When readers of Wendell Berry see that he has a new book coming out, we tend to read it on reflex. The themes are seldom new; that’s part of the appeal. We read because it means immersing ourselves once again in a particular mind and set of values, expressed with clarity and conviction. In that sense, this book met expectations. It travels familiar ground: farming well, ecological responsibility, neighborliness, love for one’s place and community, and everywhere a desire to think through even complicated issues…Continue Reading “Our Only World”

“When we reflect that ‘sentence’ means, literally, ‘a way of thinking’ (Latin: sententia) and that it comes from the Latin sentire, to feel, we realize that the concepts of sentence and sentence structure are not merely grammatical or merely academic — not negligible in any sense. A sentence is both the opportunity and the limit of thought — what we have to think with, and what we have to think in. It is, moreover, a feelable thought, a thought that impresses its sense not just…Continue Reading “Why bother?”

These stories went straight to my heart. I’ve been a Berry-reader since the mid-nineties and have read everything he’s written, but not since my first reading experience (The Memory of Old Jack) have I been so deeply moved by something he’s written. A Place in Time offers twenty short stories about the people and events of Port William, the fictional community in Kentucky that Berry has been developing imaginatively since Nathan Coulter in 1960. Like Old Jack, much of this book is preoccupied with aging…Continue Reading “A Place in Time”

Terrors are to come. The earth is poisoned with narrow lives. I think of you. What you will live through, or perish by, eats at my heart. What have I done? I need better answers than there are To the pain of coming to see what was done in blindness, loving what I cannot save. Wendell Berry wrote these lines, from “To My Children, Fearing for Them,” in 1968. In some strange way, I find them encouraging, bleak though they are. As a child, I…Continue Reading “Camaraderie and Comfort”

I read Jayber Crow when it first came out, and I didn’t like it as much as I expected to. Over the last week I’ve reread it, and I liked it better this time around. Purportedly the life story of the barber in Berry’s fictional community of Port William, I enjoyed the reflectiveness, the way Berry’s narrative slows me down and won’t permit skimming, the beauty of the nature writing, and the expertly-drawn passage of time from an earlier America to the angst of the…Continue Reading “Jayber Crow”

I’ve been rereading Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow. I’m bearing down on the end, but I wanted to quote this passage here (though it’s long) because it seems important and is indisputably beautiful. It concerns prayer, and Jayber’s ongoing effort to understand what happens in prayer. It expresses some questions and feelings that probably all of us who pray have felt at one time or another. What answer can human intelligence make to God’s love for the world? What answer, for that matter, can it make…Continue Reading “Praying with Jayber”

I’ve been rereading one of Wendell Berry’s early works, the title essay of his first published collection The Long-Legged House. He describes a camp on the riverbank, built by his great-uncle, and its significance to him over the course of his life. Eventually, Berry rebuilds (partially recycles, using walls and materials from the original house) the camp further up the bank and it comes to be his writing place. Among other things. Over the course of his life, the camp is a solitary retreat, a…Continue Reading “Revisiting “The Long-Legged House””

I woke this morning thinking of a birdsong, heard way back in July. Maybe it’s because I’ve read references to the warblers in two different books lately. Or maybe it’s because it was cold and windy today with light snow, and I went to a sunny, green place in my mind. In any case, this is a warbler I heard in the Adirondacks. We were on the trail into Ferd’s Bog, a primeval place full of pitcher plants. I heard this incredibly complicated song in…Continue Reading “Mystery Bird”

I’ve taken a few walks this week. This shaggy little fawn, along with his mother and sibling, greeted us on one of them. I worked hard to photograph these little birds in the brush, and this is the best I could do. “It looks like a chipping sparrow, but that can’t be, this time of year,” I said. “It’s a tree sparrow! It has a spot on the breast!” said Older Daughter. Like me, she’s never seen a tree sparrow. But unlike me, who sees…Continue Reading “Sabbath”

The very first essay I read by Wendell Berry was “The Rise,” from his collection The Long-Legged House. It describes a canoe ride on the Kentucky River during one of its winter rises. Of course I thought of it this week as my region struggles in the aftermath of a truly catastrophic flood. It’s as though the Susquehanna has painted the whole area with filthy residue, and one wonders how the large and complicated problems cropping up as a result will be surmounted. I reread…Continue Reading “Not subject”