Yale 2013 Chubb Lecture with Wendell Berry

Yale 2013 Chubb Lecture with Wendell Berry


(clapping) – Welcome, welcome everybody. I’d love to welcome you
here this afternoon to New Haven’s Shubert Theater. To this conversation with Wendell Berry. My name’s Mark Bomford and I’m the Director for the Yale
Sustainable Food Project. This is a long awaited visit. Since the Yale Sustainable
Food Project’s inception 10 years ago Wendell Berry’s writings have appeared prominently
on course reading lists and quotations from his writings have opened more essays
and graced the final slides of more PowerPoint presentations than I think Mr. Berry would
be comfortable knowing about. (laughing) Students who study food and
agricultural topics here at Yale soon learn that if you are
ever struggling to articulate, some essential idea about the fundamental interconnectedness of it all, how nature and culture and health and soil and character and economy
are not really objective separate entities, then you
turn to Berry’s writings. You can be confident that you will find somewhere in his work
exactly what you’re looking for, and will be stated with absolute mental fog lifting lucidity. So it’s no surprise that one of the most frequently asked questions I have received since I arrived here was, do you think that we could
ever get Wendell Berry to come speak at Yale? And until a month ago, my
answer had always been, it’s been tried before, you know, many people have asked him
many many times before, and he almost never leaves
his farm, and that is true. So, given that I had basically
written this whole thing off, the chance of ever getting
Wendell Berry to come and visit, you can imagine just how excited I was in the last couple of weeks
how a wonderful team of people and thank you all, mobilized to make this
whole thing a possibility, and this included the discovery,
in this whole process, that we actually happen to have
a Yale College Master here, who was a native Kentuckian and a lifelong Wendell Berry fan. And that college Master was Jeff Brenzel, who was able to extend the
offer of a Chubb Fellowship to Mr. Berry through handwritten letters sent by the U.S. Postal Service
back and forth to Kentucky. (laughing) The Chubb Fellowship
was founded with a gift from Yale Alumnus Hendon
Chubb, and since 1949, has been Yale’s most prestigious honor conferred on visiting speakers. The Chubb Fellowship is
devoted to encouraging interest and devotion to public service. Chubb fellows spend their time at Yale in close informal contact
with members of the community, and also make an appearance
open to the general public. Which I guess is happening right now. Former Chubb Fellows include
five U.S. Presidents, and many other heads of state, including authors such as Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, and Toni Morrison, and many other nationally
and internationally prominent citizens and leaders. And it’s the Chubb
Fellowship that allows us to bring this afternoons
conversation between Wendell Berry and two of Yale’s own, Jeff Brenzel, and Mary Evelyn Tucker, and I’ll introduce both of them in turn. Jeff is a 1975 graduate of Yale College. He made an early career
in nonprofit management, including organizations in
his home state of Kentucky, which he shares with Wendell Berry. In his mid career, he embarked
on a PhD in moral philosophy at the University of Notre
Dame, while at the same time, founding and developing
InterLearn Incorporated, and invest a backed
venture that used new media and technologies to
produce career education and liberal arts programs
for adult learners. Jeff returned to Yale in 1997
as the Executive Director of the Association of
Yale Alumni, or the AYA. And in September 2005, he was named the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, and served in this position for
eight years until past June, which probably makes him
the bravest man I know. (laughing) In April of 2010, Jeff was
appointed to a concurrent five term year as the Master, that’s a five year term rather, as the Master of Timothy Dwight College, which is one of Yales 12
undergraduate residential colleges which also makes him a steward of the Chubb Fellowship Endowment, which brings Wendell Berry here today. Jeff holds an appointment as a lecturer in the humanities department at Yale, and teaches in directed studies, Yales intensive humanities
program for freshmen. His research interests center
around the history of ideas about human nature and the relationship between the individual and common good. Mary Evelyn Tucker, she met
Wendell Berry some 30 years ago, when he came to Columbia
University for a dialogue with her teacher Thomas Berry, who shared Wendell’s
critique of our present industrial destruction of land and people. Mary Evelyn edited
Thomas Berry’s critiques in numerous books of his essays, ranging from Dream of the
Earth to the Great Work. As a response to the call by Wendell Berry for an affection for place and Thomas Berry for a new story of place, she and her husband, John Grim, were executive producers
for a film called, Journey of the Universe,
which won an Emmy. They also created the forum on religion and ecology at Yale, which
has published 10 volumes, bringing the worlds religious
traditions into dialogue with our most pressing
ecological challenges. John and Mary Evelyn are senior lecturers, and research scholars at Yale, and direct the MA program
in religion and ecology between the School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies, and the Yale Divinity School. And she is on the advisory
board of Orion Magazine with Wendell Berry, and that of course brings me to Wendell Berry, who probably needs no introduction, but I’m going to give him one anyways. Wendell Berry is a poet, a novelist, a philosopher, an environmental activist, cultural critic and
importantly to us, a farmer. A pioneering and influential
advocate for change, Berry has spent more than 50 years helping to shape the movements for agricultural and
ecological sustainability. His poetry and essays flow from the rich agrarian tradition of American writing, and Berry’s relationship to Kentucky farm has been compare to that
of the rose to the forest, a place that nurtures his thinking about the value of physical labor, self sufficiency, and
communities of people living in harmony with the natural world. Berry has garnered international respect and admiration for all
aspects of his life’s work, including winning the T.S. Elliot Award, the 2000 Poets prize,
the Thomas Merton Award, the Aiken Taylor Award for
