Monday, May 10, 2010

Rereading Jayber Crow

"Everything there seemed to belong where it was. That was why I went there. And I went to feel the change that that place always made in me. Always, as soon as I came in under the big trees, I began to go slowly and quietly. This was not because I was hunting (I hunted in other places), but because in a place where everything belongs where it is, you do not want to disturb anything. I went slowly and quietly. I watched where I put my feet. I went for solace and comfort, for a certain quietness of mind that came to me in no other place. Even the nettles and mosquitoes comforted me, for they belonged where they were."
Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

As part of our brief (hopefully) return to winter, there was a light dusting of snow yesterday, and it lay lightly over Lanark fields and fences for most of the morning. There was also a raw north wind which pushed temperatures well below freezing, freezing noses, fingers and lenses and plucking tenaciously at parkas, hoods and gloves.

Today the clouds have rolled away, and it is a fine sunny and very cold morning. Here I sit indoors in the sunlight with a mug of tea and a copy of Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow, one of the most magnificent novels written in the twentieth or any other century for that matter.

Berry's novel tells the story of Jayber Crow, twice orphaned and a evangelical seminary dropout, who returns to his roots in Port William, Kentucky, choosing to spend his life there and live out his bachelor days as the town's barber, church sexton and gravedigger. Of a firm, eccentric and pastoral faith, Jayber falls in love with a local woman who is already married. Unable to profess his feelings, he chooses to cultivate a careful friendship with her and remains faithful to her all the days of his life. As someone who is apart and yet truly rooted in his place and time and community, Jayber is a careful observer of the world around him, and he relates stories of Port William's landscape and human membership with wise and loving eyes.

There are no adequate words to describe what a stellar reading experience Jayber Crow is. This is (at least) the third time I have read it, finding again within its pages on this cold morning a sure elucidation of what it means to be rooted and part of one's home earth, to honor life and love and place and community.

If you have not already read Jayber Crow at least once, please do.

9 comments:

Tabor said...

To be 'in' the place where you are is hard and certainly the hardest when you are outside away from man-made comforts. At least I have to consciously do this. I think, perhaps, you do not. You just slip in place with a sigh.

Anonymous said...

Makes me think of "....and when we come into the place the just right...." Simple Gifts. I ordered a fine, slightly worn copy of your recommended book from Amazon a couple of minutes ago. I especially liked the description...."shelf worn, slightly dog-earred". Felt just right....

BlackberryGirl said...

I live very close to where Wendell Berry lives and attends church and even actually know the town that he based his novels on...my family is at least thirteen generation Kentuckian and although I have crossed paths with him even as a child, I am always too shy to speak to him. He reminds me so very much of my grandfather

And he still makes me cry. Thank you for your entry.

liliannattel said...

Anything you recommend that highly is top on my list.

todayandeveryday said...

It is on my TO READ LIST. I am in the middle of re-reading The White Bone and when I am done I think this will be my next reading encounter. Thank you for the passage. It reminds me of my feeling about walking in Old Stone Fort here in Tennessee.
Have a great day!
Peace~
Dawn

Wendi said...

One of my favorites! I've never talked to another person who has read it. Thanks for the wonderful reminder. ;-)

quiet said...

Cate, you spoke highly of Wendell Berry's poetry some time ago and I bought some of his books. I've never regretted this and will follow up this recommendation as well. Sounds just the sort of novel I need to accompany me into our winter.

mama p said...

this is one of my favorite photos yet-- silver and gold, and a dusting of platinum. the book sounds like perfection, i can't wait to read it!

Endment said...

This photo is wonderful..
I am delighted to see this post... I just began reading Jayber Crow again last weekend - must be something in the air :)