Reclaiming Independence

Few of us remember our first birthday, or even our second. Those celebrations were less for us than for our parents, joined perhaps by a few siblings or other relatives. Presents mattered less than the party itself, with its cake and ice cream, memories, smiles, and photos to share.

By our third or fourth birthday, we began to participate in our own celebrations. We asked questions: “What time was I born?” “Why did you give me this name, rather than that?” “Can I have strawberry cake this year?”

Eventually, we became adults. As the years ticked by, birthdays became more than a time to look to the past or celebrate the present. Most of us began to look forward, as well, taking stock of our lives and asking a different set of questions: “Have I become person I hoped to be in my youth? How will I shape the years remaining to me? How can I preserve the heritage of my family, or pass on the values I’ve come to cherish?”

In adulthood, we recognize a truth hidden to children. Physical birth is only the beginning of a process. It takes a lifetime to become human, and throughout the years we always are at risk of having our humanity warped, stunted or degraded by forces abroad in world. It requires awareness, tenacity, wisdom, and clarity of vision to bring our potential to fruition.

The same is true for a nation. When we were children, the excitement of 4th of July flags, fireworks and parades was enough. Eventually, we began to learn about and appreciate the people, documents, and events that shaped our nation’s life and still occasion our festivities.

But now, as adults in a position to ask new and difficult questions, we’re called to ponder the processes that have brought us to this point in America’s history, even as we seek new and creative ways to contribute to her future. In his private papers, Justice William O. Douglas wrote,

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.


Few contemporary poets have better sensed those “changes in the air” than Wendell Berry. As we celebrate our nation’s birth, in a time marked by anxiety and confusion, I find his words both thought-provoking and filled with a certain solace. Whatever may be happening around us, we remain free to claim our own independence. I can’t prove, but do suspect, that strong, independent citizens will help to guarantee an independent nation in the future. May it be so.

The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union

From the union of power and money,
From the union of power and secrecy,
From the union of government and science,
From the union of government and art,
From the union of science and money,
From the union of genius and war,
From the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
The Mad Farmer walks quietly away.
There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
His own nation small enough to walk across.
He goes shadowy into the local woods,
And brightly into the local meadows and croplands.
He goes to the care of neighbors,
He goes into the care of neighbors.
He goes to the potluck supper, a dish
From each house for the hunger of every house.
He goes into the quiet of early mornings
Of days when he is not going anywhere.
Calling his neighbors together into the sanctity
Of their lives separate and together,
In the one life of the commonwealth and home,
In their own nation small enough for a story
Or song to travel across in an hour, he cries:
Come all ye conservatives and liberals
Who want to conserve the good things and be free,
Come away from the merchants of big answers,
Whose hands are metalled with power;
From the union of anywhere and everywhere;
By the purchase of everything from everybody at the lowest price
And the sale of anything to anybody at the highest price;
From the union of work and debt, work and despair;
From the wage-slavery of the helplessly well-employed.
From the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation,
Secede into the care for one another
And for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth.
Come into the life of the body, the one body
Granted to you in all the history of time.
Come into the body’s economy, its daily work,
And its replenishment at mealtimes and at night.
Come into the body’s thanksgiving, when it knows
And acknowledges itself a living soul.
Come into the dance of the community, joined
In a circle, hand in hand, the dance of the eternal
Love of women and men for one another
And of neighbors and friends for one another.
Always disappearing, always returning,
Calling his neighbors to return, to think again
Of the care of flocks and herds, of gardens
And fields, of woodlots and forests and the uncut groves,
Calling them separately and together, calling and calling,
He goes forever toward the long restful evening
And the croak of the night heron over the river at dark.
~ Wendell Berry

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56 thoughts on “Reclaiming Independence

  1. Love it! I wish Wendell Berry was one of my neighbors. Don’t know that I’ve ever told you Linda, but I appreciate your heart, and regular words of encouragement on my blog. Hope you have a great 4th. DM

    1. Mr. Berry would be a fine neighbor for many reasons, DM, not the least of which would be his knowledge of the land and the ability to help out with a little fence repair. You’re a pretty good neighbor yourself, and one of the best ways I’ve found to keep in touch with my own roots.

