Tanya Berry, Hero
Please please please don’t miss Gracy Olmstead’s piece on The Seer, the new documentary about Wendell Berry, co-directed by Laura Dunn and her husband Jef Sewell. I loved this part especially (emphasis mine):
Despite the haunting sense of loss we might experience when seeing the helplessness of aging farmers, the shots of dilapidated barns and deserted farmhouses, there is also beauty reflected throughout the film. Much of this comes from the hope reflected in the face of younger generations, people picking up Berry’s call and embracing it. There are those who stay—and this film is also about those who stay: like Tanya Berry, who chose to follow her husband back to Kentucky, even though it was not her home, at least not at the time.
“I started this film thinking so much about Wendell and what a hero he is,” says Dunn. “But as a stay-at-home mom, as a woman, a homeschooler—the person who really stays with me, who I think about day in and day out, is his wife Tanya. She changed my way of thinking in this film. She elevates the domestic realm.”
Tanya grew up mostly in Northern California in a family of artists, notes Dunn. Her father was the Head of the University of Kentucky’s Art Department, where she also attended college as a music major. But when Wendell Berry decided to travel back home to Kentucky, Tanya followed: “I had no clue what I was getting into, but I’ve been lucky because of him, because he’s the kind of person he was, and he’s been lucky because of me, because I believe in the continuity of the home and the family.” She notes that growing up she’d lived all over the country, “moved and moved and moved,” and she had an intense desire to have a home—a place where her children could belong.
And this is a desire that many of Berry’s readers have: a yearning for a place of their own, for a home and community. His writing often draws people back to the land, to the places they’ve forgotten or neglected. This is one of the reasons why Dunn is planning to show the film at South by Southwest: Austin is her home.
“A lot of the same forces of development, change, and money that are destroying farms in Kentucky are destroying our home here,” she says. “It’s really meaningful to be able to show it at home, since it’s largely about finding your home in a world that feels so despairing a lot of times, where so many of the things you love are being destroyed. This is our home, and we’re going to start here.”
Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
of my love and work for yours, so much for so much
of an expendable fund. We don’t know what its limits are–
that puts us in the dark. We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.
Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing
a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only
accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light
enough to live, and then accepts the dark,
passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I
have fallen time and again from the great strength
of my desire, helpless, into your arms.
As I post this, I am listening to my wife in the next room teaching geometry to our children. My own Tanya Berry, cultivating my own domestic garden.