A New Wendell Berry Interview

Lancie Clippinger said to me, and he was very serious, that a man oughtn’t to milk but about twenty-five cows, because if he keeps to that number, he’ll see them every day. If he milks more than that, he’ll do the work but never see the cows! The number will vary from person to person, I think, but Lancie’s experience had told him something important.

Wendell Berry

If you enjoy reading about what Wendell Berry is thinking (as I do) you will want to read This Interview in the New Yorker Magazine. It’s a far-ranging discussion, touching on everything from farming and politics, to religion, marriage and education. As usual, Berry’s words are thought provoking. I find myself reading, then re-reading in order to better understand a point he is making. It is Berry’s thoughts on marriage, home, and “place” that resonate with me the most. The above quote comes from the article, as do these next two…

My daddy said to me, about five years after I married Tanya, “Well, you’ve got a good girl.” And I said, proudly, “I know it,” and he said, “Well, you don’t deserve a damn bit of credit for it.” And he was right. You see, we don’t have enough sense to make these decisions. Somehow, you just get led to where you’re supposed to be, if you’re willing to submit.

Wendell Berry

That’s an example of what I mean by “thought provoking.” The following is Wendell Berry’s reply to what his relationship to the church is these days…

I go in bad weather, and am glad to. You can’t not be interested in the church and live out here. It’s an influence. What people are hearing there affects this place, and that isn’t acknowledged enough. Tanya is a very good church person. I go up there and that place is full of ghosts for me. I can look at those pews and see my grandfather, and his friends, and others who are dear and close to me still. I’m sitting there very often with my children or my grandchildren or my great-grandchildren. But the gospels, for me, were not a church discovery. I had finally to carry them into the woods and read them there in order to see my need for them.

Wendell Berry

Cultivating The Pleasures of Home

It has been over a month since I last blogged here. This post is simply to let you know that I am still in this earthly realm. I expect to return to blogging when my pace of life slows down a bit more.

Suffice it to say that Marlene and I are cultivating the pleasures of home , which includes the work of home (including my home business), our family, and this spot of God’s green earth we live in.

The little girl is our granddaughter. She is now 6 months old. Another grandchild is due next January.

I hope all is well in your world.

Jesus Cursed The Cities

I was recently reading in the Bible where Jesus cursed the cities. This reading launched me on a train of thought that I’ll share with you. But first, here are the pertinent passages from the book of Matthew, chapter 11, beginning with verse 1…

And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.

The cities that Jesus taught and preached in were Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum. All three were located not far from each each other on the north end of the Sea of Galilee (which is actually a large lake).

In verse 4 Jesus instructs two disciples of John the Baptist (who was in prison at the time) to tell John that…

The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

As you might imagine, this man, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, having lowered himself to our estate, created quite a sensation among the people in the cities where he miraculously healed them of their sicknesses. As far as I know, Jesus healed every person who came to him seeking physical healing. We’re talking about signs and wonders like no one had ever seen before.

But, unfortunately, while the people of those cities loved the supernatural wonders and physical healings, they paid little heed to the message that Jesus preached. What was the message Jesus preached? The answer is found in Matthew 4:17…

 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Kingdom of heaven? The other gospel writers use the phrase, Kingdom of God. Both phrases are interchangeable. They mean that the long-awaited kingdom of the Messiah was at hand. King Jesus would soon be taking the throne. God’s plan of redemption was at hand. The most significant event in the history of mankind would soon take place.

Of course, none of those people could possibly know Jesus would, before long, allow himself to be killed, then resurrected (in the flesh) from the dead, live again on the earth for 40 days, than ascend into heaven where all power and authority in heaven and earth would be given to him. That’s what Jesus was alluding to when he said the kingdom of heaven was at hand. 

So it was that those people were were blind to the soon coming Kingdom of Christ and his eternal rule, but repent was a word that they could understand.

Repent means to “feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” True repentance involves an acknowledgement of sin and a change of course. Did this happen when Jesus preached in the cities? Well, evidently not. People came for the show and to get their healing, but not for the life change that begins with repentance (which goes hand in glove with faith). This is clear in Matthew 11:20 where it says…

Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not.

The Apostle Matthew (author of the book of Matthew) was a tax collector for Rome before Jesus called him to be an apostle. One of Mathew’s skills as a tax collector would have been tachygraphy, which was a form of shorthand. This being the case, Matthew was able to transcribe the words of Jesus very accurately. Here are the words of Jesus from Matthew 11:21-24…

Woe unto thee, Chorazin woe unto thee Bethsaida! For if the mighty works that were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgement, than for you. 

