Carrying the Stone

August 20, 2013 § 18 Comments


There comes a time every summer when the weight of everything that must be done is a stone on my chest. Finish second cut. Finish firewood. Finish the woodshed. Slaughter the chickens. Slaughter the steer. Slaughter the pigs. Make bacon, make sausage. Mill lumber to finish the woodshed. Pick blueberries. Pick blackberries. Harvest chanterelles. Finish the solar dehydrator. Finish the outdoor pizza oven (Well, ok, so we’ll have to start it, first).  Backfill the 1000-foot trench for the electric service. Clip pasture. Start pulling next year’s firewood. Nah, screw it, don’t. It’s good winter work, anyway. Build a new chicken coop. Nah, screw it. The old one’ll do for another year.

You can see how these things can pile up on a body, each it’s own contribution to the weight of that stone, until you can almost forget why you ever picked up the darn thing in the first place. You hear about your friends’ summer vacation, two weeks paddling remote waterways and living off fresh-caught fish and wild berries in Minnesota or some other place you’ve never been but wouldn’t mind going, and you think damn. You drive past your favorite local bookseller on your way from the farm store with the bits and pieces you need to jury-rig the tractor back into action and they’ve got a sign in the window that reads Snack, Nap, Read, and you have to laugh. In summer? Are you joking?

I used to have a shirt from one of the most interesting and talented bicycle frame-builders in the business. It read “It’s simple, but it’s not easy.” I always liked that shirt; to me, it’s apt expression of everything I truly value in the fragile bubble of my small world. I feel as if our lives are simple; our needs – at least when compared to the contemporary norm – are simple. Our days are largely defined by commonplace routine and ritual that are intractably connected to the very means of our survival on this very piece of land. Maybe simple isn’t quite the right word for this reality, but it’s close enough.

But easy? Not really, at least not as easy is commonly understood to embody comfort and convenience. Last night, in Lynn and Martha’s barn, where it felt as if all the day’s heat had gathered for happy hour, and the sweat ran down our faces like the tears of some great sorrow, we stacked one 50-pound bale after another, hundreds in total. It was the simplest task in the world: Throw the hay, stack the hay. But easy? Hell, no, and we knew that when we got home, there were hours of chores still to be done. Even as I tossed bales to Penny, balanced high atop the mounting stacks, I could feel those chores pressing on my chest.

I don’t mean to complain, nor to bemoan the simple fact of that stone. It is an inevitable and necessary part of the life I have chosen, and I am grateful for it in the same way I am grateful for a hard winter, because to know the weariness of carrying it is necessary part of knowing the joy in setting it down. You cannot have one without the other. True satisfaction, true gratification and gratitude do not ask you to give something of yourself: They demand it.

So for the next few weeks, until things settle into the relative calm of autumn proper, I will give. I will give by running from one task to another, by arising in the morning with my muscles sore from the previous days’ tasks. I will give be feeling always slightly overwhelmed and occasionally breathless. I will give by stacking hay, by splitting wood, by sawing and hammering and killing. I will give the sweat that falls off my body, and I will give by knowing the small pains of all the small wounds of labor-by-hand that accumulate on my physical being. I will give because I want my life to be exactly as Richard’s shirt proclaims: Simple, yes. Easy, no.

But here’s the funny thing: Even as I give, I will take. I will take all of this effort and I will store it in the reservoirs of my body,  character, and spirit. Because if I have learned anything in my nearly 42 years on this grand and beautiful world, it is that these things cannot develop without being fed. If you starve them, if you deprive them of the opportunity to carry that weight and feel that heft and hardness, they will wither.

I don’t want to wither.





§ 18 Responses to Carrying the Stone

  • pmpayette says:

    You are an excellent writer. All these posts together would be a book I would love to read. Keep on.

  • Aaron says:

    Your stone is far lighter and more fulfilling than a huge mortgage and two car payments, no? Keep up the weirdness.

  • dawn says:

    I might just have to find a shirt like that (and the Home Grown one in the picture, too – love it!) as I have said that exact thing so many times to so many people. But, I love the image of carrying the stone so that one can know the joy of putting it down. A new way of describing a feeling I know so well. A similar thought is one I have when people complain of the heat and humidity here in the South. I don’t think I would appreciate a sudden and delightful breeze coming along otherwise. It can feel so heavenly you stop in your tracks and just breathe. Simple, yes but not easy like staying inside in the a/c, I’m sure. Another wonderful post. I agree with the commenter above that you’ve got a compilation book here somewhere. Here’s hoping you get enough things done to rest easy at night and those you don’t will get done another time.

