A Native Hill

The title I’ve chosen for this blog, “A Native Hill” comes from one of my favorite authors and social commentators Wendell Berry. He wouldn’t much approve of the idea of me writing this on my new laptop consuming a real amount of electricity (with an old but perfectly functioning laptop downstairs connected to a new TV), and especially lobbing this content onto a virtual world of computers linked together with industrialized “server farms” across the globe in an isolated community of individual web users. But nonetheless, he might appreciate my attempt to express even a small amount of what I’ve learned from him to other open ears.

And while on this topic of the Internet (that series of tubes), I don’t read many blogs regularly, so I’m not completely familiar with how one is to be written. And maybe it’s hypocritical to write a blog thinking one will read it when I do the same only with a small few. Through this process, I’ll try to remain honest in attempting to express the ideas I come across and facilitate, even if that means I’ll often appear hypocritical, excessively theoretical, over-analytical, and full of mistakes. But when I start to recognize my own mistakes, then can I begin to fulfill my own potential.

The first essay I read of Berry’s was “Why I am not going to buy a computer” which describes (if not obvious from the title) his beautifully simple and logical argument of the life he lives now as more than satisfactory without the use of a computer. After reading this short essay, I was intrigued by him and bought his book, The Art of the Commonplace. “A Native Hill” is the first in this collection of agrarian essays. And so to explain the title for its use here, I see it as a quest to find identity through discovering one’s home. Berry writes that when we find our home, we listen and talk with our neighbors, and we begin to see the physical land and the historical blunders we’ve committed against it. He writes:

We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us…. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it.

In protecting our own local community and land, we live with a sense of identity that cannot be found elsewhere. We come to understand a vision of who we are and how we are to go deeper in place. When accepting this surrounding, we no longer live with the individualized (and often arrogant) ambition of how we might deserve better, but we see the land as a “spouse” forming a relationship of ebbs and flows.

Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch. And to come to that understanding it is necessary, even now, to leave the regions of our conquest—the cleared fields, the towns and cities, the highways—and re-enter the woods. For only there can a man encounter the silence and the darkness of his own absence. Only in this silence and darkness can he recover the sense of the world’s longevity, of its ability to thrive without him, of his inferiority to it and his dependence on it. Perhaps then, having heard that silence and seen that darkness, he will grow humble before the place and begin to take it in—to learn from it what it is. As its sounds come into his hearing, and its lights and colors come into his vision, and its odors come into his nostrils, then he may come into its presence as he never has before, and he will arrive in his place and will want to remain. His life will grow out of the ground like the other lives of the place, and take its place among them. He will be with them—neither ignorant of them, nor indifferent to them, nor against them—and so at last he will grow to be native-born. That is, he must reenter the silence and the darkness, and be born again.

It is in this desire to find my native hill that leads me to this path of writing. For many years, I have often written for myself without openly considering the idea of writing in a public sphere. Those who know me, it has been known of my expressed outlet of photography and design, but recently I have found my work in those areas not challenging my craving to move beyond the purely aesthetic. And while writing is very much an aesthetic, it is one that I have neither been trained nor publicly practiced. My hope is that through becoming a novice again, I may regain a sense of purpose and vision — one scuffed cloudy with the years of striking the same spot.   •


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