And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.

“Woe unto thee” is the prophetic equivalent of a curse.

You will recall that Sodom was destroyed by God because of it’s rampant homosexual immorality. “Gay Pride” is not something new in our culture. It’s actually something very old. The Bible makes it clear that God hates pride, and He hates homosexuality. Put them together and… “Woe unto thee.” 

But the amazing thing here is that Jesus declares the city of Capernaum to be worse than Sodom. Wow. How could the city of Capernaum, not known for sexual immorality, be worse than Sodom? I’ll tell you… 

Sodom did not reject Jesus Christ and his gospel message of repentance. Capernaum did. 

As for Tyre and Sidon, they were once-powerful pagan cities that fell under God’s judgement. Old Testament prophesies of the destruction of those cities eventually came to fulfillment. The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind sure and fine. By the time Jesus came on the scene, Tyre and Sidon were long-since-conquered and subservient provinces of the Roman Empire.

Today, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, the cities that Jesus cursed, are archaeological sites and tourist attractions. They are no longer cities.

With all of that in mind, I’d like to suggest that the modern cities of our day and age are much worse than Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum ever were. The reason being, modern cities are strongholds of sexual immorality (as was Sodom), they are strongholds of paganism (as was Tye and Sidon), and they are strongholds of prideful unrepentance. 

Worse yet, modern technological advances that were unimagined in Bible times now allow the anti-Christ culture of modern cities to be broadcast to every outlying corner of the globe.

There is so much more that can be said on the subject of cities from a Biblical point of view. Suffice to to say for now that God is not impressed with the cities of rebellious mankind.

“Myron The Pig’s Problem”—My First Book (From 1975)

If you have read my previous blog post, Visiting With My Favorite High School Teacher (After 43 Years), you know that I recently had a wonderful time visiting with my old English teacher, Carm Pennella.

During our visit Carm mentioned that E.B. White was one of his and his wife’s favorite authors. That was exciting to hear because E.B. White is one of my favorite authors too! If you have been a long-time reader of my blogs you may recall that I have blogged in past years about E.B. White (click HERE). The Letters of E. B. White is, without a doubt, one of my favorite books. This Obituary for E.B. White gives some perspective on the man.

I mentioned to Carm that the only thing me and E.B have in common is that he was an introvert, and I am an introvert. E.B. was such an introvert, in fact, that he wouldn’t go in person to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Kennedy in 1963. He preferred to stay on his oceanside farm in North Brooklin, Maine. I can rerlate to being that kind of an introvert.

But as I was writing my previous blog post, and I mentioned the Project Advance English class I took in 11th grade, I remembered the “book” I wrote for a class project, and I realized that me and E.B have something else in common… we both wrote a book about a pig.

E.B. White’s pig was named Wilbur. His barnyard friend was a spider named Charlotte. Wilbur and Charlotte became famous, and made E.B. White enough money that he could afford to live the life of a gentleman farmer for the rest of his days. That’s what I call a happy ending.

My pig’s name is Myron. He’s not famous. He will never earn me a cent. But you might enjoy the story.

Keep in mind that I was 17 years old when I put this story together, and it was for a college level class (with college credits) that I was taking in high school. I don’t recall exactly what the assignment was, but somehow I figured this would fit. It was not what Mr. Pennella expected. I’ll give you his response at the end…

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Page 5
Page 6
Page 7
Page 8. The End.

That was, I’m sure, the funnest English project I ever did. And, in case you wondered, funnest is a legitimate word.

I handed the assignment in and I’ll never forget Mr. Pennella’s words to me the next day. After telling me he enjoyed the story he said, with a smile on his face… “Do you really think I can give you college credit for this?”

Well, I sure was hoping so. 🙂

Somehow I managed to get through that class and earn a few English credits from Syracuse University in so doing. They are the only college English credits I’ve ever gotten.

But the happy (and kind of amazing) ending to this particular story is that 21 years later I wrote my first real book for The Taunton Press. Two more Taunton Press books followed, and I then self-published nine more books after that. I make my living, in part, as a writer.

