Natural Links in a Long Chain of Being

Victor Davis Hanson - Selma, California
As heard on NPR’s Morning Edition, December 19, 2005
Victor Davis Hanson
Photo by Nubar Alexanian

Victor Hanson has grounded his life in the study of the Classics and in the land his family has farmed for six generations. By following in the footsteps of his ancestors, he believes he is never alone.

Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe we are not alone.

Even if I am on the other side of the world from the farmhouse I live in, I still dream of the ancient vines out the window, and the shed out back that my grandfather’s father built in 1870 with eucalyptus trunks. As long as I can recreate these images, I never quite leave home.

I don’t think farming in the same place for six generations is a dead weight that keeps you shackled, doing the identical thing year in and year out. Instead, it is a rare link to others before me, who pruned the same vines and painted the same barn that I have. If those in this house survived the Panic of 1893 or the Great Depression, or bathed with cold water and used an outhouse, then surely I know I can weather high gas prices.

I believe that all of us need some grounding in our modern world of constant moving, buying, selling, meeting and leaving. Some find constancy in religion. Others lean on friends or community for permanence. But we need some daily signposts that we are not novel, not better, not worse from those who came before us.

For me, this house, this farm, these ancient vines are those roots. Although I came into this world alone and will leave alone, I am not alone.

There are ghosts of dozens of conversations in the hallways, stories I remember about buying new plows that now rust in the barnyard and ruined crops from the same vines that we are now harvesting.

I believe all of us are natural links in a long chain of being, and that I need to know what time of day it is, what season is coming, whether the wind is blowing north or from the east, and if the moon is still full tomorrow night, just as the farmers who came before me did.

The physical world around us constantly changes, but human nature does not. We must struggle in our brief existence to find some transcendent meaning during reoccurring heartbreak and disappointment and so find solace in the knowledge that our ancestors have all gone through this before.

You may find all that all too intrusive, living with the past as present. I find it exhilarating. I believe there is an old answer for every new problem, that wise whispers of the past are with us to assure us that if we just listen and remember, we are not alone; we have been here before.

Classics and military history scholar Victor Hanson is a professor emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His family farm includes 40 acres of seedless grapes grown for raisins. Hanson hopes his son, William, will succeed him in tending the farm.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick. Edited by Ellen Silva.