Of Stickers and Boomers

Wendell Berry, photo by Guy Mendes

A suggestion for your weekend: Make time to settle into your favorite chair with a cup of tea, or a nice glass of wine and listen to “It All Turns on Affection” a lecture by the great Wendell Berry. This is the 2012 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, delivered at the Kennedy Center just this week.

Now, I’ll admit that this lecture is more than an hour long–which is why I suggested the refreshment and a comfortable chair. An hour is a lot to ask of our attention days, especially an hour spent watching an elderly gentleman speak slowly at a podium in front of a truly uninspired backdrop. Where are the kittens and baby sloths? you might ask along the way, if your internet video viewing habits are like mine. Best not to think of it as a video. Think of it as a radio program, settle down to listen and you will be truly and deeply rewarded.

I had trouble embedding the video, but you can view it on its NEH page. Berry comes on stage at about the 11:00 mark.

Or, if you prefer, you can read it here. I’m reading it now after my listen, and am just beginning to absorb the finer points.

This lecture is a call for us to rediscover our affection for the land. A plea for us to be stickers instead of boomers. That is, people who tend the land and honor its history and its stories instead of boomers who despoil our limited resources and move on, without thought, as if there will always be more to wealth to wring from nature, no matter what we do.

Of course, Berry is an advocate of the small farmer (as we all should be) and his remarks have much to do with farmland, and his family’s history as farmers, but I don’t think us urban and suburbanites should think his plea has nothing to do with us.  I think we can develop strong affection for our little yards. We can nurture the soil and teeming life there, making our commitment to all the plants and creatures in our care. We can also develop strong affection for and commitment to our communities and neighborhoods. If we do not have land of our own, we can care for that which we are temporarily living on, and we can fight for and nurture public land.

Wherever we are, we are on the land. And whoever we are, we are of the land.

A few quotes from the lecture:

–Economy in its original—and, I think, its proper—sense refers to household management. By extension, it refers to the husbanding of all the goods by which we live. An authentic economy, if we had one, would define and make, on the terms of thrift and affection, our connections to nature and to one another.  

–That we live now in an economy that is not sustainable is not the fault only of a few mongers of power and heavy equipment. We all are implicated. We all, in the course of our daily economic life, consent to it, whether or not we approve of it. This is because of the increasing abstraction and unconsciousness of our connection to our economic sources in the land, the land-communities, and the land-use economies. 

–As many hunters, farmers, ecologists, and poets have understood, Nature (and here we capitalize her name) is the impartial mother of all creatures, unpredictable, never entirely revealed, not my mother or your mother, but nonetheless our mother. If we are observant and respectful of her, she gives good instruction. As Albert Howard, Wes Jackson, and others have carefully understood, she can give us the right patterns and standards for agriculture. If we ignore or offend her, she enforces her will with punishment. She is always trying to tell us that we are not so superior or independent or alone or autonomous as we may think.

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5 Comments

  1. wonderful lecture which I read earlier today. Thanks for the post. I am a suburban gardener in Phoenix. After several years of trying to move East, I realized that I have considerable yard space where I live that can be tended for food production and wildlife habitat. I want to live this little bit of Earth more beautiful than the way I found it:)

  2. A friend turned me on to his small book, “the Unsettling of America” almost 30 years ago, and book influenced a lot of my decisions and motivations since. I had the pleasure of hearing him in person at a bookstore too. I hope someday, the values he espouses becomes a normal thing for humans to be practicing.

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