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The Pencil and the Plough

mainlyabout farming–or rather, about the rural communities which 12,000years of farming has sustained – and his novels are populated with characters like him and his neighbours. He himself lives by a strict code of ‘natural’ or Nature-friendly rules which he thinks we must all adopt if we are not to destroy ourselves in the long run. He writes with a pencil (he won’t have a computer), ploughs his acres with horses, and burns his own timber for fuel. But he cuts his logs with a chainsaw, flies on aeroplanes and drives a car. In some respects, it’s the philosophy of those religious dissenters the Amish – whom Berry admires – who use paraffin lamps at home but drive around in Cadillacs so long as they are painted black and have the chrome taken off. ‘It’s not that I would rule out any particular piece of equipment,’ Berry explained when we met. ‘It is that I would change the kind of consciousness that uses the equipment.’ To put a name to this consciousness is not easy. It is not quite Luddite, though Berry sympathizes with the loom-smashers of the early nineteenth century because they were acting in defence of their communities. It is not nostalgic, because he is looking forwards, to a recovered state of environmental equilibrium. It is not quite ‘holistic’, a word he rejects as a slogan combining, as he put it, ‘disdain of a plain word like “whole” and fear of a forthright word like “holy”.’ Nor is it organic. Berry doesn’t talk about organic farming but about ‘good’ agriculture, ‘because there are good farms that may use a little herbicide’. ‘Hillbilly’ doesn’t describe him, either – he is an educated man as well as a man of the soil. Even less could you insult him with the name of redneck. This polemicist is not an angry man to meet, but he can certainly write angrily about those he regards as enemies of the natural order: agribusiness, the big corporations, the medical industry, those who commodify eating and sex, those who create superfluous needs for ‘frivolous’ economic growth. Berry has no time for the Republicans whom he accuses of being

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