Modern American Poetry, and the National Humanities Medal, among many, many, many others. He was inducted into the American Academy of
Arts and Sciences in 2013. A prolific author, Berry has
generated dozens of novels, short stories, poems, and essays, since publishing his first novel in 1960. In Berry’s visit today, he expressed a particular interest in learning about the Yale farm, and the students engaged
in study there saying, it’s good that outfits
like yours can have a farm, and I’d like to see what it can give and what encouragement I can give it. Mr. Berry will begin with a short reading, after which we will
start the conversation. Ladies and gentlemen,
please join me in welcoming, Jeffrey Brenzel, Mary Evelyn
Tucker, and Wendell Berry. (clapping) – Thank you. – It’s all yours. – Thank you. (clapping) Well, I know a privilege when I see one. (laughing) Or partially see one. And I thank you, thank you very much. To start things today I’m going to read a fragment of a speech, and I don’t apologize much
for it’s being a fragment because we deal in fragments you know, it’s impossible to get it all. So this is just a way to
begin our discussion today. The industrial economy
from agriculture to war, is by far the most violent
the world has ever known, and we all are complicit in it’s violence. The history of industrialization has been violent from the start, as the Luddites quickly learned. The purpose of labor saving technology has always been to cheapen
work by displacing workers, thus increasing the flow of wealth from the less wealthy to the more wealthy. It is a fact, one we have
never adequately acknowledged or understood, that at
the end of World War II, industry geared up to adapt the mechanical and chemical technologies
of war to agriculture, and other ways of using land. At the same time, certain
corporate and academic leaders, known collectively as the
Committee for Economic Development decided that there were too many farmers. The relatively self sufficient
producers on small farms needed to become members of
the industrial labor force and consumers of industrial commodities. Reducing the number of farmers and farms became a devastatingly
effective national policy. The first problem of a drastic reduction of the land using population, is to keep the land producing
in the absence of the people. The Committee for Economic
Development and their allies were fully aware of this problem, and they had a ready solution. The absent people would be replaced by the mechanical and
chemical technologies developed for military
use and subsisting upon a seemingly limitless
bounty of natural resources, mainly ores and fuels. Agriculture would become an industry, farms would become factories,
like other factories, evermore automated and
remotely controlled. Industrial land use became a front in a war against the living world. And so with a few exceptions, the free market was
allowed to have it’s way. Finally nearly all of
the land using population have left their family
farms and their home places and moved or commuted into the cities to be industrially or professionally
employed or unemployed. And to be entirely dependent on the ways and the products of industrialism. This process of eliminating the too many farmers still continues. Nobody ever said how many were too many. Nobody ever said how many
might be actually necessary. Even so, to remove the
farmers from farming required a shift of interest. From husbanding the fertility of the land to burning the fossil fuels, with consequences so far more, so far less famous than terrifying. But there was another problem
that the population engineers did not recognize then, and
have not recognized yet. Agricultural production without land maintenance leads to exhaustion. Land that is in use, if
the use is to continue, must be used with care, and
care is not and can never be an industrial product
or an industrial result. Care can come only from what we used to understand as the human heart. So called because it is
central to human being. The human heart is informed
by the history of care and the need for care,
also by the heritage of the skills of caring
and of care taking. The replacement of our
displaced rural families by technologies derived from warfare, has involved inevitable
a supposedly acceptable and generally accepted violence
against land and people. By it we established an analogy
between land use and war that has remained remarkably
consistent ever since. The common theme is a terrible
pragmatism that grants an automatic predominance
of the end over the means. The sacrifice of land and people to the objective of victory,
domination, security, or profit in oblivion or defiance of
any moral or natural law that may stand in the way, all of our prevalent forms of land use which is to say, land minus care, which is to say land use minus care, produces in addition
to commercial products, massive waste and destruction. War is politics minus neighborly love plus technological progress, which makes it ever more massively
wasteful and destructive. There is in fact no significant difference between the mass destruction of warfare and the massive destruction
of industrial land abuse. In order to mine a seam of
coal in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, we destroy a mountain, it’s top soil, and it’s forest, with no regard for the ecosystem, or for the people downhill,
downstream, and later in time. The difference between
explosion and the coal fields, and erosion in the corn and soybean fields is only that erosion is slower. The end, the exhaustion of natures life supporting systems is the same. (clapping) – Wendell, we wanna pick up
on some of those comments that you’ve just made and, you’ve been farming for
decades and writing about the loss of small family farms since your path breaking book in 1977,
the Unsettling of America, and if anything, this
unsettling has intensified as more and more people
have moved off the land and more small family farms are abandoned. So my question to you
is how does this loss of a sense of place, farming in community, living in community, how
does this loss contribute to the ability that you’ve mentioned here, of corporations to strip
mine mountains in Appalachia? Some of the oldest
mountains on our continent, or to frack into the Marcellus
Shale in Pennsylvania and in many parts of the country, thus destroying
ecosystems, water supplies, and ways of life for thousands of people? – Putting places entirely at risk, well the coal fields are
