Saturday, October 31, 2009

When Going Back Makes Sense, Your Going Ahead

The title for today's blog comes from contemporary poet, novelist, essayist and agrarian Wendell Berry. In his essay, "A Practical Harmony" from the collection What Are People For?, Berry refers to Liberty Hyde Bailey's "...view of things that...goes back to the roots of our experience as human beings." In the opening passage of The Holy Earth, Bailey starkly points out our current condition, "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."

Bailey's reprimand directs us to go back and revisit our rightful heritage to the land or as he eloquently puts it our "essential relation" to the earth. Our current discourse usually has focused on the large scale damage we are doing to the earth. While it serves as a brief shocking sound bite for the media, it can leave one feeling powerless. It is a perverse guilt. The solution is simple. Planting is one step to take. Composting may be another. Walking is also a good meditation. For this week and next, reflect on how you can go back to the root of experience and essential relation with our holy earth.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

When Bailey Came Home

In the 1930s, retired Cornell Dean and world plant explorer, Liberty Hyde Bailey returned twice to the city of his birth, South Haven, Michigan. Bailey reflected that his writings, "...all came out of South Haven. My roots are here and my experiences here must enter into my consciousness. All life comes out of childhood." Here, in the largest non-citrus fruit producing region in the world, a young Bailey partook in the operation of his family's 80-acre fruit farm. The region remains a diverse botanically rich environment and was well suited as the training ground for America's Father of Modern Horticulture. A report on one of his last visits appears in a May 9th, 1934 article from the local newspaper, "The South Haven Tribune." Filled with wonderful anecdotes the article shows an intimate exchange between Bailey and his "homefolks." One of the last poems that Bailey read that evening was "Campanula," inspired by "the finding of a lovely, lonely bell flower," during his frequent boyhood nature excursions in a local marsh near the city's Fruit Exchange. The poem appears in his book of verse, "Wind and Weather." We offer it here. The poem is not just an extolling of nature but a deeper reflection on the opposition of the "world of men" and nature.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ours Was the Privilege: Fifty Years

In 1945, at the age of 89, Liberty Hyde Bailey refelcted on farming of the 19th century. This was his boyhood and immediate experience with the world. This piece penned for the magazine, The Furrow, Bailey takes a non-nostalgic look of our past. It is a testimony of what was being lost in the industrialization of agriculture and still strikes a cord for us today.

From: “The Furrow, Deere & Company," January-February, 1945, Volume 50

My father could not complain about the weather, because the Lord made the weather. Uncle Jim, a neighbor, complained about the weather; therefore, he should not have been a farmer. Rewards were in the satisfaction of farming. These satisfactions could not be taken away. Farming was the natural occupation. We had barely heard of the big word agriculture! I remember that we had a feeling something like pity or even condescension toward those who had been so unfortunate as not to be farmers. We, as farmers, inherited the earth...

Friday, October 09, 2009

More Than Enough Online Bailey to Shake a Stick At

For those who want to delve into the works of Liberty Hyde Bailey... The good folks at Internet Archive have been making some headway in offering free electronic downloadable out-of-print publications of Liberty Hyde Bailey. I highly recommend this database which has grown considerably in the last year. Besides books on "how to" there is also a small collection of Bailey's poems, entitled simply, Poems (image from page 13) published in 1908. These gems were crafted before his first book of verse, Wind and Weather and read more personal. Thanks to researcher, Bruce Hubbard for the tip.

Adding Plants In Classrooms Increases Student Satisfaction

It’s widely known that the presence of houseplants in rooms improves air quality, reduces eye irritation and stress, motivates employees, and even improves concentration. In one study, employees’ reaction time on computer tasks improved 12% with houseplants present. Now researchers have found that University students can benefit from having houseplants in the classroom as well.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Are Mother Nature and God Married, Or Just Good Friends?

When my son Matthew was four, he asked me, "Are God and Mother Nature married, or just good friends?" -Richard Louve, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Richard Louve's wonderful anecdote sets up an important question; are religion and nature opposed to each other in our lives? For Liberty Hyde Bailey there was no conflict between religion and nature. In a privately published poem written in 1911 titled Outlook, Bailey sets out his personal theology. Where a Christian religion espoused a lost race whose hopes were consumed by innate guilt due to Adam's fall, Bailey found that nature taught a different lesson.