Small Comfort

September 3, 2012 § 7 Comments

A few mornings back, after chores and breakfast and our ritual run to Jimmy and Sarah’s farm to pick up a couple buckets of milk for the pigs, the boys and I headed into the woods. Fin carried a fishing pole, a container of worms, and the fervent hope to ruin a couple of brook trouts’ day. Rye carried a basket, which he planned to fill with a smorgasbord of mushrooms: Boletes, chanterelles, hedgehogs. From these ingredients, they were scheming to fashion a stew of sorts, cooked over an open fire at “Camp Dubbins.”

We strolled through the woods for a half-mile or so. The boys pointed to the spot where they’ve twice flushed a handful of grouse on previous fishing trips. We stopped to snack on the few remaining wild blackberries; they were huge, almost outlandishly big, but frankly a bit past their prime. We didn’t eat many. We debated the relative merits of different caliber hunting rifles and decided (for approximately the eleventh time; this is a debate the boys are keen to repeat with some frequency) that we’d be best served by either a .223 or .243 as our first “real” gun. Soon enough we reached the stream, with the remains of its old hand-laid stone bridge abutments. The water was low and the fish flitted about. Fin cast his line, Rye headed back into the woods, and I just sat, soaking up the early sun.

Now, it just so happens that only the evening before I’d had the misfortune of catching a bit of the Republican Convention on the radio. I was on my way home from my friend Robbie’s, where I’d loaded a ton-and-a-half or so of gorgeously flat patio and wall stone onto our big Ford. I drove home lazily along back roads, a little tired, a little unsure if the load had been adequately secured. Our truck has a flatbed, which is great for hauling things that are easy to strap down, and not so great for hauling things that ain’t. Rocks ain’t, and ¬†the last damn thing I wanted to do was reload all that stone along the side of some dark-ass gravel goat path in rural Northern Vermont. Indeed, I allowed myself to imagine that if I lost the load, I’d simply drop into a protected hollow and doze away my fatigue, before facing the hard truth of those dozens, if not hundreds of scattered rocks. (The load held)

I’m not sure why I allowed myself to be subjected to the convention tripe; it must have had something to do with my tiredness. Or maybe it was a bit of “car wreck” syndrome, which is to say, what I heard was so flat out disturbing, it was actually captivating in its¬†gruesomeness. By-the-by and for what it’s worth, this is not a partisan observation; I have little doubt that I would have been equally horrified by the goings-on at the Democratic Convention, which I plan to ignore in its entirety.

In any event, I happened to tune in during the warm-up speeches for the main event, which on this evening would be none other than Mitt Romney his own bad self. And for whatever reason, the warm-up speeches on this fine late August night were geared toward education. This is what I heard:

Compete. Engineering. Economy. Global. Opportunity. Best. Entrepreneurialism. Excel. Growth. Test.

This is what I didn’t hear:

Nature. Compassion. Resourcefulness. Generosity. Spirit. Gratitude. Community. Alive.

It is no secret that I do not think much of our nation’s mainstream educational offerings. This is not an indictment of the many good people working within the boundaries of the box that contain these offerings. Rather, it is an indictment of the box itself and all the flawed assumptions, unacknowledged truths, and flat-out denials that have gone into its construction and continue to be devoted to its maintenance.

That evening after chores, the four of us gathered at Camp Dubbins to eat brook trout and wild mushroom stew, along with ears of fire-roasted sweet corn. The boys had built the fire and prepared the stew; they’d harvested the corn and soaked it in water to prepare it for the coals. I knew I’d be left with the bulk of the cleanup, and it’d been a long day of sawmilling and framing the new milk house. It was the sort of day I could feel in my bones and it felt good, but not necessarily the kind of good that makes one keen to mop up a bunch of fish guts and corn husks.

But you know what? I was happy to do it. Because when I considered the day and how my young sons had passed it, I didn’t see any boxes. And you have no idea how I was comforted by that.

§ 7 Responses to Small Comfort

  • Joseph Kinner says:

    Thanks, Ben. I really enjoy reading all that you write, and in fact am once again asking my students to read your book, The Town That Food Saved. I wish my four year old grandson could meet your sons one day. That would indeed be very cool.


  • jennifer fisk says:

    What a fantastic day you and the boys had. I love hearing about your life and what a wonderful upbringing your boys are getting.

  • Dave says:

    Spot on with what you heard, and didn’t hear. Thanks for sharing your wonderful day with the boys.

  • sara steele says:

    I am a painter and listen to NPR a lot in my studio. A day or so ago I heard what may be the antidote to what you heard about education, especially the last of the 3 talks which was by John Hunter: How Can 4th Graders Solve World Problems? He was talking about watching this activity grow compassion in his students over the last 30 years. It was completely uplifting and should be spread around widely. You can listen to it here: I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

  • MHPerry says:

    Beautiful story. Some of us are lucky to have the real world to turn to when the world out there gets too outlandish to bear.

  • mark says:

    As a lifelong deer hunter, since 12 years old I would have to advise you folks to go with the 243win. It has the ability to hunt a wide range of animals and with reduced recoil. Really enjoying your site.

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      Thanks, Mark. We ended up with a pair of single shot 20-ga shotguns, which seems to have been a good choice so far. I also found a used .308win, and they’ve been able to shoot that gun pretty effectively, too. If they get really keen about deer hunting in particular, I think a .243 or even .270 might be in the cards.

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