Berry blesses us with a mixture of essays, fiction, and a poem. All are on the theme of the agrarian life. Agrarian life consists of loving and caring for earth and all its inhabitants. Agrarianism as Berry articulates it is about using the land in a way that preserves it for future use. Berry creatively and consistently contrasts the ruination of industrial farming and livestock raising with agrarian principles. Industrial principles include bigness, efficiency, chemical usage, short term goals and profit. Agrarian principles emphasize imitating the cycles of Nature, husbandry, preservation, thrift, observing the details of the farm, and subsistence.
The chapter “The Presence of Nature in the Natural World: A Long Conversation” traces the understanding of “Nature” in English literature from Alan of Lille to Spencer, Chaucer, to current usage. Berry then uses the long held understanding of nature to contrast with our current understanding of nature in literature and economic policy.
The fiction focuses on the character of Andy Catlett. Andy is the fictional representative of Wendell Berry. Berry has Andy meeting many of Berry’s real friends, such as David Kline and Wes Jackson, and then discusses what he learned from them.
Berry does not break any new ground here. The themes of this book are consistent with Berry’s previous work. However, as I was reading, I got the feeling that these writings are a summation. They are the reflections of a man who is well aware that his time of work will come to an end soon. The fictional “Andy” is doing a lot of remembering of people (family and friends) and the wisdom that they imparted to him. “Andy” is clearly preparing to join his ancestors soon.
Engaging the writings of Berry leads the reader to evaluate our place and participation in our modern life. Berry reminds us through his essays, fiction, and poetry that they way things are now is not how it has always been. Berry lays side by side the industrial way of life and the Agrarian way of life. As Berry describes it Agrarianism is about a proper ordering of priorities in relationships, economics, the good life, and about loving God and the fullness of what consists of our neighbors.