Jesus Christ said “Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him.’1
Wendell Berry ends his essay ‘A Native Hill‘ with a poignant and beautiful, and (to my eyes at least) *very* Jungian rumination on his Shadow’s relation to his personal myth—the myth whose content is the subject of the essay.
The ‘Hill’ of the title dances with the Woods and the Land itself as apparent symbols of Berry’s Self, of the Centre he has found in and on his hill.
He wishes to be “as peaceable as [his] land, which does no violence”, into this eternal hill he has happily found his mind bury “like a live root system”, “what might seem arbitrary or accidental” in the forest, “is included in the design of the whole; what might seem evil or violent is a comfortable member of the household.” Indeed, “where the creation is whole nothing is extraneous”.
“The hill is like an old woman, all her human obligations met who sits at work day after day, in a kind of rapt leisure, at an intricate embroidery. She has time for all things. Because she does not expect ever to be finished, she is endlessly patient with details. She perfects flower and leaf, feather and song, adorning the briefest life in great beauty as though it were meant to last forever”.
And here is that rumination on his new relation to his Shadow that all this movement toward and constellation of the Self in nature has wrought:
Every man is followed by a shadow which is his death– dark, featureless, and mute. And for every man there is a place where his shadow is clarified and is made his reflection, where his face is mirrored in the ground. He sees his source and his destiny, and they are acceptable to him. He becomes the follower of what pursued him. What hounded his track becomes his companion. That is the myth of my search and my return.
Such worlds and symbols as Berry moves between have things to teach us about the connection of our inner psychological or spiritual work (depending on our vocabulary and proclivities) to the place which, and the people who, we move among and over and through.
The porousness in his treatment of these (normally separated) domains is what, I think, lends the essay its slightly-unsettling intimacy. The work of the essay is like that of Old Woman Hill, mirroring a journey of internal revelation through outward symbolism without the reader perhaps releasing the embroidery the rapt prose is busy knitting him into.
This paragraph—and the lived-parable of Berry’s death and resurrection in the woods which follows—are the high points of that patient work. But I do not think Berry is at as much peace with his Shadow as it would have us believe. For earlier, speaking of the wanton violence and reckless unknowing placelessness of his direct ancestors, he says:
…to testify to the persistence of their influence, it is only necessary for me to confess that I read the Reverend Young’s account of them with delight; I yield a considerable admiration to the exuberance and extravagance of their fight with the firebrands; I take a certain pride in belonging to the same history and the same place that they belong to – though I know that they represent the worst that is in us, and in me, and that their presence in our history has been ruinous, and that their survival among us promises ruin.
This is the language of purity and totalising mortification, there is no accommodating of these impulse which does not lead to ruin. These fire-lit shadows are no longer “acceptable to him”, they still pursue him, they still hound his tracks. The economic and cultural “exuberance and extravagance” which defines Berry’s America seem to have no other place in his history than anathematisation, repentance, and rejection.
Does he carry the work of integration into these dark parts of his woods? Do the Kentucky firebrands ever come home? Or are they orphaned by Berry just as they were by history and by fate?