a special case in a way, because the mineral rights were bought from people who didn’t know what they had, with money that they really didn’t know much about the value of. So, coal rights were bought for as little as 50 cents an acre. And they were bought under
the old broad form deed, that permitted the mining company to have access to the mineral. That deed was interpreted by the courts as the right to overturn
everything on top of the coal in order to get at the coal
without any compensation to the people who owned what was on top. So, the separation between
the people and the land began with the purchase
of those old deeds. The history of the
separation between the people and the farm land is, more complicated, but let’s see. How has it happened? It happened with, the help, maybe first of
all, of the depreciation, of the social regard for farming. People had learned to
put just in front of the name of their occupation,
I’m just a farmer. One of the most disconcerting
things I’ve heard in my life at public meetings is to hear
perfectly intelligent people stand up and say I’m just a farmer, but. And then say something really worthwhile. So you have that. The wish to get away from it. But you also have working against
that whole connection the, the difficulty, the adversity
of the farming economy. The farmer has always been the last to profit, if indeed
he could profit at all. And so we had farmers
telling their children, get outta here, go to college, don’t farm, my own grandmother told me,
honey don’t you ever farm. (laughing) And that was because my grandfather, who started to farm in about 1890, experienced the farm
depression of the 90’s, the depression of the first
decade, of the next century, the depression of the 20’s, which started as an agricultural, which was an agricultural depression which went on to become
the depression of the 30’s. So by the time my grandfather
was as old as I am, he’d lived through 40 years
of economic adversity, had barely held on to the land. So those are not circumstances
that encourage great love, and great attentive affection between the people and their land. To have the land cared
for you have to have enough people to care for it,
who know how to care for it, and who want to care for it, and who can afford to care for it. Is that still the answer to your question? (laughing) – Well just to pick up before
we go to the farm bill, I think people here would like to know what you did in Frankfurt
in the governors office to protest the mountaintop removal. – Well I’ve been a very misfortune
civil disobedient person. (laughing) Civil dis-obeyer. I’ve tried it three times and
I never did get put in jail, which (laughing), which is
a very very satisfactory situation as far as I’m concerned. We were gonna risk
arrest in a demonstration organized mainly by Bill McKibben several years ago in Frankfurt, and we were marching along and somebody shoved a microphone at me and
said do you wanna go to jail? And I said hell no! (laughing) But there’s a big difference between going to jail and being
willing to go to jail. Well the episode that Mary
Evelyn’s talking about began as a determination that we, a realization that talking
wasn’t gettin’ us anywhere. That we were the easiest people in the state of Kentucky
to ignore, in Frankfurt. And we decided that we would go and move in on the governor
and refuse to get out, until he did something,
gave us some concessions about mountaintop removal. And so we did. And we told him we were
not much inclined to leave. And we told him why. And he outsmarted us,
he invited us to stay. (laughing) Which, resulted in one of the finest weekends I’ve ever spent
(laughing), in my life. ‘Cause there were about,
I guess 25 or 30 of us in the governors reception room. And, people were sending
us bedding and food, and two people even came
in and gave us massages. (laughing) Somebody in Tampa sent us
a great stack of pizzas. But we had, the loveliest time, we had all this food out on tables out in the carter
outside the governors office and we’d invite the security people to come and have food
with us, and they did. And we had a very friendly time, and we’d made an effort to look good, and behave ourselves well,
and clean up after ourselves. And we were people who
already loved each other, and we came out of that
loving each other a lot more. It was a great time. We told stories, and you know,
these damned cell phones, you had to be very careful what you said, and I don’t know what I
finally wound up saying because I would forget,
but they live streamed it, as they say, and (laughing). But we got press interviews, we really did make very
good use of the time. And when we left that office was clean, I mean it looked like we’d, we picked up every strand
of lint individually. So it wasn’t long after that, well I got an award,
and the Attorney General made the mistake of telling me that if I needed anything,
his door was always open. (laughing) Wrote me a letter, and I wrote back, as a matter of fact there is something, and so a bunch of us
went back and talked to not the Attorney General, we wanted to know what
our legal standing was. And so we went back, and
ever since we’d been there, there’d been somebody every Thursday occupying the governors reception room. And so we occupied it, we
took our turn that day. And the doors all began to open, the governors door never opened, but his staff, the doors
of his staff opened, and his secretaries, and his
own private state policemen, they were all delighted to see us. They came out to shake our
hands and welcome us back, so it was a good thing. – Well Wes, Jackson is such a
good friend of yours as well, and the two of you have the
best time together, the humor, the exchange, but I wanted
to pick up with you and Wes, because your decades long
of thinking about the land, thinking about farming issues, and Wes and his Land Institute in Kansas has been talking about
this perennial agriculture. – That’s right. – And trying to reverse the
annual agriculture, right? It’s 20% perennial, 80% annuals, so– – Reverse some of it. – Yes reverse some of it,
so you two have cooked up among others, this 50-Year Farm Bill. Would you tell us a little bit about that? What is it hoping to do? – What we’re trying to do in land use is move from a market
determined, a market determined, technologically limited
form of agriculture, to a form of agriculture that is based on the instruction of the local ecosystem. And one of natures laws that,
as Albert Howard laid it down, and I don’t think it
was unknown at the time, one of the things that
