Suzanne Slomin is a farmer and baker who runs a small bread bakery in Vermont and has some things to say about work and running a small business and tending to her sourdough starter (no long vacations!)
“To know the pleasures of an unspectacular landscape, such as that of Indiana, requires an uncommon degree of attentiveness and insight.”
~Scott Russell Sanders, “Landscape & Imagination”
There’s something to be said for learning to value the less-than-spectacular: that which is merely here, in front of us, right now.
A long, long time ago, when the current century had yet to be born and we were all wearing plaid flannel shirts tied around our waists and urging one another to think globally and act locally, a co-worker handed me a copy of Wendell Berry’s essay, “Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse,” which had just been published in the Atlantic Monthly.
“You’ll like this,” he said.
It was my first encounter with Berry, this essay containing twenty-seven propositions about global thinking, culture and community. It was contrarian and pointed and a little bit snarky. And it was written by a farmer.
“Properly speaking,” it began, “global thinking is not possible” in any way that would warrant calling it “thought.” Nor is it beneficial to actual communities of living creatures.
Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. If you want to see where you are, you will have to get out of your space vehicle, out of your car, off your horse, and walk over the ground.
What followed was an indictment of abstraction, industrial production, the fossil fuel industry, unsustainable cities, and the creation of a forced dependence within rural communities on the money economy. Global thinking, Berry argued, drives the extractive economics that have decimated so much of eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, and the whole of Appalachia, not to mention the rest of the planet. As a guiding ethos it is inherently destructive precisely because it “can’t distinguish one place or person or creature from another.”
I was working in corporate communications at the time. The firm’s biggest clients were in the fossil fuel industry. Oil companies, utility companies. And I knew he was right. I was seeing it daily. I was living it.
Those 27 propositions took root in my soul. I scoured libraries and bookstores to find more of Berry’s work — no Amazon then, it was all traipsing and browsing. I found poetry and essay collections and his pivotal work, The Unsettling of America. And I found myself caring about farming. About how food was grown, and by whom.
Wendell Berry kicked my ass into another way of living. Out of my car, off my horse.
Nearly three decades later, I live within 100 miles of the Berry homestead in Kentucky, and that first essay I read continues to shape my thinking on the subject of work and place and local affection. You can find it in its entirety here.
There’s no solace in knowing it has always been so —
the angry mob, the fist and the fury —
knowing doesn’t help at all.
Today I took an online test
to see what mathematics I might recall
from decades of long ago learning,
word problems concerning trains and speed
and distance, angles of intersecting lines
and percentages and ratios.
And I failed and was not surprised
by my failure.
I knew all that, once, how to calculate
across time and space, the train of the fist
and the rails of the fury, and knowing
helped not at all,
the train it won’t stop going,
no way to slow down.
If my imagination were not so much a part of me
I could write about places less frigid.
But I am a package deal.
Body cold. Mind cold.
Found in a notebook: “Don’t wait for a whole idea. Half an idea or even the slightest hint of an idea is a good enough place to start working.”
(via Naked Geometry)
The yard is utterly overgrown. I wave to my neighbor through a tangle of grapevine and mow a path alongside the explosion of honeysuckle. Volunteer mulberry trees appear out of nowhere, three feet tall before I even notice them. How can this be?
A far corner of the lot out back goes unmowed season after season, all shaded and wooded and strung with yet more grapevine, Virginia creeper, English ivy. My insurance company tells me it all must go, the insistent vines and intrusive saplings that threaten the integrity of the nearby garage.
This is Indiana, and the abundant flora will have its way.
The Oval One was in town last week. It was billed as a rally, which is to say, a campaign event. It never ends, the campaigning. Two of my friends were there, dressed as Handmaids in red cloaks and white bonnets. One of them even made it into the venue before being escorted back out to the sidewalk by two men who weren’t interested in parsing her First Amendment rights.
Lock her up, lock her up.
My writing practice is giving me grief; I’d like to blame the Huckster-in-Chief for sucking all the oxygen out of the room, but it’s not his fault. (Surprise! Not everything is his fault!) I am summered out, lazy and without direction, in need of something I know not what. I go outside and breathe in the last of the fragrant honeysuckle, and tell myself I’ll cut it back to a manageable size next spring.