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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Between Times: From Wendell Berry's fiction

“I’m a great one for places. This farm’s just full of places I’ve picked out to spend a day sitting in, if I ever get the time to do it. Cool places or quiet ones, with water running or an overlook. I’ve thought of some of them nearly all my life. And looks like I’ve never had time to sit down and be still for very long in a one.”
-      Spoken by Mat Feltner, a character in Wendell Berry’s A Place on Earth
Mat and Margaret Feltner and their hired couple live and work on their Kentucky farm, visited and helped by relatives and neighbors. It’s a good life but not untouched by loss, and this has been a hard year, the last year of World War II. Their son Virgil won’t be coming home. A Place on Earth is the story of that year in a small, rural town, on the nearby Ohio River, and out in the country, on the land. Finally, close to the end of the book, comes this passage:
He [Mat] sits at the foot of one of the big trees at the edge of the grove, leaning back against the trunk. He faces the way the stream falls, the stream passing below him and to his left, the grove of beeches extending back into its enclosure to his right. In front of him ther is an opening through which he can see a part of a bend in the river—within the bend of the water the bend of the trees along the bank, within the bend of the trees straight rows of corn shocks in a field. Around him the woods is free of undergrowth, and the tree trunks rise cleanly up into the foliage. There is a little water running in the stream, so that here, in addition to the sound of the leaves falling, there is the steady trickling and splashing that the water makes coming down over the rocks. Mat sits with his back against the tree, his hat on the ground beside him, sorting out and examining one by one all the aspects and attractions of the place. It is one of those places that, many times in his life, he has thought would be a good place to rest.... 

What Mat had been through during the course of the year, the small event that led him to the foot of this big tree, what he thought and how he felt then and there about life and death—this is the central focus of Wendell Berry’s story.

A farmer knows his land well. A frequent walker of woods and fields knows it in a different way. Sitting still invites a new perspective.

Postscript February 7, 2012: Wendell Berry has been selected by the National Endowment for the Arts to deliver this year’s Jefferson Lecture at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D. C., on April 23, in recognition for intellectual achievement in the humanities. The title of Mr. Berry’s address, “It All Turns on Affection,” will discuss the interaction of human beings with nature. See http://www.neh.gov/news/archive/20120206.html for more detail.


Gerry said...

I'm glad you're finding the time to sit still in some of the places you've been thinking about for - well, if not your whole life at least a good part of it. They are indeed good places to rest.

P. J. Grath said...

The weekly hour of stillness is something I look forward to on days between. Like Mat Feltner, I scout out likely places and look forward to time in them.

Dawn said...

I can see why you'd anticipate your weekly hour of stillness. It's such a perfect break in all the craziness.

P. J. Grath said...

Also, Dawn, it seems that every week I see something I've never noticed before, like the places where a branch in the wind rubs bark off of a neighboring tree. I see that and realize it's something I've been not-seeing my whole life, and I shake my head in amazement.