Nothing in Particular (or maybe everything specifically)

IMG_2025A few days ago, back when it was almost cold enough to feel seasonable, back before the thin skim of snow had melted into the softening ground, I drove over to our friend Luke’s place, where I pawed through a stack of rough boards he’d pulled off his sawmill a while back. The boards were covered with a layer of dust and chicken shit, but beneath this visage I could see faint lines of spalting running through the wood, like little rivers.Luke helped me haul his planer out of the shop, and while I set to planing, he went back to welding a broken tractor loader for a neighbor.

I like going to Luke’s place; there’s always something interesting going on, something broken being put right, or something that once existed only as figment of his imagination being given form. For instance, the sawmill. He basically fabricated the whole damn thing.There’s a lot of what most people would consider junk lying around, but I know Luke well enough to know he sees something that other people don’t see in every single piece of it. “Oh, that’s a project,” he’ll say, if I ask him about something specific. He smiles when he says this, although the truth is, he’s almost always smiling. He’s one of those people who seem to be perpetually amused by nothing in particular. Or maybe everything specifically. Mirthful, I guess you’d say. He’s also a repository of delightful quips. Once, when I mentioned that our truck was running a little rough, he replied, “Have you given her a good hot supper lately?” It took me a second to realize what he was asking.

To make his living, Luke drives a dump truck, does some welding, and fixes stuff. He’s good with pretty much anything related to internal combustion, and many things that are not. He’s fixed lots of stuff for us over the years, and he never charges much. I almost wrote that he never charges enough, but I think that’s wrong: I think he does charge enough. He charges just enough to support the modest lifestyle that is satisfying to him: A small house on a small piece of land, surrounded by the tools and detritus of his trade. Because this is as much as he needs to realize material contentment, his services remain affordable to others of humble means.

I believe that Luke is a genius, although I suspect his particular brand of genius was once much more common than it is today. My friend Doug Flack likes to talk about “cultural amnesia,” a term he uses to describe all the useful things we’ve forgotten along the road to drive-through vegan lattes and Donald Trump. One of the things I appreciate most about living in a rural community is that it is inhabited by people who still remember, who haven’t succumbed to this amnesia. I think it’s more than just the skills; I think it’s also a way of being, of finding contentment in the commonplace nature of their lives and the small happenings around them.

Even Luke’s perpetual sense of amusement strikes me as an endangered quality, for who anymore can afford to be amused? There’s an awful lot of unfunny shit going down in the waning days of 2015. Why, it’s enough to keep a body up nights with the fantods. But sometimes I wonder if perhaps the best antidote to it all is to just keep finding humor everywhere we can. And there’s still a lot of humor to be found. We just gotta remember to look.

It took me a couple hours to plane enough material to trim our windows. I shut the planer down and pulled it back over to the shop, where Luke was still working on the tractor loader. I paid him what he asked and then paid a little more to cover my use of the planer. It was a better-than-fair deal, and if he’d asked for more, I would have paid that, too, and I suspect he knew this.

Luke walked out to my truck to check out the boards. “Aren’t those nice?” he said. “See that reddish one there? That’s the birch.” He ran a hand over a newly smooth board, for no particular reason, just for the feel of it. Like petting a cat. He smiled his little smile, and I got into my truck and drove away.


PS: Rye is offering a limited selection (as in the three you see here) of one-of-a-kind hand carved spoons for your ice-cream consuming pleasure. From top to bottom:

6.75″ cherry $12

8.75″ maple $15

11″ cherry $25

$5 shipping for each spoon.

You can pay via the generosity enabler in the right hand margin of the homepage; please don’t forget to specify which spoon you’d like! When they’re gone, they’re gone, although he is also taking a limited number of orders for custom spoons.

Thank you.

32 thoughts on “Nothing in Particular (or maybe everything specifically)”

  1. I think this sums up the tenor of how I wish to live the rest of my days: “finding contentment in the commonplace nature of their lives and the small happenings around them.” I don’t think it can get any better (or simpler) than that, and I am perfectly fine with the casual and deliberateness of it.

  2. The awful lot of unfunny shit going down at present is a genuine wonder indeed. Maybe that welder Luke could knock something together for us to right things. Does he have a generosity button?

  3. I’ve got windows just like that. Look out them and you see almost whatever you want. And if you don’t realize that’s happiness then you never will. May the force be with him, and you too my padawan learner.

  4. I would love the 15.00 spoon please Rye. I paid $20 just now. I’m in the market for a new wooden spoon so this is perfect!
    Thank you
    Christie Martin

  5. Ya’ gotta love Luke! Thanks for sharing. P.S.
    Looking through the lower sash of your expertly trimmed window I see what may become your kitchen sink!

