Wendell Berry received the National Humanities Medal in 2010 for his achievement as a poet, novelist, farmer and conservationist. He summarized his philosophy in this year’s Jefferson Lecture, titled “It All Turns On Affection.” For more than 50 years, Berry has been writing about life in a fictional small town called Port William. Its families are closely bound by marriage, kinship, friendship, history and memory. They help each other with the hard work of farming and take pleasure in the telling of shared stories. In a new collection, characters age and pass on, but their tales of love, joy and sorrow live on.


  • Wendell Berry Author of 50 books of poetry, fiction and essays.

Read An Excerpt

Excerpt from “A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership” by Wendell Berry. Copyright 2012 by Wendell Berry. Reprinted here by permission of Counterpoint Press. All rights reserved.


  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Wendell Berry is a poet, essayist, novelist, farmer and conservationist. He delivered the Jefferson lecture this year, the most prestigious honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the Humanities. For more than 50 years, he's been writing about the people who live in the small fictional town of Port William, Ky. They call themselves the Membership. His latest book contains 20 stories spanning the years from 1864 through 2008.

  • 10:07:33

    MS. DIANE REHMIt offers a blueprint from the past for present and future generations on how to behave toward each other and the environment. The title is "A Place in Time." Wendell Berry joins me in the studio. You're invited to be a part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. How good to see you again. Wendell Berry, so pleased to have you here.

  • 10:08:11

    MR. WENDELL BERRYThank you very much. I'm pleased to be here.

  • 10:08:13

    REHMYou know, before we talk about your new book, "A Place in Time," I want to ask you about the Jefferson lecture which is titled "It All Turns on Affection."

  • 10:08:29


  • 10:08:30

    REHMWould you explain that title for us?

  • 10:08:35

    BERRYWell, the title is borrowed from E. M. Forster's novel, "Howard's End." The importance of it, to me, is that I think that people don't take care of things they don't have affection for. And so affection, for me, begins all the arguments about conservation, energy use and so on.

  • 10:09:08

    REHMDo you think we have become so separated from our environment that that is part of the problem?

  • 10:09:21

    BERRYYes. I think we've become seriously separated from it, that in a way the countryside is now deserted. The farming population has been reduced to something less than 2 percent. I'm not sure where it has got to by now. But almost nobody is farming in terms of the percentage of the population. And most of those people are visiting their fields twice a year in air-conditioned tractor cabs.

  • 10:10:02

    BERRYThe people who live in the country, for the most part aren't working in the country, and I think country pleasures are in serious decline. So I take Wes Jackson's principle seriously, that for any place, there's a proper ratio between the eyes to acres. And if there aren't enough people watching -- and I mean year round, not on vacations and that sort of thing -- if there aren't enough people watching, day by day, then serious changes take place. And nobody knows it.

  • 10:10:46

    REHMBut aren't you talking here more broadly then just about the farming entities?

  • 10:10:58

    BERRYWell, I'm really talking about my experience at home, what I'm seeing at home in terms of changes. And I'm not sure that I understand the drift of your question.

  • 10:11:13

    REHMWell, the drift of my question is that not only are we not watching over the land as closely as possible, but perhaps not watching over each other as closely as possible.

  • 10:11:33

    BERRYWell, I think the two go together. Well, the great mistake that we make is when we assume that the land can be abused to improve the people or that the people can be abused to improve the land. I learned a long time ago from a coal field organization that had come up as strip mining began in Eastern Kentucky and other places -- it was called the Appalachian Group -- to save the land and the people.

  • 10:12:09

    BERRYAnd from that time on -- this was in the early -- in the mid-'60s. From that time on, I've always, in my thinking, coupled the land and the people as being ultimately one thing in the sense that they share one fate.

  • 10:12:27

    REHMThere's been a great deal of talk recently and certainly as part of the election aftermath, the storms that hit and the like of how the climate may be changing because of man's activity.

  • 10:12:52


  • 10:12:53

    REHMAt the same time, there is great excitement among those who are producing oil and gas, extracting it from the land...

  • 10:13:03


  • 10:13:06

    REHM...and touting the productivity, touting the lower cost of energy that that could produce for this country. What happens to the balance between what people need in the way of energy and what they need in the way of purity of air and water and land?