Visiting With My Favorite High School Teacher (After 43 Years)

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest of arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”

John Steinbeck

Steinbeck said it well, and I’ve come to believe that the most endearing of the great-artist teachers he speaks of (especially among children and teens in a public school environment) are those who communicate more than just facts and knowledge to their students. The best teachers recognize and seize opportunities to express warmth and compassion for individual souls.

I’m not talking about gushy emotionalism here, but of a truly caring humanity that connects with individual students on a personal level in small but meaningful ways. This often happens without the student (or sometimes even the teacher) fully realizing the positive impact they’re making at the time, or of the long-term impact their actions may have.

With the best of these artists, all of this happens naturally and it is, at root, an expression of love. All of which brings me to my high school English teacher, Carmine Pennella. Forty-three years ago he was “Mr. Pennella ” to me.  These days he is “Carm.” 

Carmine Pennella, English Department Head, Moravia Central School, in 1975

Although Carm lives only a few miles from me, I have seen him around town only two or three times since high school and our conversations were brief. That changed, however,  a few days ago as you can see in the photo at the top of this blog post. The picture shows my wife, Marlene, with Carm on one side of the table (Marlene and I were in the same class in high school). Marlene’s nephew, Jeff, and I are on the other side. We are at the Glenside Diner in Moravia, NY. We had just finished a meal, and had a very nice visit. I asked the waitress (who also happens to be my daughter-in-law) to take our picture.

Carm is now 82 years old. His wife of 52 years, Josepha, also a teacher, passed on after a long illness in 2013. 

It was Jeff who orchestrated our little reunion. Carm was his teacher too. Jeff was visiting from Colorado for a week, staying at Carm’s place and helping with some carpentry projects.. 

I posted the diner photo to my 1976 class reunion Facebook group (46 members). There was lots of acknowledgement and a few comments. My old classmate, Bob Sovocool, wrote: “Carmine Pennella. The one guy who really helped me in school.” It is a comment I can relate to.

There were a few other teachers (two, to be precise) who took some interest in me and, in so doing, helped me. But it was Mr. Pennella who seemed to see some latent qualities in me, and who was truly helpful . Perhaps it was that essay I wrote on composting privies. I’m not really sure.

Yours truly. My 1976 yearbook picture.

In 11th grade, Mr. Pennella nominated me for Boy’s State. Only one boy from our school  could go. As I recall, it was the teachers who decided who that boy would be. I didn’t even know what Boys State was at the time, and I didn’t know Carm nominated me until after Charlie Wright had been chosen. Charlie was probably the better choice (he went on to West Point) but he was also the obvious choice. Just knowing that Carm had nominated me was, in itself, an honor as far as I was concerned.

Another positive event was Project Advance. It was a new idea at the time. A pilot project, I suppose. A group of select high school students could earn college credits in English while still in high school. I was not an honor-society student but Carm wanted me in Project Advance. My parents came up with the money. It was a great experience. 

I remember a couple of things in particular about Project Advance. First, we took field trips to several plays (and even went out to dinner at a nice restaurant after one of them). Second, I wrote my first book while in Project Advance. I am writing now with a smile on my face at the thought of that book, and of Mr. Pennella’s words to me after I turned the project in. It was a children’s book, which I illustrated. I will “publish” it in my next blog post (Update: CLICK HERE to read the children’s book I wrote in 11th grade).

Marlene’s 1976 yearbook picture. We were married 4 years later.

The last story about how Mr. Pennella helped me back in high school is the most endearing to me. It has to do with my desire to go to The Sterling School (now Sterling College) in Vermont after high school. I needed a letter of recommendation from a teacher. I asked Mr. Pennella if he would write the letter. He was glad to do it. But, as the last days of my senior year were drawing to a close, I had heard nothing from Sterling. I was getting concerned.

I told this to Mr. Pennella at the end of school one day. He expressed surprise that I had not heard anything from Sterling. He told me me to wait while he went to the guidance office. He called Vermont. I waited.

Carm returned a short while later, with his thumb up and a big smile on his face. “You’re in.” he said. I’ll never forget it.

Mr. Pennella went to bat for me. He cared. He has always been a special person to me for doing that. It was a powerful relief at that time to know I had gotten into that school. 

So, with those things in mind, you can imagine what a good visit we had with Carm over a meal at the diner. It turns out that he has kept track of me, so to speak, over the years. He knew about a lot of the things I’ve done since high school. And he doesn’t even have internet!

