Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mark Bittman's tribute to Wendell Berry

Don't miss Mark Bittman's post in the New York Times, based on a visit to Berry's Port Royal, Kentucky home.  Bittman tells of Berry driving him around the neighboring countryside, where Berry's family settled about two centuries ago.  Bittman observes Berry's familiarity with his neighbors, manifest in his wave at nearly everyone they meet.  Regarding the drive, Bittman continues:
There really is not that much to see [on the drive] until I try to see it through Wendell's eyes, and then every bit of erosion becomes a tiny tragedy--or at least a human mistake--and every bit of forest floor becomes a bit of the genius of nature.  
Bittman waxes poetic--as does Berry--about the need to "listen to the land."  Indeed, Berry's work--whether poetry, fiction, or activism--is very much grounded in the land.  Berry's work also reflects "his attachment to nature--it's not just the land but everything on the land--that is so profound that his judgments (Wendell is a kind but very judgmental man) can be jaw-dropping."

Berry's work is also grounded in "place"--his own strong sense of place, his attachment to place.   And that grounding in place implicates not only the land, but also "its people."  Among other things, this means that, to Berry, rural people matter.

Bittman asked Berry what urban people can do to change the current course of events, the march of industrialism that replaces people with technology and concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a plutocracy.  Like Bittman's question, Berry's answer invokes the rural-urban divide:
The main thing is realize that country people can't invest a better agriculture by ourselves.  Industrial agriculture wasn't invented by us, and we can't uninvent it.  We'll need some help with that.    
I'm not sure "country people" are entirely without blame for the current state of affairs--either industrial agriculture or the plutocracy--but I agree that  rural folks desiring a reversal of course will need "some help" from urbanites and the powerful interests that reside primarily in the cities of our nation and the world.

N.B.  I note that on the afternoon of 25 April, Bittman's column was the second most emailed item on  This morning, 26 April, 2012, it is still at number.  Could NYTimes reader possibly be taking Berry's ideas seriously?

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