I first learned about Wendell Berry in college, working towards my degree in Natural Resources Planning and Interpretation at Humboldt State University in far northern California.
Last month, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Mr. Berry for this year’s Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, the most prestigious honor bestowed by the federal government for “distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.”
An excerpt from his speech hit close to home: “So I am nominating economy for an equal standing among the arts and humanities. I mean, not economics, but economy, the making of the human household upon the earth: the arts of adapting kindly the many human households to the earth’s many ecosystems and human neighborhoods. This is the economy that the most public and influential economists never talk about, the economy that is the primary vocation and responsibility of every one of us.”
And just because now I’m thinking about the man, the myth, the legend Mr. Berry, here is just a small part of one of my favorite Wendell Berry poems:
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 millenium. 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.