But that reunion at the diner is not the end of this story. Jeff and Carm invited Marlene and I over to Carm’s house for dinner two days later. Carm lives in a classic old farmhouse that he bought in the 1970s and has beautifully restored. It is a home like you might find in a living history museum, like Sturbridge Village.

The food was great (Marlene told me the next day that she considered it a 5-star meal) and so was the conversation. We had a chance to meet some of Carm’s family and we had a truly delightful time. Carm gave me a short ride in his vintage Jaguar. I got to know him like I never knew him in high school. That’s kind of special. And there is something else special in this reunion…

Carm alluded to it later in the evening, outdoors, with the fireflies blinking around us. Simply put, he is liberal and I am conservative. I don’t know the depth of his liberal worldview and it really doesn’t matter to me. On a human level, I think it’s correct to say that we have a mutual respect and an appreciation for each other that transcends any political, cultural, and religious belief differences. I like that. A lot.

The day after our memorable meal I realized that I had left my hat at Carm’s house. I stopped over to pick it up. I didn’t intend to stay long, but I was there awhile. There was more good conversation. I asked Carm if he would mind if I blogged about all of this. It is, after all, a good story. He had no objections. Jeff took our picture…

Me, Carm, and Gracie. Summer, 2019

As I reflect back on these recent dinners and discussions it occurs to me that Carm is still an example of the great-artist-teacher mentioned in John Steinbeck’s quote at the beginning of this essay, and I am still learning.

As a person prone to introversion, I am impressed with the kindness, the generosity, and the hospitality that I’ve seen and experienced in our recent meetings. I am not, mind you, surprised by such things. Those qualities were in Carm 43 years ago. It is just refreshing to see them now in a new and different light.

Carm would say our reunion is serendipity. I am more inclined to think it is providential. Whatever the case, I’m thankful for Carm Penella and the blessing he has been in my life.

I’m Cranking Out YouTube Garden Videos

Fresh peas & potatoes from my Minibed garden, with cream and butter. Not Keto-diet-approved, but we make an exception for homegrown food like this.

My Minibed garden this year is not the best, primarily because of a wet and cold spring. But Marlene and I are now eating from the garden some every day. My garden, and the homegrown food it produces (like you see above) not only nourishes our bodies on the heavenstretch, but satisfies our fundamental agrarian longings.

My desire to share the joys of gardening (Minibed gardening in particular) and hopefully inspire others in their gardening pursuits are my motivation for posting a recent rash of YouTube videos. Here they are, along with an update on my new chicken tractor…

I’ve also posted about some beautiful garlic Minibeds in Wisconsin at my Minibed Gardening Blog. Here’s a picture from that blog post (CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY)…

I Finally Build A Suscovich Chicken Tractor!

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“Some younger people don’t aspire to doing much with their life. Most, however, probably aspire to getting some sort of good-paying job working for someone else, putting in their 40 hours a week and, hopefully, getting ahead. 

And then there are those few who make things happen for themselves; they catch a vision for a desired way of life or an entrepreneurial enterprise (or both), then pursue the vision with vigor and passion. They work long days, with dogged determination, to make it happen. They harness initiative and creativity. Such people almost always eventually achieve the goals they seek. And, all along the way, their example inspires others.

I believe John Suscovich is one of those people. I want to introduce you to this young man and what he is doing…”

The Deliberate Agrarian Blog Post, November 2013

Thus began an article I wrote nearly six years ago (click HERE to read it). In that article I introduced my readers to John Suscovich’s new chicken tractor design, and the plans he was selling.

John was doing what I had done with my Whizbang chicken plucker plan book back in 2002. Some people thought it was unethical for me to create a product and try to sell it on the internet. They expected me to make it available for free. I don’t know what those sorts of people do to support their families, but I’m sure they don’t do it for free.

Fortunately, there were other people back then who took an interest in my plan book and helped spread the word. Richard Freudenberger at BackHome magazine was one of them. And Countryside magazine featured it, as did some smaller publications.

So, I had no problem at all with helping John Suscovich spread the word about his chicken tractor plans. And I mentioned in the article that I wanted to build a Suscovich Chicken Tractor myself.

Well, all these years later, I’m pleased to see that John Suscovich is still creating products and helping people raise poultry. His web site, Farm Marketing Solutions is a great resource, and His YouTube Channel is an inspiring endeavor.

And, all these years later, I have finally made myself a chicken tractor that is inspired by John’s design….