When I was introduced to Wendell Berry as a local writer, he said, “I’m all for the preservation of local writers. I am one.” For such a widely read, award winning author of about 40 books, that doesn’t sound right, but that’s how the farmer/activist/poet sees himself, and it’s what keeps him humble.
Berry was in Floyd for the annual Biological Woodsmen Week, headed up by Floyd’s own restorative forestry horseman Jason Rutledge and hosted at the Floyd EcoVillage. Rutledge and Berry have been teaming up for educational events promoting restorative forestry through worst first tree selection via horse power for nearly a decade.
On a short walk from the EcoVillage Lodge, where Berry stayed overnight, to the Village Center, where he was set to do a book signing, I asked him how he met Jason. He, a horseman like Jason, recalled that he was trying to get some Open Woods Days going in his Kentucky hometown and was getting nowhere. Then he met Jason and they started a fruitful collaboration with the Biological Woodsmen Weeks, hosted by Rutledge’s nonprofit, Healing Harvest Forest Foundation. “I’ve been trying to get out of doing them ever since, but I don’t have a good excuse,” Berry joked. “About the only excuse that’s going to work is …. I’m dead.”
Quick to deflect attention and quick with a quip, Berry was funnier than I expected. He seemed more authentically present than anyone else in the room. I was worried about wearing him out when I saw the line length of people waiting to meet him and have books signed at the EcoVillage. But he wasn’t worried. I watched as he took his time and made a personal connection with every person he met. The only time he got a little ruffled was at the high school panel event that followed the book signing when he got several audience questions (presumably by young students) on what his favorites were. His favorite color? “I don’t do favorites,” he said. “I have a favorite wife. When you only have one, that’s your favorite.”
Speaking of favorites, one of my favorite funny lines of the night came when an audience member, noting that all the panelists were male, wanted to know if horse logging was gender specific. Rutledge affirmed that, indeed, they were all men, “making the best of it and the best of it always involves some women.”
In partial answer to that audience member’s question about gender: At the Woodsmen Play Day the following day, I met a woman who traveled from Georgia to attend the week’s events. She wants to bring horse logging to her town and hasn’t ruled out becoming a horse logger herself. Women make the best horsemen because they are generally gentler, Rutledge said.
Post note: I’m working on a feature story on Wendell Berry’s visit to Floyd for this week’s Floyd Press (to be posted later here on the blog). Meanwhile, here’s a video clip of Wendell’s closing statement where he speaks about hope, kindness and conversation. Read more about Jason’s work HERE and a December, 2011 story about the Floyd EcoVillage HERE.
Update: Feature story is HERE.