The Best Way to Figure Things Out

What I did on my summer vacation

The evening before Thanksgiving I pulled home a load of round bales. It was 6:30 and nary a trace of daylight remained in the sky, though the moon – full or close enough to it – shone bright enough that the trees cast dim halfshadows. I could see them splayed across the graveled shoulders of the road, just beyond the swath illuminated by the truck’s headlights. Like outstretched fingers.

The bales were heavy, and the Ford downshifted on the winding climb toward home. I was glad for the hay – good first cut off a good field at a good price – and glad too for the truck’s heater on a cold night. Not as cold as it will be soon, but still. Cold enough to keep you on your toes. Cold enough to maybe keep you from taking too much for granted. Or at least not quite so much as usual.You think cold can’t do this? Then you’ve never been cold enough.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received a handful of emails from readers, most seeking assurance that my long absence from this space is not indicative of calamity nor mere garden-variety crisis. Thankfully, neither is the case. Rather, we continue to be immersed in our building project, and I have been tending to a handful of magazine assignments. And I still haven’t really figured out exactly what, if anything, I want to do with this space, though it occurs to me that perhaps the infrequent vignettes I’ve posted over the preceding months are what I want to do with it. Truthfully, I’m not thinking too hard about it. Seems to me like sometimes the best way to figure things out is to stop trying to figure them out.

Main kitchen/living room, looking toward small greenhouse space

For those who’ve asked, I’ve included a few pics of our work-in-progress. I feel pretty good about how it’s turning out. I feel even better to be both on-schedule and within spitting distance of our original budget of $30-ish grand, although funds are finally running low and we fwill soon have to take a proper break. Fortunately, this should just about coincide with the place being habitable. Not finished, but definitely habitable.

In the meantime, however, we are content to call a single, insulated room in the barn “home.” Indeed, it is interesting to note how easy this transition has been for us. No one talks of wanting more space or more conveniences. We are warm and well-fed and still enjoying the work that fills our days. We have enough power in the barn for two lights, a radio, and, crucial to our elder sons’ artistic expression, a guitar amplifier. There is a wood cook stove and a stack of reasonably dry firewood just outside the front door. On the hillside behind the barn, three milk-fat pigs. On the small parcel of disused pasture to the northeast, five cows, shitting the ground back into fertility. In the new chicken coop that Penny built – the nicest coop we’ve ever had, I’ll add – a flock of layers.

The greenhouse. I like the mishmash of grille patterns on the used windows.

Oh, and we have just a couple of spots available for the December 5-6 session of our Teen Earthskills Immersion Program. The pro-rated cost for the weekend is $150; here are more details.

Anyway, for those who have sent notes, thank you. It’s a nice reminder that there are real people reading this stuff.


40 thoughts on “The Best Way to Figure Things Out”

  1. Your greenhouse is gorgeous.

    Ben, what kind of lumber is all that that I see? I’m getting bids on a new fence and I think one contractor is trying to pass off incense cedar as western red cedar. Yours looks very nice. I mean I got two bids almost exactly the same price, one incense and one supposedly western red.

    As far as cold, the coldest cold I’ve known is going into a closed up, unheated house in the dead of winter where the sun doesn’t shine. It’s colder than outdoors.

    1. Most of what you see is pine… that’s what we used for paneling the interior walls. I’m not familiar with incense cedar… maybe a western thing?


      1. Okay, thanks, Ben. Pine’s no good outside I’m told, it warps too often even if pressure treated.

  2. Another real person here who loves reading whatever you write because you have good things to say and with care and skill. I hope you’ll continue to just ease on into it whenever the spirt moves you.

  3. A guitar amplifier! My kid agrees on the utmost importance of that. Place is looking great.
    Happy belated birthday and happy Thanksgiving. Just today I finally took a look at Jesse’s book, and kids and I really enjoyed the pictures. If possible, please post links to any of your published articles, would like to read them. Best best wishes.

  4. Good to hear that the homestead is progessing well. I love the many windows and the good deal that you got on them! I was sad when you said no more posts, so I am glad you haven’t quit completely. Sincerely, A Texas Computer Bot. j/k

  5. Love the new place – esp all the windows! Will have lots of light! What, may I ask, are the dimensions and square footage?


    Sent from my happy mobile world to yours!