  • 10:13:38

    BERRYWell, the assumption is that the need is great. And the need, as I understand it as their thinking about it, is that we need above all, above everything, to keep the motors running in the interest of speed, comfort and convenience. In other words, we don't want to change our habits in those ways and that we will then sacrifice both the land and the people in order to achieve that.

  • 10:14:17

    BERRYMy thinking about that starts with the assumption that to do permanent damage to the ecosphere is wrong, absolutely wrong, and that when these extraction enterprises, to produce fuel, destroy permanently parts of the world, that's wrong. There's no excuse for it. And for that reason, I'm not taking anybody very seriously who's talking about energy, who isn't talking about rationing.

  • 10:15:00


  • 10:15:01

    BERRYIf we -- but it's not just an issue of energy consumption and availability and price. It's the -- I'm concerned about energy use. I think if we had a limitless supply of clean, cheap energy, we would wear the world out, driving on it and using it in other violent ways. So I'm in fairly complete disagreement with this energy economy that we're in and that, I myself, am complicit in.

  • 10:15:46

    REHMIn Kentucky, you've seen some of this fracking going on.

  • 10:15:50

    BERRYI've seen not fracking, but mountain top removal. And the behavior of the coal industry, in the so-called coal fields of Eastern Kentucky, demonstrates to me that corporations cannot be depended on to observe any limits in their relationship, either to the land or to the people.

  • 10:16:22

    REHMSo once this mountain top removal has occurred, what has been the restructuring that's taken place thereafter?

  • 10:16:33

    BERRYWell, the restructuring would vary, but what the so-called reclamation consists of is leveling the ruins that are left from which the top soil, the original forest and the original soil has been lost forever, leveling those places and sowing them in alien grasses and legumes, which don't constitute a satisfactory land cover in the first place and can't, in human time, be depended on to replace the original mixed mesophytic forest of that area, which is one of the richest forest ecosystems in the world.

  • 10:17:28

    REHMSo what you end up with is a scarred landscape. But to what extent has the community involved, extracted its own wealth from that occurrence?

  • 10:17:46

    BERRYWell, the community involved is divided between sufferers from the effects of this violent mining and the people who are employed by it. But the region itself has not benefited from the coal economy.

  • 10:18:14

    REHMNot at all?

  • 10:18:16

    BERRYHarry Cottle, in his day, used to call attention to the fact that Pike County, Ky., in terms of its natural endowments of timber and mineral, was one of the richest counties in the world, and it had some of the poorest people.

  • 10:18:37

    REHMWendell Berry, his new book of 20 stories is titled, "A Place in Time." Short break, we'll talk more and then take your calls.

  • 10:20:01

    REHMAnd welcome back. Wendell Berry is with me. It is my pleasure to have him here for the second time. And this time we're about to talk about his new book of Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership. It's titled "A Place in Time." Tell me about the Port William Membership and what it means to be a part of that.

  • 10:20:36

    BERRYWell, the Port William Membership is not meant to suggest that everybody in the community is consciously a part of the membership. But the term in my work derives from a statement by one of the characters, Burley Coulter in which he improves a little, I think, on St. Paul. He says, we're members of each other, all of us, everything. The difference is not in who is and who isn't. The difference is between the people who know they're members and the ones who don't.

  • 10:21:21

    REHMSo they're all members.

  • 10:21:22

    BERRYThey're all members, for better or worse.

  • 10:21:26

    REHMAnd you've been writing about them for a long time.

  • 10:21:30

    BERRYYes, yes.

  • 10:21:32

    REHMWould you read for us from a sad place in the book where one of the people of the Membership sickens and dies, but the reaction to that?

  • 10:21:52

    BERRYYes. This is Burley Coulter himself speaking, and it goes back to the early '20s. "And then right in the midst of things going on the way they ought to have gone on forever, Lettie got sick and began to waste away. It was as serious as it could be. We could see that. And then instead of belonging just to Jarrett, her husband, to pay attention to, she began to belong to all of us. Dr. Markman was doing all he could for her.

  • 10:22:31

    BERRY"And then Mam and the other women around were cooking things to take to her and helping with her housework, and us others were hoping or praying, or whatever we did, trying to help her to live really just by wishing for her to. And then, without waiting for us to get ready, she died, and the boys all of a sudden, instead of belonging just to her and Jarrett, belonged to us all. Nathan was 5 years old and Tom was 7. And I was one of the ones that they belonged to. They belonged to me because I belonged to them. They thought so, and that made it so.

