The Art of the Commonplace
I will get back to more practical solutions and issues at some point, but currently I am getting a much-needed boost in motivation from The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. Berry is an author from Henry County, Kentucky, who chose amid a successful career in New York to return to the native land of his family and live an agrarian lifestyle in harmony with the natural environment.
Agrarian: (from dictionary.com)
- Relating to or concerning the land and its ownership, cultivation, and tenure.
- Relating to agricultural or rural matters.
- Intended to further agricultural interests: agrarian lobbyists.
From what I have read so far he acknowledges the destructive habits of modern humans (in contrast, the Native Americans and other groups subsisted for tens of thousands of years with zero impact on the environment). Berry takes responsibility for his own part in it, and remains an activist by example. He writes with a painful and beautiful honesty about the disappearing landscape and its suffering at our greedy hands, but also with a joyous reverence at the bounty of the Earth.
On discovering in Spring a previously unseen patch of bluebells covering the forest floor, Berry says:
"... the sense ... came suddenly to me then that the world is blessed beyond my understanding, more abundantly than I will ever know. What lives are still ahead of me here to be discovered and exulted in, tomorrow, or in twenty years? What wonder will be found here on the morning after my death? Though as a man I inherit great evils and the possibility of great loss and suffering, I know that my life is blessed and graced by the yearly flowering of the bluebells. How perfect they are! In their presence I am humble and joyful. If I were given all the learning and all the methods of my race I could not make one of them, or even imagine one. Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. It is the privilege and the labor of the apprentice of creation to come with his imagination into the unimaginable, and with his speech into the unspeakable."
What struck me deeply about the above was the reminder that while we humans possess wonderful qualities and the very powerful gift of consciousness, we could never create the absolute perfection and splendor of one flower, or tree, or insect, or rain cloud. We could never put together a system as miraculous as the changing of the seasons, or a seed that lies dormant and is awakened by the mix of light and water, or an animal that takes only what it needs for survival and keeps the balance of an ecosystem, returning the elements of its body to the soil for nourishment.
We have thrust our very shallow intentions upon this very perfect world. I think I can say we didn't mean to, or at least for myself, I didn't ask to be born into this age of usurption and an unbalanced relationship to the world. But, I am opening my eyes and making my consciousness shift public. I'm learning what I can.
"We have lived by the assumption that what is good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world -- to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it. And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity -- our own capacity for life -- that is stifled by our arrogant assumption; the creation itself is stifled.
We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes, and to yield to its limits. But even more important, we must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it."