  6. Hi Ben, great to see you all are doing fine ands that your new place is shaping up great!
    With regard to your blog; you have become a great example and inspirator to many all over the world. It made people think, it gave people a place to gather and share thoughts, ideas and such over great distances.
    Maybe or probably all that sudden attention and fame has made you feel quite uncomfortable or even chicken out, but the fact that you did touch many people’s hearts and minds means something, doesn’t it?
    You created something that is sorely missed today; a sense of community, even if it only is online. But through this you also encourage folks to do that in real life. I know it did for me. And your other writings and rambles inspire me, and probably others too, to go forth and battle my/our way through a ton of obstacles in order to downshift our lifestyle…. or maybe just lighten the day.

    I guess it’s indeed a choice to make and silence does help to figure things out.

    1. Did for me too. Well said.

      Kinda left you alone, Ben, cause I kinda felt like that’s what you wanted. Kinda wish I had emailed, now.
      I’m drawing up plans now. If there’s any “holy crap, wish I woulda done THAT different” or “man that worked out well,” I’m all ears.

  7. To blog or not to blog–that is the question:
    whether ’tis nobler to suffer
    the slings and arrows of outrageous comments,
    requests, praises and mundanities,

    and all for the merest of rewards!

    or, rather, to take up arms against these troubles
    and, by going mute,
    oppose them, end them,
    and by this new sleep know we end
    the heartache and thousand natural shocks
    that excellent writing is heir to.

      1. Used to be a guy who hung ‘round here by the name of E-something or other who said stuff like this…


      2. I don’t know, man. Seems like all the same ideas spinning round in circles.
        But, yeah, I’m okay with the spinning. What? Did we think we were going to arrive somewhere? That there was a final destination to achieve? Poor Paul Kingsnorth if he thinks Emily Dickenson is somehow more real than Paris Hilton. Ah, heck, it’s all real. They’re all real. All this time. All that time. Real real real…”And the princes and the prince discuss, what’s real and what is not.. It doesn’t matter inside the gates of eden..”

      3. Ha, it would actually be quite interesting if Mr. Wendell Berry posted pictures of his breakfast.
        IMHO Social Media in itself if neither perfect nor evil, it is just a great reflector of our own selves, for better or for worse. Makes me think of that Jewish story about Abraham, and the window and the mirror, both made of glass, but window lets in the light, and you see others when you look through it. Mirror is covered in silver, and you see yourself only. Whether it is across the dinner table, or through a computer screen, makes less difference than whether we chose to look at mirrors or windows.

  8. Thanks for sharing the building update photos. I have been curious about how that’s progressing. I love the greenhouse. Beautiful! Everything looks cozy and welcoming. I’m inspired for my future home.

  9. Dear Ben,

    I enjoy the posts and books you write very much. You write with authenticity that is less and less common out there. I might not participate much in these post post comments very much because I haven’t as yet torn my self away from the city life. It is a work in progress and it happens bit by bit, I know that and one day I to will have something meaningful to say. Until that time these breaths of fresh air give me some soul nourishment. Thank you

  10. I enjoy hearing about your progress on your new house and how you are feeling about your projects. Reading your posts is like having a window into a lifestyle so different than my own

  11. I’m glad to hear that you, Penny, Fin, and Rye are all well. Don’t know what to think about the electric guitar thing, but maybe hard rock music goes hand in hand with hard scrabble farming.

    ‘Hope that you are all well in body, in mind, and that your hearts and minds are filled with GOD’s Holy Spirit!

  12. I came late to the party in that I found and started reading your blog not too long before you wrote you’d stop posting regularly. I do enjoy the sporadic posting of little snippets of life that you continue to do. I like getting the emails with new posts and I find that I read every single one (something I don’t do with many other blogs). So, thank you for continuing on, bit by bit, to the extent to which and as it fits into your life outside of the computer and internet community – know that it is read and appreciated by many.

  13. Looks good and I adore that stove!! Looks as if you are moving along at a perfect for you pace. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Yeah, Ben, I love the stove too. Is that another used Heartland Sweetheart? I thought your other one was white. Good find.

      1. Ah.. Hewitt ingenuity. The thought of scalding buckets of bath water in combination with stairs still makes me wince.

  15. I’m not seeing a greenhouse in any of these photos. Is this reference a play on words because it’s built “green” or just because it has a lot of windows? Am I missing something? That looks like the house-to-end-all-houses right there – not a greenhouse (although I’m sure you could grow some lovely starts in the rays pouring through that roof window…) I just might print that photo and post it on my fridge like one might put a postcard of the beach. It makes me sigh with how beautiful it is.

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