July 19, 2016 § 3 Comments
I awoke this morning at my usual hour, and lay for few minutes in the half-light, listening to animal sounds: The low breathings of my family in sleep, the pacing cats, eager for the outside world and the hapless mice that await, the lusty crowing of Blood, our rooster, interspersed with the plaintive bleating of Rye’s goats. And the soft lowing of Frodo the calf, hungry for his morning bottles. The pigs, I knew, were still bedded down, well out of earshot, but certainly snoring. Pigs snore to beat the band. Or ours do, at least.
One of the things I like best about living with animals is the simple pleasure of imaging the fullness of their lives beyond the moments I am with them; I think of them often in the night when I waken to pee or to pull up the blanket, or just because, and I derive a small comfort from the thought of all those warm bodies in such proximity. Bedded down. Resting. Dreaming their animal dreams, dreams I like to think are unencumbered by the complexity of humanness, so much of it self-imposed. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe being a cow is more complicated than it looks.
I rose, did chores (indeed, the pigs were snoring, I knew it!), then ran graveled roads, for a time following in the tracks of a deer, pressed deep into the soft shoulder. And I imagined it, too, running in the night, perhaps spooked by a car, or maybe just enjoying the openness of the roadway, unencumbered by the brush and branches of its usual habitat. What a treat that must be.
Penny and the boys are scheming a summer trip to the annual Traditional Ways Gathering in Wisconsin next month. As a fund raising scheme, they have created some hand-crafted finery, though what you see below is actually all from Penny’s hands; the fella’s goods were snapped up by doting relatives before they could make it to this space.
Photos by Dylan Griffin.
Large spoons, approx 12″, all cherry: $50
Small spoons, approx 7″, birch, cherry, black walnut (light to dark): $25
If you want a specific spoon, please identify it (i.e., 3rd from left, 2nd from right, etc).
Black ash baskets; logs were harvested from our land and pounded by hand to make splints. Many blisters ensued. Larger basket is approximately 7″ tall, smaller is about 5″ tall. Put stuff in them, or just admire. $40 each.
Birch bark star decorations. For, um, decorating. $10 each.
We prefer checks and/or cash (email email@example.com to make arrangements) but Paypal is also an option. You can use the link below. Please add $5 for shipping. Thanks!
Couple of other things. First, more music!
The Devil Makes Three. Thanks to Michael for reminding me! Love this band with VT roots; not really sure how to describe them, so I’ll leave you with a few offerings and let you come up with your own description. This, this, and this are favorites.
Magnolia Electric Company. Brilliant and poignant songwriting by the late Jason Molina. I’m particularly fond of North Star, Don’t This Look Like The Dark, and The Dark Don’t Hide It. Fair warning: This is some pretty melancholy stuff, and probably not best for those late nights when you’re drinking alone and feeling shitty about your life.
Fred Eaglesmith. Not sure what to say about Fred, except that he’s about the least pretentious songwriter I’ve heard, which is one of the reasons I love him so damn much. Well, that, and he sings about trains, guns, and extending a raised middle finger to the powers that be. How can you go wrong? Here, here, here. Oh, and here.
Finally, a quick note on a project I’m collaborating on (this makes it sound like I’m doing a lot more than I actually am, which is precisely why I said it like that) with my friends Dylan and Nina Griffin, a husband and wife photography and writing team from North Ferrisburg, VT. It’s called State14 (because VT was the 14th state in the union… but you knew that, right?), and it’s a digital magazine rooted in Vermont-based story telling. There’s one of them new-fangled Instaounce accounts, too, if that’s your bag. I won’t say too much more about it here, except that I really appreciate Dylan and Nina’s vision, and am looking forward to the opportunity to exploring stories that aren’t likely to find a home on the pages of other Vermont-centric magazines. State14 just launched today, and I’m stoked to seeing how it evolves and grows. If there are stories you’d like to read, or if you have any other feedback, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.
Over and out.
July 15, 2016 § 13 Comments
Owing to freak circumstances involving the passing of sustenance between canoe and kayak in the midst of Lake Willoughby, Penny’s camera (ensconced in a custom woodchuck hide and felted wool case she made from a hide the boys tanned) found its way to a watery grave. A sad, sad day, indeed. So. No pictures for a while. Or maybe just old ones.
Just a couple of things I wanted to share. The first is a passage of particularly excellent writing, from the ending of an article on Trump and his followers in the most recent New Yorker by George Saunders. I love everything about these paragraphs, both regarding the sheer mastery of the craft, and the sentiments expressed. I figured some of you might like them, too.