  • 10:23:18

    BERRY"The morning of their mother's funeral to get them moved and out of the house before more sadness could take place, I put a team to the wagon and drove around the head of the hollow to get them. Mam had packed up their clothes and everything that was theirs. We loaded it all, and them too, onto the wagon, and I brought them home to the old house. Jarrett wasn't going to be able to take care of them and farm too. And they didn't need to be over there in that loneliness with him. But Pap and Mam were getting on in years then.

  • 10:23:56

    BERRY"Pap, just by the nature of him, wasn't going to be a lot of help, and Mam, I could see, had her doubts. Finally, she just out with it, 'Burley, I can be a grandmother, but I don't know if I can be a mother again or not. You're going to have to help me.' She had her doubts about that, too, but it didn't prove too hard to bring about. I belonged to them because they needed me. From the time I brought them home with me, they stuck to me like burrs. A lot of the time we were a regular procession, me in front and then Tom in my tracks, just as close as he could get, and then Nathan in Tom's the same way.

  • 10:24:43

    BERRY"The year Lettie died, I was 34 years old, still a young man in my thoughts and all, and I had places I needed to go by myself. But for a long time, getting away from those boys was a job. I'd have to hide and slip away or bribe them just to let me go, or wait till they were asleep. When I wanted to hunt or fish, the best way to be free of them was just to take them with me. By the time they got big enough to go on their own, we had traveled a many a mile together day and night after the hounds and had spent many an hour on the river."

  • 10:25:24

    REHMWendell Berry reading from his new book, "A Place in Time." He read from the story titled "Stand By Me - 1921 to 1944." People do stand by the people they love, whether they know it or not.

  • 10:25:47

    BERRYYes. Yes. And if they're close enough, of course, they know it.

  • 10:25:56

    REHMThey do know it. When you began creating this group of people and this place, were you basing it on your own people and your own place?

  • 10:26:15

    BERRYWell, yes. I was basing it on stories I'd picked up here and there and somewhat on imagination because no place can provide you a whole story. So you start out maybe with something you know, something you've heard, and then there comes a time when you become able to imagine how that could've happened. So the product is a product of imagination, not just of recording hearsay or remembering.

  • 10:26:56

    REHMBut at the same time, it seems to me there is a connection between the Jefferson lecture titled "It All Turns on Affection" and your book of short stories "A Place in Time."

  • 10:27:14

    BERRYYes, yes. The story of Burley Coulter begins with Burley's young life when he's the black sheep of the family. And it really -- through the course of many years of work and thinking about this character, for whom there is no real prototype, I think what the -- what I've put down is the story of the growth of Burley's imagination, which is in a way the growth of tenderness in his heart.

  • 10:27:56

    BERRYThis death of his sister-in-law and his acceptance of responsibility for those boys is essentially an acceptance of the impossible duty to replace their mother. And so he becomes, in effect, the person who picks them up when they need to be picked up and hugged and so on.

  • 10:28:25

    REHMAnd then there is the other passage I've asked you to read, starting on page 110.

  • 10:28:35

    BERRYYes. This comes after the news has come in, I think, 1944 that Tom Coulter, whom Burley helped to raise, has been killed in action. "He was a bulldozer operator in that advance up through Italy that was so difficult. What gets you is the knowledge -- and it sometimes can fall on you in a clap -- that the dead are gone absolutely from this world. As has been said around here over and over again, you're not going to see them here anymore ever. Whatever was done or said before is done or said for good.

  • 10:29:40

    BERRY"Any questions you think of that you ought to have asked while you had a chance are never going to be answered. The dead know, and you don't. And yet their absence puts them with you in a way they never were before. You even maybe know them better than you did before. They stay with you, and in a way you go with them. They don't live on in your heart, but your heart knows them. As your heart gets bigger on the inside, the world gets bigger on the outside. If the dead had been alive only in this world, you would forget them, looks like, as soon as they die.

  • 10:30:27

    BERRY"But you remember them because they always were living in the other bigger world while they lived in this little one. And this one and the other one are the same. You can't see this with your eyes looking straight ahead. It's with your side vision, so to speak, that you see it. The longer I live and the better acquainted I am among the dead, the better I see it. I am telling what I know. It's our separateness and our grief that break the world in two. Back when Tom got killed and the word came, I had never thought of such things. That time would've been hard enough, even if I had thought of them.

