Because it Just Happens


The first cold morning. Not cool, cold. 23 degrees, wind gusting, ice on the cows’ water a half-inch thick. Long underwear. Gloves. The buttugly hat I got at the thrift store for a quarter. Penny tells me it’s not flattering and she’s right, but I wear it anyway. The sun came on me as I milked, first Pip, then Apple, and I squirted a little milk on the tips of my fingers to warm them. Web duck waited at my side for her morning ration and got it. The sound of her drinking: I love that sound.

Every once in a while, I find myself caught in old ways of thinking and I begrudge the milk she drinks, a cup a day or maybe a little more, 300 days each year. 300 cups. 75 gallons per year for five years now or maybe more.  All for a damn duck.

Actually, not true. I haven’t thought that way in years, and I don’t know why I said I have. I guess it’s more that I remember thinking that way, and this morning I remembered it and so gave her an extra slosh, a little stick of the knife, a flip of the bird (so to speak) to that old way of thinking. She probably won’t even drink it all. It’s probably out there right now, frozen solid. Tomorrow morning Penny will kick the icy chunk of it out onto the ground. An offering, then.

Sometimes I think about how people change. How I change. What are the levers? What are the reasons, the motivations? For instance, that thing about the milk, those 75 gallons year after year after year. How did I shift from begrudging the loss of that milk to understanding it’s not a loss at at? Shit, Web doesn’t need it. There’s plenty of food around this place. When did I make that shift? I don’t remember. I don’t think I even realized I’d made that shift until now.

I got an email from Andrea (actually, I got a bunch of emails from Andrea – and she from me – and that might be a topic for another day). You can’t convince people to change, she wrote. You can’t tell them what to do. It needs to come from within. 

I think I agree with her, because I can’t think of a single person who convinced me to change, at least not through the act of convincing me to change, which is probably an important distinction. You can’t tell people to change. Or I guess you can, but if you expect it to work, you’re deluding yourself.

But I also think something else: What’s within comes from what’s without (or is it with out?). It’s a reflection of what we see and hear and think, of the landscape we dress ourselves in, of the people we come to know and love (or conversely, to reject and dislike).   So what happened with the milk? I fed the damn duck for long enough that I came to like feeding the damn duck, the way she waits by my side until I’m finished milking. If I’m too slow for her liking, she might run her beak along my leg. Preening, almost.

Slowly, what was without came within and I wanted Web to have that milk.

So maybe I disagree with Andrea. Maybe you can convince people to change and maybe the way you do that is you offer them things – thoughts, art, ideas, emotions, memories, music, food, appreciation, affection, whatever you have to offer – and maybe eventually they take that within. Not because you tell them they should. Not because you say here’s this thing I have to offer you to help you change. Not because you’re even trying to change them (that would be crazy).

But because you’re not trying.

Because it just happens.



26 thoughts on “Because it Just Happens”

  1. I think I blogged about something a little similar this morning – that contributing is what is important.
    We have a single duck too and he has become our companion – but what do you do with yours once the cold of cold comes? Last winter he had three buddies…. We are even considering our claw foot bath tub so he doesn’t freeze.

  2. IMHO Change happens this way: waves breaking on the sharp rock eventually makes the rock smooth.

    Best to be the change you want to see and Let Go of the Opinion like Eumaeus says.

    We still have sun and 70 degrees out here. Ah! I don’t know how you can take it!

  3. This is a fun game I play with myself, How did I get from There to Here? What were the choices, which weren’t always choices, but of course they are, aren’t they?
    And I just want to say the cows look so majestic! What a lovely light.
    And I just want to say, thank you! Thank you!

  4. It is interesting to me that you wrote about this today of all days. I was at your reading yesterday in Warner (back table between two moms with babes in ergos) and only just started reading your blog. Inspiring change has been on my mind since halfway through your talk. It wasn’t that you made me change, but you instigated it…I started thinking about things in a new way thanks to your talk. It’s also coincidental that a previous comment here says “be the change,” because that was the phrase that kept coming into my mind. Not so much “be the change I wish to see in the world,” but more “be the change I wish to see in my family.”

    My husband and I are unschooling our children (oldest is 6) and dream of doing it as you do–we’re interested n wilderness skills, independence, motivated learners, etc. In the past year we’ve really started a sea change in our life view. It’s so inspiring to hear your story. Something you said or something in your aura helped me decide that I need to make changes to *my* way of doing in order to inspire change in my kids. (For example, I need to do more time outside, less smart phone, more handiwork in front of them, less grumpiness of tone, more campfires and impromptu dancing).

    Thanks to you, Penny and your kids for putting your lives out there. I sympathize with your feeling of overexposure, but you should know that what you have shared / offered has in a way moved us toward change. See you in February–same place, same time ;). Thanks for including us on your “tour.”

