Wendell Berry’s Composting Privy

Wendell Berry’s Composting Privy

Bookslut picked up on the indelible image of Wendell Berry mucking out his composting privvy by pointing out this really interesting interview over at Mother Earth News. Some of his points seem a teeny bit dated (Green Acres? Who has watched Green Acres in 25 years?) but as always, it’s the way Wendell Berry champions those old, unsexy values of work and fidelity and discipline and the hard work of learning a craft. Which sounds very grim, but like the monastic rules, it’s the idea that through discipline comes joy. For instance:

BERRY: It’s like having a milk cow. Having a milk cow is a very strict discipline and a very trying circumstance. It means you’ve got to be home twice a day to milk whether you want to or not, or else the cow will be ruined. Some days you’d rather do anything than go down to that barn and maybe some days you go and you’re kind of bored with it. But other days it’s a most rewarding thing and you realize that you get the reward and happiness of it because you stuck to it when it wasn’t rewarding. There’s some kind of wisdom in that fidelity, when you can say, “All right, every day ain’t going to be the best day of your life, don’t worry about that. If you stick to it you hold the possibility open that you will have better days.”

Years ago when I was the graduate student indentured servant for the Art of the Wild writers conference at Squaw Valley, we had dinner one night by the lake and Gary Snyder told us about how Wendell Berry called him after his divorce from Masa. Now Berry has written extensively about marriage and fidelity and that he basically doesn’t believe in divorce. Wendell called him up, Gary told us, and said that he should know that if he and Carole came east, they were always welcome at his place. Gary said it really touched him, because he knew how Wendell felt about such things, and he would never have taken Carole there without that kind of an invitation. That it would have been rude. And so, that phone call meant a lot to him, he was really grateful to know that the friendship between the two of them could transcend even such a fundamental difference. (Although they’re really more alike than different — one’s Christian, one’s Buddhist, one’s long-married, one’s divorced, then widowed — but the bottom line is they are both country people, both poets of the country ethic.)

In a week in which my blog seems to have been obsessed with do-it-yourself, and basic skills, and those things that Gary Snyder called “the Real Work,” it seems fitting to end with Wendell Berry, someone with a deep and unsentimental love for the physical world, and for the work it takes to live in honest relationship with that world.

4 thoughts on “Wendell Berry’s Composting Privy

  1. Thanks for the link, Charlotte. I’ll have to make some time to read that carefully. Every time I encounter Berry’s words, my mind opens a notch further, and I feel like I change my life for the better (sometimes with a little growing pain, of course).

    I’ve appreciated your theme this week. It’s been much on my mind of late.

  2. LivingSmall,

    Thank you for mentioning us on your Web site. We’re glad you enjoy Mother Earth News.

    Great blog! Loved the post on Wendell Berry.

    Laura Evers

    Mother Earth News

    For more great articles, check out our brand new Web site!


  3. Thanks for the link! For me, right at this point in time, the interview was such an excellent read. I didn’t realize until halfway through when I glanced at the date that it was 35 years ago?!?!

  4. Well that makes the Green Acres reference make sense! I totally missed the age of the piece … But that’s Wendell Berry for you — a 35 year old essay is just as relevant as anything else he writes.

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