Thursday, 1 December 2011
I noticed yesterday that at one of the December 2011 weekly meetings of Ph D students at St Mary's College Institute for Theology, the Imagination and the Arts (ITIA), St Andrews university, someone is going to speak about the American farmer-philosopher and author Wendell Berry. In 2000, I flew to Baranov Island in Alaska from my home in Chelsea, where I lived two or three doors down from the poet Kathleen (On a Deserted Shore) Raine. The purpose of my visit was to explore the native territory of a tree – Picea sitchensis - I grow as a commercial timber crop in south Lanarkshire. Kathleen had founded an organisation called Temenos, of which Wendell, a close friend of Kathleen's, was a member (as was I). As I left my house to go to the airport, I saw Kathleen and waved to her. On my arrival at Sitka, I discovered that the Island Institute was holding a literary festival, and walked into a room where Wendell Berry was telling the audience about a visit to Kathleen in London, and in particular about the fact that our shared back gardens had once formed part of St Thomas More's country estate, therefore how the little weeds and wild flowers we found coming up in them were in all probability descended from that time. When he finished his talk I put my hand up and explained that my garden was virtually next door to Kathleen's, and how I had seen her the day before. I had had no idea before I arrived that Wendell Berry was to be in Sitka. I classed this experience under 'synchronicity' and regarded it as a sign that my life was somehow 'on track'. On a less elevated plane: I was moved yesterday to write to the BBC TV quiz programme Only Connect pointing out that they had mis-spelled the word borshch - Russian beetroot soup - with an unnecessary, non-existent 't' at the end in an item about words of increasing length that only have one vowel. The combination of the four letters shch in English are represented by one consonant in the Russian alphabet. It occurs in the name Khrushchev - the first two letters kh are also only a one- letter consonant in Russian. A classic example of concision in Russian is the two word message sent by one Russian to another when the Soviet Union collapsed 'Neuzheli dozhili' - rendered in eleven in English: Is it possible that we have lived to see this day.