The Peace of Wild Things

Dr. Baker shared this end-of-year message with the Cade campus on the last day of classes. 

How can I say something worth hearing right now? That’s usually how I start thinking about a chapel talk. On today, the last day of school, the last day of this crazy school year, it’s an especially important question to ask. So here goes…
 
I’m very lucky because I’m one of the few people here at ESA (maybe the only person) who gets to see the whole school from a pretty high perspective. Like today at the Lower School was bring your dog to carline day to support Animal Aid and spread the message of adopting animals in the system, complete with carline karaoke dog soundtrack. I got to be interviewed by first graders as part of their interview assignment; I got to go to several Shark Tank like presentations from students in the leadership class as well as the fifth grade swing set cluster who are lobbying for swings on the “big kid playground” at the Lower School. I got to read and judge the top Senior Social Studies papers for the Social Studies Conference and then attend several sessions of the conference and hear our brilliant students talk about really complex global issues. I got to go to the State Cross Country Meet and watch our teams capture titles and to State Golf and watch out team recover from a tough first day and post the best team score we’ve seen in a long time on the second day. I witnessed the brilliant culmination of teamwork and rehearsal, support and coordination of logistics with the production of the musical, Grease, this year in our MS gymnasium. I saw the spirit of resilience and determination rise up after the ISAS Art’s Festival was canceled, and so we just recreated it here—I even got to perform with one of our seniors on stage at the ACA for that. I watched as our Lower School students stepped outside of their classrooms spaced out six feet apart all around the courtyard and sang songs while wearing masks for chapel. I read to the entire Lower School a Christmas book on the last day before the Christmas break. Field Day in Cade felt like one of the most important days of the year—it was just perfect. I watched as sixth graders dug artifacts in Camelot and learned a little about archaeology and the history of this amazing place and the fifth graders out here working with the leaders of Inside Out (our Globetrek people) on an outdoor adventure for two days.
 
I see students taking care of each other, standing up to things that shouldn’t be, and helping bring others along. I saw one of our students just the other day, when no one was around, lean down and pick up the trash that had been left by someone else. I watched the Lower School students dancing together during the Courir de Faucon Mardi Gras celebration and collecting food to bring to others in need. I see students who have really different opinions on important issues working together on projects for the greater good, collecting food and money and gifts for those less fortunate. I see all of these things and I’m thankful. Even in this crazy year (especially in this crazy year!) with all of its stress and drama and difficulty, I see all of you, living out the ideals of ESA. And it reminds me of one of my favorite poems by probably my favorite poet, Wendell Berry.
 
Mr. Berry was born the same year as my father, 1934, in Kentucky where all my family is from, and for more than 50 years he has lived on Lanes Landing Farm in Port Royal, KY, on the banks of the Kentucky River not far from where it empties into the mighty Ohio River. Part of the reason I am drawn to Mr. Berry’s poetry is because I can really relate to his life experience. My family, as I mentioned, is from Kentucky, and in fact, one of my great-grandfathers had a farm on the banks of the same Kentucky River, much further upstream than Mr. Berry’s farm, but as kids we would walk through the fields there down to the river where there was a “beach” of sorts, and we would swim in the river and, if you dared, swim across the river. We would go hunting and hiking and discovering on the hills of my Uncle Raymond’s farm, and cave exploring in the mountains around my grandparents’ house. So much of Mr. Berry’s poetry has images that I have directly experienced. It has a real visceral quality for me (I literally feel it in my gut every time I read it). Dr. Armond has used a few of his poems over the years—you may remember part of one that goes like this: (from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front). In so many ways, this poem reminds me of the sermon on the mount—the Beatitudes.
 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it…
Give your approval to all you cannot
Understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
Has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.   (That may be the line you remember if you remember this poem at at all.)
Say that your main crop is the forest
That you did not plant,
That you will not live to harvest
Say that the leaves are harvested
When they have rotted into mold.
Call that profit.
 
I love the unexpectedness of that poem. But the one I want to share with you today is probably my favorite of his and was written in 1968. I don’t know if you know much about 1968, but it was a very tumultuous year in America. It’s the year that both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. There were protests everywhere about race issues and the Vietnam War. It was a really difficult time in America. So when I read this poem written during all of that angst, it holds special meaning for me today. It’s called:
 
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
 
I don’t know about you, but despair for the world has grown a bit in me this year, and I have awakened a lot more often worried about the future. But then, I come here, and I am reminded that the beauty that Mr. Berry speaks of, that the wild things he writes about, exist on many levels. And that’s the beauty of poetry, right. The beauty of metaphor, of how the literal images engage one part of our brain and the deeper meaning a completely different part. So, of course, literally, here at ESA there is the beauty of the bobcat and the wild orchids hiding in the woods and the Mississippi Kites that arrive each spring and the woodpecker family that has built a nest in the tree by Ms. Dore’s room—those actual wild things and the peace of nature.  But there is another deeper level, the one I spoke of earlier that I hope we can all pay a little more attention to. The ideals and actions of our community. When I come to ESA, I come into the presence of still water—still water signals deep water, a metaphor for deep thoughts and ideas and the important actions of the members of this community every day. When I come to ESA, I get to be among all of you, the day-blind stars who are already shining but who will shine even brighter in the future. And for a while, I rest in the grace of this place, and am free.
 
So my message to you is twofold. First, thank you all for showing me that grace every day in so many different ways. Thank you for making this year, this crazy, different year, so very special. And second, look around. This place is pretty spectacular. Take a walk. Spy on the bobcat. Listen to the woodpecker’s laugh. Find the wild orchids. Watch the kites. And do not tax your life with the forethought of grief.
 
Live in this moment. Good luck on your exams and have a great summer!


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Episcopal School of Acadiana

Episcopal School of Acadiana is a private coeducational day school for students in grades PK3 through 12. Our mission is to instill in every student the habits of scholarship and honor.
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