  6. Thank goodness the unfunny shit is just as impermanent as the funny shit. 🙂 I have my own funny Luke here who scribbled on my wallet: Luke’s money. We are working on growing bigger generosity buttons on ourselves, work in progress. Best of luck to you all.

  7. Great spoons. I remember visiting the Nearings in Maine, many moons ago with Sam and Claude, and they had a rack of wooden bowls in the kitchen. They were their only ‘dishes’ besides the kitchen mixing bowls. Next to the bowls were wooden spoons. Nice memory, and a symbol of ‘The Simple Life’ as well!

  8. Love spalted maple! It’s truly beautiful. In these parts, it’s valued more than burls, if you believe that!

  9. Too late to speak for the small cherry spoon, dang it, but I would be pleased to order a custom one if Rye is willing. My daughter likes wooden utensils, and I’d like to give her one of his. Just let me know and I’ll remit payment.

  10. Luke is helping to balance things out, bless Luke. I bet ya his vibes spread out over a 10 mile radius. It only takes one Luke to balance out dozens of crazies…which is good and also sucks donkey balls too.

  11. Yes, I think we could all do well to seek out the Lukes in our lives and the Luke-like qualities in ourselves and set to cultivating them a bit more. Thanks for the joy of your words!

  12. Gems: 1. “particular brand of genius was once much more common than it is today.” 2. “cultural amnesia,” 3. Rye, usefully selling useful things. I sent $20 for whatever spoon he can come up with.

    By the way, the Generosity Enabler doesn’t show on this page. When I clicked over to the About Ben page it was there.

    Love you all. Have a REAL Merry Christmas!

  13. Emphasis can be placed on why we have windows, and not so much on the windows themselves. I gather that it was an excuse to extend some praise to a well deserving Luke. Like him Ben, and Kristina, and Scott, and Sandra, and ncfc, and especially Chris, and, and, and, you are all windows into the soul, and i throw it wide open and savor it all. I feel so blessed…

    1. Thank you, Noah. Those that we imagine having the brightest windows and those that we imagine having the darkest brick walls, Skywalking Lukes and mud walking Donalds are still equal angel brokers of our universe. Blessings to you.

      1. Thanks, Renee. Is it Donald who takes himself seriously or is it us who take him seriously (and I mean us, Americans)? What is Donald showing US about ourselves, as society?
        I am not saying I will go out and vote for Donald or support any crazyness, and I surely enjoy reading Ben’s beautiful stories of Luke more so than daily news. But I am thankful for all the clowns (in a good way) tragical, and comical, for so many times, in a blink of an eye, ‘Luke’ turns into ‘Donald’ and ‘Donald’ turns into ‘Luke’. I know I myself had been both, if that makes any sense to you…

    2. Now that’s an interesting thought. Why DO we have windows? Just the kind of psychological topic I like to ponder. For if we don’t ponder our “givens” or things we take for granted, how are we ever going to change? Why do we need windows? It must have something to do with our nature, maybe our need to see what’s coming on the horizon, therefore our need to survive. Or it could be something less utilitarian, something more poetic? Think of cathedral windows. Stained glass which are utilitarian and art forms…. Oh well.

      When we discover why we do something then we can decide to keep doing it or start doing something else. (Not windows, I would not want to stop having windows…. I don’t think!)

      I love your mind, NN!

      1. which is to suggest the former is pre-eden, the latter post-eden…whereas trump…trump is post post eden hellbent

      2. I heard something. Where did I hear it? We, ourselves, or everything is made of sunlight. Maybe here. Maybe elsewhere. Natural light is us and artificial light is an approximation.

  14. Dear Ben, Fantods is an excellent word… pervasive creepiness swirling around us. I love that word.. tho actually hate having the fantods.. (Huck Finn, graveyard.. )
    This piece reminds me of the simple things.. that focus and ground us.. some time with the planer, keeping house, feeding people who need food…
    thanks for this one, this reminder..

  15. I love the large spoon and just paid for it. Rye, if you make more, let me know – I think they are all great. I am always looking too for large serving size spoons for cooking, and can never find any machine made that I like. My dad is a woodworker (www.killenwood.com) but he doesn’t carve things like this. I appreciate your craftsmanship!

  16. Hands down my favorite children’s book is “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. I love that Luke ran his hand over the freshly planed birch board. Maybe an unconscious farewell gesture, but I tend to think it was done instinctively out of reverence and gratitude. The spoons and window frames seem to echo a similar sentiment in their craftsmanship. Beautiful works of art. “And the tree was happy”…

  17. Just wanted to say I love this. It’s always like a breath of fresh air mixed with my longing for more simplicity when I read your writing. Thanks for sending it out!

    Sent from my iPhone


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