Weird As We Want to Be

August 16, 2013 § 15 Comments

Cutting up a steer hide in preparation for fleshing and drying

Cutting up a steer hide in preparation for fleshing and drying

The past few mornings have been of the sort that has me looking at the woodstove in that old, familiar way: Not as an inanimate hunk of metal, but as friend and provider, a warm and breathing entity, something that can transform the inhospitable ways of a cold, as-yet-sunless dawn into the open arms of the day to come. I love those first fire-warmed mornings of late summer; I pull a chair to the open door of the cookstove firebox, my coffee set atop its iron surface, while the family slumbers above and the dog snorts and farts in her bed. I listen to the stove metal ticking as it expands, and every so often my feet get a little too close to the flames and the smell of roasting sock wafts through the air. That, my friends, is living, and though I’m loathe to make definitive, grandiose statements such as “I will never live without wood heat,” I will never live without wood heat.

Soon. The first fire will be soon. I am biding my time, now, shivering through the five-o’clock hour clad in a flannel shirt, hunched over my rapidly cooling cup of coffee, teasing out the anticipation of the first morning fire, because of course the anticipation is half the fun. This is the beauty of changeable seasons – the anticipation, the sense of finiteness and appreciation it engenders – and it is not one I would trade for much of anything.

Early this morning, after I’d had quite enough of “teasing out the anticipation,” I embarked upon chores. I’ve got the routine down pretty pat by now, with something like a decade-and-a-half of doing the same damn thing every morning and evening written into my bones and blood. Hell, I hardly even have to think about what I’m doing, which is probably to everyone’s benefit.

Every so often, when I’m going about my daily routine, so commonplace and even mundane to me, I am visited by a sense of how odd my life really is. Or maybe not how odd my life is, but how things have evolved in ways that make my life seem odd to many.

Fleshing. Very hard work. At least, it looked like very hard work. 'Cause I didn't actually do any of it

Fleshing. Very hard work. At least, it looked like very hard work. ‘Cause I didn’t actually do any of it

This morning, I had one of those moments. I had just returned from the hen house with a handful of eggs. It’s a journey that takes me past the garden in which the greenbeans are currently going bonkers. So I grabbed me a handful of them in my eggless hand and continued to the kitchen. There, I commenced to chop the chanterelles the boys collected yesterday and, in their usual fashion, had deposited on the counter in a haphazard fashion that seemed engineered to infuriate. I mean, really: Why couldn’t they put the darn things in a bowl, rather than splaying them across every bare surface within arm’s reach? And why, pray tell, was there a hunk of half-dry hide from the steer we slaughtered last week IN THE MIDDLE OF THE KITCHEN TABLE!?!

Once the chanterelles were dispatched, I put the knife to a tomato from the tomato house (suckers are coming on strong, now), and lit a flame under the pan in which I’d fry the sausages we made from the last batch of piggies. We made fennel, chorizo, maple, and some sort of spicy Italian thing; everyone seems to like the maple best.

Out of the fridge, I cut a slab off the 10-pound block of cheddar I’d picked up the day before, part of a blueberry barter with Jack and Anne, and damned if it weren’t a treat to have professionally made, “boughten” cheese for a change. We don’t get much of this stuff; it’s not really part of our financial landscape, and we haven’t yet figured out how to make a decent cheddar. Someday. In the egg pan, I tossed a spoonful of the butter I’d made the day before. It sputtered a bit, and then settled into a slow melt.

Stretching and tying onto racks for drying

Stretching and tying onto racks for drying

Do you know that my children have never eaten boxed cereal? Actually, I don’t know if that’s true for certain, because they’ve slept over at friends and breakfasted at these houses, so perhaps they have ingested the odd Fruit Loop or Cheerio in their young lives. But in this house, never. Not once. I’d never thought about that before this morning, and I can’t say where the thought came from, but there was something about the absurd abundance of all the food at my fingertips – a reality that is so common to us that we almost can’t help but take it for granted – that made my mind settle on it.

I fear some may read this and think I am bragging, or that I am condescending toward those whose children do eat cereal, perhaps every day. Perhaps more than every day. Neither is my intent. I understand all too well the forces that compel families to gulp down bowls of processed grain and sugar products on their hurried ways out the door, into the tumultuous arms of this thing we call life. I understand that not everyone wants or is able to collect the eggs, wander for the chanterelles, raise the pigs, or pick the blueberries they will trade for the cheese.

The point I’m trying make, I suppose, is not really pointed at you: It’s pointed at myself. Yes, my life is odd, or at least it may seem odd to some. And yes, that sense of being out-of-step with contemporary norms can sometimes leave me feeling a little lonely, not so much in a personal sense, but in a cultural sense. In the sense of the awareness that we are, for lack of a better word, kind of weird.

The point I’m trying to make (again, to myself, although you are welcome to take from it what you please) is to never, ever stop being grateful for the freedom to be as weird as we want to be.

