Some Thoughts on Division

I heard a professor talking about visiting and getting to know a family in Montana. There were six children in the family and every one of them had served in the military, not because of the economic draft but rather because there is a tradition of military service in their community and family. The professor (from Harvard or somewhere like that) was reflecting on the fact that back at his campus he didn’t know anyone with a child who had served in the military.

Recently I heard Mark Halperin discussing talking with a group of Democratic donors in New York. He asked for a show of hands for how many of them had been to Europe in the past year, and lots of hands went up. Then he asked how many of them had been to Staten Island. Zero hands went up.

Maybe we’ve always been divided culturally, but it seems to be getting worse. Largely gone now are the regional/sectional divisions of the past. Last night we went to hear an American history professor from UNC give a talk about one of his books on the presidency. He said that nowadays (in contrast to the past) affluent suburban people outside of Atlanta vote the same way as affluent suburban people outside of Detroit. Our divisions seem to be increasingly socio-economic.

Among rural people who aren’t highly educated (meaning almost all of us), it seems that the dominant culture not only doesn’t share our values, but rejects and ridicules them. Basic traditional fundamental values like patriotism and religion are seen not as virtues, but indicia of ignorance.

And if this is to be a culture war, where does it leave me? Affluent and educated (at least by country standards), I don’t share many of the biases and political preferences of my friends and neighbors. But country-born and raised, with deep and profound roots here, I take offense at, and want nothing to do with, the contempt and derision being directed at my people by my socio-economic peers.

There is a great old song that asks the question on my mind: what do you do with good old boys like me?

When I was a kid Uncle Remus would put me to bed
With a picture of Stonewall Jackson above my head
Then daddy’d come in to kiss his little man
With gin on his breath and a Bible in his hand
He talked about honor and things I should know
Then he’d stagger a little as he went out the door

I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees
And those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me
Hank and Tennessee
I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be
So what do you do with good ole boys like me?

Nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does
But you ain’t afraid if you’re washed in the blood like I was
The smell of cape jasmine through the window screen
John R. and the Wolfman kept me company
By the light of the radio by my bed
With Thomas Wolfe whispering in my head

When I was in school I ran with kid down the street
But I watched him burn himself up on bourbon and speed
But I was smarter than most and I could choose
Learned to talk like the man on the six o’clock news
When I was eighteen, Lord, I hit the road
But it really doesn’t matter how far I go

I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees
And those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me
Hank and Tennessee
I guess we’re all gonna be what we’re gonna be
So what do you do with good ole boys like me?

And in these days, with folks like us cast as the villains of history (scapegoats might be a better word), Mr. Berry has wisdom to offer.

Anglo-Saxon Protestant Heterosexual Men

Come, dear brothers
let us cheerfully acknowledge
that we are the last hope of the world,
for we have no excuses,
nobody to blame but ourselves.
Who is going to sit at our feet
and listen while we bewail
our historical sufferings? Who
will ever believe that we also
have wept in the night
with repressed longing to become
our real selves? Who will
stand forth and proclaim
that we have virtues and talents
peculiar to our category? Nobody,
and that is good. For here we are
at last with our real selves
in the real world. Therefore,
let us quiet our hearts, my brothers,
and settle down for a change
to picking up after ourselves
and a few centuries of honest work.

Wendell Berry

These are growing pains I suppose–just another of the countless transitions humanity has experienced through the millennia. We’ll all come out of it just fine in the end, hopefully without unduly impoverishing our imaginations and our history.

In the meantime, if I could offer some advice from the perspective of someone who straddles both worlds (often uncomfortably) I would urge people to think charitably. That is, don’t assume the worst about the motives of those on the other side of the fence. In the end we’re shaped by things we have little control over. The vast majority of us want the same things ultimately–even if we disagree on how to achieve them. And for every fault we see in those with whom we don’t agree, we can find plenty of things to praise and admire if we only choose to look carefully for them.


A Healthy Thing

In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

Bertrand Russell

It Begins


Within in a few hours of my publishing yesterday’s post, our goat Sharona delivered triplets.



Twelve hours later

They’re a fine looking trio–two males and a female.



On another subject, the spring gardens are all in now. For some reason I do not understand, our English peas were a fail. We’ve always planted an entire garden of them in the past, but they’re so labor-intensive that this year we reduced it to just one row, for ourselves. Strangely, even though we had excellent germination with all the rest of our direct-seeded veggies, even the ones that are notoriously difficult, the peas (usually the easiest thing to grow in the spring) didn’t come up. Must have been bad seed. In any event, I replanted the row yesterday in broccoli.

Even as we’re watching the spring plantings mature, we’re starting to prep the summer gardens, which will planted in early May.

