A Perilous And Fearful Effort

All this, I think, was more meaningful and proper than I knew at the time. To a greater extent than is now common, or even possible for most men, I had by my own doing prepared the house I was to bring my wife to, and in preparing the house I prepared myself. This was the place that was more my own than any other in the world. In it, I had made of loneliness a good thing. I had lived days and days of solitary happiness there. And now I changed it, to make it the place of my marriage. A complex love went into those preparations – for Tanya, and for the place too. Working those bright May days, the foliage fresh and full around me, the river running swift and high after rain, was an act of realization: as I worked, getting ready for the time Tanya would come to live there with me, I understood more and more what the possible meanings were. If it had gone differently – if it had followed, say, the prescription of caution: first ‘enough’ money, and then the ‘right’ sort of house in the ‘right’ sort of place – I think I would have been a poorer husband. And my life, I know, would have been poorer. It wasn’t, to be sure, a permanent place that I had prepared; we were going to be there only for the one summer. It was, maybe one ought to say, no more than a ritual. But it was a meaningful and useful ritual…

It would be a mistake to imply that two lives can unite and make a life between them without discord and pain. Marriage is a perilous and fearful effort, it seems to me. There can’t be enough knowledge at the beginning. It must endure the blundering of ignorance. It is both the cause and the effect of what happens to it. It creates pain that it is the only cure for. It is the only comfort for its hardship. In a time when divorce is as accepted and conventionalized as marriage, a marriage that lasts must look a little like a miracle. That ours lasts – and in its own right and its own way, not in pathetic and hopeless parody of some ‘expert’ notion – is largely, I believe, owing to the way it began, to the Camp and what it meant and came to mean. In coming there, we avoided either suspending ourselves in some honeymoon resort or sinking ourselves into the stampede for ‘success.’ In the life we lived that summer we represented to ourselves what we wanted – and it was not the headlong pilgrimage after money and comfort and prestige. We were spared that stress from the beginning. And there at the Camp we had around us the elemental world of water and light and earth and air. We felt the presence of the wild creatures, the river, the trees, the stars. Though we had our troubles, we had them in a true perspective. The universe, as we could see any night, is unimaginable large, and mostly empty, and mostly dark. We knew we needed to be together more than we needed to be apart.

–Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House (p. 36-37)


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