nature insists upon, and always done herself,
is keep the land covered. And she does this with perennial plants. In nature, according to natures use, annual plants are emergency equipment. She sends in the annuals to occupy and cover things like
landslides, calamities, and we’ve based our whole agriculture on the emergency principle. Annuals die in the fall and
their roots become flimsy and lose their power to hold. And so the 50-Year Farm Bill, in short, proposes to start where we are now, with an agriculture
using 80% annual plants and 20% perennials, and in 50 years, by a gradual movement that’s
laid out in the farm bill, it isn’t very long, to reverse that ratio, to 80% perennial, and 20% annual. And this is addressed, this
is an attempt to address, I think a pretty credible
attempt to address the actual problems of
agriculture, soil erosion, toxicity, and the ruin
of rural communities, or as we sometimes say
the cultures of husbandry, which have pretty well
been wiped out actually. Rural communities now are just
little groups of city people, watching television and going to town. (laughing) Shopping. So that’s it in a nutshell. And perennials, I will say, are pastures, hayfields, or fields
of perennial hay crops, the clovers, alfalfa, timothy,
those things that over winter and also the perennial grain crops that the Land Institute has
been working on now for, 35 years I guess. And they have now produced,
they’re the first, perennial grain crop. It’s highly bred, grass– – This huge rooting grass. – Yes, it’s a deeply rooted, well all the perennial roots go deeper then the annual roots. But this is a plant that
they’ve named Kernza. It’s an intermediate wheat grass that has been bred for
productivity, seed production, and it actually has been
developed in Kansas, but it grows better in
Minnesota they’ve found, so there’s a fairly significant anchorage, 90 or so, gonna be grown
in Minnesota this year. And in five or six years it’ll be ready to market to farmers. (clapping) – Yes, this is, so just to conclude, we’re gonna see Wes at New Year’s time, so we’ll give him a good
report of your visit to Yale, but this is a huge,
decades long collaboration with Wendell Berry and Wes, and it does deserve our
gratitude and applause. – Alright then, you’ll have to tell him, that I’ve said right here in
front of all these people, we gotta put a cap on the
use of high density carbon. – Yes, that’s true. (laughing and clapping) You are so right. – I signed a pledge that I would
mention it, so there it is. (laughing) – I’ll report it. – Peace be unto Wes. – Is there anything else that
you’re obligated to get in that you wanna get in right now? – Not to mention. (laughing) – Well I can just testify to this which is if Wendell looks to you
like somebody that would be good to hang around the house with and swap stories, I can
tell you that he is. And if you ever get the
chance, you should take it. Wendell, you did a lot of
teaching in your earlier days, and many of us here in the room
think of you as our teacher. And (laughing) maybe
it’s even for that reason that you’re often quite skeptical in your writings about universities. (laughing) So here we are, at one of these outfits. (laughing) And, I’d like to ask you just
to explore it a little bit. What to you is the upside and the downside of university education
as you’ve experienced it and you know it in
relationship to the things that you care about the most? – Well of course the upside is it puts these young people in a place where there are books and teachers, and gives them that time to read and figure and write, with actually more leisure
than they think they’ve got. (laughing) (clapping) – [Mary] That’s great. – When I was in college, I
thought I was about at capacity and I think I’ve been
busier every year since. (laughing) This is a good thing. Since we’ve spoken of
Wes, Wes told me one time, he had been to a university and he said, I walked around that campus, and I saw a library full of books, and classrooms with blackboards and seats, and laboratories with wonderful equipment, and I said to myself, this would be a hell of a
good place to have a school. (laughing) – [Mary] That’s great. – There’s no question that it’s a great opportunity to go to college, but I have taught in
colleges, universities, and I have taken a considerable interest, and one thing that I know
about the educational system is that it really is geared toward an indoor sedentary culture. It really is saying to these young people, especially the ones that
come in off the farm, you need to be sittin’
down somewhere, at a desk, with a salary, and so on. You can drop that old
dependence on the weather, that old anxiety about the
heavens, and the clouds. And that’s a great salesman line actually, to people who wanna go up in the world, but what it’s done is
excerpt a lot of people from communities where
they ought to have stayed or gone back to to help. And I think it’s been a long time since even the colleges of agriculture were consciously preparing
young people to go home, and take part and be of
use to their old neighbors. So along with my observation of universities in my participation, I have seen this decline of communities. And it’s happening everywhere, it’s happening in the city
just as it is in the country. The neighborhoods are breaking up. To a considerable extent that’s for want of local leadership. What young people in
educational institutes are supposed to be getting, the
capacity to be critical. Which I would say is the first
requirement for leadership, the capacity to be suspicious of what’s offered from the outside. So that isn’t happening, but, another thing that I’ve
been increasingly aware of, is that the questions
that are of most concern can’t be answered in any
department, in any one department, so I think that the structure, the intellectual structure that’s represented by universities is
probably wrong, awry somehow. It would be interesting to just
raise a question like this, where are we? And see how long you could
keep that in the walls of one department or one college. First thing you know you’d
have to be calling in people. You started that in geography, first thing you know need a historian, then a chemist, and a forester, and an agronomist, and even
maybe the english department. (laughing) So, so this becomes real when you say not just where are we,
but what’s here with us? Who are our neighbors here? And what’s happened here? And what should have happened here? And what should been happening here now? You see, that keeps
calling in the expertise from different departments. And so I think the
