Then We’d Have Pie


On Christmas Eve I drove through the darkening streets of a small town not far from home. The roads were wet with the remnants of a passing storm, and the wind had blown with such force that a tree had fallen atop a power line. Now the electricity was out, and there was something comforting in the sight of all those unlit store windows, as if, at 4:30 in the afternoon, everybody had already gone home to stoke the fire and put the kettle on for tea. But of course the roads and sidewalks were still busy, and I felt a small, passing sadness for those who had counted on these last few minutes of electronic commerce to fulfill their gift-giving obligations.

Once home I stoked my own fire, filled a pot of water to heat for dishes, ground coffee, spooned lard into a skillet, then cut an onion into crude slices with my pocketknife. When the pan was hot, I dropped in the onion and salted it down. Let it burn a little at the edges. Then the steak, a ribeye latticed with fat in gelatinous veins. I tossed a stick of paper birch on the fire to bring some quick heat. The onion and steak and lard were throwing a bit of smoke, but I sat back and let it rip just until the fat was crisped up nice and the inside was still a half-shade darker than red. Almost purple, really. Warm-ish. The coffee bubbled on the stove.

I sat by the stove and ate from the pan with fingers and knife, drinking black coffee and considering the temptation of further retreat. There are times I see a small cabin, a length of off-kilter stove pipe jutting from a wall, shotgun hanging on a peg by the door. Somewhere along the way toward inhabiting this cabin, I took up pipe tobacco and swore off shaving. You’d have to walk a good 20 minutes into the woods to find my family and me, and it’d be all uphill, and for half of those 20 minutes we would’ve known you were coming by the preceding birdcalls. We’d invite you in, serve stew thick with last year’s potatoes and hunks of indeterminate meat. “What’s this?” you’d ask, holding forth your laden spoon, and in answer I’d exhale a cloud of pungent smoke and raise my eyebrows. Let your imagination run wild.

Way up there in the woods, with the trees and encroaching darkness and pipe smoke insulating us from this crazy, mixed-up world where everyone seems so damn frightened (and therefore, it seems, angry) all the time, and worse yet for all the wrong reasons, we’d eat until our bellies are full-to-bursting. We’d sit a spell, listen to the sounds of the on-coming night, and tell the stories that have been told so many times before. You know the ones I’m talking about.

Then we’d have pie.

•     •     •

I’ll leave you with a few gems from an interview with Stephen Jenkinson, in the August ’15 issue of The Sun. I highly recommend it.

The dominant culture of North America is not being killed by global warming or too few whales or anything like that. It just doesn’t know how to live, how to take up the task of loving life, even how to grieve its own grievous history.

 North Americans need a great awakening. What we thought was so isn’t so; what we once believed to be true isn’t true and never was. Here are some of the lies we’re told: There’s enough for everyone; we’ve just got a distribution problem. As long as we pay the sticker price for something, we’re entitled to have it. We get of a vote in anything of real significance or importance. Dying is a rupture in the natural order of things.

Health is not the absence of disease or hardship or brokenness. Health includes all of that. It includes dying… I see our health as like a tripod, a dynamic thing: One leg is your relationship with all other human beings. It’s not possible for you to be healthy when there are people living under a freeway overpass in cardboard boxes. Your health is dependent on theirs. The second leg is your relationship with all in the world that’s not human. If you have only these two legs, you can try to live a good life, but it’s like walking on stilts. The third leg is what gives you a place to rest, and that leg is your relationship with the unseen world, everything not described by the other two. Having all three constitutes health. That’s where it lives. This tripod sustains you. You don’t exist as an individual without these relationships.




33 thoughts on “Then We’d Have Pie”

  1. Ben …so love your posts …agree with all ..hmmmmm maybe apart from the meat eating …but hey:D:D:D
    New to ‘blogging’ but if nothing else it opens up the world …enables us to share ideas …and who knows …maybe one day soon we might ALL start ‘reading between the lines’ and moving in a ‘different’ direction ….live this human life in a more sustaining and sustainable way….
    Yep…ever the optimist 🙂
    And sorry to have missed out on the spoons:(

  2. Our relationships – with the unseen world, with others, and with the non-human world – benefit greatly when we use faith. Faith is like gas in the fuel tank. Without it, we need a new mode of transportation. Is it really necessary to have full knowledge of how the gas causes the vehicle to move? It can certainly help in a pinch, but usually, we sell out on becoming all-knowing competent consumers because we have so many other distractions frightening and comforting and pinging us.
    We need not know much about faith. But we would do well to remember that we don’t use it much. Without faith, I would hide from taking many actions, including leaving this reply.

