“We must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence.” –Wendell Berry, “The Long-Legged House”
When was the last time you stood in awe? I can think of many such experiences and the ones that to come to mind most readily are the mountaintop experiences in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Rockies, the Tetons, and the Wind River Range. However, I’ve also had them right outside my back door.
I’m an avid reader. It is not unusual for me to find an author that I like and go on a “reading binge” consuming everything that he or she has written. Recently, I discovered Wendell Berry and I almost feel as though I am in the midst of some great awakening. His work truly speaks to me and it seems so timely in light of current national and world events.
How did I miss Berry in all my reading? Surely his work was shelved with the works I have read by Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and, more recently, Rick Bass. My wife and I have been reading “The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry” as sort of a survey course of Berry’s work and if I have said, both to Gena and to myself, that “this man is a genius” once, I have said it one hundred times.
The thing is, I am really solutions-oriented. When our children come to me with a problem or dilemma, my first action, after listening to the situation, is to ask what solution they have in mind and then, if necessary, to suggest a solution of my own. This is probably one of the things I love most about Berry. In all my reading thus far, he never presents a problem without offering a solution.
So, why am I sharing this with you and what does this have to do with the outdoors? I think, first and foremost, there is the issue of connection, specifically our connection to the land. Looking at our society as a whole, we have lost our connection with the land and, as a result, with our food.
Although this is not a “why I hunt article” per se, the connection with my food has, since I was old enough to think deeply enough about the subject, always been a key reason why I hunt and fish. The wild game and fish that I harvest, process, and consume meets all the “feel-good” criteria offered on packaging labels and restaurant menus: organic, free-range, cage-free, no preservatives, hormone and antibiotic-free.
One of the Berry quotes that stands out to me in relation to this approach is a quote about eating the animals he and his wife raise on their farm. According to Berry one should, “... eat with understanding and gratitude. A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.”
I thoroughly enjoy habitat management and taking part in improving and managing our family land. To be clear, wild creatures are not livestock, however, all of the deer, turkey, and quail that populate our tree farm benefit from the food plots and native browse that we work to cultivate each year.
One of the greatest and most humbling pleasures that I experience is watching the successful and responsible harvest of a few of those animals each year for our food. I think that by taking an active part in this “circle of life” we are ensuring, at least on the small patch of earth we are responsible for managing, the health and continued growth of the land and the creatures that inhabit it.
As I was taking an active part in these management practices this past weekend, I had the opportunity to “stand in awe” as Berry described earlier. I was clearing an old food plot by the lake of small trees and brush when I happened to notice something in the limbs of one of the oak trees my father-in-law had planted there several years earlier.
On my next pass with the tractor, I slowed to get a better look at the gray blob hanging from the limb and determined it was one of the largest hornet nests I had ever seen. As I idled the tractor to a stop, I noticed the frenzy of activity on and around the nest and I was awed.
I was awed by the intricate detail of the structure and by the amazing natural camouflage these winged craftsmen had created. It blended in perfectly with the bark of the oak and the leaves of the tree and I was thankful that I had not disturbed the nest while clearing the brush.
The reality is that you don’t have to go the the mountains to experience awe. It is waiting for you just outside your back door and all that you need do is take the time to experience it. Until next time, I look forward to seeing you out there in our great outdoors.
Email outdoors columnist Brad Dye at firstname.lastname@example.org.