  • 10:31:18

    BERRY"Because I hadn't, it was harder. That night after supper I lit the lantern and walked over to Jarrett's and sat with him in the kitchen until bedtime. I wasn't invited. I was a volunteer, I reckon. If it had been just me and I needed company, which I did, I could've walked to town and sat with the others in the pool room or the barber shop. But except that I would go to sit with him, Jarrett would've sat there in his sorrow entirely by himself and stared at the wall or the floor. I, anyhow, denied him that. I went back every night for a long time. There was nothing else to do.

  • 10:32:08

    BERRY"There wasn't a body to be spoken over and buried to bring people together and to give Tom's life a proper conclusion in Port William. His body was never going to be in Port William again. It was buried in some passed-over battlefield in Italy, somewhere none of us had ever been and would never go. The word was passed around, of course. People were sorry, and they told us. The neighbor women brought food as they do. But mainly there was just the grieving, and mainly nobody here to do it but Jarrett and me."

  • 10:32:50

    REHMWendell Berry reading from "A Place in Time." If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's open the phones. We'll go first to North Central Washington. One Pine, you're on the air.

  • 10:33:18

    ONE PINEHello. Thanks for taking my call.

  • 10:33:20


  • 10:33:20

    PINEIt's an honor to speak to you.

  • 10:33:21

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:33:22

    PINEYeah, I'm up here in Washington State up by the Canadian border, and I have -- I'm a back-to-the-land hippy. I've been living a simple life up here in the hills for 40 years and raised four children. And Mr. Berry's nonfiction writings certainly have been an inspiration to me.

  • 10:33:41

    REHMI'm so glad and glad you called.

  • 10:33:45

    BERRYThat doesn't sound like a simple life to me.

  • 10:33:48

    PINEIt is a simple life. I have solar power. I can live on really a small amount of money. I'm still really healthy, and, you know, it's just been a wonderful, wonderful life. And I just think that, you know, the connection that a person gets with the earth when you slow down and, you know, just take away some of the layers of stuff and desires and stuff is such a beautiful and rewarding thing I just think that, you know, the connection that a person gets with the earth when you slow down and, you know, just take away some of the layers of stuff and desires and stuff is such a beautiful and rewarding thing.

  • 10:34:15

    REHMThank you so much for calling. And to St. Louis, Mo., good morning, John.

  • 10:34:23

    JOHNDiane, you are a wonderful journalist, and I appreciate that.

  • 10:34:26

    REHMThank you so much.

  • 10:34:28

    JOHNMr. Berry, when I was a -- I'm 61 years old, so I was a senior in high school. I read your poem "February 2, 1968."

  • 10:34:38


  • 10:34:38

    JOHNIt had a profound effect on me. And I will always regard it as the quintessential ray of hope. And I wondered what you were thinking when you wrote that poem at that time.

  • 10:34:54

    BERRYNow, wait a minute. That is a three-line poem...

  • 10:34:58

    JOHNYes, it is.

  • 10:34:59

    BERRY...about -- in a time of war and destruction and suffering. The last line I remember, I walked the rocky hillside sowing clover.

  • 10:35:12


  • 10:35:13

    BERRYYes. What was I thinking? I was -- this was during the time described. It was during the Vietnam War, and I was thinking about sowing clover.

  • 10:35:25

    BERRYAnd, of course, planting anything involves hope. It doesn't involve certainty, no certain predictability involved, but hope, of course, that the seeds will sprout and do some good.

  • 10:35:46

    JOHNI love your works.

  • 10:35:49

    BERRYThank you very much.

  • 10:35:50

    REHMThanks for calling, John. To Durham, N.C. Hi, Sheila, you're on the air.

  • 10:35:57

    SHEILAHi there. I'm so glad to be on. I called actually a few years ago and got cut off just before I was going to speak to you.

  • 10:36:04

    REHMOh, dear, I'm sorry.

  • 10:36:06

    SHEILASo it was just by happenstance that I got this today. And I first want to say thank you so much for all your work, Wendell Berry.

  • 10:36:13

    BERRYThank you.

  • 10:36:15

    SHEILAYou have...

  • 10:36:16

    BERRYYou're welcome.

