“In the loss of skill, we lose stewardship; in losing stewardship, we lose fellowship; we become outcasts from the great neighborhood of Creation.”
Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land
“Old usage tells us that there is a husbandry also of the land, of the soil, of the domestic plants and animals—obviously because of the importance of these things to the household.”
Wendell Berry, The Way of Ignorance
We can choose to make our households come alive again, making home the context of vibrant, daily life. A central way of doing so is making the household a place of stewardship.
It’s easy to say that stewardship is the responsibility of corporations and governments. And it is. But realistically, can we expect that corporations and governments will exercise stewardship, if in our households we do not? Besides, what we do in our households is directly in our power, and is our immediate responsibility.
If households are the context of real economic production, it is easy to see how they must also be the place of stewardship. When Wendell Berry says “in the loss of skill we lose stewardship,” he is pointing especially to the loss of the arts of husbandry and housewifery. Those powerful, fulfilling, life-giving arts, once so characteristic of households both urban and rural, gave context and immediate reason to stand in a care-full or stewarding relationship with the natural world.
But even now each of us can rediscover and re-form our own household to be a place for enacting a stewardly stance toward the world. We can make it a place of real intersection and interaction with the natural world. A household always exists in some particular place. This is where we can interact with the world in a meaningful way on a practical scale. Every day.
But it will be challenging today. Most of our households have been drained of daily life and productive work. Aesthetic standards—still observed especially in upscale neighborhoods—tend to follow principles of ease and convenience and what products are available on the box store shelf for weekend application, rather than principles of the long term needs and good of people and natural creatures/environment.
The care given by one, two, or ten people in the household makes a real, ongoing difference. What I do or don’t do here will affect, often in obvious and immediate ways, me and mine.
Who would drop trash or poison his own yard? Who wouldn’t want a beautiful and fruitful yard? How can we waste resources—even if purchased and theoretically easily replaceable—in our own home?
Making the household a place of richer daily life, presence and work are steps toward reconnecting with the natural world right in our home. At the same time, to focus on stewarding the earth in the home is itself a great step toward revitalizing the home.
Next week: a specific stewardship plan for every household: Conserve, Beautify, Fructify, Diversify
Wendell Berry (1934-) is a farmer, essayist, novelist, and activist who lives on his homeplace in northern Kentucky.
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