  5. Many folks want to change, it has nothing to do with bludgeoning them convincing would require. I think most of them do feel it within, but they lack the confidence to step off the well-worn path and blaze a new one without guidance.

    Think this might just about be my favorite photo yet. Utterly glorious. That weather sounds pretty good, too.

  6. When I was in the 5th grade, we had an assembly about the dangers of smoking. I marched right home and placed little brochures about emphysema and lung cancer all over the house where my Dad would see them. He has quit numerous times and smokes very little now but can’t seem to just stop altogether. I came to the realization long ago that things we do, even the things that are harmful to us, are there because they serve us in some way. Sometimes (or, maybe, a lot of times), it is fear that our habits serve. So, maybe the question is “What am I afraid of?” and that might lead you to positive change. And, I think it is a great thing to be encouraged to change by a duck. That Web is earning her cup of milk and then some. Beautiful picture and wonderful post, as always. Thank you!

  7. Most changes that stick are not the ones that happen suddenly, over night… The change that sticks is the one that happens like water dripping on a rock, slowly, slowly, but steadily over time.

  8. I agree with Andrea, change must come from within. As the old saying goes; “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”. For example, you can send an alcoholic or an addict to rehab, but you can’t make them change their ways until they, themselves, are ready to embrace change and do the heavy lifting required to get their lives back on track. Some do, some don’t, and some never try.

  9. Sometimes you can actually get people to change just by telling them to do so. It doesn’t work when you need them to change for your own reasons–for example, because it’s flattering to have others follow your example. They sense that, even when you’re blind to it. When it’s a real offering, when it comes from a place of genuine compassion, a wish for them to be happy–i.e., when it’s for /their/ sake, not your ego’s

  10. We humans are curious creatures. Nearsighted, we focus on the minutia in front of us, mis-estimating the full picture by orders of magnitude. Would it feel different to you if you realized Web Duck only gets 75 quarts of milk a year?

  11. “Frankly, that would piss me off even more, because it would disrupt the story of my generosity.” LOL! Good reply. Are you going to eat the duck? Never heard of duck drinking milk, cat maybe. Hard to wean someone off the good thing. That duck reminds me of the readers and fans, requesting more and more, pecking at your leg quacking saying you cannot leave now. 🙂
    People do change, all the time, for better or for worse. Many just too tired, too overworked, too swept in into minutia, and then one day it just breaks. Some days I commute to the city on a train, and see very few happy or peaceful faces. Maybe 1% if that. Most faces just read: let’s just get this day over with. And then some may just open your blog on their reading device, and say: hey, my day got just a little bit more better, a little more bearable.
    If people were unchangeable, media politicians and Hollywood would not be spending trillions on brain wash.
    Love the picture!!!!

  12. You know the old joke about the light bulb and the psychologist: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one but the light bulb has to want to change.

  13. Reblogged this on Wild Spring and commented:
    “What’s within comes from what’s without (or is it with out?). It’s a reflection of what we see and hear and think, of the landscape we dress ourselves in, of the people we come to know and love (or conversely, to reject and dislike).” ~A post from Ben Hewitt, a writer/farmer/activist in Cabot, Vermont. It’s well worth reading.

  14. Your blog inspires change because you talk about WHY you live the way you do, and what you love about it. (I didn’t get that positive vibe from Andrea’s blog.)
    I’m Andrea too – when you first mentioned her blog I thought you might be talking about my blog for a minute! No off-gridding homeschooling happening here, though, just permaculture, chickens and nagivating family life in urban New Zealand. We’re TV-less too, but whether that makes much difference to children in this world of electronic devices I’m not sure. (www.peacefulgreenday.com).

  15. Change is inevitable, constant, and consistent. It can be purposefully orchestrated from within or from without. BeeHappee’s point on politics is an apt point to prove that change can come from without. Change from without can only be real change when the person(s) being changed has given their will-power to the person(s) doing the changing. If you consciously maintain ownership of your will-power – which homesteaders are inherently wont to do – change can only come from within. You can purposefully shape the constant change through conscious exposure to very specific sources of information. Homesteaders surround themselves with nature and are drawing their change from the information garnered from constant observation of non-human ecological systems. These systems don’t work on a capitalistic for-profit ideology, there is no such thing as “waste”. The milk may be lost to you directly that day, but it is still on the farm, building fertility. Once you are signed up for this natural style of education it’s hard to imagine life any other way.

    Well written.

  16. I wasn’t going to read your post this morning then in a last minute decision to wait for some water to boil for tea before heading off to work, I decided to be still for a moment and read. I was supposed to read this, this morning. After a morning of trying to get my 18 year old son to see things my way, I really needed to read this. Thanks.

  17. Ben- keep up the great writing. Reading your stuff inspires me with my own writing. And that damn duck…..i don’t even know the bird and i love it. I say keeping giving it milk.


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