to live on the hillside

As has happened more than once–ask my wife–while walking through a room in our house, I spotted a book.  This time it was Wendell Berry’s Standing by Words: Essays (Washington, DC: Shoemaker & Hoard, 1983).  I pulled it from the shelf mostly because of yesterday’s post–about not wasting chances to grow something.  Passages from Berry’s book have fed me ever since I found it in Durham, NC some years ago.  One of its passages I have framed; it hangs in my office at work. It describes the value of discipline.  Yesterday’s post about saving radish sprouts made me want to review a few passages I had tagged in the book.  I found two to include here.

As some readers may know, Wendell Berry likes to write about farming. In fact, the following excerpts come from his essay called “People, Land, and Community.”  I enjoy and appreciate his descriptions of agricultural rhythms, especially in this our increasingly digital world.  I find comfort and value in his discussion of time.  It simply takes time to grow things, and discipline to stay with the same soil.  I am starting to hear echoes of the teaching profession in passages like these below.

“But to think of the human use of a piece of land as continuing through hundreds of years, we must greatly complicate our understanding of agriculture.  Let us start a job of farming on a given place–say an initially fertile hillside in the Kentucky River Valley–and construe it through time.

“1. To begin using this hillside for agricultural production–pasture or crop–is a matter of a year’s work.  This is work in the present tense, adequately comprehended by conscious intention and by the first sort of knowledge I talked about–information available to the farmer’s memory and built into his methods, tools, and crop and livestock species.  Understood inits present tense, the work does not reveal its value except insofar as the superficial marks of craftsmanship maybe seen and judged.  But excellent workmanship, as with a breaking plow, may prove as damaging as bad workmanship.  The work has not revealed its connections to the place or to the worker.  These connections are revealed in time.

“2. To live on the hillside and use it for a lifetime gives the annual job of work a past and a future.  To live on the hillside and use it without diminishing its fertility or wasting it by erosion still requires conscious intention and information, but now we must say good intention and good (that is, correct) information, resulting in good work.  And to these we must now add character: the sort of knowledge that might properly be called familiarity, and the affections, habits, values, and virtues ((conscious and unconscious) that would preserve good care and good work through hard times” (71-72).

There you are then.  One of my marked passages from Wendell Berry’s book.  Living on the hillside is like living with the students.  Knowledge and memory, affections and patience–we depend on these for results that emerge later, sometimes much later, in time.

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