The following are bits of essays I borrowed from Wendell Berry. This is taking a calculated chance. Having read many of his books over the years (some purchased, others borrowed ) I am following Wendell’s own premise that the ownership of words and ideas is absurd – he only lays claim to their arrangement on the page. In this case, I’m arranging his words on a page. Mostly gleamed from his 2015 book OUR ONLY WORLD, I’ve borrowed from these essays:
1. Less Energy, More Life 2. On Receiving One of the Dayton Literary Peace Prizes
3. Contempt for Small Places 4. On Being Asked for a Narrative of the Future
I have also included a portion of a separate Wendell Berry essay, Compromise, Hell! As usual, images are added to help bolster the narrative. Hopefully, you find some sensibility in all this.
Cheers – Bruce
Book liner notes:
The planet’s environmental problems respect no national boundaries. From soil erosion and population displacement to climate change and failed energy policies, American governing classes are paid by corporations to pretend that debate is the only democratic necessity and that solutions are capable of withstanding endless delay. Late Capitalism goes about its business of finishing off the planet.
Farmer in Ottawa Valley, August 2005 – photo by Bruce Witzel
If we want to do better, we will have to recognize the old mistake as a mistake… We can respond rationally to this predicament only by honest worry, unrelenting caution, and propriety of scale…
Swiss chard and celery in our cold-frame March 3, 2021 – bruce witzel photo
We will have to repudiate the too-simple industrial standards and replace them with comprehensive standard of ecological health, realizing that this standard involves necessarily the humane obligation of neighbourliness to other humans and to other creatures. This means that all our uses of the natural world must be governed by our willingness to learn the nature of every place, and to submit to nature’s limits and requirements…
Mono Lake, California October 2012 – photo by Bruce Witzel
In this collection of essays, Wendell Berry confronts head-on the necessity of clear thinking and direct action…
Wendell Berry at his farm in Kentucky – photo by Guy Mendes
Found Essays from (and by) Wendell Berry
We must not speak or think of the land alone or of the people alone, but always and only of both together. If we want to save the land, we must save the people who belong to the land. If we want to save the people, we must save the land the people belong to…
Since the beginning of the conservation effort … conservationists have too often believed that we could protect the land without protecting the people… If conservationists hope to save even the wild lands and wild creatures, they are going to have to address issues of economy, which is to say issues of the health of the landscapes and the towns and cities where we do our work, and the quality of that work, and the well-being of the people who do the work.
Bar U Ranch Historic Site on the Eastern Slope of Canadian Rockies near Oldman River – photo by Bruce Witzel
Governments seem to be making the opposite error, believing that the people can be adequately protected without protecting the land… If we know that coal is an exhaustible resource, whereas the forests over it are with proper use inexhaustible, and that strip mining destroys the forest virtually forever, how can we permit this destruction?
If we honor at all that fragile creature the topsoil, so long in the making, so miraculously made, so indispensable to all life, how can we destroy it?
. . . Like a lot of people I know, I am concerned about mountain top removal and climate change. But when we delay our concern until dangers have become sensational we are late. . . Even if we are too late, we must still accept responsibility and try to make things better.
Some of the recently proposed coal projects in southern Alberta lie within the Oldman watershed and would draw water from the headwater tributaries that have been previously largely untouched by industry. Map: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal
Rachel Herbert and her family have been ranching in the Porcupine Hills of Southern Alberta for four generations. Now, she’s concerned how proposed coal mines will impact the local water supply which she and her neighbours all rely on.
Photo: Canadian Angus Association
The industrial economy, from agriculture to war, is by far the most violent the world has ever known, and we are all complicit in its violence…
Toy truck and my lumber – bruce witzel photo
There is in fact no significant difference of means between weapons of massive destruction and the technologies of industrial production. The means are invariably combustion (internal and external) and poison (by intention, accident, or “act of God”)…
Sault St. Marie, August 9, 2005 – bruce witzel photo
But surely, by now, the official rationalizations of our violence have become to obviously hypocritical to be ignored. Violence against our world and our fellow human beings finally cannot be disassociated from the violence of falsehood.
How can we continue to insist that our land destroying, water and air-polluting agriculture is the only way “feed the world”, especially since we have now devoted so much of it to “biofuels” to feed our automobiles? ….
Moreover: Why should we continue to believe that our government is uniquely to be trusted with our weapons of mass destruction, whereas other nations are not to be trusted with theirs? …. What does trustworthiness mean in relation to possession of such weapons?
Why is the cost of our wars now paid almost exclusively by the young people in the armed services, who must pay with their bodies and their lives? …. Why do not our patriotic trustees of the common good, upon consenting to a war, not resign from their offices and volunteer to put their own “boots to the ground”?