departmentalization probably is gonna eventually, oh I don’t know anything about the future, I just call it into question, I think that it needs to be questioned. It’s been oversold,
education’s been oversold, and in a lot of places, I’m sure not here, but in a lot of places (laughing), in a lot of places it’s
been underperformed. – Discipline-all-a-tree. (clapping) – So it makes me wanna ask a quick follow up question Wendell which is, I know that you have
an interest in forms of local knowledge, particularly
with respect to land use and response to the land that you have a strong feeling about that there’s forms of education that
should be taking place outside of colleges and universities. And I wonder if you might
say a word about that? – Well yes, limiting education
to school is a mistake, because, well, if children have freedom to play in the
landscape for instance, they’re beginning their education there, they’re beginning their education at home. And maybe we’re losing control of what they’re learning at home, but they’re learning. And a lot has been said
about adult education, and the importance of it,
and I think that’s real, but to keep somebody learning,
right on through their lives, requires keeping ’em aware of being ignorant all through their lives. And so, we’re defining the
problems, again, too simply. If you’re aware, at my age say, of how ignorant you are, you know that you’re not gonna remedy that in any simple way, and you’re not gonna ever
completely remedy it. – So, I’ve got another topic that I’ve been anxious to
raise with you which is, for almost every one who’s come here, I know to see you today, these
people in this room know you and know your work, and
I think there’s probably hardly a person here with us today who hasn’t felt encouraged
or inspired or moved or personally touched by
something that you had to say. You’ve had the gift of that,
and you’ve worked at it. Nobody can say you haven’t worked at it. And somehow, you’ve
managed to stay motivated, and you’ve sought to motivate others to address what seem like, to
most of us, most of the time, as overwhelming problems, things that are just too
big to get your arms around. And when you and I originally
talked on the telephone about your visit here, I asked you how you sustained a sense of optimism about that. And you corrected me, you said well, you’d be a fool to be an optimist, and also that tends to make you think that the problem’s gonna be solved and you don’t really have to
put out any effort to do it. And you said that you’ve lived on hope. And that hope is a very
different thing than optimism. And I was moved by that conversation and I hoped you might explain that distinction for everybody here. – Well optimism and
pessimism are programs. It means that you’ve already
decided ahead of time how things are gonna come out, and you’ve in effect taking
possession of the future, in the name of optimism or pessimism, and you’ve reduced the future in a way to your sense of how it is going to turn out. Hope is a different matter, because hope is, well hope is the opposite of despair. (laughing) As you know, and, so if you think it’s
important to stay at work and if you believe in
the possibility of good and sustaining work, work
that will sustain you and help to sustain others and the world, then you have to define
the ground of hope. And this is work for the present, this is not making up a
version of the future, something you’re gonna work for later. It’s something that
you’ve got to look around and justify it now. And what justifies it for one thing is the reality of good possibilities. Examples that show that
a better of forestry, a better way of farming is possible. A better way of community life, a better way of family life. You look around and you begin to have your little lexicon of good examples, and that helps like everything. If you thought that something
better was not possible, you had no way to believe
in that possibility, you’d just be in awful shape. Another thing I think is to
be able to make in yourself and perfectly as necessary
the sense of the possibility that you can do better. This always lasts me about two days. (laughing) I have this oppressive
sense that I can come and visit Yale for two days
and behave pretty well. (laughing) And I better hurry away on the third day. (laughing) But yes sometimes, I have, it seems to me, done work that did some good and didn’t do any damage into the bargain. And I like knowing that. It gives me hope. Having other people who are your comrades, your friends, your allies, who have hope helps you have hope. And to have in mind your predecessors, who you know, some of
’em you’ve read about, some of ’em maybe as times goes on you actually know, have known. Who have kept open that possibility that people could live with hope. That’s hope giving. Hope lives on hope. There’s a lot to say about it, I’m trying to think up maybe two more percent of the rest of it. – Maybe I can pick up on this theme. There’s a wonderful few lines
among many wonderful few lines that struck me, but this one is, knowledge without
affection leads us astray, affection, leads us by way of
good work to authentic hope. So my question here is what is affection? You speak about it so often. And you encourage us to develop informed, practical, and practiced affection. Which I think is marvelous. – Well, we’re getting
into the intangibles now. – Right. – And I’m really (laughing), I’m really interested in the intangibles. I’m interested in the economic
results of the intangibles. Things like affection,
familiarity, loyalty, those things, neighborliness. Kindness, loving kindness
towards your neighbors. Those things have an economic result. People raised in the kind of
Protestantism I was raised in don’t know that but the
Amish know it perfectly. Well, affection, we all feel it. One word for it’s love, which
is a badly depreciated word, and we got to watch it,
it’s a word you mustn’t use except in context, some kind of context. I mean, your arms around
somebody is a context. (laughing) People who are falling
in love feel affection. And we know what to make of that. That raises a lot of questions. If you like it, and you like the person that it’s happening to you with, then another very demanding question, how can you make it last? How can you make it come to a good result? And this brings a lot into play. And a lot of intangibility’s that are gonna have very tangible results. So affection, well, I’m
beginning to think of affection and knowledge almost as synonyms. – But and that’s the difference
