The Wisdom of Place

Knowledge passed from generation to generation can only be known, not told

| July/August 2000

My 4-year-old grandson is now following his father and me over some of the same countryside that I followed my father and grandfather over. When his time comes, my grandson will choose as he must, but so far all of us have been farmers. I know from my grandfather that when he was a child he too followed his father in this way, hearing and seeing, not knowing yet that the most essential part of his education had begun.

And so in this familiar spectacle of a small boy tagging along behind his father across the fields we are part of a long procession, five generations of which I have seen, issuing out of generations lost to memory, going back, for all I know, across previous landscapes and the whole history of farming.

Modern humans tend to believe that whatever is known can be recorded in books or on tapes or on computer disks and then again learned by those artificial means.

But it is increasingly plain to me that the meaning, the cultural significance, even the practical value of this sort of family procession across a landscape can be known but not told. These things, though they have a public value, do not have a public meaning; they are too specific to a particular small place and its history. This is exactly the tragedy in the modern displacement of people and cultures.

That such things can be known but not told can be shown by answering a simple question: Who knows the meaning, the cultural significance, and the practical value of this rural family's generational procession across its native landscape? The answer is not so simple as the question: No one person ever will know all the answer. My grandson certainly does not know it. And my son does not, though he has positioned himself to learn some of it, should he be so blessed.



I am the one who (to some extent) knows, though I know also that I cannot tell it to anyone living. I am in the middle now between my grandfather and my father, who are alive in my memory, and my son and my grandson, who are alive in my sight.

If my son, after 30 more years pass, has the good pleasure of seeing his own child and grandchild in that procession, then he will know something like what I now know.

Danielle_1
10/28/2008 6:29:38 PM

I need the purpose to this essay