For a Little While

Drying blueberries

Katie Flagg of Seven Days did a nice piece on immersion learning, er, unschooling (thanks, Amy!). 

Tuesday evening we finished unloading bales in Martha and Lynn’s barn at six or so. There were 550 give or take a dozen, but you know what they say about many hands and all. Besides, the bales were light and soft and almost fluffy. Second cut is the Charmin of hay.

Steven rode the wagon behind the baler, stacking in that methodical way he has, never seeming hurried but with an efficiency that trumps speed any day of the week. That efficiency reveals the worker he is: Steven is employed at a sawmill full-time, cuts firewood, plows driveways, and hires out for 101 other rural tasks involving trucks and toothed cutting implements. He works seven days each week. He has a wife and a young son and is saving to buy a new car for his wife in cash. Once, when he and I were baling together, me on the tractor and him on the wagon, load after load after load of hay and none of this fluffy Charmin-esque second cut, but that stem-y first cutting that leaves cross-hatched scratches on the undersides of your forearms, I asked him if he wanted to trade places. He could drive the tractor and I’d stack on the wagon. It was hot. He had to be tired. Shit, I was tired, and all I was doing was steering the Deere down the long rows of loose hay. Steven just shook his head. “Ben, I’m a worker bee,” he told me. “I just like to work.”

I like to work, too, though I’m more of a flailer than Steven. I’m not so good at meting out my efforts, and I tend to work real hard and real fast ‘til I fall over the knife’s edge of exhaustion, at which point I’m pretty useless until someone hands me a sufficient quantity of calories. I guess you could say I’m sort of a binge laborer.

Wednesday morning I went and picked up a load of shavings from our friend Jim, who has a woodworking business in a nearby town with no farms and therefore has a tough time finding folks to take his shavings. The first time he called me to see if I wanted shavings and furthermore for free, I sort of thought it was a joke because ‘round here, a pile of kiln dried hardwood shavings would last about as long as a pie in a pigpen.

But damn if he wasn’t serious as the north wind in January, and so for the past year or so, I’ve driven over every time he’s got a full hopper and filled the back of our old Ford with the finest animal bedding that, in this case at least, money can’t buy. It’s messy, dusty, eye-stinging business, not fun at all, really, except for the satisfaction of a full truck and knowing how good the composted bedding will be. We’ve got a big pile of it up on the hill right now, last year’s dense pack scooped out of the loafing shed, and I swear it’s nearer to being finished than the hay-based pack of the year prior.

The work has been good. The haying, the shavings, the daily routine of chores, now reaching their late summer peak. It pulled me out of my head some, where I’d been hanging out a bit too much in the aftermath of so many questions and conversations relating the Outside story. I mean, those things are good, too, but after a time, I began to recall yet another passage from Carruth’s poem Marshall Washer:

Unconsciously, I had taken friendship’s measure

from artists elsewhere who had been close to me,

people living for the minutest public dissection

of emotion and belief. But more warmth was,

and is, in Marshall’s quiet “hello” than in all

those others and their wordiest protestations,

more warmth and far less vanity

And with that, I think I’ll shut up. For a little while, at least.



14 thoughts on “For a Little While”

  1. the best writing comes when we’ve been “pulled out of [our] head some”. may the work of your body [LIFE] clear your mind, and all our minds. Whatever works i guess. Some people clear their mind through work (works for me). Others meditate. Others read Ben Hewitt. Whatever works to clear, clear, clear.

  2. I find that being mentally tired is harder to recover from than being physically tired. Something about it that promotes more weariness than satisfaction for me. But, maybe I was made more for shoveling manure than thinking too much (though I do some of my best thinking shoveling manure!) Another reason I am grateful for good writing like Ben’s. I’m inspired but also feel like I’ve cleared the soot out of my head, too. That’s very satisfying. Don’t be silent too long, Ben!

  3. Read the article posted after. Interesting how many more bureaucratic hoops ya’ll have to jump through in VT. We Hoosiers just have to keep record of attendance (no guidance provided) and make sure we hit 170 days.

      1. Here in NC, you have to register as a homeschool (and are then considered a private school) when your child reaches the age of 7 years, maintain vaccination records, achieve 180 days of “attendance” and administer an end of year test and, of course, keep records of same should Big Brother come knocking on your door someday. A little too much poking-their-nose-in-my-business for me but at least it is legal unlike some parts of the world.

  4. I have certainly enjoyed the frequency of your posts and reading what you had to share about your life. I am one of those people that feels stuck – maybe because of nothing but a lack of trust in myself to provide outside of the “system” – but nevertheless, stuck. But I was reading the article you linked to and I believe there is a quote, and he said, “just start by trying to sign your kid’s report card without looking at the grades” – and while that will be difficult for me, I realized that that is something that i could do – just let go of that little piece of the system and see where it takes us. Also, I might let my daughter use a box cutter to build a puppet theater that she has been talking about. I’ll have to show her how and supervise her closely because most of her experience with sharp objects is limited to the butter knife.She is 15 – which makes me laugh, when I think about your kids and their complement of hatchets and knives and guns.

    1. Just take a deep breath and try it Elizabeth. She may surprise you. Training and supervision are good, but confidence in her is the best thing you can give her. Go for it!

  5. Go to AlterNet and read “8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson thay Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests”.

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