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A Quieter Life Now

In an exchange of letters with a dear friend, Wendell Berry explains why his writing is only a small part of the movement against greed and waste.
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Wendell Berry photo by Charlie Pearl

Wendell Berry on his front porch in Port Royal, Kentucky, earlier this year.

Photo by Charlie Pearl/State-Journal.

As far as an open letter to everybody, I think that is exactly what I have already written in my essays in which, by now, I have probably said nearly all I’m capable of saying. Now I have my mind mostly on writing of other kinds.

In fact, Madhu, what we both want to happen—a counter movement to greed and waste and the dominance of corporations—is already happening. It is happening simply because a lot of people have seen things needing to be done and are doing them. They are at work without grants, without official instruction or permission, and mostly unnoticed by the politicians and the news industry. Eventually this movement will have political powers which will be in some ways regrettable. I hope it will have the sense and strength to remain locally oriented, and to resist the simplification and corruption that will come with power.

This movement involves a lot of people—as I know—who have never read a word I’ve written, who don’t know my name. And it would be happening now, for the same reasons, if I had never written a word. It would be happening because the justifications of individual and corporate greed are now exhausted, and better ways are available. The better ways will be helped along, as we know, by large historical forces such as rising energy costs, rising ecological and social costs, and the inability of governments, large institutions, and corporations to respond effectively.

And so, rather than becoming more involved, I intend, and I’ve begun, to be involved less. I’ve already, except for one engagement next May, put an end to my career as a “visiting writer.” There’ll be no more trips to schools, libraries, etc. I’ll continue to do what is necessary, even travel, to stand with my old allies against the coal companies, and to work with Wes Jackson, Fred Kirschenmann, and other friends on agricultural issues—such as, right now, the 50-year Farm Bill. (I’ll enclose a copy.)

But I greatly dislike such public life (crowd life) as I have had, and I want less of it. I want to be more at home, more quiet, more employed at the work that still seems my own to do.
So this is my love letter back to you. I would like Krishna and Gustavo to know I wish them well.

Your friend,

Berry Prakash letter 2

Dear Wendell,

Today, your beloved friend Wes Jackson discussed the 50-Year Farm Bill  that you crafted with him and Fred Kirschenmann. Delightful presentation, quintessential Wes Jackson. Witty and brilliant.

Just as I begged you in my November letter, Wes Jackson urged those gathered at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) conference to use their power and influence to push this nation/Washington, D.C./civil society towards implementing the bill, from the grassroots and ground up, starting today.

I asked him what type of farm/place/farmer connections he envisions. He reiterated your celebration of diversity in farms and communities, working with the genius of their places. …

Responding to questions about the farmers and communities that would be needed to implement the 50-Year Farm Bill, he estimated 80 million Americans growing good food on 400 million acres of good soil; supported by $50 million.

Wendell Berry video still
Sitting in with Wendell Berry

An interview with Wendell Berry midway through his four-day sit-in in the Kentucky governor's office in protest of mountaintop removal coal mining.

You continue to be the beloved hero/leader of PASA. Your disinterest in power and politics is what, I sense, draws PASA farmers and members towards your philosophy of farming practices. 

So, Wendell, there you have it! Your 50-Year Farm Bill for the nation inevitably has Berry moving the hearts, minds, and spirits of millions—despite all his disavowals of leadership and his perfectly understandable shyness of being followed and pedestalized by followers and devotees.

Life is funny that way, Wendell! Don’t you think so?

With more affection,

Dear Madhu,

I’m not disinterested in power and politics. But I don’t think there is much to be gained from answering the oversimplifications of politicians with our own oversimplifications. The World, the given World, is complex and finally mysterious. The truth of it cannot be reduced to campaign slogans or bumper stickers. We must remember this, even under political pressure, and we must keep reminding the politicians.

Your friend,

Madhu Suri PrakashMadhu Suri Prakash is a contributing editor to YES! Magazine, a national nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions.  This article originally appeared in Beyond Prisons, the Summer 2011 issue of YES!


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