Wendell Berry is a farmer, essayist, and poet. He is not, of course, the only great “nature writer” – there are many others, like Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez, Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver, and so on. But what stands out within Wendell Berry’s work is the sustained focus on getting to know the place where one lives intimately. That he articulates this focus so lyrically and eloquently is not merely a rhetorical flourish or add-on. In his own words: “The problem, as it appears to me, is that we are using the wrong language. The language we use to speak of the world and its creatures, including ourselves, has gained a certain analytical power (along with a lot of expertish pomp) but has lost much of its power to designate what is being analyzed or to convey any respect or care or affection or devotion toward it. As a result we have a lot of genuinely concerned people calling upon us to “save” a world which their language simultaneously reduces to an assemblage of perfectly featureless and dispirited “ecosystems”, “organisms”, “environments”, “mechanisms”, and the like. It is impossible to prefigure the salvation of the world in the same language by which the world has been dismembered and defaced.” (From Wendell Berry’s “Life is a miracle” book, p. 8).
Alongside Berry’s eloquence and sustained focus on knowing place intimately, is his own background as a farmer. Industrial agriculture and big agro-business has been ecologically disastrous, and certainly one of the pressing issues of our time – not merely from a contemplative ecology perspective, but from many others as well – is restoring a far closer connection to land and to food-production and to the local. Sustainable agriculture, permaculture, regenerative agriculture, food forests, and more are ways to transition food production and agriculture to ecologically viable methods of farming, and much of Berry’s thought and work contributes significantly
This is one of my favorite Wendell Berry poems:
The peace of wild things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Although The Land Institute is not directly a consequence of Wendell Berry’s work, being founded & run by Wes Jackson and Bill Vitek, it has engaged with Berry and is an effort entirely congruent with Berry’s perspective.