Meeting Mr. Berry

I went to a writer’s conference last weekend (I’ll share more on that later.) , and I met a new friend. I didn’t shake his hand, we didn’t speak and I have no idea what he looks like, because he wasn’t actually at the conference. He wasn’t there, but his imagination was.

One of the sessions I attended was about Wendell Berry’s literary works. I chose to attend this particular workshop because the theme of his writing fascinates me. Most of his books and short stories, and there are many, center around one small, rural Kentucky town. And while the stories contain many colorful people, the main character is Port William and the surrounding countryside.

I suppose the reason it spoke to me is the fact that it is so simple, almost minimalist; it’s less but it’s also more. The stories don’t stray too far from home, Wendell does not cast a wide net, he digs deep. The stories have layers, each one revealing something new about the town, it’s inhabitants, it’s history. His writing shares the joy, pain, hardship, humor and love of the people for each other and for the place.

I am currently reading his novel Jayber Crow, I’m only a few chapters into the story and I’ve already been swept away to a place I’ve never been and that does not actually exist. In the simplicity of his writing and the slow pace of rural America, Mr. Berry’s characters reveal deep thought’s about life, time and the world around us.

And so I came along in time to know the end of the age of steamboating. I would learn later that there had been other ages of the river that I had arrived to late to know but that I could read about and learn to imagine. There was at first the age when no people were here, and I have sometimes felt at night that absence grow present to my mind, that long silence in which no human name was spoken or given and the nameless river made no sound of any human tongue. And then there was the Indian age when names were called here that have never been spoken in the present language of Port William. Then came the short ages of us white people, the ages of the dugout, the flatboat, the keelboat, the log raft, the steam boat. And I have lived on now into the age of the diesel towboat and recreational boating and water-skiing. And yet it is hard to look at the river in its calm, just after daylight or just before dark, and believe that history has happened to it. The river, the river itself leaves marks but bears none. It is only water flowing in a path that other water has worn. –Jayber Crow

I love this quote. How often do we pause from running to and fro, living our too busy lives, doing our important things, to ponder what’s come before us and what will be when we are gone? Sometimes I feel like a car on the freeway, flying past everything to get to my chosen destination. If I want to live a deep life instead of a wide one, what I really need is, to be like a car on a winding back road. I need to take my time, notice what’s on my left, my right, before and behind me. I am so glad I met Mr. Berry and some of his friends. I can hardly wait to meet the rest of them.


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