A letter to Wendell Berry …

Dear Mr. Berry.

 

I am a forty five years old locomotive engineer Kentuckian. I have read only but a few of your words and have watched only two videos that you are featured in. I have learned in my middle age that it is very unfair and dangerous to put someone on a pedestal. I have and just might be somewhat in what some might call a midlife crisis.

I feel as if I am being pulled.

I must mention, that I have a reading disability and have a very hard time enjoying books. I also must mention that I have found an amazing resource in a service called Librivox. This service is a crowd sourced audio book collection. 

 

I just finished listening to everything Upton Sinclair ever wrote. “They Call Me Carpenter” and “The Profits of Religion” being my favorites. I am now upon suggestion from a very good friend of Utah Phillip’s, listening to the “Iron Heel” from Jack London …

I feel as if I might mention that their words have only further grounded and centralized my feelings that I was raised to have. I am the son of an activist who knew and worked with Anne Braden. My mom did not get national credit for her work. My mother was a teacher in Jefferson County, Kentucky but she did not write a book, but she was as instrumental part of getting the University of Louisville to divest its funds from South African Apartheid.

 

I was raised by activists, railroaders and electricians, in Kentucky. 

 

My front yard was George Rogers Clark Park in Louisville, Kentucky, Mulberry Hill, The Clark family home is where I played … in a creek that ran into Bear Grass Creek, catching crawldads and building dams with grey clay.

In this park, there is a very large tree.

The Tree is located very close to where the Clark family positioned their spring house. It was at this tree that I found the Great Spirit. Where I read “Touch the Earth”.  (I got it from John Gage’s son ….) I spent many a day with my back leaning against this tree reading speeches from the great native chiefs of our land called America. This tree is where I fell in love with our Mother Earth. I visit this tree when I miss my mother. Sometimes I visit it alone. By myself. I loved my mother and miss her … She loved the tree too. 

 

I have fallen in love with one of your poems, but, before I fall any deeper in the well known as Wendell Berry, I must mention, that I feel very drawn to your vibrations. Maybe it is because we have drank of the same water, maybe it is because we share a love for the same state. Maybe it is because our accents are very close.

My mother in law is from Henry County. I suspect you might know who Vernon Rucker was. He was my wife’s grandfather and at one point the Sheriff of Henry County. Florence, her Grandmother, worked at the Chat and Nibble in Eminence for many years. 

 

I am writing you to ask a favor, but to further explain somewhat my request, I must explain something that I am still trying to figure out. So I, a brave to the elder, might suggest that maybe you should organize the International Brotherhood of Contraries.

The labor movement sure could use it.

I am a rank and file union activist, and that don’t get you very many friends in the labor movement these days. I am a serious defender of union democracy.

The men of today have been taught an aggressive union thug mentality.

I am struggling to survive at CSX railroad. This is partly the pull that is fueling my crisis. I am afraid…. but… I am only afraid for others, or at best, very confused. 

 

As I write this, I have put it out there in the air, that I request a meeting with you, to ask a favor. I am helping to organize a Labor / Environmental conference in Richmond, California and Olympia, WA with my organization Railroad Workers United.

If this letter was to make it into your hands, I would be extremely excited. I have tasked longtime friend and somewhat spiritual adopted father John Gage with the task … to see what he could do to get this meeting done. John is getting old and his heart is well … John is another of these folks who have not received the national attention that I personally feel he should have been bestowed.

He has played a million camp fires …

at least that is his figure. I am a folk singer labor activist train driver, and that brings me to this statement. 

 

I feel a very “fierce urgency of now” of course that is a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. I am hoping to get a solidarity statement from you. Let me explain. Some more. I love talking, as you can probably tell, I am not the educated seasoned writer. But if you have ever read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, you would understand the reference to the trees that I make. I feel that many of you Ents are waking. John Gage is one of them, his versions of your poems are amazing.

I am inspired, by the few words of yours that I have read, but it is in your cadence of voice that I feel shaken and moved. So far what I have heard of your voice from Youtube videos has been music to my Kentucky tuned ears.  I know, now, why I should have listened to you earlier. I know you have been “working on a ship” that we are building for a while now. That is a U. Utah Phillips song. If I get to meet with you, I’ll sing it to you and further explain the conference. 

 

So, therefore be it resolved that …

 

I think I may start reading Wendell Berry. I might as well … but, I promise not to put you on a pedestal. It is your sincere unapologetic honesty and willingness to be mindfully truthful that I am most inspired by. I can feel your passion. I am listening.

I can only hope to influence and resonate

with as many people as you have.

 

So far as I can tell, I can make heads or tails of this that and the other when it comes to the words and voice of a one Mr. Wendell Berry … thank you for your time. That is what we all seem to need more of … 

 

And be it further resolved ….

“we all put our paints on the same way….”

 

In Solidarity,

 

John Paul Wright

Railroad Workers United

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