A Wish

the art of loading brush


Some comments on Wendell Berry’s ‘The Art of Loading Brush’:


On birthdays in my family, on the blowing out of the candles after singing ‘happy birthday to you’, we are requested to make a wish. Always after the wish we are reminded to ‘be careful what you wish ‘cos as it might come true’.

“I wish we had an economy wisely kind to the land and the people.” He says. I believe Wendell Berry is a careful wisher.

“The thing of greatest importance is to think about the land with the land’s people in the presence of the land. Every theory, calculation, graph, diagram, idea, study, model, method, scheme, plan and hope, must be caught firmly by the ear and led out into the weather, onto the ground.” He also says.

“So far as I can see, and I have been looking hard for a long time, the only defense of land and people against a predatory economy, which has been global really for as long as humans have travelled the globe, is a reasonably coherent, reasonably self sufficient and self-determining local economy. This would have to be consciously and conscientiously a counter-economy.”, says Mr berry, in full flow.

Thomas Jefferson writes to James Madison: “The small land holders are the most precious part of a state.”

And Wendell’s character Andy Catlett thinks “the time is coming when this faltering civilisation, like many others, will have to decide: Are the few surviving of Jefferson’s “small land holders,” in their ancient lineage of need and knowledge, a romantic fiction, as most of us now think, or a “saving remnant” necessary to renew the human life of the earth?”

These observations come from a kind old man whose life is devoted to the loving care of places and people. They also come from a mind “which has become clear to him slowly and at the cost of much labor.”


My mind, like the mind of Wendell Berry’s fictional character, the old one-handed Andy Catlett, has also become clear only slowly and at the cost of much labour, both mine and my loved ones around me.

However, it is now clear.

This clarity now sees the manner of the holding of land to be the key to growing an economy that is “wisely kind to the land and the people”.

Instead of owning our places under the security of the law, the state and all the predatory violence that this type of protection is dependent upon, we must begin to hold them from others directly. We must clearly show the edges of the places we hold. And we must begin to hold our places with a payment of respect as well as a payment of coin. This payment of respect and coin goes from us small land holders, across our edges, to all that we hold the land from. The amount of that payment of respect and coin matches the value to us and to others of the places we hold. These are the limits of husbandry.

By making this direct pact between us as self-determining people, holding our places, and the wide world, we can right now begin to build a counter economy, that will replace the current, predatory economy as it fails. This I now see clearly. This counter-economy will be composed of as many counter-economies and counter-cultures as there are places that make up this world.

What this approach to defending territory does is declare and measure the hospitality to the world that is due by my holding of my place. It invites you to measure and declare the hospitality that is due to the world by your holding of your place.

This approach, when you think through a tiny bit of the consequences, aligns my home economy with local and global economies that take care of other places of the world. Economic motivation, both of my actions on my place and the actions of all others on their places will, at long last, be aligned with a proper kind and affectionate care of all that constitutes the ecologies of the places of this world.

So, my wish, as the candles are blown out on birthdays everywhere, is that together you and I may be brave enough to join the immense power of human effort with the looking after of the places and their edges that link us all together.
































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