“Live in the layers – not on the litter.”

I was fortunate to attend the Slow Money National Gathering in Boulder earlier this month, and though far from my own home, I was struck by the over-arching and overwhelming theme (and sense) of homecoming.

One of my favorite poems is Staney Kunitz’s “The Layers”, where the poet is instructed to dive deep into life, to “live in the layers, not on the litter.”  This image was reflected throughout the conference for me, each layer intersecting and intertwining with another.

In some cases we were talking about physical layers, like the amazing 20-foot roots of Wes Jackson’s perennial grains at the Land Institute, or the “microherd” of nematodes and protozoa in Jerry Cunningham’s soil at Coyote Creek Farm.

Jerry notes, “we are made in the image of our soil.”  And thus another layer was that of human communities, like Mary Berry’s description of her family’s ties to Henry County, Kentucky that laid the groundwork for the founding of the Berry Center, or Winona LaDuke’s inspiring work to re-value Indigenous plants and heritage foods – and the communities that steward them – through the Native Harvest and White Earth Land Recovery organizations.

In other cases we were talking about philosophical and cultural homes, like John Fullerton’s Capital Institute, where ideas supporting a transformed, regenerative financial system are explored, and the Slow Money group itself, which represents an intriguing model:  a global movement that is fueled (in part) by intensely re-valuing the local.

Each of these layers added another dimension to the notion of home, and to the concept of roots.  And increasingly it is this set of ideas that is at the heart of all of Honeybee Capital’s investment work:  what is the “home” for any given idea or project?  What is its community?  Are we connecting ideas, or human needs, or local strengths?  What roots are supporting our endeavors?  What can we do help to nourish our various habitats in return?

The notion of home can sound quaint and old-fashioned.  If over-sentimentalized, it can even give way to nostalgia, a warmth that seems comforting, but is lacking in strength and action.  Indeed, “home” has long been under siege from mis-applied understandings of progress and power.  “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” is a question that’s been asked since the early 20th century in America.[ii]  At the conference, Wes Jackson declared, “the reward for destroying community has always been power…. It is time to re-empower community.”  And Double Check Ranch’s Paul Schwennesen noted, “the ranch-ette-ing of the West is a social and environmental tragedy.”

But, the activity around restoring and reconnecting in all sorts of varied ways is remarkable, as this gathering demonstrated time and time again.  Hayden Flour Mills miller Emma Zimmerman noted, “this is not just a history project – we are bringing this story back to life.”   So this is another element of home – that it is simultaneously rooted in the past, and growing towards the future.   Referencing and extending the words of her father, Wendell Berry, Mary Berry noted, it’s time to move “from unsettling to resettling.”[iii]

Perhaps the idea of home for you is an inward-looking, personal layer.  Perhaps it is an outward-looking, community-related, connections-oriented layer.  Perhaps it is a more philosophical or spiritual layer, underpinning and influencing the others.  It’s in all of these layers, mixing together, that we find connection and fulfillment and meaning.  And that goes for investing as well as for life.

Whether you are re-settling your psyche, your physical self, your family, your vocation, or your community – all are invited.

Welcome Home.


[i]   Here is the full text of the poem – The Layers by Stanley Kunitz, one of my favorites.  It’s via the Poetry Foundation, also one of my favorites.

[ii]   Lyrics by Andrew Bird, 1918.

[iii]   The Unsettling of America, by Wendell Berry.  http://amzn.to/ZXI627

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