    1. Sorry, I failed to explain that it was the acknowledgement of the unseen world that had me think of faith in the first place! We know that much is unseen, but we often live as if we do not know it.

  3. Ben, did you ever read the Tailypo story by Joanna and Paul Galdone to your boys? Your cabin description brought it to mind – one of the favorites in our house – except you guys would be eating a bit better than the hungry woodsman.

  4. The most amazing thing, Ben, is how your readers pine and wonder over the simplicity of your life, while you, ever burdened with “the temptation of further retreat,” pine and wonder over the possibility of an even simpler life.

    Is longing for a smaller house any different from (when we’re talking spirit/soul) longing for a bigger house?

  5. With all that smoke in the eyes, I challenge you all for a New Years challenge: for 4 full weeks take a challenge/experiment to not say anything bad about selves, others, and the world. Anything. Not even about that passing sadness for those who are shopping last minute. I am ready for that challenge and I know that loving the world with disease and glimmering lights and all is far more challenging and rewarding than anything else, even more challenging perhaps than feeding the cows in the blistering cold.

    Have a wonderful and peaceful year in the woods, Ben and Family. Life with the crew mentioned Tailypo. When I was reading your post, what came to mind was kids book “Me, All Alone, at the End of the World” by M.T. Anderson.

    1. I couldn’t. So sick of this world we have created… but it also gives me the chance to meet some of the most amazing people I have ever met; the teen refugee kids that found their way to this country all by themselves. And yet they smile, they laugh and, above all, take care of each other.

      1. Interesting that you mention clouds. So you know, I was reading about Guy Deutscher’s book “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages”. The author raised his daughter to never hear that “sky is blue”. He taught her all colors, including blue, but never associated it with the sky. When he took her out and asked her what color is the sky, her perception was that it was colorless. Later on she said maybe it was white or grey, but did not associated it with blue.
        They claim that color blue did not even exist in Homer or Quaran. So if we ‘invented’ ‘blue’, maybe we invented ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ just the same?

    2. I’m with you! I can do it! I already am pretty much doing it so doing it full blast wouldn’t be that much harder. I’m doing it because I read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and I’m on board with trying to be “impeccable with my word”. If no one else wants to do it we’ll do it you and me. I’m ready to dance all by myself and see how long it takes for others to get up and dance.

      1. I’m with you, too. Don’t want to waste my life being “mad at the bad guys” as Paul Wheaton has said. And, whoever invented pie needs to be canonized as far as I am concerned. 🙂

      2. Renee, I second Don Miguel Ruiz, I finished and gifted a couple of his books and looking forward to get to the Four Agreements. His son’s Don Miguel Ruiz Jr book Five Levels of Attachment is also quite helpful, it touches upon the highest level of detachment at death. His story at the end of the book of preparing his grandma to die is good.

        Looks like Mr. Jenkinson has some of his videos on his website.

        I say 4 week challenge, because if anyone can practice it for 4 weeks they can probably practice it for lifetime.

    3. Bird calls instead of doorbells. Peach pie. That would calm the urge to say anything bad. Why only four weeks? I’m an all in kinda girl.
      Bet I could out dance you Renee.

    1. 🙂 I vote for cake if Ben is starting the request list.

      Ben- anyway, when is that party? I remember it was to be a pig roast, but now it is turning into “indeterminate” meat?? Sounds like bait and switch.

  6. *Insert heavy, coarse voice*
    Well, Ben old boy…. move over then. I’d take up that pipe, even if I did quit smoking more than a decade ago. Beat you to the beard already… 😉
    But I disagree on the sentence “dying is a rupture in the natural way of things”. It is a part of the natural way. Just the next step, a transition to a new part.

    1. re: dying not being part of the natural order… he’s saying that’s one of the lies we’re told… so I think he’d agree with you.


  7. Great post as usual. Just got my copy of “Yankee” magazine today. Great article. And all in 10 months. Impressive.

  8. Had the pleasure of spending time with Stephen Jenkinson earlier this month. I look forward to reading your interview. It always brings a smile to see you have a new post up.

  9. I’m liking this new voice of yours. It’s not as, hmmmm, conversational? as the “old” Ben. It seems more “mainstream” in flavor but it’s still damn good and twice as readable. Not politicking. Observational. Like!

  10. Like the old Yamaha ads said; “Different strokes for different folks.”. I’m quite happy to have electricity 24/7/365, even if it means running the Generac Quietsource 36Kw.

  11. I haven’t stopped by here in awhile, and have been doing some catch up on your posts. This one right here made me pause, and read it twice. It had slipped my mind how you have such a way with words. A gift for all of us that you share them with. I will now share this with all those close me. My best to you and the family Ben.

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