Last night I wrote another chapter in my “A Place Without a Witch” series, and people were worried that it was the final chapter. And, today, I’ve been reading and listening to Wendell Berry and thinking, over and over, that if I were to end this blog with Berry’s recent interview, well, I would likely have said pretty much everything that I have to say.
We’re bumping up upon Samhein, and Mercury is about to go retrograde, so it’s normal, I think, for us to be looking at endings and considering whether there’s any ground that we need to re-cover (recover).
I’m always nattering on about landbase, & watershed, and trying to get my readers to think about and connect with their own Bit of Earth. Me, I’ve lived almost all of my life in the American South.
We live under a shadow of shame here. All of the land in America was stolen from the First Peoples, and blood, and sweat, and tears are mixed into the soil of this continent from the child-labor, locked-door mills of New England, to the brutal factories and slaughterhouses of Chicago and St. Louis, to the missions of the Southwest, where First Peoples were enslaved to work in the vineyards, to the gold mines, lettuce farms, and shores of Califia’s place. But the South bears a special burden, because it was here, more than elsewhere, that white people profited from slave labor. And that’s all true, and it will be centuries, if ever, before that taint is erased from the land. I can’t plant a flower or harvest a garlic bulb that doesn’t carry that taint.
And, yet, and yet.
I love the South.
Slavery isn’t the whole story of the South. And one of the things I love most about my landbase is the related dialects of the American South. I imagine that all dialects come from landbase. People in Brooklyn speak from the island earth beneath their feet. People from Kansas say words with a broad emphasis on vowels that can only come from the open spaces that surround them. My friends from Vermont clip their words as they clip their conversation, in order to accommodate the overwhelming Winters of their space. And my LA clients end sentences with questions, as anyone would do, living next to the giant Pacific.
There’s a way that a person from Kentucky will say to you, “I don’t know.” You can watch Berry do it a few times in this interview with Moyer. I love that. It’s not apologetic, as it would be if I said it. It points out that here is where things get interesting. Southern speech is slow. “G”s get dropped, although in a lovely, graceful way, not in the way that W dropped his “G”s to suck in a bunch of white crackers.
And, so, no surprise here, I love the language of the South, I love the way that it springs from my southern landbase. I love the way that the cadences of my landbase express the truths of the land so perfectly. Our music and our talk is full of the scent of magnolia, the savor of sweet tea, the humidity that makes all of us glow.
But Berry says, “The language is secondary, but it imposes an obligation. … I’ve lived in a place I’ve loved. I’ve been a friend and an ally with my brother all these years. Lived with a woman I’ve loved, love. . . . And then, I’ve had my children for neighbors, which is really unusual in our time, to have your children for neighbors. And then I’ve had a part in raising my grandchildren.” He’s saying, I think, that while language is important, family and life lived on the land comes first, and the obligation of language is to try, difficult as it is, to express honestly what it means to live that life.
Berry discusses his Christian religion and his focus on the Biblical Gospels. He says that there’s much there that he doesn’t understand, but “there is a good bit of the Gospel that I do get, I think, I believe that I understand it accurately, and I’m stickin’ to that and I’m hangin’ on for the parts that I don’t understand, and I’m willing to endure the shame of fallin’ short for the price of admission.” And, you know, Berry’s a Christian, and I am about as far from being a Christian as it is possible for a person to be, but there’s not much daylight between how Berry feels about his Gospel and how I feel about The Charge of the Goddess. Like Berry, I’m willing to endure the shame of falling short — as I do every minute of every day — for the price of admission to that vision.
Berry comes closest to stating, better than I ever have, the one deep truth of my life, the very truth that I have bumped up against when giving birth, nursing, seeing light in my students’ eyes, growing food and trees, feeding those I love, having transformational sex, touching the deep current of law, and, most clearly, when watching sunlight make love to matter in the chlorophyll of leaves, when he says:
“It’s an article of my faith and belief that all creatures live by breathing God’s [sic] breath and participating in His [sic] spirit and this means that the whole thing’s holy. The whole shootin’match. There’re no sacred and unsacred places. There’re only sacred and desecrated places.”
I think that if I ever got a tattoo, it would say: “The whole shootin’match.” You could carve that on my tombstone and capture my entire philosophy: “The Whole Shootin’match.” As a Witch, I honor the Light, but I also honor the Dark, because I agree with the Christian, Wendell Berry. The Whole Thing’s Holy. The Whole Shootin’match. I cannot take a breath, eat a leaf, take a breath, have a bowel movement, take a breath, run a fever, take a breath, or hear a sound that isn’t holy. It’s all holy. The Whole Shootin’match.
May it be so for you.
Dear Vimeo, Thanks (not) for making it impossible for me to embed the video. No, really, thanks. It makes me so much more likely to use your site. No, it doesn’t.