Amazing story (via @ayjay) on newly discovered ways that redwoods survive fire. We went on Tom’s Muir Woods walking tour in 2022. He told us that redwoods are practically immortal, if only humans would stop screwing things up.

Thank God for “thought leaders” who help us “pre-solve” problems.

Matt Cardin:

For much of my life, I read books and other things in a frankly desperate, craving way, hoping to find The Answer to the problem that was given to me when I was born. It took several decades and college degrees, and the cultivation of a hyper-developed intellect stocked with more texts than the Library of Congress and the Library of Alexandria combined, for me to arrive, not through reading but through realization, at the recognition that the answer isn’t in a book at all but in the one who reads books in search of the answer.

Something like this realization—less fully realized, no doubt—has been nagging me for some time. Early January will be the 20th anniversary of our departure from Christian fundamentalism and for the entirety of that time I have been hoping to find The Answer in books.

The fundamentalism my wife and I left was intellectually incurious. I started to say it was anti-intellectual but that’s not quite right. Intelligence was valued as a gift of God. That gift, however, could only be put to narrow uses. College education was tolerated for men for the purpose of establishing a career. Reading was encouraged, as long as you limited yourself to the list of acceptable writers. Preaching was typically more emotional than intellectual, but intelligent teachers were valued for the purposes of Sunday School.

More than anything else, it was when Rachel and I realized that these bounds of acceptability not only ruled out people who were clearly devoted and sincere Christians but also were limiting us in harmful ways that it became clear that we needed to get out. We’ve often described our exit as the world opening up for us—an almost physical sensation of walking out of a dimly lit room into brilliant sunshine and blue skies.

So you can imagine how 27 year old me—curious and intelligent, finding the world open—devoured book after book after book. Even academic work that I barely understood but had the virtue of exercising my mind with ideas that were just out of my reach. After a few years of that, I had a broader and richer understanding of theology than some of the seminary-educated ministers I knew.

In the years that followed, I chased ideas—whether they appeared in books or online. With every new idea came the hope that this would be the one. Then the midlife transition arrived (I do not say “crisis,” though there were many critical moments) and I began to wonder if this was all just a monumental exercise in compensation and fear and trauma. This is the idea that has nagged me for much of my forties, particularly since that time in mid-2020 when I shut down all my social media accounts, quit the news, and started reading about hermits.

Wise teachers keep telling me that in order to become wise I must become a fool—yet I keep building teetering piles of books around me. Little by little, though, I manage to laugh at my piles and glimpse the lie hiding within them. Eventually, perhaps, I won’t need them any longer.

The holiday party at work did not go my way…

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is Polar Express but with Nazis

Wendell Berry, “Renewing Husbandry”:

I remember well a summer morning in about 1950 when my father sent a hired man with a McCormick High Gear No. 9 mowing machine and a team of mules to the field I was mowing with our nearly new Farmall A. That memory is a landmark in my mind and my history. I had been born into the way of farming represented by the mule team, and I loved it. I knew irresistibly that the mules were good ones. They were stepping along beautifully at a rate of speed in fact only a little slower than mine. But now I saw them suddenly from the vantage point of the tractor, and I remember how fiercely I resented their slowness. I saw them as “in my way.” For those who have had no similar experience, I was feeling exactly the outrage and the low-grade superiority of a hot-rodder caught behind an aged dawdler in urban traffic. It is undoubtedly significant that in the summer of 1950 I passed my sixteenth birthday and I became eligible to solve all my problems by driving an automobile.

Two things:

  1. When I drive I become a different person. I am normally a patient person—but not when I’m driving. I become aggressive. I call people assholes. I would never do that in person! (And not just because I wouldn’t want to get in a fight.) I offer this as a counterpoint to those who would suggest that our tools (using that word broadly) are morally neutral. They do, in fact, train us in certain ways of being.
  2. Berry’s story is another example of Illich’s ideas about the development of tools

Finished reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. Beautiful and heart-breaking. I think I’ll keep working my way through his fiction.

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow (p248):

All I can answer is that I did love her all her life—from the time before I ever saw her, it seems, and until she died. I do love her all her life, and still, and always. That is my answer, but in fact love does not answer any argument. It answers all arguments, merely by turning away, leaving them to find what rest they can.

That’s certainly one of the most beautiful things you’ll read all week.

I’ve been an admirer of Wendell Berry for over twenty years now—but, weirdly, I’ve only ever read his essays and poetry. I finally picked up one of his novels, Jayber Crow, and it’s being narrated in my head in Uncle Wendell’s mournful baritone. It’s a lovely experience.

We often hear about child development, less so about adult development. There does seem to be an ideal pattern:

  • Youth, with its hopefulness and orientation toward the future
  • Middle age, with its wistfulness and orientation toward the past
  • Elderhood, with its slow releasing toward death

Each stage is necessary and beautiful. In a time where politics dominate the minds of so many people, this ideal pattern can be seen as a problem. As with everything it touches, politics transforms what is beautiful into slogan and tool.

If we can disengage from that way of thinking, however, we can see this progression as a breathtaking tableau. We feel love and pride for the young person setting out with passion and big ideas. We feel the gravity of middle age, and sympathize with the person who longs for simpler times. We reverence the elder, who through some mysterious alchemy, takes experience, blends it with resignation, and works wisdom.

This would seem to be the way most traditional societies saw the progression of life. We might find more peace if we didn’t struggle against it.