Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder edited by Chad Wriglesworth

Here we have a window into over four decades of friendship between two prolific and well-respected countercultural American writers. Formally introduced in the early 1970s after already having been mutual appreciators of each other’s work, the poet-farmers struck up a cross-country camaraderie buoyed by the all-but-forgotten beauty of conversation. Through almost 250 letters, Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder are evidenced to be deeply spiritual family men, hard workers of the land, and vanguards of social change, with senses of humor to boot. Snyder’s Californian Zen and Berry’s Kentuckian “forest Christianity” place the correspondents on different footing in their discussions of ecology, theology, politics, and art. But as Distant Neighbors shows, “the art of gaining clarification of thought by perceiving through the other person’s way of being” (or “binocular vision,” as Berry puts it) has served for forty-odd years as the unbreakable binding fiber between them.

excerpt found on pg. 153

EDITOR’S NOTE: Wendell Berry’s letter was sent on letterhead that reads: “Nothing takes the place of MILK!” with an image of a child stacking blocks inside a clear milk bottle.


Dear Gary,

A friend of ours thought we needed this letterhead. Actually, we’re not selling the milk. We’re selling the bottles. This is our day care version. The night care bottle is black. Very safe because impossible to climb out of. With the lid on, they’re virtually sound proof. Parents are thus set free to pursue the higher things of life.

* *

excerpt found on pgs. 130-131

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gary Snyder wrote this letter shortly after returning from Alaska, where he was teaching a course at Summit Lake and Chimney Lake in the central Brooks Range. The course was sponsored by the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and was titled “Nature Literature: Gates of the Arctic National Park.”

28.VIII [August 28, 1985]

Dear Wendell,

I returned from Alaska last weekend. It’s a shock to come back to the hard clear sunlight of California, the intense dryness, and the strict alteration of light and dark. I had just been getting adapted to 24 hour light, and the long mild shadows all day; a kind of mellow twilight, the moist mosses underfoot and always cool breezes.