  • Eumaeus says:

    I love it when things fall off my lists. Sometimes they are on the list, pressuring me, the weight of the stone, as you say for a year before they’re good for a cross off and humble chuckle. I almost get as much satisfaction in crossing of those bastards as I do the things I actually accomplish. It shows what is necessary.

    And really, Ben, what is neccessary? How many people are you feeding there? Four, I thought. That’s the one thing when foreigners ask me what is ‘cheap’ in america – it’s food. And you’re eating pigS – emphasis intended – and a steer. So if the chantrelle harvest and blackberry harvest didn’t happen, what would happen?

    I planted maybe 2 or 3 hundred seedlings this spring Myrobalan Plum, Corylus, etc. And the seemingly neccessary task of a second round weedcontrol fell off the list. What’ll happen? Nothing much.

    I’m just trying to be fearless. Fearless that no matter what happens it’ll all be okay. Funny thing is I don’t believe myself when I say it. The only person who I’ve ever believed when they say it is Bob Marley.

    I don’t know why that is… three little birds… or in the transition on No Woman

    It needs to be my soundtrack… Sadly I’ve got to listen to my own rambling monkey thoughts instead. And inflict them on you and your guests – Sartre-style, imposing on your perfect project. Ignore me like everyone else…

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      oh yeah, we talk about this all the time what we really need vs what we’ve become acclimated to. Every so often, when I’m digging in the freezer for my choice of beef, pork, chicken, or lamb, I come across the bag Nate put it there that’s labeled “beaver head.” And I think “hmmm.”

      The older I get, the more thoroughly I recognize that pretty much everything that causes stress in my life – and in the lives of most of us, I’m betting – is a creation of our human centric assumptions and expectations. Hmmm

  • Mary Ann Cauthen says:

    I greatly enjoy your writings also, & a book of them would be good. I am OLD – my third child is your age!- & we are still doing some farming/growing/cattle raising, etc. This article reminded of the book I am reading – “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball. You are living “the good life”! Keep at it. Mary Ann

  • Tanya says:

    Thank you for writing. I have just recently “discovered” your blog and have now read through all your archives. I do believe you will never wither.

  • Jeannie says:

    Dear Ben, you have given yourself the gift of being with your wife and children every single day. Every day is a gift – enjoy the ride!

  • vpfarming says:

    The “Snack, Nap, Read” made me laugh out loud. Maybe someday. And if so, we’ll have truly earned it.

  • Kent says:

    “Stress is pretty much a creation of our human centric assumptions and expectations.” (author: Ben Hewitt). Well stated Ben! “Carrying the stone” is a most intriguing exercise, and can be followed by your metaphor of sublime relief (and satisfaction) when the stone is put down. I can only imagine this metaphor playing out for those ironmen who carry the Husafell Stone: (GREAT to see Fin sporting his “Home Grown” shirt.)

  • Kristin says:

    Spot on! I’m 7 months pregnant, and canning season has begun… so has our homeschooling year. I will give until I can’t, or the jobs are “done”, knowing that I DO have a nice break on the horizon… but uff if it isn’t a bit harder this year.

    Oh, and if that day ever comes when you do get a chance to visit Minnesota, do! Let me know, I’ll chase the bear from the berries, and have the boat ready for fishing.

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      you’re 7 mos pregnant AND you’re carrying the stone? Damn. Women are so much tougher than men. Good luck with everything, thanks for the invite!

  • Hi Ben,
    I’m Ashley, the creator of the Home Grown t-shirt. An artist by the name of Maggie Hallam, who I befriended years ago but have never met, via my work posted on Etsy, just sent me a link to your blog because she has a Home Grown shirt too.
    While that connection is super cool, what is even more amazing to me this the way you articulate exactly how I feel. I may not be cutting heads off chickens or throwing bales of hay; I draw, cut, print, sew seven days a week, run my studio with my husband Joe, who chose photography over a southern shipyard when all the jobs left New England, and work relentlessly, but also chose a hand made life.
    I don’t know if we’ve ever met, though must have a connection through the t-shirt and my studio, Willywaw, here in Rhode Island. I hope to meet you someday and enjoy reading your book, maybe by January there will be time for a nap!

  • Ah, just made the connection to Myra and Kent! Thanks, Enjoy!

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