed once again. Mary told me there are around 5000 bushes in the field. I will guess there were 18-25 rows. Each row is half a mile long. I can’t explain that, you just have to see it.
You can’t see one end of a row from the other. Let me clarify, there is nothing inherently good about this field because it is large. I say this because often we can be impressed simply by how big something is, or how expensive or rare. I am not telling about the expanse of this place for the sake of impressing you. Rather, the space this field occupies is special because of where it takes me when I enter. I get lost. You would get lost too.
Joyfully I set out at the end of my row with a bucket looped through my belt. Bush by bush I walk down my side and pluck of berries that are ready to eat. Some of them I do eat. Most of them I toss in the bucket. At first, as with most new tasks for me, the method is clumsy and I second guess myself. I start slow; my hands and eyes not yet trained to the task. Soon, before I even realize there has been a change, I feel locked into the rhythm of my work. My eyes stop seeing berries that aren’t ready and my hands pick more precisely. I am not saying I became an overnight expert, but I became nearly hypnotized by the process. I looked up after 30 minutes and I was in the middle of what felt to be an endless field of blueberry bushes.
This is how the size is important. There is great peace in being surrounded on all sides by such health as fruit bushes in the summertime. There is humility in recognizing you are in a place where mankind only holds so much power. As I have written before, the heat came early this year, and as a result many plants started budding before the frosts were completely finished. The blueberries suffered somewhat. Over the winter the bushes were pruned and cared for. The soil was maintained and the false bushes and weeds were removed. Yet still nature holds within its hand the whole fate of this field. In the pictures you can see a dip in the middle of the rows. As we came to this dip the berries disappeared. Here, we suspect, the weather was just slightly colder than it was on the sides of the rows. The difference meant some bushes would yield and others would not. It is a powerful force to recognize, the force that holds these living things together.
I went to Atlanta this weekend to watch my lovely friend Amy McLaughlin get married. It was a delightful trip, and as with most things I enjoy, I forgot to take pictures. Don’t get me wrong I really tried to remember, but I only got documentation of the Pittsburgh Airport before I found family and friends too distracting to continue.
Along with the pictures of this airport, I have included pictures of the farm from the top of the hill this evening. I hope the variety is pleasing.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
I have saved my favorite parts of the visit for this last installment. I gave a short synopsis of our talking subjects earlier, but there were a couple of things that stuck out that are worth telling in full.
Before I begin recounting some of these let me explain how I have quoted the Berry’s. When I wrote down this story, the evening was fresh on my mind and I could remember many exact words that were spoken. However, I did not record the visit or write anything down immediately so please understand, when I quote either one of them, I am simply recreating what they said from memory. I am not a journalist so I don’t know how couth or uncouth this is, but it is what I am doing and now you know. Many of these quotes and the ones from previous posts are probably over 50 percent accurate, but I had to take some liberties due to my memory. I think I have still represented what was said well.
Now that we are out of the red tape, here are some specific thoughts from the evening:
On farming this summer
I remember clearly telling the Berry’s how I came to decide to learn how to grow food this summer. I have recently read and learned a great deal about the importance of small farms in the conservation of nature. On an intellectual level I have come to undertand that, as Wendell himself says, “there is no distinction between the fate of the land and the fate of the people.” The prevailing farming and food production practices in America today have not aimed to balance to health of the earth with the health of the people. Though such an imbalance may continue for some time, eventually the scales will begin to shift and the fate of humanity will begin to closely follow the fate of the land. We can see these shifts today in the massive amounts of soil lost every year due to the over-working and unsettling of farm land. Acknowledging these problems we have the chance to change our farming practices now while food is still growing. Sadly, it appears industrial farming practices are more likely to wait until the land has been lost entirely before enacting change.
Taking this new insight as encouragement, I have come to Indiana, Pennsylvania to learn how to grow food through a model of conservation instead of a model of manipulation. As I told the Berry’s, I understand the importance in my mind, but I don’t know if I will actually like doing the work. Wendell nodded, seeming to understand the place I was in. He told me to let the knowledge guide my work and give it value. His tone then became more direct and he said, “now, there will be some days you will wake up and you won’t want to do it, but (he paused and his eyes brightened) once you being, you will be glad you did.”