between universities, which keep them separate, right? – Well it is, well you have
these ideas cropping up like objectivity, which most
people know is worthless. (laughing) – Absolutely. – You’re going to learn
about the things you love. And maybe the reverse is true sometimes. Sometimes the things you know,
you find out are not worthy. But when you love the woods,
you have the best motivation for learning something about forestry. – Wendell, if I could just
pick up on that point, because what strikes me, and
I’m sure many many others, is exactly that, your love of the woods, your love the farm, your love of place, and I just wanted to read these few lines of where you’re moving into a wooded area, and you’re in a timelessness. And just have you reflect for us this incredible mingling of life and death that takes place there. This is your magnificent language, but, ruin is in place here, the dead leaves rotting on the ground, the live leaves in the air are
gathered in a single dance, that turns them round and round. The fox cub trots his
almost pathless path, as silence as his absence. These passing’s resurrect
a joy without defect, the life that steps and
sings in ways of death. – Well I think that’s pretty good stuff. – [Mary] Yeah. (laughing) Wendell, anyone who can
sing in joy and death gives us such encouragement. – Well it’s all apart of the same thing is what I was saying there, but, that sort of begins to hint
at this business of affection, and what it really is, what you find out, if you love the fields, and the woods, and you keep going back, and you keep looking, I’ve
been looking at my place now, really ever since I was born. And what I know is that
it’s inexhaustible. And it’s inexhaustibly beautiful. And the beauty of it includes
by now for me a lot of sorrow. I can’t look at my home landscape without noticing that a lot of people
are not there, whom I miss. But it becomes rich in that sense. And so you, I get to needing less and less
to go and see other places. Because I know I’ll never
finish seeing this one place. It’s inexhaustibly beautiful, it’s inexhaustibly interesting, it’s inexhaustibly surprising. Every day there’s the
chance you’re gonna see something you’ve never seen before. My trapper friend was
telling me the other day he’d seen an otter keeping his fish, he’d caught a pretty good fish, and the eagles were after him for it. And he was a man who’s
watched and watched. The eagles were really giving
this otter a rough time, he couldn’t stay under
water long enough to get, to make ’em give up. He finally came up in a pile of brush. And that stopped ’em. (laughing) He was delighted you see, and he’s been watching a long time. – So, most of us know you the way that we can, which is through your writing of course, and you’ve found poetry and fiction have been things that nourished your life as an activist and a farmer, and you found that the
activist and the farmer has nourished the writing. Could you just talk a
little bit about that? You’ve had two kinds of
work really in your life, and you’ve gone back
and forth between them, and I’m curious about how
that movement works for you and how it takes place. – Actually Thurow saw
that interconnection, that the life of the body served directly the life of the mind. But we’re getting me into trouble here, because this is hard to talk about. I know that my work as a writer has been under the influence of
my life as a farmer, sometimes in obvious ways. I’ve never farmed for a living, and nobody could make a
living on the farm I have. It’s too, it’s got too many problems. It’s either steep or it overflows. So it’s a farm that can teach you a lot, but it’s not gonna make
you a lot of money. (laughing) But nevertheless, I have put myself in a
situation in which I have to go outside everyday to care for livestock. I’ve had to look at what rain
does to uncovered ground, I’ve had to feel the satisfaction of watching it fall on ground
that is adequately covered. That has informed what I’ve
written about agriculture, it seems to me, with some authority, that I wouldn’t have
been able to give my work if I hadn’t been doing it everyday. And it’s also informed my
work with the lively interest in the subject that comes from the pleasure of taking from it. Dread and difficulty, but also pleasure. There’s some kind of pleasure connected with cleaning up a mess. (laughing) That everybody ought to be aware of. The best example I know is washing dishes. I’m like anybody else, I
don’t do it unless I have to. But once I’m in it, I
really love washing dishes. You can’t imagine, the worst mess, there’s a bunch of dishes
piled over here on this side, dirty and dripping, and ugly, (laughing) in utter disorder, and you
put ’em through this process of soap and scrubbing and
scrubbing and rinsing, and all the sudden here they
are over here in a neat pile. – Miraculous. – All pleasant to look at. And it’s the same way with
fixing a balled up wire fence. I’ve done it over and over again, sometimes in the rain,
sometimes in cold weather when my hands were numb. To start with a snarl
of wire and work it out to something that will
again hold your livestock is just so satisfying. And there must be some
analogy between that and working from this conglomeration, this wad of stuff you know that’s, that’s going on inside
your head all the time, to making it into something
orderly on a page. Now that doesn’t mean that what you’ve got on the page is ever adequate to what you’ve got in your mind. This is something I’ve
had to learn to accept, first with some regret, and
then with a certain joy, that everything we could put into words, or numbers, is reduced. We’re always working and
to the extent that we can work and communicate to each about it, we’re working with a reduced
replica of the reality that we’re really living
in and experiencing. That’s why we’ve got to have
freedom of speech and thought of those things which we’ve
always got to correct. People who are by nature reductions have got to be correcting all the time. – You know, just to pick up the activism that Jeff has brought into play, I think it’s important to mention that your paths have crossed
several times in Washington with our former dean of the School of Forestry and
Environmental Studies, Gus Speth, especially on the Exxon pipeline with the tar sands in Alberta, but I think you spent a
weekend with him in jail, in Washington D.C.– – No I didn’t. – Oh, okay. (laughing) – Nope, I’m sorry. (laughing) – Bill McKibben’s likes– – A little.
