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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Shuddering: Wendell Berry and Maybelline

A few weeks ago, The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor featured the poem "Goods" by Wendell Berry. In the poem, Berry writes about immemorial feelings, like hunger and thirst and loneliness and love. Then the poem opens for us, and we are suddenly grounded with the imagery of pastures, and the green growth of March, and of a team of Belgian mares.

It's the immemorial feelings
I like the best: hunger, thirst,
their satisfaction; work-weariness,
earned rest; the falling again
from loneliness to love;
the green growth the mind takes
from the pastures in March;
the gayety in the stride
of a good team of Belgian mares
that seems to shudder from me
through all my ancestry.

This is an intimate poem, allowing us a glimpse into Wendell Berry's life. Look closely at this photo and you'll see a team of horses in the background, hooked up to a furrow or a plow.  Berry, author of more than 40 books of poetry, fiction, and essays, has farmed a hillside in his native state of Kentucky for over 40 years. For each year of hard work on the land, a book has grown? I love this thought.

How much of our humanity ... our understanding of hunger and thirst and loneliness and love ... do we learn from the animals in our lives? Berry did not work this land by himself - harnessed and leading the way were the horses.

This morning, the new horse in our community herd, a big sweet Percheron/Paint horse cross named Maybelline, got herself separated from the herd, across a fence, and in with the elk. 

The elk didn't mind, but she apparently worked herself into a frenzy because she was sweaty, nervous, and a little cut up by the time her worried owner found her and got her safely back with the other horses.  Later, when I bent down to put salve on her cuts, I realized that Maybelline had been a mother once - had been suckled by a foal at least once.  What else, I wondered, did we not know about her?  What "work horse" memories hid deep within her Percheron genes?

A few hours later, a friend and very intuitive chiropractor and energy worker arrived at the barn to work with a few of the horses.  We asked her to look at Maybelline. After a gentle examination, Dr. Eileen asked her to show us (in horse language), how she was doing.  What Dr. Eileen sensed was loneliness, perhaps even grief.  

Had she been missing her old herd?  Had she not realized that this new home was her new "forever" home?  As we focused our energy on her well being, with our hands on her body, and the spring sun warming all of us, she shuddered, then sighed deeply, her whole body exhaling, as if with a sudden new awareness.  Here, she would not be hungry, nor thirsty, nor alone.  This herd was her herd now, and we were her people.  It was as if her heart opened, like Wendell Berry's poem -  to the immemorial.