Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch. And to come to that understanding it is necessary, even now, to leave the regions of our conquest–the cleared fields, the towns and cities, the highways–and re-enter the darkness of our own absence. Only in this silence and darkness can man recover the sense of the world’s longevity, of its ability to thrive without him, of his inferiority to it and his dependence on it. Perhaps then, having heard that silence and seen that darkness, he will grow humble before the place and begin to take it in–to learn from it what it is. As its sounds come into his hearing, and its lights and colors come into his vision, and its odors come into his nostrils, then he may come into its presence as he never has before, and he will arrive in his place and will want to remain. His life will grow out of the ground like the other lives of the place, and take its place among them. He will be with them–neither ignorant of them, nor indifferent to them, nor against them–and so at last he will grow to be native-born. That is, he must reenter the silence and the darkness, and be born again. —from The Art of the Commonplace.
Ah. There’s a little gospel of Wendell Berry for your weekend. I’ve noticed over the last couple of weeks that watching political debates, reading spy novels, writing, or any other form of evening entertainment tends to keep me wired and awake, well past bedtime. So i’ve started reading passages of this lovely book for a few minutes each night. Knocks me out cold. Not because it is boring (i don’t think reading analog stats or donald trump’s memoirs would have the same effect)–but rather, because it is a soothing litany of wilderness, story, and the context of place. It takes me home, it takes me far from home; it takes me deeply inward, and back out again.
The suburbs, much as they offer the civilized person, can be a place of spiritual barrenness. This is why we moved our family to the edge of the wilderness. We still live in a neighborhood that can feel a little–what’s the word–Agrestic. And yet, our yard backs up to a desert preserve area so that we can see out for miles. We can climb our back fence and be on a hiking trail. We can watch the sun set behind the low mountain foothills. After dark, we can see the dim silhouette of giant saguaro against the night sky.Distant traffic lights dot the horizon. Just distant enough.
It is just enough. It is just enough wilderness to keep me feeling at peace and fully human. It is just enough air to breathe, and just enough sky, to keep my Kentucky soul from being swallowed by urban sprawl. The desert is a world away from my Appalachian roots. And yet, there is something so Wendell Berry about it all. And this time of year–when the mountain air has finally broken through the summer swelter, and the sky is a blinding blue–Arizona is so beautiful i almost can’t stand it. My life grows out of the ground. I am native-born, after all. And it is well with my soul.