Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Impeded Stream

I stumbled into a treasure chest of quotes by Wendell Berry a while ago, and at times like these I want to sing little songs of praise and gratitude to the internet. Here is one jewel I just pulled out:

"It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings."

Nietzsche said something along the same lines, "What doesn't kill you makes you strong." But I prefer Berry, "The impeded stream is the one that sings." Such an optimist, that man. You have to be an optimist to devote your life to a cause that is only now--when Berry is in his mid-seventies--beginning to attract attention.

God knows he must have been baffled and impeded plenty of times on his way to becoming the guru of the sustainability movement. How alone he must have felt in the 1980s, when the back-to-the-land moment had been pushed firmly underground, it seemed for good. But he called himself a farmer and an academic, and persisted in reconciling the two. What must his colleagues have said at department meetings, I wonder, when they heard not only that he was plowing, but was plowing with horses? I, who attempted to achieve a similar synthesis (the "farmer" part on a 1 1/2 acre property), found the opposing pressures and the sense of moral isolation too much to bear, and eventually gave up the farming part.

And now people are thinking earthy thoughts again, and farmers markets are cool, and I have finally come to rest in a place where when you confess that you keep chickens the response is "what kind?" And I'm so glad that Berry's stream kept singing through all those baffling, impeding years.

7 comments :

  1. The other day my neighbor sighed and said she wished we had a vacant lot on our block--our block is praised as one of the only intact 1904-1905 blocks left in our neighborhood (no houses burned down or fell down, essentially). No one WANTS a vacant lot. But Mary and I kinda wish we had one: "to do all those things I want to do but won't fit in my little yard: chickens, bees, a really extensive garden." As it is, we'll probably have to split the duties--one of us will have chickens, one will keep bees (probably not me on that one!), another will grow all the heirloom tomatoes, and so forth. We're getting there, here in the city. Bit by bit.

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  2. Bridgett, Wendell Berry would love you. Go for it! And if you'd like to see what can be done in a small city backyard, look at http://urbanhomestead.org/ These people are amazing (and probably a little crazy).

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  3. I might have heard of Wendell Berry, but the name doesn't sound familiar.

    I had a longer comment, but decided to make it into a blog post instead. Stay tuned...

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  4. Lovely.

    "The mind that is not baffled is not employed." My mind is definitely employed then.

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  5. What a fantastic quote. I love it.

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