Practicing Resurrection

Ten years after ~ Bastrop State Park

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.
Practice resurrection.

 

Comments always are welcome.

58 thoughts on “Practicing Resurrection

  1. “Denounce the government and embrace / the flag.” There’s a noisy segment of our society that embraces authoritarian government and denounces the flag. “Hope to live in that free / republic for which it stands.” The happenings of the last two years have made it harder to keep up that hope.

    1. Once, it was common for tv and radio broadcasts to begin with the National Anthem. After the broadcast day became a twenty-four hour phenomenon, that mostly ended, but one radio station I listen to occasionally has reinstituted a practice from my childhood: a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

      Our school days began with that pledge, and if it was a routine, it was a worthy one. The echoes of that pledge in Berry’s poem are poignant. Our understanding of what it means to be a republic has eroded, and the indivisibility we took for granted seems less certain. Still, the fact that such traditions are being resurrected here and there seems a sign of hope.

    1. Like many (or even most) people, I didn’t realize that the sunflower was considered Ukraine’s national flower. Once I learned that, the yellow and blue of their flag reminded me of sunflowers against a blue sky. That in turn reminded me of this photo, and Berry’s poem — and his perspective — seemed an approrpriate fit.

  2. The resurrection of an area devastated by wildfires is a symbol of hope for me. Hope not only in the power of nature to restore itself but also hope in the spiritual resurrection of humankind. Thanks for your inspirational post, Linda!

    1. You’ve lived through that destruction and renewal cycle yourself, Peter. It makes perfect sense to me that the same dynamics present in the natural world can — and do — play a role in our human world. Berry’s view of things isn’t traditionally ‘religious,’ but his sometimes curmudgeonly views are filled with faith and hope. Both are needed, especially in times like these.

    1. I once had a friend who loved this poem; she’d jokingly say that getting out of bed in the morning and facing the day was her form of resurrection. We’d laugh at her, but I’ve come to appreciate her perspective. If it weren’t for hope, any of us might be tempted to avoid life by staying in bed and hiding our head under the covers.

  3. Isn’t it amazing how fast a burned out area regenerates, even without our help?

    Nat’l Geo did a spread on Mt. St. Helens a few years after her Big Boom and life was just all over the place!

    1. I remember seeing photos of fireweed popping up in the vicinity of Mt. Saint Helens relatively soon after the eruption. Obviously, its name comes from its ability to colonize burned areas after a fire. I saw it in Alaska when I was there, but at the time I still was in my “Oooh, pretty flower!” stage, and didn’t realize that I’d seen it until I was sorting through some photos, and there it was.

      The same dynamic can be seen after prescribed burns on the prairies. One year I went back to a section of Brazoria that had been burned and took photos about every four or five days. It was amazing to see the changes.

  4. I don’t guess I’ve ever read this poem before … nor have I heard of Mr. Berry (unless you’ve posted one of his works before!). Very interesting thoughts and I’ll probably have to reread them to learn their full meaning. So glad to hear the state park is returning to glory!

    1. I’ll bet you have come across what might be Berry’s most well-known poem: “The Peace of Wild Things”. There’s another of his that’s one of my favorites. It’s quite short, and titled “Our Real Work.”

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

      I’m hoping to return to the park this spring, but the first thing I need to do is post a few of my photos from that first visit. They’re only four months old!

    1. That’s so true. And speaking of nature, even though this is somewhat off the topics you write about, I thought of you when I came across this thread dealing with Russian tanks, mud, and military equipement maintenance. I found it fascinating: especially the parallel with the Russo-Finnish War. I even found a bit of military humor.

      1. Got a huge kick out of seeing the Russians stuck in the mud!! It was good to read what our maintenance program is like.
        If you don’t mind, I’m going to use that humor next Monday!!

        1. I don’t mind at all. I found it in a response to the fellow who posted about tank maintenance. During the Deepwater Horizon event, I spent a lot of time following discussions among professionals in an IRC chatroom, and it was fascinating. I’m finding the same thing now. People who understand the needs of a military and who know military history can add a good bit to the discussion — as you so well know. Who knew that the Motti tactics used by the Finns in the Finnish-Russian war could be relevant today in Ukraine?

    1. At this point, I’ve often enough seen that regrowth after prescribed burns, but it was a new experience to see it at Bastrop. Needless to say, there was a good bit of anxiety when the last wildfire erupted in the area in January. The line between controlled and uncontrolled burns can be fine, indeed.

        1. It’s a little more complicated than that. The conditions that morning were well within the parameters for a burn. But if you look at the weather history, it’s easy to see exactly when the winds began to pick up — just as had been forecast. For whatever reason, it seems the people in charge were convinced they could get their work done ahead of those deteriorating conditions.

          I was pleased to learn that the TPWD panel appointed to investigate the event already has completed their work. They’re going to have a Town Hall meeting in Bastrop next Monday evening to offer their conclusions and entertain questions. I assume their report will be published online, and I’m eager to read it.

  5. New growth. I like the sound and look of it. I love the line: “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.” Seems applicable to living a life worth living.

    1. It occurs to me that the old-fashioned way of talking about doing something that ‘doesn’t compute’ might have involved square pegs and round holes — or a refusal to be pounded into any hole at all. As for new growth, spring is its season: no doubt the reason spring has been a metaphor for growth for millennia.

