Sunday, January 6, 2008

‘The Peace of Wild Things’

One of the profound greetings I received for the New Year was the poem, “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry, who is known as the prophet of rural America. Based in his Kentucky farm, Wendell, 74, is a well-known conservationist, poet, novelist, essayist, professor, lecturer, philosopher, Christian writer, farmer and defender of agrarian values and small-scale farming.

Feel and listen to the poem’s soothing message. You can’t go wrong with this.

“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.”

Yes, the peace of all things wild. The birds of the air and the lilies of the field, locusts and wild honey that a man named John subsisted on in the wilderness while preparing for the great way, the carabao in the meadow, fireflies ablaze in the trees, the corals in the reef, the creatures in the forest, the music from without and within.

I soaked myself in Berry’s words, praying them, while breathing in the good, breathing out the toxic, saying to myself that all will be well with the world, myself and every one I cherish: family and friends, colleagues, co-workers, acquaintances, teachers, inspirers, healers, news sources, readers-from near and far. Please, Lord, let it be. The best is yet to come.

With the saga of the Sumilao farmers and their battle with a corporate giant still very much in the news and the national consciousness, Berry’s words and thoughts become even more relevant.

You’ll find a lot on Berry on the Internet. Known as a strong defender of rural communities and traditional family farms, Berry has developed 17 rules for the healthy functioning of sustainable local communities:

1. Always ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?

2. Always include local nature -- the land, the water, the air, the native creatures -- within the membership of the community.

3. Always ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.

4. Always supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting products -- first to nearby cities, then to others).

5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of “labor saving” if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any kind of pollution or contamination.

6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products to ensure that the community does not become merely a colony of national or global economy.

7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm and/or forest economy.

8. Strive to supply as much of the community’s own energy as possible.

9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community for as long as possible before they are paid out.

10. Make sure that money paid into the local economy circulates within the community and decrease expenditures outside the community.

11. Make the community able to invest in itself by maintaining its properties, keeping itself clean (without dirtying some other place), caring for its old people, and teaching its children.

12. See that the old and young take care of one another. The young must learn from the old -- not necessarily, and not always, in school. There must be no institutionalized child care and no homes for the aged. The community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.

13. Account for costs now conventionally hidden or externalized. Whenever possible, these must be debited against monetary income.

14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.

15. Always be aware of the economic value of neighborly acts. In our time, the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, which leaves people to face their calamities alone.

16. A rural community should always be acquainted and interconnected with community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.

17. A sustainable rural economy will depend on urban consumers loyal to local products. Therefore, we are talking about an economy that will always be more cooperative than competitive.

More about Berry: “His nonfiction serves as an extended conversation about the life he values. According to Berry, 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.”

The threats include: industrial farming and the industrialization of life, ignorance, hubris, greed, violence against others and against the natural world, the eroding topsoil, global economics, and environmental destruction. Berry is considered to be among the most eloquent of contemporary Christian authors, frequently referring to the Gospels, the stewardship of Creation, and peacemaking.

Berry quotes to remember:

“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?”

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”

A God-filled, God-drenched year ahead!

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