      Happy Independence Day to you, too!

      Linda

    1. Thanks for the greetings, Nia. The 4th of July is a great and important day — one of my favorites. I’m glad you enjoyed the poem, too. Wendell Berry isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it seems, but I couldn’t find anything that felt more “right” for this day.

      Linda

    1. I’m fairly new to Berry’s poetry, as I met him through his essays. Now, there are several poems I re-read regularly, always with increased appreciation.

      A happy Independence Day to you, Ruth.I hope it’s a great day for you.

      Linda

    1. Z, there are so many interesting parallels between your life and the approach to life championed by Berry, I’m not surprised you like the poem. I admire his thoughtfulness as much as his writing, even when I don’t agree with his conclusions.

      As for those wonderful qualities you ascribe to me, I’m enough of a Garrison Keillor midwesterner for my first impulse to be, “Aw, shucks.” The truth is I’m not always kind, sometimes I’m over-sensitive and I can be as unwise as they come. Still, I thank you. The fact that you see even a bit of those qualities in me means I’m on the right path.

      Linda

  2. All great nations must examine their past in order to forge a strong future for its citizens. We all must be part of that future. To disenfranchise many is asking for trouble and unrest.

    Happy 4th to you.

    1. I was thinking about those issues a couple of days ago, Jim, when the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act came around. Ensuring people have the right to vote is important, but there’s also a need to increase the number of people who exercise their franchise in an informed and responsible way.

      There isn’t an election day that I don’t think of my father, who took me with him to vote when I was young, and talked about the importance of being a good citizen at the dinner table. Those lessons were as important as any I learned from books.

      Linda

      1. Yes. They are extremely important lessons. He must have been a good teacher.

        Have a happy 4th. It is as close to perfect here in IA with completely clear skies and 75˚ with a little breeze.

  3. Douglas’s words and Berry’s are bear good thoughts to consider on this birthday.

    I paused for a while over this image: “. . .Whose hands are metalled with power . . ..” “Metalled’ just sort of grabbed me.

    Happy Fourth!

    1. “Metalled” stopped me, too, Karen. Even after I looked in the dictionary, I wasn’t quite satisfied. One meaning was the obvious “covered with metal,” while another (British) meaning was “to cover a roadway with small stones or crushed rock.”

      The etymology was more helpful. Check out the highlighted phrase:

      mid-13c., from Old French metal “metal; material, substance, stuff” (12c.), from Latin metallum “metal; mine, quarry, mineral, what is got by mining,” from Greek metallon “metal, ore” (senses only in post-classical texts; originally “mine, quarry, pit”), probably from metalleuein “to mine, to quarry,” of unknown origin, but related somehow to metallan “to seek after.”

      In context, that makes sense. I suspect Berry had in mind those who grasp after power.

      I hope you’ve got a good grasp on some relaxation and enjoyment for the day. Happy 4th to you.

      Linda

  4. Thank you. Independence Day — celebrate like you MEAN it!

    I see your reply to Jim. Our son’s first time in the voting booth was when he was a couple weeks old. He is 25 now and serving in the Air Force. We have tried to set a good example as citizens for him, and now he leads by example. Yes, “Those lessons were as important as any I learned from books.”

    1. Our town certainly celebrates as though we mean it. Every year the Mayor, City Council, and assorted Grand PooBahs serve up a few thousand free hot dogs and such to the citizenry. There’s everything you could want in terms of tradition: a parade, a Color Guard, patriotic music, a petting zoo and concerts. It’s great fun. Tonight, there will be fireworks over Galveston Bay — no need to make the trek into Houston.