§ 15 Responses to Weird As We Want to Be

  • handmadebyjo says:

    Thank you. Stay weird, more people need to be weird. People think I’m weird. It’s all good. Personally I think weird is the only way to be.

  • Wendy says:

    Yeah, got plenty of friends down in the ‘big city’ of ATL who think I’ve gone weird, too, since returning to VT – but that’s ok – I’m fine with it. I have lived their life in the past and prefer weird. MUCH more satisfying – and real. At least we know if/when things get ‘interesting’ for them (financially, speaking) – we will have our wonderful social network of community folk to see things through. You are a great storyteller, Ben – could almost taste those eggs myself! LOL Hope to get over to visit one of these days so I can put a visual to your words. Maybe, someday. ;-)

    ~ W.

  • Lindsay Koehler says:

    Keep it weird, Ben — that’s why we enjoy reading your work. (That, plus as Wendy said, I could almost taste your brekfast.) Thanks!

  • Eumaeus says:

    That’s what I’m talking about, Ben. You’re feeling it. You’re back on top.
    Without hesitation. You and Telemachus just loose arrows into those suitors. I will be there to help and support you.

  • Tonya says:

    You were at Butterworks, you could have brought the little guy:)
    Mike should be at your place any minute. Thanks so much again!

    I know people don’t get us either but that is ok. We do, though, have Cheerios in the house – introduced to the children long before we were conscious.

  • vpfarming says:

    I’ll take weird-person breakfast over standard-person breakfast any day of the week.

  • Vonnie says:

    ah, Ben, the feeling lonely in a community sense. I get that to the core, even here in NH where there are still a lot of folks doing things the old ways. Not here in southern NH as much, and I have to look A LOT for kindred spirits. I have a few and for them I am eternally grateful. But our lives are so much more authentic and I think if people took the time to actually feel that authenticity, they might come over to the “dark side” of handmade life themselves. Brings infinitely more satisfaction to me then any 8-5 (or 6 or 7:00 after the long commutes) job, yes, it sure does.

  • I think that I enjoy your insights so much because you give words to what I feel and at the same time help me appreciate the goodness of my families “weird” life. There is an isolation that comes from stepping out of the norm. Most of the time I am okay with that distance but sometimes I need to know that I am not alone. Your blog helps narrow that gulf. Thanks!

  • Sarah says:

    Is it perhaps more appropriate to think of your path as unconventional rather than “weird,” which is a word people use to heap judgement on people from whom they differ? “Weird” isn’t enough to sustain the inspiration required of the sometimes grueling work required to create the abundance about which you write in this post. You are proud of the work you do to nourish your family, to de-commodify, to heal the earth – as you should be. I believe, as you believe, that your choices are good and right and wise. I think you should not denigrate it by calling it “weird,” as you run the risk of giving the impression of false self-deprecation.

  • Eumaeus says:

    Thinking a little about Sarah’s comment above. And this theme keeps coming back. It is one based on comparison. And it is very interesting. I may have told you before that I lived in Mongolia for 3 years. Two of those were in the countryside. And what was wired there was me. Not burning wood. Not turning hides to leather. Not sewing your own boots. Not depending on your neighbors. It was me that was weird. And I wanted to fit in. Course we all want to fit in. I guess that’s what all of this is about. You and I know that this ain’t normal. But these folks here that are reading this. It’s normal to them. Or else they’re thinking about making it normal. So we live in the world we do. We are the way we are. And we may be weird. But the real question is, compared to what?
    Because compared to each other we ain’t that weird. I had a fresh hide slung out on my mudroom floor this morning. You had one spread out on the grass. Weird huh?

  • Cari says:

    I had a similar thought process the other day when I came in the house after evening “chores”. I had a dozen eggs rolled up in my shirt, a half gallon of goat’s milk in a bucket over my arm, and a pile of zucchini and yellow squash tucked under my arm. I had one of those sudden realizations of how different my life is from almost everyone that I know and how “weird” it was to go right outside my door to collect my ingredients for dinner.

  • Pam R. says:

    We were sort of weird for homeschooling, as only a couple other families in town were also. Then we were weird for raising as much of our own food as we could. When we are chronically ill (very weird). We are weird for “doing so much work” to have good nutritionally sound food. We are weird for not having a TV for over 30 years. Weird for doing all the work ourselves rather than working to make money to pay someone else to do it. Weird to shop at tag sales instead of stores.

    A lot of how we’ve lived has been very different from my siblings, friends, and the general community.

  • Deidre says:

    Everyday I hear, read, see humans who feel compelled to come home to the Earth. At first I thought it was trendy, but now I believe it is part of nature. Mother Earth is sick and she needs us. You answered the call. That’s not weird at all, what’s weird is not hearing it. That’s my opinion anyway.

    Cereal is not food and every parent knows that. So if someone were to get offended it’s simple guilt. I have a box of carefully chosen organic cereal I bought in the hopes of allowing myself at least one lazy morning a week. My kids won’t touch it. They’ve been “spoiled” by real food.

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