From the beginning, America has been of two minds about the Other. One mind says, Be suspicious of it, dominate it, deport it, exploit it, enslave it, kill it as needed. The other mind denies that there can be any such thing as the Other, in the face of the claim that all are created equal.
The first mind has always held violence nearby, to use as needed, and that violence has infused everything we do – our entertainments, our sex, our schools, our ads, our jokes, our view of the earth, and somehow even our food. It sends our young people abroad in heavy armor, fills public spaces with gunshots, drives people quietly insane in their homes.
And here it comes again, that brittle frontier spirit, that lone lean guy in our heads, with a gun and a fear of encroachment. But he’s picked up a few tricks along the way, has learned to come at us in a form we know and have forgotten to be suspicious of, from TV: famous, likably cranky, a fan of winning by any means necessary, exploiting our recent dullness and our aversion to calling stupidity stupidity, lest we seem too precious.
“DONALD J TRUMP A GUARDIAN ANGEL FROM HEAVEN,” reads a poster I retrieved from the floor of the Rothschild rally. “HIS SPIRIT AND HARD WORK AS PRESIDENT WILL MAKE THE PEOPLE AND AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!!!”
Although, to me, Trump seems the very opposite of a guardian angel, I thank him for this: I’ve never before imagined America as fragile, as an experiment that could, within my very lifetime, fail.
But I imagine it that way now.
Secondly, I received this comment recently:
How much for me to subscribe to a monthly service where you inform my inbox about incredible music about which I’m ignorant? Seriously, I love your writing and insights into the ordinary… but your random mentions of great (unknown to me) musicians ensure I’ll never leave.
Music plays a central role in our lives, and I love nothing more than stumbling across a great songwriter or band. In this spirit, I’m offering a brief list of the music that’s captivated us over the past year or so. Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comment section.
Davy Knowles. I love, love, love this guy. Amazing blues guitar player and song writer, and absolutely kills it live. For those of you in New England, he’s coming to the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA on August 3, Higher Ground in Burlington, VT on August 19, and the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, NH on August 20. If you see me at one (or more) of these shows shaking my skinny ass, say hi. Try this, this, and this.
Blackberry Smoke. Straight up fantastic southern-tinged rock n’ roll. But way more than that, too. Saw them about 18 months ago at Higher Ground and again in NH last summer; hoping they make it this far north again soon. Here, here, and here.
Jason Isbell. I don’t even know what to say. In my mind, the preeminent living American songwriter. How about this, this, and this. Screw it: Just listen to this entire show. We got lucky enough catch him a couple years ago before he went at got all famous and started commanding $50/ticket.
James McMurty. Such an amazing story teller. I really like Lights of Cheyenne, Copper Canteen, and No More Buffalo. Oh, and Carlisle’s Haul. But as with all these recommendations, it’s hard to go wrong. We’ve seen James twice in the past year… he’s honestly not the most exciting performer, but that’s ok: His music sort of speaks for itself.
Kelly Ravin. Our favorite local guy. An excellent and prolific songwriter, and just a great guy all around. Here, here, and here. Kelly plays all over the region, usually for nothing more than tips. Check him out and be generous!
Ok. There’s more, but I’m out of time for now.
July 13, 2016 § 14 Comments
I ran in the heat of the day, 90-degrees and the humidity so thick you’d swear you could feel its weight on your shoulders. From the get-go, I could feel the heaviness in my legs, too; this was nothing like the mountain run I wrote of last, when I felt so strong and sure of myself, and I thought again of all the ways in which extended physical exertion reminds me of writing and by extension life itself, how it can be nearly effortless one day, and excruciating the next. And how, if you can just get past your own absurdist expectations and just sit with whatever it is, this is actually pretty damn cool.
I plodded along my usual route, to the Dead End sign and a just a little farther to where the road actually ends. And then just a little farther than that, down onto the snowmobile trail where on the 4th of this month I’d ambled past two teenage boys extracting a small hitch of firewood with an old, hoodless lawn tractor. It was not even 10:00 a.m. and they rode the tractor with open beers in hand. We nodded the curt nods rural men tend to offer in greeting, and then wished each other a good 4th, and I was glad for the meeting, it made me happy in a way I can’t quite explain. Maybe because when I was their age, I would have loved to be in their shoes.
On my way to the turn around, I’d stepped quick over a road-kill grouse, and on my way back, near the spot where the small, shattered body lay along the road’s shoulder, I came across a clutch of young grouse, chattering and nervous, darting this way and that, and I realized that the dead bird was probably their mother. I figured the young would probably be ok. They looked big enough to make it on their own, once they calmed down a bit.