      Your comment reminded me of Robert Fulghum’s book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” My thought was, “No, the learning starts far sooner than that, and goes on forever.” I suspect your son is one of the best examples of that there could be. I know you’re proud of him.

      Linda

  5. Interesting that you mentioned Garrison Keillor in one of your replies above, because I was thinking of him while I was reading Wendell Berry’s poem — Keillor and Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” I was also thinking of Pope Francis, who has been reminding us persistently to be wary of merchants of big answers, with hands metaled with power. Neither life nor democracy nor republicanism is about answers and power, but about caring for the other and being vulnerable enough to let the other care for us, about being awake to the life that is here, not out there.

    Happy Holiday!

    1. It amused me to learn that sociologists and psychologists have identified what they call the “Lake Woebegon effect,” a tendency to overestimate our capabilities in the same way that Woebegonians describe their town as a place where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Perhaps they missed the irony. In fact, Woebegonian names like “Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery” are funny precisely because they so beautifully capture the ethos of the place: self-effacement as an art form, if you will.

      Another phrase that caught my attention, that may be related to Pope Francis’s concern about big answers, is “the union of anywhere and everywhere.” That particular union generally leaves us nowhere, in the sense that we express great, general concern about This issue or That, but refuse to see the issue standing on our doorstep in human form.

      In any event, Berry gets it right, and a lot of people in our nation are getting it right, too. They just don’t make it onto Slate or Drudge, let alone the evening news.

      Happy Independence Day to you!

      Linda

    1. Yvonne, your liking the poem is enough. No need for big heaps of words.

      I may have a little treat for you. Remember some months ago, when you commented on Steve Gingold’s photo of the frog lurking beneath the water lily? Well — I just saw that post today, and by coincidence had bumped into this video. You may have seen it, but I hadn’t. Even if you have seen it before, I suspect you’ll smile again. Score: Frog 1, Human 0.

      Happy July 4th!

      Linda

  6. A fine and thoughtful tribute to our Day of Independence. I was also moved by Justice Douglas’s comments. The beautiful Wedell Berry Poem is worth many looks. How soon we forget to count our blessings. Happy 4th Linda.

    1. The thinkers and the artists, the creators and the commentators, have left us quite a legacy, Kayti. While I’m not entirely sanguine about the current state of affairs in our nation, I also have greater confidence in our people than I might have had twenty years ago. Why that should be, I’m not entirely certain. But it leaves me ready to set aside concerns for celebration now and then — a very good thing.

      I hope your celebration is a good one.

      Linda

  7. Very thought-provoking words by Justice Douglas; very apropos tribute by you; very picturesque poem by Berry.

    It seems that, throughout our nation’s history, we’ve faced more than a few quandaries. Somehow, usually by rational discussion but sometimes through a call to arms, we’ve managed to resolve them.

    Something about living in Texas (or perhaps it was just always a part of my personality) reinforced my firm belief in the ideas of less-is-more with government, the innate goodness of the common man, the deep need of all men for grounding in some kind of religion.

    Happy Fourth to you and yours!

    1. I think Texas does reinforce those values you mention, Debbie. But those aren’t just Texas values, and the determination of people to hold to their values is one of the marvels of life. One of the great poets of the common man, Carl Sandburg, wrote:

      “The people yes
      The people will live on.
      The learning and blundering people will live on.
      They will be tricked and sold and again sold
      And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
      The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
      You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it….”

      Perhaps every generation comes to a point of wondering if they can “take it” any longer, but here we are. I’ve seen great changes in my lifetime, and not all of them good. But other changes, good changes, can come. How they’ll come is the great question — but I suppose we’ll find out.

      By the way, I just called a friend in Iowa to check on things there. She says the corn is well past knee-high there, too, and heading toward elephant-eye territory!

      Happy Independence Day!

      Linda

  8. To have independence (and freedom), one must want it, and badly. I wonder why we elect “leaders” who were never willing to fight for our country.