  • 10:36:17

    SHEILAYou have inspired me like many others and have put words to feelings I have not had the courage to completely think about, let alone write them down. I realize that after I read your books many, many years ago, I left with feeling both inspired and deflated. How was I going to live on a farm and get off the grid and do all these things that I felt I wanted to do after reading your nonfiction.

  • 10:36:45

    BERRYMm hmm.

  • 10:36:47

    SHEILAAnd, you know, life went on, and 10, 15 years later, I found myself, you know, living in a small city in Durham and -- I grew up in New York City -- and finding that my life somehow matched many of the ideals that I'd come up with from reading your books.

  • 10:37:05


  • 10:37:05

    BERRYYes, yes.

  • 10:37:06

    SHEILAAlthough I don't have a farm and I'm raising my girls at home and we have a garden, and we just take pride and interest and care in our daily lives and...

  • 10:37:19

    REHMSheila, I know that you had another question for Wendell Berry. I'm going to ask you, if you would, to hold on. We've got to take a short break. And when we come back, you can talk to him about his advice to parents of young children.

  • 10:40:02

    REHMAnd, Wendell Berry, I do want to go right back to Sheila in Durham, N.C. I certainly, Sheila, did not want to cut you off again.

  • 10:40:13

    SHEILAOh, no problem.

  • 10:40:14

    REHMSo go right ahead with your question.

  • 10:40:16

    SHEILAThank you. So where I was leading with that is just that I'm wondering what your advice, if you have anything to say, to parents of young children. There's only so many times I can read "The Peace of Wild Things." And I need more sometimes. I'm so inspired by my -- the world I have with my family and then, though, completely frightened at other times. So I'm just curious about your thoughts on that question.

  • 10:40:44

    BERRYWell, I understand that. And I can't answer that as an expert. I'll begin with what you said earlier. I would not like anybody to assume from what I've written that I think they ought to go and become a farmer. That can lead to a whole variety of troubles. What I would hope, what my ideal response is that people would begin from the thoughts I've had to think for themselves about their responsibilities.

  • 10:41:24

    BERRYAnd that can be done in the city or in the country. And that carries directly to this issue of raising children. You can't -- I can't give you particular advice, but I would just point out that, for many years now, we've had the very doubtful and dangerous privilege of living thoughtlessly about the sources of our life.

  • 10:41:50

    BERRYAnd to raise children, teaching them as they come along and are capable of learning how to be thoughtful about where their lives come from and where their sustenance comes from is really all I can advise. When I raised my children, I made as many mistakes as anybody. And what I learned is that you don't have to be an expert. If you love them and let them know you do, you gain a kind of a margin in which you can commit mistakes.

  • 10:42:30

    REHMAnd they'll forgive you in the end.

  • 10:42:32

    BERRYAnd they'll forgive you and help you correct them.

  • 10:42:35

    REHMIndeed. Sheila, thanks for your call.

  • 10:42:38

    BERRYYes, thanks.

  • 10:42:39

    REHMTo Ilse in Henry County, Ky. Good morning to you.

  • 10:42:45

    ILSEGood morning. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Berry two years ago at the Pride in Henry County Arts soirée we had in Eminence. I was singing that night. He was reading one of his wonderful short stories. It's good to hear you on the radio today.

  • 10:43:00

    BERRYThank you. Thank you. Well, I'm surprised to hear from home, but it's good to hear your voice this morning.

  • 10:43:08

    ILSEWell, it was a wonderful coincidence. I'm actually driving to the airport on the way to my home, Costa Rica, to go to my father's funeral who died unexpectedly this morning.

  • 10:43:18

    REHMOh, I'm...

  • 10:43:19

    ILSEAnd to hear you, thank you. To hear you reading about funerals and about how we understand the dead better after they're gone and how they live on in our hearts was so comforting and so timely. I just wanted to thank you. Also I wanted to thank you because your stories have helped make Henry County my second home.

  • 10:43:39

    BERRYWell, thank you very much. That makes me grateful to my story.

  • 10:43:45

    REHMIlse, I am so sorry for your loss.

  • 10:43:47

    BERRYYes, I'm sorry, too.

  • 10:43:49

    REHMThank you for calling. To Syracuse, N.Y. and to Georgia. Good morning to you.

  • 10:43:57

    GEORGIAGood morning, Diane. This is an extreme pleasure...

  • 10:43:59

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:44:00

    GEORGIA...both to talk to you and to Mr. Berry. Mr. Berry, I have read your -- everything you've written, but particularly your poetry.