Such questions no doubt are merely naive…
Living Memorial Sculpture Garden, Weed California October 8, 2012 – bruce witzel photo
We speak of freedom, of our God-given freedom, of defending, using, and enjoying freedom, as if something memorized in grade school and never thought about again. We might as well be talking in our sleep. We have been so thoughtless and careless of our freedom for so long that by now we cannot see that our assumed right to be limitlessly violent would finally bring us to a violence against freedom that may destroy it…
The general purpose of the present economy is to exploit, not to foster or conserve…
Clear cut logging site on North Vancouver Island March 01, 2018 – bruce witzel photo
Maybe we could give up saving the world and start to live savingly in it. If using less energy would be a good idea for the future, that is because it is a good idea.
The government could enforce such a saving by rationing fuels, as it did during World War Two… But to wish for good sense from the government only displaces good sense into the future, where it is no use to anybody…
On the contrary, so few as just one of us can save energy right now by self-control, careful thought, and remembering the lost virtue of frugality. Spending less, burning less, traveling less may be a relief. A cooler, slower life may make us happier, more present to ourselves and to others who need us to be present… The government might even do the right thing by imitating the people…
If we are serious about these big problems, we have got to see that the solutions begin and end with ourselves. Thus we put an end to our habit of over simplification. If we want to stop the impoverishment of the land and people, we ourselves must be prepared to become poorer…
We must understand that fossil fuel energy must be replaced, not just by “clean” energy, but also by less energy. The unlimited use of any energy would be as destructive as unlimited economic growth or any other unlimited growth. If we had a limitless supply of free, non-polluting energy, we would use the world up even faster than we are using it up now.
If we are not in favor of limiting the use of energy, starting with our own use of it, then we are not serious. If we are not in use of rationing energy, starting with fossil fuels, we are not serious. If we have the money and are not willing to pay two dollars to keep the polluting industries from getting one, we are not serious.
Travelling down to southern Vancouver Island to be with Francis in Victoria 2008
At the North end of Vancouver Island
If, on the contrary, we become determined to keep the industries of poison, explosion, and fire from determining our lives and the world’s fate, then we will steadfastly reduce our dependence on them and our payments of money to them.
We will cease to invest our health, our lives, and our money in them. Then finally we will be serious enough, our efforts complex and practical enough. By so improving our lives, we will improve the possibility of life…
Kentucky River flows behind Berry in this 2012 image, taken by his former student Guy Mendes.
Only the present good is good. It is the presence of good – good work, good thoughts, good acts, good places – by which we know that the present does not have to be a nightmare of the future. “The kingdom of God is at hand” because, if not at hand, it is nowhere.
Crucified – image by bruce witzel
Excavating the life of the visionary paleontologist-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“Teilhard was one of the first scientists to realize that the human and the universe are inseparable. The only universe we know about is a universe that brought forth the human.”
Sphere of Consciousness
and the progressive thinking of Teilhard de Chardin
“It is our duty as men and women to proceed as though the limits of our abilities do not exist.”
Maev Beaty and Cyrus Lane in a scene from Adam Seybold’s drama The De Chardin Project at Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto. 2013 photo by Michael Cooper.
“In the final analysis, the questions of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.”
from Holy Spirit Elementary School, High River Alberta – bruce witzel photo
The most satisfying thing in life is to have been able to give a large part of one’s self to others.
World-wide student climate strike Sept. 27, 2019 – bruce witzel photo
“Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.”
NASA Image – North America and South America, at night
Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, humanity will have discovered fire.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
May 1, 1881 – April 10, 1955
Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California – photo by Bruce
My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?
~ ~~ ~
And I thought over again
My small adventures
As with a shore-wind I drifted out
In my kayak
And thought I was in danger,
Those small ones
That I thought so big
For all the vital things
I had to get and reach.
And yet, there is only one thing
One great thing,
The only thing:
To live to see in huts and on journeys
The great day that dawns,
And the light that fills the world.
Images were recorded on January 18, 2021 near our home on Northern Vancouver Island. More photos of our morning kayak can be found at my wife’s blog here:
Cheers, as always
Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks.
Our peace in his will
And even among these rocks
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.
“Where does contemplation lead one? Since it finds the Ground of Love in all reality, it leads to one’s sisters and brothers — it creates social consciousness, it leads to a deeper unity and love with and for the earth. Contemplation leads to transformation.”