    1. montucky, the “hows and whys” of electoral politics have left me increasingly befuddled over the years. We need a few Walt Kellys and Pogos to hold the mirror up for us and let us take a good look. Of course, whether Pogo could make it past the editorial boards today is an open question — it wasn’t always easy, even back in the day!

      Linda

  9. We think of July 4th as the day of birth of our nation, but both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (John Quincy’s dad), who along with Benjamin Franklin, were the framers of the Declaration of Independence, died on July 4th.

    As for politics, I vote my conscience and stay out of them.

    1. WOL, I heard last week about a book — new or old, I’m not sure — that tells the tale of what happened to each of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I caught only a few details, but they were compelling. We tend to leave the story at the last pen stroke, when there’s much more to be learned about the consequences for those whose names appear on the document. Do you happen to know the book? I’m going to try and find it.

      As for voting our conscience, this little tidbit from Australia might give you a smile.

      Linda

  10. A powerful poem and I think lines such as these “Love of women and men for one another
    And of neighbors and friends for one another.”
    are about what gives hope for the rightful building of nations.

    1. I agree, Gallivanta. I’d add that they give hope for the sustaining of nations, too, or perhaps for the inevitable rebuilding that’s necessary, time and again.

      Linda

  11. Linda,
    Another thoughtful and beautiful post. I hope you enjoyed your weekend. Except for a neighbor or two setting off fireworks, ours was very peaceful.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve been more than usually distressed by some recent happenings, and just couldn’t work on anything else until I got a little of it off my chest. You know how that goes.

      The weekend was good. The best part may have been fig picking yesterday. I enjoy the process of picking itself, and I’ve never had such good figs — especially the ones still sun-warmed that I ate while still on the farm. Reaching into one of the trees, I stirred up a mockingbird who was having a fig, too. That bird wasn’t about to move: not for me, not for anyone. It was shady and cool inside that tree, with something nice to eat. I wouldn’t have moved, either.

      Linda

      1. Dad has a fig tree, and I used to fight the birds for those figs. They loved them. I finally realized if I picked them just before they were ripe and put them on the kitchen counter, they would ripen by the next day, and I could beat the birds to them. They liked them after they were ripe. Of course, I never got all of them in time. You could say I shared with the birds, or maybe they shared with me.

  12. Poetry comprehension was not my strong suite in high school, so the depth of meaning of every line escapes me without deeper focus and concentration than I have right now; and in the event I don’t get back to study it further, let me comment now. Something as simple as the words in the title that a farmer secedes from the union sends a large message.

    Like one of the previous commenters, thank you for consistently encouraging me and for being such a faithful cyber-friend! We had a surprisingly and pleasantly cool 4th of July morning. We celebrated down here with boiled crabs straight from the brackish waters and later homemade peach ice cream. All my kids and kids-in-law were here except my oldest son, who was at work on the tugboat. We had a great time without fireworks, and I hope you had a great day, too! BW

    1. When you have time, BW, you might give the poem a try. The kind of secession(s) he’s talking about bear a close resemblance to the way you live your life. In the meantime, I’ve got a new post up that certainly will appeal to you — all about weather and hurricanes.

      The 4th was nice here, too. It was cool, and the humidity dropped a good bit. Yesterday was especially nice. I went out to the farm and picked figs for an hour, and it was so pleasant. Best of all, the wind laid overnight and it was flat calm this morning. There were a lot of happy fishermen, believe me.

      I remember you talking about that peach ice cream when I posted my ice cream etheree. I’m glad it got made, and that nearly everyone was home to enjoy it.

      Linda

  13. There is something about the 4th that speaks to local celebrations Linda. It’s away from the big and back to the small. At least it is in our neck of the woods. I drove through the small community of Central Point near us on Thursday and the town had lined the main street with chairs so people could watch the parade. And I was taken back to my childhood and sitting on the curb and watching the parade in Placerville. For me the 4th speaks to the best of who we are… not saber rattling and jingoism but a reaching back into our past with a hope that somehow it will translate into our future. –Curt

    1. I think you’re right, Curt. I figured out many years ago that, for me at least, traveling to watch a fireworks spectacular ends up being all about the fireworks. Staying put to watch a ten-minute show with neighbors is more about the shared experience, and far more satisfying.

