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A Letter from Wendell Berry

I met John Hay only once. A quiet, watchful man, he had a pair of binoculars on a strap around his neck, just in case. I liked that. It gave an assuring sense of continuity between the man and his work.

Mainly, I know him from his work. A book that has stayed with me and affected me more than most is his study of terns, The Bird of Light, an elegant book about an elegant bird. This is a book profound in its understanding of “the texture of local life;” of the meaning of industrialism’s “dispossession” of both terns and people; of the significance of languages, animal and human, that have “evolved with the earth itself;” and of the obligation “to help the homeless.” Of the terns he says, “To praise them is to distinguish ourselves.” He praises them for their beautiful creatureliness and for their sanctity, their embodiment of an “inner grace.” His understanding has made him a critic of great sharpness and power: “A society of machine owners has a tendency to think that it has a final right to everything it runs over . . . ”

John Hay is one of the indispensable few who, like the terns, have been “carriers of light and wisdom.”