I just watched Bill Moyers’ interview with Wendell Berry (thanks, Adriane, for sharing the link!). After reading many of his books, poems and essays, it was a pleasure to listen to this interview and hear him speak about so many things that are close to my heart. Besides being a visionary, an advocate for the environment and sustainable agriculture, and a prolific writer, Mr. Berry is one of my all time favorite contrarians.
When you hear the word ‘contrarian’, what do you think of? Do you conjure up images of outspoken, rebellious, maybe even violent people that are flashy with their disdain for culturally accepted behaviors? Or might you think of a quiet, elderly farmer from middle America?
Wendell Berry is revolutionary because he saw things that he didn’t think were right and he wrote about them. Through his writing he taught others, encouraged us to think and question the ‘norms’, and provided viable alternative paradigms to common practices. Before the environmental movement had even begun — before it was even named — he was out there asking us to question the destructive practices that we were allowing. He was reminding us of our innate and essential connection to nature, and of our obligation to care for the natural world that we live in.
In the interest of sharing a teeny bit of his wisdom, I’m including a few of my favorites in this post. I’ve added my top two of his books to my nonfiction book list. And then there is his poem on The Peace of Wild Things. Of course, I can’t leave out one of his many simple statements of how our actions so obviously affect water:
All things are connected; the context of everything is everything else. By now, many of us know, and more are learning, that if you want to evaluate the agriculture of a region, you must begin not with a balance sheet, but with the local water. How continuously do the small streams flow? How clear is the water? How much sediment and how many pollutants are carried in the runoff? Are the ponds and creeks and rivers fit for swimming? Can you eat the fish? — from Bringing it to the Table, On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry
Is it really so contrarian to question how our actions affect the world that we live in? The water that we depend on? The environment that supports us?
“There is a world of pleasure in contrariness.” — from 2013 interview with Bill Moyers
Wendell Berry never asked permission to be a contrarian. He just did it. Thank you, Mr. Berry, for encouraging a revolution. Your peaceful but determined contrariness is an absolute delight and inspiration to me.