      In the same way, a little parade with a fire engine, kids pulling red-white-and-blue dressed teddy bears in wagons, and veterans waving from the back of a pickup is a perfect way to spend a morning — especially if you get a hot dog and some John Philips Sousa at the end of it all.

      It was extraordinarily quiet here this 4th — noticeably quiet. There’s no reason to take that as a sign of anything, but I do, and I think it’s good. As one of my friends said, “It’s as though people are trying to figure out what should come next.” That’s not a bad thing, at all.

      Linda

  14. I really appreciate your quote from Justice William O. Douglas. As for Wendell Berry, I’ve not read enough of him. From this poem, can one say that he’s a prophet of our time? Quite like T. S. Eliot of his time.

    Your post makes me feel the ambivalence of one who is torn between patriotism and wariness. A Chinese proverb comes to mind: The deeper the love, the sharper the admonition. I feel the present day is a most critical time for the need to turn the tides… and in my pessimistic view, I’m afraid that may not be possible. While we celebrate another national birthday in our respective countries, I am wary of the direction we’re all heading.

    1. “Wary” is a good word, Arti. There are changes I never would have predicted, twenty years ago. Some amuse me, some are perplexing, and some leave me enraged in a way I don’t entirely understand. Those are the days I stay off Twitter. ;)

      So many seem unable to grasp the difference between freedom and license, or the nature of true independence. So, we watch and wait. In times like these, a little bird-watching’s good for the soul.

      Berry is a new-ish favorite. I came to him through his agrarian essays.Now, I read his poetry often. Some doesn’t appeal at all. He can be pedantic, and more than a little grumpy. But at his best, there’s none better. Here’s a link to my favorite, called Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. I nearly used it for this post, but now I can use it some other time. You’ll like it.

      Linda

  15. The Berry poem made me think about how difficult it is to really live the ideals we profess to believe. For example: “… the wage-slavery of the helplessly well-employed.” It’s a perfectly clear concept, and one most people would agree with, in theory. But how many would reject the offer of higher pay, if given the choice? I hear comments every day about what the better life would look like, but the sacrifices necessary to realize that life are apparently just too great. Gasoline here costs $1.40 a liter, and the roads are more jammed than ever with traffic.

    I admire the passion and sincerity in Berry’s words. The leap from here to there, though, seems overwhelming. I wonder if Justice Douglas ever wrote about freedom, and compared it to the dawn.

    1. That line about the “helplessly well-employed” makes me think of all the treadmill and rat race talk from the 50s and 60s. It’s interesting that, in his poem, he doesn’t speak of work-slavery, but of wage-slavery.

      I just was thinking this afternoon about how strange it is that continuing to work is seen by some as almost a rebellion. Even if someone dumped a bucket of money on my head and made work unnecessary, I’m not sure I’d stop. I’ve slowed down over the years — no more 60 hour weeks for me. But to give it up entirely? I don’t think so. Those Benedictines have it right: ora et labora makes a pretty good combination.

      Justice Douglas turns out to be the source of one of my favorite quotations: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” That’s not strictly related to dawn, of course, but it’s certainly true. There’s just a page of his quotations on Goodreads, but they’re worth a few minutes. It’s amazing how relevant his opinions are today when it comes to privacy, censorship and government interference in citizens’ lives. He was a man of great vision.

      Linda

  16. Thanks for this post, Linda, and for the terrific range of individual responses – and their local colour – it has evoked. We live in an age of deep, profound and justified political cynicism. Berry’s poem points out to us where the deep roots of politics lie: in the ordinary, intricately textured lives of individual citizens rooted in family, neighbourhood, community, all held in the palm of Nature which has given us life.