    1. Indeed. With so many variables at play, and so much unknown, predicting any sort of outcome at all seems impossible at this point, but at least the world is paying attention.

    1. You’ve reminded me of those famous — and true — lines from William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence”:

      “Joy & Woe are woven fine
      A Clothing for the soul divine
      Under every grief & pine
      Runs a joy with silken twine.”

      Just now, woe seems to have overtaken parts of our world, but there still are signs of possible joys to come.

  6. Sometimes nature is like writing on a blackboard. A fire, a volcanic eruption, a tidal wave, a meteor strike wipes the slate clean; Nature picks up the chalk and writes something else in its place, something intricate and wise. Nature is the original recycler

    1. That’s a great description of the process. You’ve reminded me of something else worth remembering; sometimes events such as fire are necessary for those new lines to be written. I’m thinking of things like serotinous pine cones that are covered with a resin. Only when the resin is melted by fire will the cones open and release seed. The intricacy of some of these processes is nearly unbelievable.

    1. Thank you, Eliza. I think during the past couple of years a lot of people have discovered the value of being in — and learning to understand — nature. More understanding and less romanticizing is a good thing.

  7. The sunflowers are glorious, and so is hearing about the resurrection of Bastrop SP.
    Here’s to the resurrection of the Ukraine and its people from their current calamity.
    And thanks for posting the Wendell Berry poem – I’ve started reading his novel Hannah Coulter.

    1. I think I’ve mentioned to you that despite delving pretty deeply into Berry’s poetry and essays, I’ve not read any of his fiction. Perhaps you’ll post your response to the book at some time.

      There are few flowers that make me as happy as the Maximilian sunflowers. For no good reason, I’ve held back some of the photos I took on that visit, including this one. At the time, I hardly imagined it would be so strongly symbolic under changed circumstances.

  8. It’s been so long since I read this poem, I had forgotten some main “points,” or phrases, that are much more meaningful to me now than the last times I encountered it. Like, “As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it.” And “do something that won’t compute.”

    It reminds me of what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit blowing where it will. He is not trapped and controlled by the technological society, and by God’s grace we also might act counter to its destructive systems.

    1. With various algorithms increasingly determining what we see, listen to, or read, it’s worth evaluating our dependence on the companies behind them. The ‘generals and politicos’ of tech are working hard to predict the motions of our minds; rejection of their blandishments increasingly seems wise.

      Just for fun, I entered ‘Ukraine’ into three different search engines this week. The difference in the returns I received were not only noticeable, they made clear that certain biases are built into the search engines. Caveat searchor.

    1. Berry’s poem has been a favorite for years, Becky. It seemed to fit the circumstances well, and the analogy between the Bastrop fire and the inferno in Ukraine seemed obvious to me.

        1. We can only hope. Anyone who might have been tempted to deny the existence of evil in the world should have had their mind changed at this point.

          1. Absolutely! It’s as if Putin and the Kremlin are a vast well of evil. I’m glad that so many people are uniting against them. Even the Russian people have been risking arrest to demonstrate against this terrible war.

    1. I’m glad you thought so, Derrick. Sometimes, a sideways glance is best. It occurs to me that’s why many of Keeping’s illustrations are so memorable. He leaves room for the view to fill in some details.

  9. I honestly believe that no matter how bad things get, there is always the hope for resurrection. One way or another, life comes back. And that gives me great hope.

    1. One of the greatest challenges is having the patience to wait, trusting that life will come back. It can take some time, as you know — but the impulse toward healing, growth, and new life isn’t going to be denied.

  10. Bastrop State Park was one of our all-time favorite places to camp and explore during our West Texas Years. We were incredibly saddened at the news of that fire. Thank you for the hopeful information about its ongoing resurrection.

    I used to worry a bit (well, not too much) that I enjoyed reading Wendell Berry’s work. It seems that it has matured in its relevance.

    It’s a beautiful day!

    Life is good.

    1. I don’t know about you, but from the time I first read Berry, his curmudgeonliness seemed part of his charm. It’s hard to walk that line without falling into cynicism or criticism of others, but he seems to do it. I suppose that’s why I enjoy another of his poems, “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer” so much.

      One of the most interesting things about Lost Pines for me was my discovery that many of the plants that grow in the east piney woods grow there, too. Sometimes the species are slightly different, but sometimes not. One of these days I’ll do a little compare-and-contrast entry about my favorites. There’s so much to show, poor Bastrop’s been given short shrift.

    1. One of the best bits of writing advice I’ve found — or life advice, for that matter– comes from Emily Dickinson. Remember her poem?

      “Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
      Success in Circuit lies
      Too bright for our infirm Delight
      The Truth’s superb surprise
      As Lightning to the Children eased
      With explanation kind
      The Truth must dazzle gradually
      Or every man be blind —”

      Especially with events like those in Ukraine, sometimes I find it best to take a little time and then sidle up to my topic! This post suited me, and I’m glad it suited you.

    1. Berry’s writing is rich as humus. It certainly can give rise to productive thoughts, and deep appreciation for the true humanity that surrounds us in the world — despite it all.

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