From the roadside, I’d already gleaned a styrofoam coffee cup (16-ounces, Dart brand), a grease-stained paper plate, a Kit Kat wrapper (king size, no less), and an empty quart container that had once held organic chocolate milk from a local creamery. The lattermost delighted me for it’s inherent incongruity, for who, exactly, litters local, organic food packaging? And so I passed a goodly portion of my run determining the container’s path to its resting spot: Surely it had taken flight from the interior of a seafoam blue Prius, with its inevitable “Feel the Bern” and Euro-style NPR bumper stickers. Surely the driver was listening to mealy-mouthed neo-folk. Surely it was a he, if only because I find it difficult to consider a female litterer. And then came the lightning bolt realization that of course the container had come from the Prius’s rear seat, hurled by an insolent child too young to realize the wretchedness of his action, the parent too distracted from trying to make out numb-lipped lyrics to notice the exiting plastic.
The container’s story thus determined, I carried on, legs still heavy and slow, shirt sweated through, hands full of roadside detritus. Glad to be almost home.
July 11, 2016 § 10 Comments
Yesterday I ran more than five miles, the farthest I’ve run in a dozen years or more. It was cool and raining softly, so I turned up the mountain road, and soon was warm enough to shed my shirt and let the water pelt my skin. I’ve always liked running in the rain. There’s something primal about it.
I ran steady, neither slow nor fast, harboring my marginal reserves for the steepest grades, where the forest turns to hardwood and the canopy closes tight over the roadway, almost tunnel-like. About halfway up the mountain, I happened upon a car-struck hare, rear legs stretched long in death, upturned eye as leaden as the clouded sky; a few dozen strides later, a summer-fat deer cleared the road in a handful of effortless bounds, tail flagged high, with not so much as a glance my way.
Over the two months since I stumbled through the woods, it’s been an unspoken goal of mine to run that road to its apex. Honestly, I did not expect it to happen so quickly, nor did I expect it to feel as… easy isn’t the right word, exactly. But it wasn’t hard, either. Or at least, it wasn’t as hard as I’d assumed it would be. I was comfortable, within myself, capable of even more, I knew, and maybe because of this, I felt grateful for my body in a way that’s unfamiliar to me. And with my newfound gratitude, a small-ish shame that I’d not previously been more appreciative. There are many bodies in this world that cannot run a mountain to its peak, or stack nearly 2,000 square bales of hay, or split a winter’s worth of firewood. And while someday, I’m sure mine will join with these bodies, yesterday was not that day, and tomorrow probably won’t be, either.
Recently, someone reminded me that I could well live another 50 years, and I have to admit it shocked me a bit. Fifty more years. I’d never even considered such. I’d be 94. Probably not running mountains, probably not tossing bales, or bucking firewood. Probably more like the man at the feed store, the one I wrote about recently, unsteady under a bag of grain, weakened by the cruel march of time and knowing such, but still clinging to the things that make me feel most alive. Glad to hoist that one bag, to know its weight in my atrophied muscles, how it makes me totter on my aged legs. They were strong, once, those legs, and I hope I’ll be able to remember just how strong, and just how good it felt let them carry me up that hill.
July 9, 2016 § 6 Comments
I drove home from town yesterday afternoon, windows down, foot light on the gas, late sun slanting, half-listening to the sorrowful news. The land is improbably lush and fertile now, a deep and enveloping green. Peaceful. I like to hang my left arm out the open window as I drive, lift my hand to ride the current of air, and I did this yesterday, thinking as I did of how amazing it is to inhabit an era in which one can pilot a machine capable of moving quickly enough to create such a current. Sometimes we forget the most basic things, do we not?
Heather and I are collaborating again this year on our Harvest workshop. I really enjoyed cooking up and hosting this workshop last year, and I’m really looking forward to doing it again. I love collaborating with Heather; she’s smart, creative, super-organized, has a great sense of humor (well, she seems to get most of my jokes, anyway, which may not be exactly the same thing) and, perhaps most importantly, knows damn good music when she hears it.
I’m not big on the hard sell, but I don’t mind telling the truth, which is that we’ve worked really hard on this workshop, and that we’ve gotten tons of great feedback from last year’s edition. Harvest ’16 retains much of the previous material, but we’re also adding a lot of new stuff, too. In a nutshell, here’s what to expect:
- Material delivered Monday – Friday.
- Rustic and delicious garden to tables recipes.
