Coyotes

They call out to me, voices
Drifting through the fields
Haunting, beautiful and free.

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WB: Men Untrained to Comfort

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This post goes out to my anonymous benefactor who surprised me with two camping plates, two bowls and two mugs. I’m not sure who gave them but I am incredibly thankful for them! Thank you!

————

From Leavings, 2010.

Men Untrained to Comfort

Jason Needly found his father, old Ab, at work
at the age of eighty in the topmost
tier of the barn. “Come down!” Jason called.
“You got no business up there at your age.”
And his father descended, not by a ladder,
there being none, but by inserting his fingers
into the cracks between boards and climbing
down the wall.

And when he was young
and some account and strong and knew
nothing of weariness, old man Milt Wright,
back in the days they called him “Steady,”
carried the rastus plow on his shoulder
up the high hill to his tobacco patch, so
when they got there his mule would be fresh,
unsweated, and ready to go.

Early Rowanberry,
for another, brought a steel-beam breaking plow
at the store in Port William and shouldered it
before the hardly-believing watchers, and carried it
the mile and a half home, down through the woods
along Sand Ripple.

“But the tiredest my daddy
ever got,” his son, Art, told me one day,
“was when he carried fifty rabbits and a big possum
in a sack on his back up onto the point yonder
and out the ridge to town to sell them at the store.”

“But why,” I asked, “didn’t he hitch a team
to the wagon and haul them up there by the road?”

“Well,” Art said, “we didn’t have but two
horses in them days, and we spared them
every way we could. A many a time I’ve seen
my daddy or grandpa jump off the wagon or sled
and take the end of a single tree beside a horse.”

– Wendell Berry

WB: To Know the Dark

Frequently, I find myself returning to the tent at dark. This will likely change as we gain more daylight, but for now, I am usually traveling the last kilometre or so by foot with only the moon to guide me. I came across this poem recently which encouraged me to continue to refrain from using a headlamp on my evening walks.

To Know the Dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

– Wendell Berry, New Collected Poems

WB: Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

The following poem is perhaps the best known of Wendell Berry’s poems. The Mad Farmer character appears throughout Berry’s poems. He has his own voice and way of doing things that I appreciate. I’m sharing this poem because today, in the Russet House Farmhouse, there’s an autographed copy of it hanging on the wall. Mr. Berry autographed it in pencil, meaning that, with time, it will fade.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

WB: Questionnaire

Every Wednesday (so long as I don’t forget), I would like to share a poem from Wendell Berry. This man has influenced me more than any other outside of my immediate friends and family, and I hope to do a more solid piece on him in the near future. For now though, I present to you one of his more troubling yet powerful poems.

Questionnaire

1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

3) What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

4) In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5) State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

From Leavings, 2010.

I once read this poem in a class presentation on Wendell Berry. A friend of mine, after the first question, asked what if she chose not to eat any poison? Similar questions were hopefully asked by everybody after each question. Lately, I’ve been wondering if it’s actually possible, in this hyper-consumer economy, to live in such a way as to not do any of the things listed in this poem. I’ve been challenging myself to live in such a way.