    It would be good if all politicians for a month every year had to vacate their offices and their trappings of power and return to the land, especially to those parts of the world where the land upon which people depend for their survival has been despoiled by greed and misuse of all kinds of power.

    They might then return with a sense which many of them have lost: a sense of what in this life truly matters to us all…

    1. I’m smiling, Anne. I have my own version of your month on the land for everyone. I’ve always thought that, every five years, every politician, educator, professional religious, lawyer, bureaucrat, and such should be required to spend a year farming, working construction, crewing on a fishing boat. They could choose their occupation, but it would have to be something where cause and effect were clearly visible. (For example: don’t weed the garden and water the plants? No harvest for you!)

      I’d never support such a thing in real life, being no fan at all of authoritarianism and government regulation of people’s lives. Still, it’s a way of getting to a truth. We are part of creation, and when that connection is severed, there’s trouble on the horizon. It does seem to me that those who have lived inside the Washington bubble the longest also are the most detached.

      Beyond that, the entire concept of public service has eroded. Politicians used to feel accountable to the people: at least to one degree or another. Now? They appear to feel free to disregard their constituents at will. How and when that changes (if it does) will be interesting to track.

      Linda

  17. At least once I’ve been the first person to comment on a post of yours, and now I’ll be the last (if no even later commenter trumps me). You might say I have a double claim on July 4th, which marks the arrival of both my country and myself into the world.

    Of so many things that could be said, let me focus on a couple of the quotations by William O. Douglas on the page you linked to:

    “Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”

    I’ve been appalled in recent decades by the oppressive orthodoxy of thought that has become the norm on many college campuses. It’s common now for administrators and faculty—I hesitate to say teachers—to assert a right for students not to be offended. If I were a student now, I’d say that that assertion offends me. What nonsense, but what pernicious nonsense.

    “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

    If so, then I’m saddened by and fearful of the darkness beneath which so many of our government’s departments increasingly hide what they do.

    Happy Bastille Day to you. Maybe it’s time for another revolution.

    1. How about that? We may not know when the mealy blue sage or the sky first appeared, but you and the United States? We know exactly when to celebrate your arrivals into the world. Happy birthday, and best wishes for the year ahead.

      The Library of Congress had Bastille Day on its mind today. When I opened the email I subscribe to, they had included some political cartoons from the time of the French Revolution. Their relevance was startling. The first, showing Louis XIV in the middle of a glorious sun, was a reminder that “L’Etat, C’est Moi” still holds appeal for a certain kind of leader. And the last cartoon, dealing with censorship of the press, hardly could be more relevant.

      When not only the press, but the elected representatives of the people, are denied access to military bases and other facilities housing illegal immigrants, the word “transparent” isn’t the first that comes to mind.

      Ironically, “transparency” was very much a linguistic canary in the coal mine. I still remember the first day I heard it used by the White House press secretary, and I remember my response: why isn’t “truthfulness” good enough?

      As for all those easily offended little cupcakes and their need for “trigger warnings”, I’ll only repeat what I said to one: “Life doesn’t provide trigger warnings.”

      In the midst of the various commencement speech cancellations this year, Charles Murray had an appearance at Azusa Pacific cancelled. I thought his open response to the school was quite good.

      I was going to link to Dan Henninger’s great piece titled “Bonfire of the Humanities”, but I decided to go with this Powerline blog, instead. It provides some interesting historical context, and has a link to Henninger’s original piece in the WSJ. That’s behind a paywall for me, but you might be able to get to it. If not, Johnson’s piece will do.

      So here we are. It might be worth noting that, as of this moment, Bastille Day still is trending on Twitter.

      Linda

      1. Thanks for the links. I read the articles other than the one by Henninger, which, like you, I couldn’t get access to without subscribing. I found Murray’s response to be the epitome of calm and reason.

