The Peace of Wild Things (and Places)

Sunrise in Voyageurs National Park.

Wendell Berry’s poems, fiction, and non-fiction have been a near-constant companion on the road.  As some of you who have read earlier posts know, we started this trip with the goal of restoring body and spirit in some of the country’s most beautiful places. There are few authors who better speak to that desire than Mr. Berry.

As an example, here’s a short poem that I used to read in the urban jungles of Beijing.  It may have single-handedly brought us back to the American wild.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

And I wake in the night at the least sound

In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

Who do not tax their lives with forethought

Of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

Waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

We have been resting in that grace all year, and made aware of it time and time again…

When we kept seeing great blue herons and wood drakes all along the Cuyahoga River, a polluted river that barely supported life a generation ago (indeed, it was better known for starting on fire than being welcoming to birds), I despaired a little less.

Have any of you ever seen a heron pose like this, as if he didn’t have any spare change?

When we met a laid-off veteran of the Madison Oscar Mayer plant, closed down after nearly a century in my home state, I felt a despair for the world in her and her co-workers—their lives had been turned upside-down just a few years before retirement.  But she was doing what we were doing, heading to the still waters, to the peace of wild things, where utilitarian decisions made by young MBAs long on degrees and short on experience don’t matter.

The angst that many people feel for the future of the country, of the world, of the wild places themselves comes out more quickly than you might expect out here.  Half an hour around a campfire, or two miles into a ranger-led hike, and the fear they have for their lives or their children’s swells to the surface almost involuntarily, like a SCUBA diver out of air.

But here, far away from 24-hour news cycles and social media echo-chambers, those fears, that angst, subside just a little bit faster.  We fear together, but then rest together as well, basking in the grace of the world.

If Acadia’s Jordan Pond doesn’t quell your deepest fears, its popovers surely will.

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