– That story. – No, I didn’t even go to
Washington on that jaunt. – On that one, okay. Was it earlier, one of the coal– – I missed my chance. (laughing) No, I didn’t do that,
but I have met Gus Speth, I’ve talked with him, sure. – You know, what you said
about that work and writing, it just puts me in mind
of things that I’ve read, about the many times through
your writings that you recall, including one I sent
out to everybody here, what it was like to cut tobacco. Now I’ve cut tobacco,
and it’s not an easy job. But there was more to it
than just the hard labor. It played another role, right? In the community, but I’m
curious how that might have fed some of the things
that you think about too? – Well working hard that
way with somebody is well there’s a certain analogy to dancing. You work, crude work, to go well, it has to be done by
people who know each other, and know how to anticipate each other, know each others moves, and so on, so you begin to know
those people intimately, and that, you know, after
you’ve lost some of ’em, they’ve gone on, it become
very dear knowledge. But also, these situations
in which people do work that can be really miserable,
become very good talkers. And I don’t know how a writer
could have had a better background of that kind than I did. To listen to the talk, to take part in it, in tobacco barns, strippin’
rooms, tobacco pastures, around the water jug, I’d
roll ends, those things, I’ve just heard wonderful talk, by people who really couldn’t talk. Not necessarily educated people, people who really knew how to
talk for their own amusement, and to amuse everybody else. And so, you have this odd convergence in this really hard cruel work. And that is the convergence
of suffering and pleasure. I’ll tell you a story, we had a man who, was a part of our, a part of our crew, and
he had a childhood disease that crippled him, he
always called it polio because he didn’t wanna
explain what it really was. But he was a small man, probably
in the days of his vigor, he never weighed over 120, 25 pounds, but he did as much work as anybody. He was, everybody admired him, you know? And in 1973, I had a photographer friend named James Baker Hall,
who turned up at home during tobacco cutting
time, and I said, you know, while you’re here, you might
like to take some pictures of the tobacco harvest,
and he took a whole set. He was a good photographer
and they were good pictures, and this is a set of pictures that could not be reproduced now. I mean the age of those pictures, what 40 years ago, is gone, it is over. But then we exhibited those
pictures in the county seat, at an event, and, Eddie, my friend I’m telling you about, sort of took up a position there, a lot of people were
looking at those pictures not knowing what they were seeing. Lot of old farmers were there too, and would look at those pictures
and cry, ’cause they knew. But Eddie took his
station, and I heard him tell a bunch of people, he said, you’re wondering where you could do that and keep it from being hard? Said it was hard work, but you wouldn’t believe the fun we had. I loved him, you know. – Alright, I’m gonna ask
you one last question. Which is, I heard this last night, Wendell had dinner with
a number of students from the Sustainable Farm
Project here at Yale, and my students in Timothy Dwight College, we had a good time last night. And you gave some advice
to future farmers. (laughing) Or you gave some advice to
them about being a farmer, and I think maybe, given
that I’ve heard it, it might be useful to
give that advice now. – You mean don’t do it? (laughing) Yeah, yeah, I was tellin’ ’em, I had a very naive idea of
what was to be a writer. I didn’t anticipate at first that publishing a book would cause you to be asked to make a speech. I found that shocking and then, (laughing) remunerated, I’d penned on it for a while. But also, after I published the
Unsettling of America, 1977, I began to get letters from people at the extreme end of the
range of these letters, people would say I’m sick of my work, I know it’s not good work, I know it’s not doing good to the world, I’m gonna quit it, and
sell out, and buy a farm. And that really did set me back. Because I saw that I’d
assumed a responsibility that I didn’t intend to take on at all. So I began to tell some
people just don’t do that. (laughing) If you’re 45 or 50 years old, and you’ve never farmed, don’t do it. (laughing) And so I have, you can’t advise
people, you really can’t. You can’t tell people
what they ought to do if you don’t know them, you
don’t know where they are, you don’t really know what
they’re talking about. But people do get the
feeling of being lost and bewildered and they write to somebody that sounds like he’s not
bewildered, which is a front. (laughing) – But yesterday you had a
wonderful visit at the Yale farm, where it was Friday, and I
think you wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Yale farm
and the Yale Food Project, and Mark Bomford’s work, and Jackie Lewin, so there’s other ways, right, to bring this in to the conversation. – So, I’ve developed ways
to answer the other people, young people, who have a good job, in town, well I say, go
ahead, but keep your job. It’s possible to think of
selling your house in town maybe you get a good deal, you know, and buy a house with some
land around it in the country, and you’d be in the same fix, essentially. And you don’t, if you’ve
got your town job, you don’t have to farm it. You’re not economically dependent on it, so all you need to do
is mow it once a year to keep the bushes from taking it, keep it in grass, and
it doesn’t do a thing but lie there and get better. And then as you feel
ambitious, make a garden, get a few chickens, get a pig. (laughing) A few sheep, but a build a fence first. (laughing) There are ways to make this transition. And there are ways for people
who don’t know how to farm who’ve never lived in such a place, have no experience to get experience, to get experienced, and to get help from asking neighbors
from people who know, people who know wanna tell usually. And it can be tried
out, it can also be quit if you haven’t put everything