- Daily, (potentially) thought provoking essays from Ben on a wide range of topics related to homesteading, gardening, family, and food preservation.
- Tips and tutorials from Ben and Heather – learn how to process, store, and make the most of 20 different fruits, vegetables, herbs, and wild edibles.
- Instructional cooking videos each weekday from Heather’s kitchen, featuring garden recipes as well as preservation tutorials. (All new videos for 2016.)
- Daily content will be presented in beautifully designed, easy to download ebooks.
- An interactive community where you can ask Ben and Heather questions, and share experiences/methods of your own. (This will happen right on our private website, no social media is required.)
- Daily essays from Ben that will speak to a particular question or idea that you bring up in class, or perhaps something happening in the moment on Ben’s homestead that he feels compelled to write about. (These “in the moment” essays will be all new for 2016, and were a favorite element to last year’s workshop.)
- Website will remain open and available to you for 60 days after the workshop ends.
- Tips on cajoling your young children and/or significant other into doing the heavy lifting
- Customized pairings of 80’s era hair metal with menial kitchen tasks
- And so much more!
If you want to sign up, you can do so below; you can also mosey over to Heather’s site for even more info. And of you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with either Heather or me. Thank you.
Two weeks – begins August 1
July 5, 2016 § 9 Comments
I humbly suggest that all of you take 20 minutes to listen to this wonderful Rumblestrip episode, produced by my friend Erica Heilman. I believe you will feel richer for having done so.
June 30, 2016 § 23 Comments
The sound of rain against the tin of our roof was the sound of a great weight being lifted. The dryness had become oppressive, day after day after day of blue skies and sunshine, with not even the slimmest prediction of a passing shower to hang a hope, to damp the dust, to slake the roots of the beans and squash and the new shoots of timothy in the field. I remembered this morning a story my mother used to tell, about how her mother once wrote to the TV weatherman in southeastern Iowa, where my grandparents farmed hundreds of acres of corn and soy, to explain to him that not everyone felt the same about a forecast of unending sunshine and would he please stop sounding so goshdarned chipper about it, anyway? So you see: Even the weather is subjective.
There was something I had in mind to say about writing, but already I’ve lost it inside my own storytelling, so I’ll say something else that comes to mind, because it’s one of those things that can really trip up an otherwise fantastic passage: Repetition. I find it all the time in my own work, even after I think it’s been expunged, and although there are times when it can work in one’s favor, I believe those times to be few and far between.
I’ll give you a small example, from yesterday’s piece.
His car was a Toyota Camry of a mid-90’s vintage; the right rear tire was nearly flat, the right headlight was missing, the accompanying fender crumpled beyond repair, and the entire car was covered in a layer of dust so thick I could see that he’d used his windshield wipers to facilitate the view from behind the driver’s seat. The car looked just pulled from long storage in a barn.
The repetition that troubles me in this passage is the word “car”; it appears three times in two sentences, which to my ears is at least one time too many. Indeed, maybe two times too many. Try this, instead:
His car was a Toyota Camry of a mid-90’s vintage; the right rear tire was nearly flat, the right headlight was missing, the accompanying fender crumpled beyond repair, and the entire vehicle was covered in a layer of dust so thick I could see that he’d used his windshield wipers to facilitate the view from behind the driver’s seat. It looked just pulled from long storage in a barn.
Yeah. I like that better. Small changes, but I find those are often the ones that make the biggest difference.
Oh, and now I’ve remembered what I’d originally intended to discuss. Someone wrote to me recently that they wished to have a greater vocabulary, that they feel as if their work is stymied by the lack of words at their immediate disposal. Now, I shall note at the outset that this person is already a phenomenal writer, which certainly bears on what I’m about to say, and I should probably also point out that it’s rarely a bad thing to have too many words at one’s disposal (although too much choice can be its own trap, that’s for damn sure). So for sure, dictionary, thesaurus, keep ‘em handy. They’re sort of like chainsaws, or firearms: They’re powerful tools, and they can be dangerous, but when used with a modicum of caution, they ain’t likely to hurt you too bad.
But what I said to this person, and what I really, really mean, and what I believe more and more with each passing day, is that the best writing is in many ways the plainest writing. It is writing that can be universally understood (or nearly so), in part because it speaks of universal truths, but also in part because it does not care to cloak those truths in the finery of fancy words.
I keep thinking about launching some sort of writing workshop, and I actually think I might get around to it one of these days. People have asked, I think it’d be fun, and that seems a good combination. In the meantime, however, I’ll just up and give away everything you need to know to write the pink off a pig: Speak the truth. And speak it plain.