March 4, 2014 § 18 Comments


Speaking of workshops, our friend Todd is holding a few at his organic orchard just up the road. He’s super-knowlegeable and a real nice guy, to boot. For more details, check out his website

The first annual Beaver Hide Tanning/Skeet Shooting/Monster Truck Rally Rodeo went off without a hitch (minus the skeet shooting and monster truck rally because, as it turned out, everyone was too tired to shoot skeet by Sunday afternoon [besides which, no one had any skeet, though we figured a lobbed tennis ball might do] and, furthermore, I was the only one in attendance who even owns a truck that might, from certain vantage points, approach monstrous status. And one truck does not a rally make, especially when it’s a nearly-two-decade old diesel that won’t start when it’s as cold as it was this weekend).

The workshop was hosted by us and led by our dear friend Nate, and I was some skeptical anyone was gonna show up to learn how to tan a beaver hide, but lo-and-behold Nate turned ‘em right out, and we had a packed house. For three full days, the entire first floor of our humble home was given over to the scraping, brain tanning, softening, and smoking (this actually happened outside, thank goodness) of beaver hides.

From my perspective, as a non-participant but frequent observer as I went about my usual routine of pretending to be doing terribly important things, it seemed like a tremendous amount of work for a finished hide that might end up being barely big enough to make a proper lap throw. I doubt anyone had anything less than 16 or 17 hours into their hide. But then, I suspect the work itself was much of the reward, as everyone seemed to have themselves a fine time of it. There was much merriment amidst the constant bustle of scraping and softening (which requires a vigorous back n’ forth rubbing against steel cables for literally hours on end). There was laughter and story telling and eating and, in the evenings, a little music playing and warbling. I even danced a little foot-shuffling hoppity jig, and lemme tell you, that’s a some-rare sight, and for damn good reason.


It was fun to have the house full of good folks, in large part because the sort of people who are interested in spending three full days tanning a two-foot diameter circle of wild animal hide are, generally speaking, not uninteresting. And it was the precisely the right time of year to wring a little extra joy out of life. I mean, any time of year is right for that, but the beginning of March, over a weekend that continued the trend of zero and even below-zero nights (12 below this morning, yikes), is particularly right. Penny and I have a small fantasy of hosting more such workshop-like gatherings in the future, although it might not be a fantasy. Our house is in many ways just right for it; large enough to accommodate a good number of folks and also messy and worn enough to feel comfortable. Around here, you ain’t gotta worry about damaging the furniture; indeed, the only real threat is that, via collapse or the poking of a malformed spring or splinter of wood, the furniture will damage you.

The other thing is, it’s real nice to every so often to surround ourselves with people who are at least as weird as we are. I don’t mean weird in pejorative sense, not at all, but rather simply to acknowledge the frequent sensation we have of being isolated from many of the socioeconomic/cultural mores of our time. We are incredibly fortunate to live amongst a community of friends and neighbors who accept and even respect our choices; the sense of isolation we sometimes feel is more on a societal level, than a personal level, and that is certainly far easier to bear. But it is still a fine thing to be amongst a larger gathering of people who, for lack of a better word, “get” what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Who dig right in to the beaver liver pate alongside us, who don’t even think to ask us if we’re worried that Fin and Rye won’t be admitted to the college of their choosing, who we can immediately fall into easy conversation with because, even if the exact particulars of our lives might be unique to us all, the overarching desire to live a humble life connected to the wild and abundant world outside our respective doorsteps is shared and tacitly understood to be shared.

That is all for now, although I did want to mention that all the great comments relating to my Winter Reading post really got me thinking. So, fair warning on that account.

§ 18 Responses to Hiding

  • Amy says:

    When I was little, my mom tanned a deer hide in our cast iron bathtub. That is, she soaked it for days and then scraped and rubbed and massaged and the house smelled and we all still talk about it. I just love this post, and you probably have such a faithful following because there are a lot of us out here who “get” you, too, and dearly would love to be digging into that beaver liver pate with you. And did you not tan your own hide, Ben? What “terribly important” things kept you from making a hide, too?

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      Let’s see… I smoked a batch of bacons and hams, cut a bunch of firewood, and cooked for and cleaned up after the assembled masses. So it’s not like I was nodding off on the couch. But to be honest, I’m not sure tanning hides is my thing. I’m a man of still-insufficient patience for such an undertaking.

      • Amy says:

        Okay, well, it does sound you were honestly employed all weekend. My little brother once tanned mouse hides and sewed them into gloves. Now that takes patience.

  • Kent says:

    Congratulations on the “First Annual” (I love that moniker) Beaver Hide Tanning Rodeo! The two photos speak volumes about the success of taking on arctic conditions in rural Vermont and creating an opportunity that every participant is likely to cherish forever. Such energy and resourcefulness deserves a twenty-one gun salute (bringing down skeet with each shot)!