in jeopardy, you see. – Right, what I’m saying, and you have brought this forward too, is there are a number of
models, like you’ve just said, and I’m really just trying
to give a shout out here to our Yale farm and what
they have done for Yale. (clapping) – Well this is what I
started, was meaning, an example, what I was meaning when I was talking about the university. An assortment of disciplines
are represented over there. – And also the community
supported agriculture, we have Massaro Farm out in Woodbridge, and Steve Muno is here, and that’s fantastic what they have done. – Well, we subscribe to a CSA ourselves. As we’ve shrunk our garden some. But, because of age and wear, but all this is absolutely important. I’m glad that we got around to this. Urban gardening, urban agriculture, those things, subscribing to CSA’s, going to the farmers markets, all those things are of
urgent importance because farmers are not anybody’s
constituents anymore. There are not enough of ’em. And I think all the thoughtful ones who want agriculture to survive and themselves and their
families along with it, know they’ve got to have
informed urban allies. And so there is a kind
of urban agrarianism that’s developing in the cities, it’s not knowledgeable
and refined enough yet, but it’s going in that direction. And Yale’s School of Forestry
and Environmental Studies has urban ecology and
tremendous planting of trees here in New Haven with– – Well when you said for urban forestry, it’s a shame to throw away a good tree just because it happened
to blow down in town. – Right. (laughing) – Urban logging. (laughing) – Well Wendell I hoped you’d maybe close our time together this afternoon by reading a poem that
you’d like us to hear. On this particular occasion, I think you picked out something. – You had told me that, and
I decided I’d read three. (laughing) (clapping) – Thank you Jesus! (clapping) – We were in a quandary, Jeff and I, about how we would get a book. We went down to his office and Mary Evelyn had put a book down there
for me to sign, you see, so this was all divinely arranged. (laughing) This is a book called This Day, and it’s a collection of all
the so called sabbath poems, until now, and as a, let’s see what I called it, as a preface, I used two
new poems from this year, this sabbaths 1979 to 2012. And I’ll read one of those poems, and then a little short one,
and then a concluding one. Times will come as they must,
by necessity or his wish. When he leaves, his
enclosure and his window, his home scape of house and garden, barn and pasture, the incarnate life of his desire, thought, and daily work. His grazing animals look up to watch in silence as he departs. He sets out in times without even a path or any guidance other than
knowledge of the place and himself as they were
in time already past. He goes among trees, climbing
again the one hill of his life with his hand full of words
he goes into the wordless, wording it barely in time as he passes. One by one he places
words, balancing on each, as on a small stone in the swift flow, in his anxious patience
until the next arrival, until he has come at last again into presentment of the real, the holy real, in it’s grand composure. For which as before, he knows no word, and here again, he must stop. Here by luck or grace he may find rest, which he has been seeking all along. Sometimes by the times
flaws and his own he fails. And then by luck or grace he will be given another day to try again, to go maybe yet farther
before again he must stop. He is a gatherer of fragments,
a cobbler of pieces, piece by piece he tells
a story without end, for in the time of this
world, no end can come. It is the story of eternities shining, much shadowed, much put off, in time. And time, however long, falls short. (clapping) And this is a poem from
last summers drought. We had a really, very severe drought last summer. No, no, summer before last. 2012. After the long weeks, when
the heat curled the leaves, and the air thirsted,
comes a morning after rain, cool and bright, the leaves uncurl, the
pastures began again to grow. The animals and the birds rejoice, if tonight the world ends,
we’ll of had this day. (clapping) See I’m working toward
what I’ll settle for. (laughing) Now this is a poem, that to my surprise is a character I’ve written about before called the Mad Farmer,
enters into this sequence, or this, not a sequence,
it’s a series of poems, and the Mad Farmer is
a character I’ve used to accommodate extravagance. He’s mad sometimes in the sense of angry, he’s never mad in the sense of crazy, but he’s mad in the sense that in a crazy time, somebody as
sane as he is looks crazy. (laughing) And this is a Christmas poem. (laughing) As a child, the Mad Farmer saw easily, the vision of heavens
Christ born in a stable. The brilliant star
stopped in the high dark, the sheltered beasts standing silently by. He knows the beasts, he
is himself a shepherd, and still more clearly
by the gift of a moment, he sees the shepherds on
their cold hill by night. The sky flying suddenly
open over their heads, the light of very heaven
falling upon them, the angels descending, slowly as snow, their singing filling
far and wide the dark on earth, peace good will. The vision, the gift, only of moments he has kept in his eyes, in his heart. He knows how it passes, how it fades, how it stays, how far we have drawn away. He thinks of distance,
the hard hungry journey of a foolish man, a pilgrim in
the foreshadow of apocalypse toward the almost forgotten light far beyond the polluted
river, the blasted mountains, the killed children, the bombed villages, jaunted already by the
hurting bodies of their dead. Some of the past he dreads as
if it has not yet happened. From present portent, he
fears the time to come, beyond and beyond is
the shepherds startling, ever staying light, no creature
of his slow minded kind may ever stand in that
light again, he sets out. (clapping) So we’re gettin’ off. – Thank you. – Thank you Wendell. – Thank you sir. (clapping) (laughing) – You are all polite, but
you oughta be more critical. (laughing) – Alright, okay. – Oh boy. (laughing)

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