The Peace of Wild Things

I live on two different planets simultaneously. It is reassuring to look outside at the spring returning. The ice is all gone from the pond, and little bass are swimming in shallows. Buds are swelling. Yesterday, I watched a Cooper’s hawk circle the pasture, dive, and reascend with a vole in it talons. The complex biological system of our area is beginning to reinvigorate.

And of course I’m surrounded by many layers of panics. Order volumes are higher than ever so packing orders and restocking freezers is a nonstop project. We’re working on backup plans to ensure packaging materials and supplies stay in stock. Chickens begin hatching in a few weeks. We’re trying to keep the kids on track with school work from home. We aren’t getting enough sleep, and we sure aren’t getting enough done.

I’d like to be the sort of guy who could talk honestly about finding peace in hard times. But I don’t possess the level of equipoise to which I aspire. The following poem by Wendell Berry speaks from the perspective of a person I’d wish to be. But somehow I never manage to “go and lie down”. The closest I come is stopping for a minute to look.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things: And Other Poems

I think the core of the challenge is in finding what to do with my admiration for “wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” I wonder if it is possible to truly live as a human in this chaotic world without forethought of grief. Forethought of grief is probably the most quintessentially human cognitive process. Maybe a little forethought of grief would have saved the vole from being eaten by the hawk. We do well to contemplate wild things and to find instruction in the instantaneity of their lives, but as with any moral axiom, this is only one piece of the balancing act of conflicting ideas and ideals we must simultaneously hold in our heads.

Somehow we need to consider the lilies of the field while also considering the chickens in the pasture, the orders on the farm website, and the broken starter solenoid on the tractor.

All the best to each of you as you keep walking the impossible path between prudence and panic.

8 Comments on “The Peace of Wild Things

  1. Thanks Dave,

    Now that I have left Verizon and am devoting myself to full time farming (such as it is), I too find peace in just being with the land and watching Spring arrive. I am getting the bees (Honey and Mason) ready, pruning fruit trees, feeding ducks and geese and hoping we get some eggs to hatch. The list goes on as you well know.

    In the background there is the commotion (stocks falling, virus spreading, empty shelves, social distance, etc.) and I can hear it beckon me to “pay attention”. I do. I try to stay focused on the branch I am cutting, the asparagus that I have started from seeds (my crowning achievement thus far this year!), and what is in front of me. I have a deep abiding faith that comes and goes.

    Wishing you and your family well. You remain an inspiration.

    • “I have a deep abiding faith that comes and goes.” Seems like that ought to be a line from a song. Deliver it deadpan and nasally and it could be straight from John Prine.

  2. I meant to comment on this post 😂😅
    Thanks for sharing such a beautiful poem! I deeply appreciate what you said and what you are doing.

  3. There is much to learn from the animals around us, as here, I see these creatures, wild or domesticated, go about their lives and deaths. Life lessons are easy but I find it most hard to learn about death from these creatures, yet every now and then I try because I think therein lies a truly great lesson. Surely there’s the panic of a captive or cornered animal, but somehow, none of the grief which humans are ‘gifted’ with. Somehow none of the misery either, like that of a butterfly, wings tattered, at the very last moment of its life. 2019 was a tough year, and this year started even tougher. I must admit, I’d still like to be around to see what happens in the future … greetings from me and Trevor!

    • Yes, all the best to you. I agree with you. Sometimes I feel like there’s a lesson in front of me but I don’t know what it is, as if I’m seeing something important unfold, but I don’t know what names to use, and perhaps I’ll never understand it enough to reduce it to a “lesson” anyway. But I find great satisfaction in bringing hay to the cattle in the winter, or moving them to fresh grass in the summer, or filling the chicken feeders, and then just stopping for a while to watch them go about their eating and grooming and squabbling. It’s a re-aligning experience.

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