I take that with me now. Today I woke up at 6:30 for breakfast and started out towards the asparagus patch at 9 to begin this work. It was not one of my earlier days, but it was my first. I feel very cautious, today held a lot of weight for me. I don’t need it to decide everything, though. I feel I am in a strange position of wanting to like the work so much that I might be let down no matter what. I can’t let it weigh heavy though, I have to keep light.
On studying English in college and graduate school
Wendell told me that so long as I had the ability to read, I should not need to be concerned with studying literature in school. He didn’t seem to think it made much of a difference whether I was a major or a minor or anything at all. Literacy was his sole criteria for studying literature. I am appreciative of the simplicity of this, though I must say I have learned some great things in English classrooms!
I must also mention for those theologically oriented readers, Wendell shared a beautiful denial of dualism. He told me he swore off using the body/spirit dichotomy about 20 years ago. “Nobody has ever seen a soul. You can’t see the soul. I’m interested in physical things,” Berry said. He explained the path that dualism can lead us upon. “If you begin by separating a person into a spiritual self and a physical self, you will eventually come to consider one of more value than the other. So then we end up with ‘you must hate the body and live by the spirit,’ and that kind of thought is what has lead mankind to treat the earth without respect, to treat their own world so poorly.” Here Wendell gives us an example of allowing a lofty philosophical thought to work its way down to one’s practical action and daily living. But Wendell explained his approach differently. “I work from the bottom up. I live by what I see physically work.” Here is where I think Berry finds it helpful to live with “Nature as Measure.” By using our land in ways that imitate nature, we have the possibility to participate in a miraculous cycle. To work, instead, first by imposing human principles upon nature removes us from the cycle; it breaks the cycle. This is working from the top down.
Tanya on scripture
Tanya shared a beautiful thought on how scripture uses these natural themes in its teachings. She told, “At church this morning the preacher taught about the grape vine and the branches. You know, ‘I am the vine’ and all that. But as he was preaching I though, ‘I don’t think he really knows how a vineyard works!’ Afterwards I asked him if I could see the sermon because I had some questions. He said yes; he always likes to share about that stuff. But anyways, he was trying to teach about the vine and branches and the pruning, but he didn’t know how it worked! How can you preach that if you’ve never known how a vineyard works? It’s just like Wendell has said, you can’t really understand the 23rd Psalm if you don’t know what it is to be a shepherd.”
Wendell on William Blake on how to truly help others
Wendell and I spoke some about the difficulty of trying to solve problems on a large scale. I was sharing about a book I am reading called Seeing Like a State which deals with how large scale schemes to improve the human condition have failed. Wendell understood the difficulties of being too general with charity as well. He offered this quote from English poet William Blake:
He who would do good to another must do it in minute particulars.
I looked up the quote later and Blake continues:
General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer, for Art and Science cannot exist but in minute organized particulars.
Finally, thanks to everyone who read before and scored me almost 100 views in one day! From here on out the posts will have significantly less interaction with famous agrarian authors, but hopefully they will continue to be filled with adventure, creativity, and, if we are lucky, pictures!
Currently, I am resting anxiously on a pivot point, at home in Atlanta, awake late, thinking not sleeping. I am not home relaxing, resting easy. Time will not afford it. My 36 hours here feel like a mere layover between the last celebrations of college graduation and a summer already beginning. There is time enough to unpack, do laundry, have a home-cooked meal, help dad tune up the Marshmallow (that is my big, white car, which bounces along with such cushioned suspension that one might mistakenly think themselves to be riding inside…a marshmallow), repack, and depart. There isn’t time for much else.
If I had had a week to spend down south, I would have stopped in Phenix City, Alabama earlier today to play 9 holes of golf with my grandfather, Daddy Jack. I would also consider stopping by my brother’s work to say hello. My brother, however, works downtown for the Atlanta Police Department, patrolling one of the roughest districts in the city…on the graveyard shift, I might add. It’s not quite like stopping by the ice cream parlour. Yet I have had to settle for a conversation with my grandfather on the phone (he was planting his tomatoes!) and my brother over to the house for dinner (which admittedly is far more sensible and less dangerous). Even with such southern comforts, I’ll be headed north before I can brace myself.
I will try to brace myself.