  • 10:44:10


  • 10:44:11

    GEORGIAI was an English teacher. I used it in class. And I want to kind of link to what the woman prior to me said. You wrote -- you have written about your father, the poem with the horses.

  • 10:44:27

    BERRYYes, yes.

  • 10:44:29

    GEORGIAI -- you know, my voice will break when I speak to that because I substitute my mother in that and also my father.

  • 10:44:38


  • 10:44:39

    GEORGIAIt is such a generically incredibly beautiful poem. And you have written about your wife in her bathrobe. Yes.

  • 10:44:48


  • 10:44:49

    GEORGIAI used that in class.

  • 10:44:51


  • 10:44:52

    GEORGIAI mean, I cannot tell you the effect that you have. I never thought I would have the capability of telling you. Your voice also, final comment, is layered and mellifluous -- forgive me, I did teach English, as I said...

  • 10:45:11

    GEORGIA...and sounds like your work. Thank you for allowing me to express my feelings.

  • 10:45:19

    BERRYWell, thank you so much. As I said before, this makes me grateful to my work, not to me, but to my -- the things I've written.

  • 10:45:28

    REHMTell us about your wife in her bathrobe.

  • 10:45:34

    BERRYWell, it is a poem after we were grandparents. And it just says how fine it is to live with a grandmother and beautiful in her blue robe.

  • 10:45:55

    REHMHow lovely, just lovely. Thanks for calling, Georgia. Now to Fairfax, Va. Good morning, Frank, you're on the air.

  • 10:46:06

    FRANKThank you very much. I hate to get away from the more poetic aspects of Mr. Berry's work. But I'd like to get back to his point about the separation of people from the land and point out something I'm involved with professionally, that in the U.S. we have cultivated a separation and a conflict between, for example, environmentalists and industry.

  • 10:46:32

    FRANKAnd a number of active environmental organizations advocate and have politically been successful in sequestering beautiful parts of the country, large areas, 107 million acres, from any but primitive human interactions or use. The Scandinavians, especially nations like Sweden and Finland, which rank up at the top of -- in terms of environmental performance, have taken the opposite approach. They believe that it's very important to integrate people with nature so that there is a mutual respect, including in use.

  • 10:47:14


  • 10:47:15

    BERRYYes. Yes.

  • 10:47:17

    FRANKAnd, unfortunately, they have been able to bring in industrial corporations to be part of the renewable energy movement and be creative and extremely effective in moving Sweden to almost complete -- they are projecting within 20 years or 25 years to be completely on renewable energy for electricity, whereas we are still mired in battle. So I'd like to have your thoughts on whether we have been moving in the wrong direction in being hostile to the economic aspects of society.

  • 10:48:01

    BERRYWell, I think the polarization between economy and conservation has been a tragedy here. It is, in fact, possible to use land without destroying it. And our idea that we could maintain the integrity of nature, the integrity of the ecosphere by preserving so-called wilderness areas seems to me to be an error. If we preserve nature there while we destroy it in what I would call the economic landscapes, eventually we're going to destroy it all.

  • 10:48:44


  • 10:48:45

    BERRYSo the task -- and it is a doable and practical task. This is something that can be done, and examples can be produced to prove this. The task is to bring our economic life into line with the demands of the ecosphere and the local ecosystems. We must observe these laws of nature. And we've known this for a long time, but we have ignored it.

  • 10:49:25

    BERRYMilton, John Milton, the poet, a long time ago said, nature, good cateress, means her provision only to the good who observe her sacred laws in the holy dictates of spare Temperance. And in that, he means not that temperance ought to be observed as a virtue, but that it ought to be preserved as the guarantee of abundance.

  • 10:49:55

    REHMThanks for calling, Frank. To Nelson, N.H. Hi there, Elizabeth.

  • 10:50:04

    ELIZABETHThank you so much for taking my call.

  • 10:50:06


  • 10:50:07

    ELIZABETHI love listening to your show. And...

  • 10:50:09

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:50:10

    ELIZABETH...Wendell Berry, you touch my heart.

  • 10:50:15

    BERRYWell, you're very kind to say so, and I thank you.

  • 10:50:18

    ELIZABETHYes. I think I first discovered you when someone asked me to read one of your poems at a funeral. And it was the one about where the last line is, and I am (word?). And also I have a women's group that every Wednesday we study something, and we studied you for about three weeks and read your books.