  • SalemHopwitch says:

    A smokehouse workshop would be just awesome…

  • Audie Jean says:

    Wonderful, as usual, Ben. I especially like your comments about the “community of friends and neighbours who accept and even respect our choices.” We and some of our friends refer to these people as “our intentional family.”

  • Eumaeus says:

    Awesome. You are lucky. The sentence with ‘accept and even respect our choices’ caught my attention too. And I come back to thinking about this in relation to you all a lot. You got that going for you, the friends and the neighbors. Hell, you got Vermont going for you, right? I just think that makes it easier, way easier. And I wonder sometimes if we shouldn’t move to someplace weirder. For now we slug it out, doing our little part to notch up the weirdness in Indiana.

  • Jeannie says:

    What an awesome time. I hope in the future you might consider posting an event like this on your blog and offering your readers the chance to sign up to join the gang.

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      If we do more workshops, I definitely will. Since this was our first one out of the gate, and since it seemed pretty clear that Nate could fill it from his contact list, I didn’t mention it ahead of time.

  • This looks like an absolute blast! And I agree with ^ Amy ^ …you have readers who not only ‘get’ you but perhaps are encouraged to read that somebody ‘gets’ us! What can be more rich than a humble life?

  • NeoNoah says:

    For over half my life it has been, damn, why did I not make “Woodstock”, now it’s why did I miss the” Hewitt’s Beaver Hide Tanning” workshop. Please hold such wonderful people dear.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Wow, I wish I had heard about it ahead of time!! Of course, it would have just been one more thing I had to miss due to an immanent due date and living too far from home (oh, how I miss New England!!) to participate at the spur of the moment. But if you do more, maybe at some point the stars will all align and I’ll be able to make one of them. Then I’ll know what to do with the two deer hides that are taking up space in my freezer. :-)

    On another note, I was wondering if you might be willing to share some of the process you and Penny went through designing and building your house? Any pictures you’ve put up that include the house look so lovely, and as my husband and I are looking for someplace outside of town building our own is definitely on the table. I’ve been looking longingly at the beams across your ceiling for a while now, and wondering how you went about it all. Even if you could just recommend a resource, that would be very appreciated. Thanks!

    • Doug W. says:

      Elizabeth – Building a timberframe is quite doable. There are many good books out there on house design and timberframing, as well as schools that teach various building skills for the owner builder. In 1982 we erected a 24 x 28ft. story and a half house. Quite an accomplishment for a liberal arts major and school teacher. Our journey started two or three years earlier. Before we left Vt. in 1980 for Northern NY State we took a couple evening classes taught by an architect, Phil Hanke of Montpelier. .One was a design course and the next semester it was a survey of various construction styles. The former included drawing floor plans to scale on quarter inch graph paper and building cardboard models to scale, a good way to see your mistakes. One of our first efforts had the staircase meeting the ceiling. In the summer of 1981 we went to NH to Samuel Kayman’s institute and took a week long workshop on timber framing in which ten of us cut and erected the frame for a 20 x 20ft. building. It was taught by Phil Brooks a well known NH timber frame builder at the time. That sealed it for us-we were high for days and it banished any doubt about doing our own timberframe. We bought lumber and cut a frame. On July 3 1982 with the help of forty people the frame went up in one day from sills to rafters. There was a big cookout and music afterward.
      It took us another four years to finish it and move in because we were doing this without a mortgage. We love our house, lots of memories and it is like living inside a piece of furniture. Our garage and tool barn are also timberframes. BUILDING THE TIMBERFRAME HOUSE by Tedd Benson and The Timber Framing Book by Stewart Elliott and Eugenie Wallace were particularly helpful to us. Ken Kern’s Owner Built House was also useful. Hope this helps, and that neither you or Ben mind my weighing in.

      • Elizabeth says:

        I will definitely check out those books. Workshops aren’t a possibility for us right now, but my husband is very good at those sorts of things. Thank-you!

  • Sounds wonderful to be surrounded by like-minded folks. We too are fairly isolated these days which wears on us. I just watched a TED talk that pointed to the importance of sharing fun with friends. It really ought to be a priority…so I say that you definitely ought to have more workshops!

  • rhondajean says:

    I just love that such obscure workshops are held and enjoyed by many eager people. There is a feeling you get when walking into such a gathering that tells you that you’re in the right place with the right people. To tell you the truth, I’ve forgotten details of some of these workshops I’ve gone to but I’ve always remembered the conversations and the feeling of trust and affiliation I felt just by being there.

  • […] think that’s what I like most about gatherings like the one this weekend: Like the beaver hide tanning workshop Nate led this winter, and like the fiber dyeing workshop Prin is facilitating next month, and like […]

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