Lately we’ve been enjoying asparagus fresh from the garden.


It’s a great time of year.

This Month, But Not Yet

I should have made a note of the exact dates to expect our kids. I recall that our buck became amorous at a time that would assure April births, but I don’t recall exactly when. I used to be more careful about keeping track of that. In any event, we’re still waiting.

The two that were born a month ago were the products of one or two of our little bucklings, just before they went to market.


One month old

Meanwhile the kids who were born last fall are nearly as big as their mamas now. We’ll take the bucklings to market next month and keep the doelings.


Growing up

The good news is that it’s warm and dry now. So when these mamas finally get around to having their babies (and from the looks of things that could be any day now), we shouldn’t have to worry about weather-related complications.


Her name is Dolly. Really. And this was taken a couple of days ago. She’s even more Dollyesque now.



The Poem that Changed my Life

I was miserable. Angry and stressed out. My law practice was so “successful” that it left me little time for anything else. I felt like I was wasting my life.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but one morning while I was leaving home for the office my wife Cherie handed me a copy of something she’d copied out of Orion Magazine. It was a poem by Wendell Berry.

I’d heard of Wendell Berry. I knew him as a moderately well-known regional novelist, but I’d never read any of his work.

I took the poem with me and read it at my desk that morning. It rocked my world. I think it’s fair to say that the poem changed my life.

Inspired by it, I began to read more of Mr. Berry’s work, beginning with his essays and poetry. I had found a voice that made sense to me in inexplicably profound ways, amid what I recognize in retrospect as a deepening mid-life crisis.

Not long after Mr. Berry lit (or revealed) a fire in me, Cherie told me that he was going to be speaking at an event in Louisville called the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. Without hesitation I said we should go to it.

At that time I had little interest in agriculture. I grew up on a farm, working in the fields from when I was seven years old. I knew from an early age that I didn’t have the aptitude for farming and that I was destined and designed for something else. And I couldn’t have defined “sustainable agriculture.” So the subject of the conference didn’t interest me much, but the chance to see and hear Wendell Berry did.

Mr. Berry was the keynote speaker at the conference. Southern SAWG, as it’s called, is a conference for farmers of a particular sort. I passed the time waiting for the main event by attending two days of breakout sessions. The focus was on practicalities, not philosophy. While the “why” overlaid everything, the emphasis was on the “how.” Quite unexpectedly I found myself inspired. My deep desire to return home to the farm where I grew up, my yearning for a more meaningful purpose in life, and the intense appeal of agrarianism, all collided. We had already bought the family farm at that point, to prevent it being sold. Now I understood what I should do with it, and with myself. It was a watershed turning point in my life.

In hindsight it’s funny that the Wendell Berry appearance itself was sort of anti-climatic. He gave no fiery exhortation to the faithful (as I had expected). Instead, he began by saying, “They asked to me to speak. I told them that I will not speak, but I will read,” (if possible, try to imagine that as Wendell Berry would say it) then proceeded to read a humorous section from one of his novels.

But the inspiration I found at that conference snowballed and within a few years I left my law practice, at the peak of a hard-earned career, for a life raising goats, pigs, chickens and vegetables. A couple of years later Mr. Berry spoke again at the conference, this time delivering something like what I had expected the first time. We even got to meet him at a book signing.

Us and Wendell Berry.png

But it all began with a poem Cherie thought I would enjoy. I kept the copy she gave me on my desk and read it hundreds of times over the years. It inspired the the title of this blog.

So, with that long-winded introduction, here it is.

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Andrew Jackson, 1832

“Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions.

“In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society-the farmers, mechanics, and laborers-who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government.

“There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.”

Andrew Jackson

Even Now

I recall reading once that our ancestors thought of early spring as “the starving time,” rather than the dead of winter. Just as spring would begin to arrive, the world turning green in promise of coming abundance, the food stored for winter would begin to spoil or run out, before the bounty of spring and summer had appeared. It seems a cruel time to be hungry.

Of course very few of us go hungry these days while waiting for nature to start generating food again. If early spring was once considered a starving time, that’s a thing of the past now.

No one is starving here on White Flint Farm, but this is the time of year when we have the fewest fresh things coming in. We still have plenty of great food in storage, but our overwintered veggies are gone and the veggies we planted in March aren’t mature yet.

So what’s a seasonal eater to do?

No problem. The hens know spring is here so they’re laying like crazy. Thanks to the rains we have shiitake mushrooms blooming on our logs. And, best of all, the asparagus is coming in strong.

An asparagus and mushroom omelet perhaps?

Take care of a place and it will take care of you. It feels good to be in a relationship like that.