  • 10:50:37

    REHMGood, good. Good.

  • 10:50:42

    ELIZABETHI'm in a small town, and it's rural New Hampshire. And...

  • 10:50:46


  • 10:50:47

    ELIZABETH...many of us feel the way you write -- and certainly we did in the group -- but time to time we have had some very divisive moments in town. And we're at one of those places. And have you dealt with -- I can't remember in your books, with how community manages to mend itself. We're a town of about 600 people. And have you dealt with that?

  • 10:51:15

    BERRYYes. Maybe I can deal with it briefly here by referring to a friend of mine who had dealt with a lot of that kind of division. And he spoke of how an issue might arise that would have many sides. But as the voices rise and the rhetoric becomes more intense and extreme, finally you have only two sides, and one must be defeated.

  • 10:51:51

    BERRYAnd so in victory and defeat, your community's permanently, or for a long time, divided. And he says the way to counteract that tendency is to give up the thought of winning and concentrate on making yourself clearer. I like that very much. I think if all sides would undertake to make themselves clearer and give up the thought of beating their opponents, we'd be a lot better off. Maybe that will help a little.

  • 10:52:31

    REHMCertainly applies not only to Elizabeth's small town of Nelson, N.H., but to the world at large and...

  • 10:52:41

    BERRYIt does.

  • 10:52:41

    REHM...even particularly to our own Congress.

  • 10:52:45

    BERRYYes. Well, our political dialogue here has given up the obligation to be clearer, and really taken up in earnest the idea of beating your opponent. And I would like a few more politicians who were willing to lose even if that were the price of making themselves clearer.

  • 10:53:09

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email from Ryan in Maryland, who says, "First, thank you for changing my life 10 years ago when I read "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear." Are there developments you see in either our nation or the world that lead you to be less fearful today?"

  • 10:53:41


  • 10:53:42


  • 10:53:46

    BERRYThere are good things going on. Let me point out, though, that I didn't change your life. You did. I couldn't do it. You would have to be the one to do that. Yes. I think there are things going on that are making the world less fearful. And I think they're coming not from the leadership, the nominal leadership at the top, but from the bottom. I've been thinking a lot for the last several years about what I've been calling leadership from the bottom.

  • 10:54:16

    BERRYAnd these leaders are people who have simply seen what needed to be done, and without applying for a grant or seeking official permission from some governmental body, have just started doing what they thought needed to be done. And this is happening all over our country, and I really think, from what I hear, all over the world. So that is hopeful, and it does make the world less fearful because what is fearful is seeing extremely powerful people solving small problems.

  • 10:54:54

    REHMWendell Berry, tell me about your family, your real family.

  • 10:55:00

    BERRYMy real family. Well, my real family have all mostly lived in the small community that I live in and have lived there for a couple of centuries. So I've -- my family includes a good many people now who are no longer actually living in it, but who still influence it. So I knew very well my -- both sets of my grandparents, for instance. I visited easily both households. And my immediate family consists of my wife, Tanya.

  • 10:55:45

    REHMHow long have you been married?

  • 10:55:48

    BERRYFifty-five years.

  • 10:55:49


  • 10:55:50

    BERRYAnd after 55 years, I must say, she's still an interesting woman.

  • 10:55:59

    REHMI certainly hope so.

  • 10:56:00

    BERRYYeah. Well, and she's an accomplished person, and I am dependent on her for a lot of things. And we have two children and five grandchildren. The two children are living at home in our community. And the grandchildren are beginning their lives. The oldest one -- the oldest two now are teaching school, one in our county and one in Louisville. And another is -- two more are of college age. And one is -- the only grandson is 17 years old, and he's my helper when I can get hold of him, when he's not in school that is to say.

  • 10:56:54

    REHMSounds like a wonderful family. Congratulations.

  • 10:56:58

    BERRYWell, thank you.

  • 10:56:59

    REHMAnd on this book as well, it's titled "A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership." Wendell Berry, I've had the honor of speaking with you today. Thank you so much.

  • 10:57:17

    BERRYWell, I've had the very great honor of speaking with you for the second time...

  • 10:57:22

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:57:22

    BERRY...and I thank you.

  • 10:57:24

    REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 10:57:27

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Jill Colgan. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones.

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