~ frater Charles Brandt ~
A reflection by Bruce Witzel
How can we respond to the call of the earth’s groaning, the call of the people’s groaning? In this unprecedented moment of history doing nothing can no longer be an option. Charles Brandt has left us many hints. His gifts and example of contemplation amidst action may well be an essential guide for each of us to echo.
It’s been two months now since he died — just 3 months ago I last saw him alive. Fr. Charles was in good spirits as we sat on the porch of the hermitage overlooking his beloved Oyster River. “There is hardly a portion of her banks from the estuary to the snows that I have not travelled by foot” he wrote in 1972. “Her music, her rhythm is a background to my life and work.” I was just a teenager then.
My father, Mac Witzel, befriended Charles upon his arrival to Vancouver Island in 1964. Or maybe it was the other way around. Charles had become a member of the newly formed Hermits of St. John the Baptist who lived alongside the Tsolum River. Not long afterwards the river was terribly poisoned by a copper mine that operated for 3 years up on Mount Washington. Little did Fr. Charles know the part he would play in its 40 year clean up!
The remnants of the abandoned copper mill at the Mount Washington mine. Photo by Taylor Roades / The Narwhal
The group of hermits were quite poor and lived in roughhewn cabins — true to 60’s I think. Many local people were initially dubious of them, these non-conformists. Who were these monks struggling in the woods? Shouldn’t they be praying in a monastery?
Charles Brandt ( back left), Bernard de Aguiar (back center,) and Bishop Remi De Roo (front center-left)
The hermits disbanded with-in a few years and most of them moved away. Charles was an exception. A wealthy benefactor helped Charles obtain 27 acres of land by the Oyster River which had been logged a couple decades earlier. His cabin was loaded onto a flat bed and moved to its new site. My father was foreman of the local BC Highways Department and helped during the process. At one point the posts on the bridge across the Tsolum River blocked the cabin’s passage. They were cut shorter to let it through — “No one ever knew,”Charles later admitted.
During those years as a youngster I barely saw or knew of Fr. Charles. He was a hermit after-all.
Our friendship began years later during the 1980’s at a weekend meditation retreat that Fr. Charles led on Spirituality and the Environment. “Follow your bliss” he said in a preamble to one of the meditation sessions while conveying the comparative religious thought of Joseph Campbell. In explaining deep ecology, social ecology, integral ecology and cosmology Fr. Charles spoke about Fritjof Capra, Simone Weil, Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme.
The retreat eventually helped me to make a decision to leave the security of a well-paying job on the log booms of the Port Alice pulp mill. For eight months I went to live and work with the poor in the mountains of Mexico. The pastoral work I participated in was at the base community level with campesino farmers, health workers, and local organizers. For example, I collaborated in workshops to build and demonstrate solar ovens as an option to cooking with scarce fire wood, a common reality for many of the world’s impoverished people.
Leaving Mexico I asked the local Padre what else a person who is so privileged like myself, could do? He answered me — “First, pray! Second, don’t use more than you need and third, defend the human rights of the poor.” The time I had in Mexico was the beginning of a metamorphosis for me.
Upon my return to Canada I choose different work I really loved and became a journey carpenter. Even though I lived 3 hours drive north of Charles, over the next 30 years I cherished our occasional visits. My wife Francis once said to me when I was feeling down “why don’t you call Charles?” At the bottom of his heart was a quiet calm multiplied by clearheaded wisdom and his caring soul. He once described to me verbatim, the Buddhist eight-fold path.
I believe the connection I had with Charles was not unlike many of those who came to know and love him — a common caring for the earth and all its living creatures. On the other hand, in spite of his steadfast gentleness Charles was never one to suffer fools gladly. Although he rarely displayed it, his critique could be quick and sharp. His priestly vocation was clearly of prophetic form. Such was the person of Father Charles Brandt.
Some friends and associates with Charles Brandt in 2017 at the Comox Valley Regional District office
Now on that beautiful crisp fall September day of 2020, here I was sitting with Charles and a mutual friend, Willa Cannon. As a retired nurse, Willa with her husband Jim helped Father Charles in a myriad of ways. Their earlier work together with the Tsolum River Restoration Society had bonded their goodwill for many years.
The annual meeting of the 3 year old Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society had been delayed for months because of COVID 19 protocols. Though we had support of at least a dozen friends, Charles called for the meeting to be small — only 3 of us. Previous to the meeting I had sensed an unusual urgency in Charles and likely he knew his time on earth was running short.
