Dear Mr. Berry,
Your words gradually called myself and my husband from our city life, from the tar and concrete roads, from long lines of cars and fumes, the grind of engines marking the country like an audible map, from the soul-splitting everywhere noise, from conveniences such as Wal-Mart and fast food restaurants on every corner, to the beauty of a farm near nothing and no place. Eyes and mind opened by your words and ideas, we began to dream our own inescapable dream. We could not ignore or forget the truth we found in your poems such as The Want of Peace and The Peace of Wild Things.
We found a lovely bit of land. We designed a simple farmhouse and built it together- singing through exhausting weekends and late nights to complete it. Every board was chosen and nailed with love and joy and frugality. My husband has built almost every piece of furniture in our house, and I have sanded and stained and finished it. I want to live on this land and in this house for the rest of my life. (Love has conceived a house, and out of its labor brought forth its likeness- the emblem of desire, continuing though the flesh fall away.) Our porch faces west, and in mornings and evenings we often sit and eat, talk and read together or just enjoy a comfortable silence, and look down the hill to our vegetable garden, a greenhouse, a clothesline, a chicken house and a trail of walnut trees and a creek. (How fine to have a long-legged house with a many glassed window looking out on the river- and the wren singing on a winter morning!) Our daughter and our chickens run wild together through the yard and this summer they learned to share watermelon with one another.
We consider ourselves Mad Farmers, and we often chant to ourselves, as well as his other words of wisdom, his Liberation Front. We consider ourselves the keepers and protectors of our 12.5 acres of land, and do our best to live the story of Eden in reverse. We are healed by putting our hands in the dirt. Our faith is renewed by the seeds we plant. We are driven wild with joy when we carry our fruits and vegetables into the house to eat and share with friends. This is our third year of farming- and every year we learn a little more about what we are doing. We have had to learn mostly from books as no one we know can teach us. The first time my husband killed a chicken, he held the book open with his boot and followed the directions as he went about his work. This summer we learned to can and preserve our produce, and our shelves of jars are the prettiest thing I have in my house.
We now have pigs, chickens, goats, turkeys, two hives of bees and a very lazy cat. We milk our goats and gather our chickens' eggs. Our two year old daughter loves to help, and I can't wait to teach her about the miracle in a tiny seed. We wish there was a way we could support ourselves totally by the farm, but at this point we haven't figured that out, so for now Micah builds and I nurse. Then we farm and parent as well.
I was twenty-four when I discovered your writing when a friend handed me Jayber Crow. That's where it all began. From there, I went on to your poetry, much of which I now have in my mind and heart. Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community was next, and I cannot say how helpful it was to read that so close after 9/11. Most recently, I finished The Memory of Old Jack, and to date, though I am a voracious reader and lover of literature and poetry, I have never read anything that created a desire in me to improve my character and live a better and more meaningful life. We have had to buy multiple copies of your books so we could loan them freely and unbegrudgingly to friends who now love them as well.
We got married when we were twenty-one, and being young with many horrible reflections of marriage in the culture around us, The Country of Marriage was invaluable to us. I cried the first time I read the section that begins, "Our bond is no little economy, based on the exchange of my love and work for yours…" I immediately sought out my husband, sat him down and read it to him. Soon after, I had it memorized, and I know that it has reminded me of precious and wise things at life-changing moments throughout our marriage.
One of our favorite sayings is, "Practice resurrection." A musician friend of ours (Tim Youmans) wrote a beautiful song with the same title and sentiment in mind. These words are helpful in a world that at times can drive me to despair and tempts me to hopelessness. To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain and worse for the heart- yet still we carry on and do the small work we can do.
The world is indeed a holy vision, and we work each day for the clarity to see it. We have lived through many personal tragedies in the past few years. Many mornings joy did not come. But we thank you and thank God for opening our hearts to what the world and the soil can teach us about ourselves, God and man. Thank you for your words that have changed our lives.
Peace and joy and healing to you as you practice resurrection. Perhaps we will meet someday in that other Kingdom and sit and talk for a while after our day's work is done-