Monday, September 28, 2009

Unwrapping The Holy Earth: A Breakdown of Bailey's Classic Book

I first came across Bailey's The Holy Earth as a museum intern at the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum. The title was striking but what lay inside was even more so. The copy I thumbed through was the museum's only copy of the first print edition, signed by Bailey's daughter Ethel. I desperately wanted to annotate, highlight, underline, circle, and write reflections in the margins. The prose was dense and crafted with a different lilt but energy flowed out of the pages. There was gold here to be mined.

With new print editions available, the annotations can now begin in earnest. The full text is also available online from the Library of Congress . Currently, as Director of the museum, I caution folks that the book is not a quick read. It isn't even structured for today's reader. The great summation of the book isn't saved for the end as a loud revelation that predominates today's style. The small deceivingly simple chapters need to be ruminated on, one at a time, one per day. There is a visible structure to Bailey's theme. The one I have provided made sense to me. (Click on Blog Image) It has been used in a Holy Earth class held at the museum. As I mentioned then, use it as a template for your own ordering. This blog posting will look at each grouping. Feel free to join in the conversation and read along with us.

Bailey lays out the structure out in his first section called appropriately, "First, the Statement." This is Bailey's summation. Bailey begins with a harsh chastisement: "So bountiful hath been the earth and so securely have we drawn from it our substance, that we have taken it all for granted as if it were only a gift, and with little care or conscious thought of the consequences of our use of it; nor have we very much considered the essential relation that we bear to it as living parts in the vast creation."

This stark statement is the beginning. What is our "essential relation" to the earth? How have we envisioned it, if at all? Do we view the daily miracles of nature as "ordinary" therefore valueless? As a professor at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) Bailey would bring a pumpkin, complete with its long trailing vine into the classroom to have students reflect how such a big fruit was produced from a narrow vine. Additionally, how did a seed produce such prodigious life matter? In a lifestyle dominated by technology and industry, how do you relate to the earth? Make a list as see how much deals with earth, soil, plants, husbandry, weather, oceans, lakes, rivers. Break away from the blog and take a walk in some woods.
John A. Stempien, Director-Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum

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