During the meeting we made important clarifications about the direction of the Society. Charles wanted to put more emphasis on the action of contemplative prayer and he spoke of our need to be conscious that “Only the Sense of the Sacred can Save Us.” We agreed to add these to our Vision and Purpose. It follows as thus:
The Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society seeks to fulfill the explicit wishes of Father Charles Brandt, that:
The forest and house of the Hermitage is to be preserved as a peaceful centre for contemplating the spiritual foundations of ecology and nature as a sacred commons, and as a home for a designated Catholic hermit or other contemplative person dedicated to the environment and a life of contemplative prayer, who shares this vision.
The human community and the natural world will go forward into the future as a single sacred community or we will perish in the desert. Only the sense of the sacred can save us.
Our discussion continued. . .
The work of the creating a Land Covenant for the hermitage and forest was already complete thanks to the Comox Valley Land Trust and the work of two or our early directors, biologists Kathryn Jones and Loys Maingon. Now at the meeting Charles gave confirmation of the person he wanted to be the new contemplative resident at the hermitage —Karen Nichols, a Benedictine Oblate.
Charles explained how Karen had helped some years before with archiving the library of Bernard de Aguiar upon his death. Bernard was once a secretary for Thomas Merton and one of the original Hermits of St.John. He later became a potter on Hornby Island. Charles told us that Karen was a woman of prayer who was deeply connected with natural world and also, that her mother had been a conservationist. In Karen’s words, she would continue on with the mandate of the the hermitage to be “a place of prayer and meditation and of conservation awareness”.
We discussed a few more minor details and in 35 minutes total we were done. “An exceptional meeting,” Charles said.
As we rose from the table that separated us Charles reached across to shake my hand. I reminded him we weren’t supposed to. He grinned and without missing a beat he attempted an elbow bump. The table blocked us. Stepping back with folded hands in prayer I bowed to Charles and likewise he returned this sacred gesture. Without a word, each of us knew — the Sacred in me, recognizes the Sacred in you. This memory I’ll hold in my heart for ever — the final moments with my good friend and life-time mentor, frater Charles A.E. Brandt.
My granddaughter — Bruce Witzel photo
Only 10 days later Charles fell at the hermitage. He emailed people for help, if you can imagine that. A neighbour came over along with another friend, Bruce Wood, a retired doctor. During many of Charles’ last 19 days that he was in the hospital Willa was often with him. Not long before losing consciousness he reached out and took Willa’s little hands and engulfed both of them with-in his hands, big like his heart. The last embrace of a dying man — he gave of himself. Father Charles was true to his Christian faith to the last. . .
An example of Fr. Charles leather work and his book binding skills
“In all things there is a ‘’hidden ground of Love”. These are the words of Thomas Merton, my mentor in the life of prayer. He was one of the guides who inspired me to live a life as a hermit. In my Anglican days Dom John Chapman’s Letters taught me Christian Meditation… Later, it was through the writings of Dom Bede Griffith’, OSB, I found my way into the Catholic Church. In 1989, I spent two months in Father Bede’s Ashram, Saccidananda, South India. There, the hidden ground of Love” confirmed me in the path of “praying always”. I have come to realize that while we are distinct from this Loving Ground, the cosmic Christ, we are not separate from Him. Here lies the basis for contemplative prayer. On this foundation we build a life of prayer. To seek how to “pray always” is not necessary since this stream of love, is always flowing… We simply have to become aware of this constant Stream of Love.”
Fr. Charles Brandt
(b. Feb. 19, 1923 ~ d. Oct. 25, 2020)
Rev. Charles Brandt noted conservationist, hermit monk, and priest of the Diocese of Victoria, died in the early hours of Sunday, October 25. A spiritual guide and inspiration to many beyond the Catholic Church, Charles was in the North Island Hospital in Comox Valley at the time of his death from pneumonia. He was in his 97th year.
Father Brandt lived for nearly five decades at his forested hermitage next to Oyster River. In 2019, those 27 acres were put into a permanent land conservancy and Charles has bequeathed the property to the Comox Valley Regional District for use as a public park. An active contemplative person of prayer who has concern for the Sacred Commons will live in the hermitage to follow in Charles’ footsteps.
Brandt was the sole surviving member of a unique hermit community originally established in 1964 near the Tsolum River in Merville, B.C. Bishop Remi De Roo ordained Brandt in 1966 as the first hermit priest in several hundred years within the Roman Catholic Church. This eremitical tradition had fallen into disuse in western churches after the Reformation and was reconstituted through later reforms of the Second Vatican Council 1962-65, in which a young Remi De Roo participated.
Brandt was in communication with world-famous Trappist monk and author, Thomas Merton, about joining the community on Vancouver Island in 1968 at the time of Merton’s death. Brandt had originally entered monastic life as a Trappist at New Melleray, Iowa.
