On September 4, 2011, the Bastrop County Complex fire ignited in central Texas. The most destructive wildfire in state history, it became a 32,000 acre inferno, destroying over 1,600 homes and killing two people.
On that same September day, high winds directed the fire into Bastrop State Park. Long known for its area of isolated Loblolly Pines — colloquially known as the ‘Lost Pines’ — the park was damaged so severely that early estimates suggested it could take generations for the area to recover.
Nonetheless, recovery efforts began almost immediately. After the initial clearing, reforestation began, coordinated by state agencies and assisted by volunteers from around the state. When I visited the park ten years later, in October of 2021, the recovery was well underway. Newly planted pine seedlings were taking hold, and flowers like Liatris, Snake Cotton, and Flowering Spurge were abundant.
I found myself especially charmed by expansive fields of Maximillian sunflowers. Rising up alongside charred and broken reminders of the fire, they fairly glowed with life. While any number of words could be applied to their appearance — recovery, resurgence, regeneration — poet and essayist Wendell Berry would apply a different word to the phenomenon: resurrection.
For Berry, resurrection is far more than an experience belonging to the past or a feast day designated for celebration in the future. Instead, its dynamic is threaded through life: emerging in the midst of even the most difficult circumstances, and capable of being nurtured.
No work of his speaks more directly to the issue than his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” As this Lenten season begins, the practice he recommends is more relevant than ever.
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die,
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
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.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.