        I hadn’t heard of Power Line, but I gather it caters to people who share certain opinions. I feel the “Dictatorship of Virtue” would have been stronger as an essay if the author had written more dispassionately, along the lines of Murray’s response. The reported incidents and quotations make the case by themselves, so there’s no need for partisan rhetoric, which I think makes a neutral party less inclined to keep reading and less likely to be influenced.

        I recently read a book that does an excellent job of explaining in general why there are different systems of morality in the world, and in particular why the main political/moral divide in the United States is what it is. Highly recommended: “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”, by Jonathan Haidt.

        1. You’re right about the Power Line piece, of course I linked to it primarily for its gathering of several instances into a single piece. To paraphrase Pascal, my reference would have been less polemical had I had more time to search.

          Haidt’s book looks interesting, and it’s on my to-be-read list. In the meantime, this panel discussion may be a nice appetizer.

          Even the quick scan I just did of the event summary raised some interesting questions. Haidt lists six moral foundations: fairness, caring, liberty, loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand what could happen in the context of (for example) the immigration policy debate if someone who elevates caring above all else meets up with someone whose primary concern is respect for authority.

          Thanks for the recommendation.

  18. A wonderful and timely post, even though I’m late to the party! I especially liked your assessment of how we view our own birthdays through time. Spot on. And yes, the poem is a timely and thought provoking piece of writing.

    I love the image of the farmer, caring for people, going to the potluck. He is doing what we all should — giving our our best. If we all did that, without determining if we agreed with the world or not, perhaps things would be better in this world. And we might agree a bit more…

    1. I thought you’d enjoy the poem, Jeanie. And you know who I thought of when I came to the last line? That’s right — Harry!

      People who haven’t grown up with potluck culture can have every kind of strange idea about it. I’ve had friends who thought “potluck” meant you could clean out your leftovers and pawn them off on unsuspecting strangers. Others assumed the table would be awash in “those” foods — macaroni and cheese, lime jello with pineapple and cottage cheese, banana pudding — without any “good” food to eat.

      But I always remember the relief of my mother and her friends when a potluck was announced. It meant exactly what you said. They could prepare one of their best dishes, and share it, without having to go through the stress and work of inviting a dozen people to dinner and having to do all of the preparation themselves. In that sense, your cork poppers are the quintessential potluck crew — and they’re the very essence of freedom and fun!

      Linda

  19. How did I manage to overlook this post until now? I’m pleased to see the Mad Farmer making an appearance here. As you know, that poem was a type of theme-song for me when I seceded and returned to the small country that I call home.

    1. How did you manage to overlook this post, Bill? That’s pretty easy to answer — you’ve been busy. If I’d titled it “Wallace Berry’s Solution to the Deer Problem”, you would have been here in a flash.

      I’ve a trio of these poems printed out and tucked into my hurricane evacuation kit: this one, “Manifesto,” and “The Contrariness…” All three are tough poems, which makes them suitable for tough times, which is to say, every day.

      Linda

  20. “In adulthood, we recognize a truth hidden to children. Physical birth is only the beginning of a process. It takes a lifetime to become human, and throughout the years we always are at risk of having our humanity warped, stunted or degraded by forces abroad in world.”

    That’s true wisdom speaking. And, you’re right! It takes a lifetime to acquire such a state of mind.

    What can I say about Wendell Berry’s poem that hasn’t been said before? I think it speaks to every heart yearning for real independence from the contrived perception of freedom and independence all ‘independent’ countries celebrate today.

    1. There’s a reason that cultures around the world have held their elders in high esteem. I’m not quite to the elder stage, but I’m getting there, and whatever wisdom I have is grounded in experience rather than theorizing in a classroom or coffee shop. There’s nothing wrong with theories, of course. But they need to be tested, or they’re of little value.

      I don’t remember who said it, but someone once did say, “The freedom to choose among various brands of refrigerators isn’t the freedom our founders envisioned.” Of course, it’s also true that freedom can exist in the heart of the most abusive state — because it lodges in the human heart.

      Linda

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