Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Holy Earth Revisited

The 100th Anniversary Edition
Foreword by Wendell Berry
Edited by John Linstrom

A little over one hundred years ago, Liberty Hyde Bailey set sail to New Zealand with his wife and two daughters.  He had retired from his professorship at Cornell and his position as Dean of Agriculture.  The first World War was just beginning.  He was on his way to give a lecture at a worldwide science meeting, bringing his wife and daughters along for the adventure.  It was on this voyage that Bailey began writing, The Holy Earth, the first of what he termed "The Background Books."  In these books he explored the more philosophical questions of life.

Bailey was a renowned scientist and beloved professor.  He was innovative for his time, not only writing technical books on specific plant species, but also developing the field of science we now call Horticulture and promoting "Nature-Study" in the primary schools (to name just a few of his many life passions).  In every context and every book he wrote, he added a bit of the poetic and a sense of wonder for the details of his study.  But it is in The Background Books that we are able to take a small glimpse into his philosophy and his wisdom gained from a lifetime devoted to wonder and discovery.

"By lens and prism and balance and line we measure minutely whatever we can sense:  Then with bared heads we look out to the great unknown and we cast our lines beyond the stars.  There are no realms beyond which the prophecy of science would not go.  It resolves the atom and it weighs the planets."   --L.H. Bailey, The Holy Earth

The Holy Earth was in many respects revolutionary for its time and yet it was also deeply connected to its time.  Bailey was doing what all great minds lean into as they learn more about this planet we call home . . . the wonders of the universe and our place within it all.  His love for the earth and all creation was based in the soil beneath his nails and his ability to wonder about the smallest and greatest aspects of the world in which he lived.  I suspect this book will always be a bit revolutionary.  It will always call out to the poet in the scientist and the scientist in the poet.  It will always remind us that, as Bailey reminds us in the book, "Science but increases the mystery of the unknown and enlarges the boundaries of the spiritual vision."