I have been reading Wendell Berry and thinking about home. In his essay "A Native Hill," Berry describes a conversation he had with a New Yorker who tried to convince him to stay in that fair city for the sake of his literary career after Berry announced he was moving home to Kentucky.
Berry admits that the literary world mattered to him then (and I suppose it still does), "but the world was more important to me than the literary world; and the world would always be most fully and clearly present to me in the place I was fated by birth to know better than any other."
The man persisted, politely, that Berry, like Thomas Wolfe, "could not go home again." The man's argument, Berry says, "was based on the belief that once one had attained the metropolis, the literary capital, the worth of one's origins was canceled out; there simply could be nothing worth going back to. What lay behind one had ceased to be a part of life, and had become 'subject matter.'"
Berry's point, which he makes so fully and beautifully in this patient, expansive essay, is that he has been more fully alive and conscious in his home place, in Port Henry, Kentucky, than he could have been elsewhere. He knows the people and the place, has walked every square mile of its hollows and ridges, understands and accepts its less than perfect history. And because he has been more fully human living in Port Henry, he has (I extrapolate) been truer to himself as a writer, too.
I could not be Wendell Berry — I am neither as smart nor as stern as he (and I am not a man) — but I admire his thinking and his writing, his economy of word and thought. And I imagine I will be writing about him again.
In the meantime, I illustrate this post with a picture of a hill I have come to love. It is not a "native hill" — it is neither in my home state of Kentucky nor my adopted state of Virginia. It is in between. It is a hill I pass on the long drives through West Virginia that keep me tethered to the land I love.
Labels: books, place