Brandt earned his keep as an art and paper conservationist by setting up a special lab at his hermitage. He gained world renown for restoring many historical books like The Nuremberg Chronicles printed in 1493, many older bibles, and one of the original books of The Audubon Series.
Fr. Charles outside the hermitage book lab ~ December 20,2018 ~ George Le Masurier photo
He taught Christian meditation practice at the hermitage and led other retreats, inspiring many people over the decades. He occasionally filled in as a parish priest in The Comox Valley and Campbell River.
Father Brandt rose at 3 AM to meditate, read psalms and practice daily liturgy. During early hours, he often meandered into nature to observe birds and wildlife and to take photographs. In his book Self and Environment, he describes this walking meditation as a time when “Every atom of my being is present to every atom in the universe, and they to it.”
The lane to the hermitage ~ November 1, 2017 ~ Charles Brandt photo
In later years, Brandt was much celebrated in public ways which included media profiles and reports on his pioneer environmental work. He is credited with heading up efforts that saved the Tsolum and Oyster Rivers from industrial degradation.
His stature as a spiritual teacher as well as his whole legendary reputation as someone who integrated spirituality with ecology will live on after him in the lives and efforts of the many people he directly inspired.
Fr. Charles is survived by his sister-in-law, Wanda Brandt, and numerous nephews, nieces and their children and grandchildren in the Kansas City area and around the United States. He was predeceased by his parents, Anna (nee Bridges) and Alvin Brandt, brothers Frank and Chet, and sisters Frances, Mary and Ella.
Donations in remembrance of Charles can be made to St. Andrews Cathedral in Victoria, the Tsolum River Restoration Society, Comox Valley Nature Society, the Oyster River Enhancement Society or the Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society.
The small funeral mass was held at St. Patrick’s Church in Campbell River on Friday, October 30th, officiated Bishop Gary Gordon.
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
At the Abbey of New Melleray, 1959 – brother Charles with his sister Ella , his mother Anna, and niece and nephew.
“Nothing has ever been said about God that hasn’t already
been said better by the wind in the pine trees.”
Image of the lake from the deck, received Friday morning November 20, 2020
Sent with peace and love,
Sr. Ardeth Platte, OP, 84, who lived at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker (DDCW) since 2018, entered eternal life on September 30, 2020. On October 3, 2020, members and friends of the DDCW held a Memorial Celebration of Life for Ardeth in the community garden. See: https://archive.org/details/memorial-ceremony
Ardeth wrote the following “Paths I Have Walked,” outlining her faith journey. (See: https://www.grdominicans.org/sisters/sister-ardeth-platte/.)
Paths I Have Walked – by Sr. Ardeth Platte, OP
My love and gratitude for these Gospel blessings given by God, family, Dominican Community, friends, Intentional Communities and so many others who have blessed and inspired this journey:
– Born on Good Friday, April 10, 1936 into a loving family of big brother and missionary dad
– Seventy-nine years of life and sixty-six years as a Dominican Sister
– Teacher of junior and senior high school, principal and coordinator of an Educational Center in inner city, Saginaw
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Swans in flight – photo by Fr. Charles Brandt
Excerpt from The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West
photo by Grant Callegari
frater Charles A.E. Brandt
born Feb.19, 1923 (kansas City, MO) ~ died Oct.25, 2020 (Courtenay, B.C.)
Charles at his hermitage in the forest, maybe a decade ago – photo by Nick Didlick
photo by B. Thomas Witzel – October 24, 2020
Frater Charles Brandt is seriously ill in hospital with pneumonia, so please, remember him in your thoughts and prayers.
A few weeks ago Fr. Charles was honoured to receive the Nature Inspiration 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Museum of Nature. Charles worked for nearly 30 years in galvanizing a campaign that eventually helped restore the salmon population in Tsolum River. In 2000 it had been declared dead the Canadian Governments Department of Fisheries and Oceans due to toxic mine pollution and poor logging practices.
~ ~ ~ ~
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1) REMEMBER OUR VOWS
2) PRACTICE PATIENCE
3) REFRAIN FROM OUTRAGEOUS BEHAVIOUR
1) SUSTAINABILITY - For at least seven generations
2) GRASSROOTS DEMOCRACY
3) SOCIAL JUSTICE & RESPONSIBILITY - personal & global
4) NON VIOLENCE - a call to arms is the last choice
5) DIVERSITY - biological, cultural & spiritual
6) POST PATRIARCHAL CONSCIOUSNESS
7) SEXUAL & RACIAL EQUALITY
8) DECENTRALIZATION - of energy, politics & wealth.
9) ECOLOGICAL WISDOM