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Knowing Where You Live

Here’s the sad thing about daily life. There’s no “there” there anymore.

Americans now come of age in “a vague landscape sculpted in part by corporations,” says the Kentucky poet, philosopher and essayist, Wendell Berry.  And we are suffering from a loss of identity as well as a loss of place. “Part of manners used to be to say to somebody you just met, Where you from?” Berry adds. “And I quit asking it, because so many people say they’re from everywhere or nowhere.”

The architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable described the changes in our towns in the 1960s with a single phrase: “Hello, Hamburger, Goodbye History.” In the 90s, NPR’s Prairie Home Companion fed our longing for steady and unchanging home with Lake Wobegone Days, a fictional place where things happen at a nearly hypnotizing pace: Florian Krebsbach drives a ’66 Chevy with only 42,00 miles on it. Each turn of his life is taken in slow motion. This deliberate pace seems to satisfy him for when he looks at Main Street and at his wife, “he sees them brand-new like his car.” Life doesn’t come in fits and starts, it flows like an underground stream. It’s not just place, but pace, that’s different.

Berry is the bard of rural America, of the disappearing fields and furrows, of the kind of farming that was done by hand with an almost arcane knowledge of the local soil. “In the old days you didn’t go to school to study agriculture,” he says. “You knew that every nook and cranny of a field was different, and so you spent a lifetime trying to get to know a single farm.”

But it’s not just the farmland that’s disappearing. It’s our understanding of each other. “Where are you from?” is just like asking “Who do you love and what do you value?” It’s a question that tells us a lot about who you are and what you care about.

“Where are you from?” is a question that makes you consider your youth, your first love, your sense of home, your deep affection for some portion of this world.

The problem is that America became a nation long before it had the change to know itself as a land. Even so, Berry reminds that every town or region once has its own unique spirit—and we’ve lost so much of that by turning our open spaces into strip malls and parking lots.

In a recent interview with Amanda Petrusich for The New Yorker, Berry tells us we can go back home again.  How?  Unplug your devices, look around, and  get to know your neighbors. Learn the history of your region and find out what grows there.

This heartfelt conversation is a primer in how to reclaim our sense of home. Print it out and keep it by your bedside so you’ll wake up each morning, appreciating where you live.  For an extended elegy on our relation to the land, read Berry’s Collected Poems.  “The way I go/is marriage to this place/grace beyond chance,/love’s braided dance/covering the world.”

Deep Dive: If you care about the food your region produces, read about The Berry Center’s Whole Horse approach to farming that “takes nature as its measure, consults the genius of the place, and accepts no harm to the ecosphere.”

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Reinventing Home
Reinventing Homehttps://reinventinghome.org/
Reinventing Home was founded in late 2019 by a group of writers, academics, artists, and activists who believe that home is our primary attachment, setting the stage for lifelong patterns of intimacy and self-renewal, and determining the values of our culture. It arrived just in time to help our readers navigate their new home-bound status during the pandemic. Join us for an enlightened conversation about the way we feel about our nests and the larger issues that are shaping our sense of home — from shifting patterns of work to technology and climate change to life under quarantine, and beyond.  Our contributors consider home as a personal sanctuary, a cultural salon, and an interactive hive—and also explore the broader notion of community and our search for belonging.   But that’s not all. Home is an inexhaustible topic because it’s part of our never-ending quest for soul.  From Homer to the Wizard of Oz, our stories, songs, and art have been about the quest for adventure—-and the endpoint of bringing our insights and our hard-won wisdom home.  This digital magazine has been called “a thinking person’s guide to home” and “a mindful approach with a Jungian twist.”  It embraces everything from the secret lives of our possessions to how household dust is related to the creation of the cosmos. We have received endorsements from best-selling authors Isabel Allende and Jean Shinoda Bolen.  Phil Cousineau, host of Global Spirit on PBS, has called Reinventing Home “indispensable for our changing times.” A venture in non-profit journalism,  Reinventing Home is generously funded by E. Patricia Herron, a former superior court judge in northern California, and by readers like you.

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6 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Your article is more than a swansong for rural America for it also resonates with the EU’s obsession with a borderless and anonymous Europe. Also, nefarious globalisation which corporate America has foisted on most of the globe. today it is also hip to be a digital nomad and shun home-making. Yet somehow I still hope that once a sense of void strikes, seeking, knowing and loving one’s roots will lead to feeling whole and comfortable in one’s skin. Thank you for a great share.

  2. Your article is more than a swan song about rural America because it resonates with the EU’s obsession for a borderless, totally anonymous Europe. Also, nefarious globalisation which corporate America foisted on most of the globe. Furthermore, today it’s hype to be a digital nomad and shun home-making. Knowing and loving your roots is so vital to feel whole and comfortable in your skin. Thank you for a great share.

    • Thanks Noemi. I appreciate the heart felt sense of place that comes through in all your writing about Malta. It makes me yearn for more than bread and astonishing architecture — the soul of the people.

    • Thanks, Larry. What a fortunate place to grow up! I love Wendell Berry’s poems about his farm; I was raised in a rural area in the Garden State, walked down the road to get the eggs, across the street to get whatever veggies the critters had eaten in our yard and had left standing in the neighbor’s; helped the grandmother next door put up red currant jelly, and knew the name of every bush and shrub in the region. No GPS, just sense of place.

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