Only a Fool Attempts Reason

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The cold this weekend was of a serious, clarifying intensity, stripping life to water, wood, and food, in repeating cycles. I made the animal rounds every two hours, flipping their troughs to stomp out the ice, then refilling from a bucket, the fresh water carried 800-feet downhill to the hydrant by the small miracle of gravity.

I tried calling the cows over to drink before the water froze, but they ignored me the way cows will, and I was reminded of one of life’s unalterable truths: You don’t reason with cows. You can milk them, you can eat them, and if you want you can just stand there and be with them awhile, but only a fool attempts reason. So I spent much of the day stomping out full troughs, the same water I’d poured two hours prior having gone to ice before even a single one of their long, lolling tongues broke its surface. And me yelling every time: “here cows, come here cows, water for ya cows,” the spittle from my own tongue freezing to my thin beard before the words were full in the air.

My family is gone for a time. Packed up the car and drove to Minnesota to be with friends in a wall tent somewhere in the deep woods. It’s like they tried to take a winter vacation but took a wrong turn somewhere. I’ve fallen quickly into bachelor habits, eating when and what I wish from the same unwashed plate I’ve used now for three days. I stay up late but strangely wake earlier than usual, though I sleep soundly as ever. Cat on one side, dog on the other. Downstairs the whoosh of the fire.

Today I spent with my friend Michael, hauling loads of spruce and fir and cherry and maple sawlogs, and I wanted to stay at the log yard and just watch for a while as the trucks kept streaming in and the stacks of logs grew higher and higher. So, so many trees. It was stunning, really, hard to watch in a way but also captivating. But Michael was waiting, so I hurried back and we loaded up again.

26 thoughts on “Only a Fool Attempts Reason”

  1. Ben, I know this is going to sound like a stupid question but what do you and your family wear to stay warm during winter, particularly when it’s windy? I know layering is key, but are there particular materials (other than the obvious wool) that work best. I love spending time outside, but during winter I always end up cold and wet, particularly my legs.

    1. For the bottom half, we’re generally in wool pants (gotta find ‘em used, or you’ll pay huge $) or, if it’s really cold, insulated overalls. Long undies, obviously, preferably wool. Honestly, it’s not the extreme cold that’s a problem, because extreme cold is generally dry… and dry is warm. It’s when it’s 36 degrees and pouring rain that you’ve got a problem.


    2. By accident I discovered insulated ski bibs. Warm, shed rain and can be thrown on over existing clothing. Got mine used.

  2. In really cold weather we have trouble getting the horses to drink enough water. That’s all we need is a colicked horse on a awful day. We sometimes add a little salt to feed. Just a little and it makes them thirsty so they get over how cold the water is. So unpleasant to drink. I wonder if livestock like cows and horses get “cold headaches”.

  3. I just love this image of you going through all this trouble just to have the cows stand there and stare at you. You channeled a James Thurber cartoon in my head! Thanks for the laugh!

  4. I laughed at the cow story too. Just saw that Andrea on Facebook shared a video of this beautiful Swedish woman doing some type of Swedish yoddeling in the woods that carries the sound and communicates to the animals. I can very well picture Ben yoddeling to the cows.

    You guys had really figured out how to avoid traffic in your lives. I bet the traffic TO Minnesota in mid-February is non-existant. 🙂

  5. Nature doesn’t go to school to learn subservience, get brainwashed by church, or watch commercials….so nature isn’t going to ‘drink on demand’. People should be more like cows. Maybe they ARE listening to the voice of reason eh? :}

    1. Nature is coded with instinct. Humans have been given the power of choice. And reason. We aren’t led around by a halter to learn forced subservience. If we succumb to being influenced by advertising or religious fanatics, it’s by our own consent and stupidity. I believe in God. Willingly believe and sincerely try to follow, not because of any lack intelligence, clear thinking or brainwashing. It’s by choice.

      1. I constantly struggle with this one, Karen. Our convictions that it is a choice- free will to believe in God (or faith?) for if we believe, then is it really a choice? Or are they self-fulfilling beliefs?
        Like chicken and the egg.

      2. Self-fulfilling belief is an interesting take. Like a placebo effect? But one doesn’t have to believe in order for something to be true. Truth is still truth.

      3. Ah, yes, the truth is simple indeed, Ben’s cows were not thirsty. We cannot reason with the truth and tell snow to stop falling and flowers to stop blooming. We so often try. Babies only want to nurse when they are hungry, and we try to reason and squeeze them into our schedules for convenience. And thus we start the march of reasoning and domestication, with all the: do this, because everyone is doing, because you will fall behind, because you will hurt their feelings, because nobody will like you, because it is the right thing to do (whether you feel it is right or not), because god will punish you… Until we so obscure the truth that we become more domesticated than those cows. Perhaps from too much reasoning and not enough listening to the truth of our hearts…
        Peace to you. Kristina

      4. …”too much reasoning and not enough listening to the truth of our hearts”… Thank you Kristina.

  6. Sounds awfully cold over there. I’m in Australia where it’s very hot at the moment and I’m definitely looking forward to the cooler weather although it doesn’t get real cold where we live on the coast of NSW.
    Had a lovely surprise come in the mail yesterday, your book The Nourishing Homestead arrived. When I ordered it I thought it would be weeks to get here but was very excited to see it in the mail box. I managed to read a few pages last night and I just know I’m going to really enjoy reading it.
    Hope your days get warmer soon,

  7. Ben, given all the bull**** one hears in the news (even when not trying to), your simple but eloquent posts stand out. Thanks for bringing me back to a reality that is straightforward. Gotta love those cows!

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