Some of it

Back in milk

The land is slowly greening around us; the budding leaves set to unfurl at any moment, the grasses emerging from a winter’s worth of dormancy. Well, it wasn’t really a winter, more like five straight Novembers, each seemingly grayer and wetter than the last. A week ago I had occasion to drive due south for two hours or more, and it was as if I were driving into summer; near the end of my trip, I even passed two herds of grazing cows, though it was still too early for them to be on grass, and I figured the farmers were either low on feed, or perhaps merely unaware of how hard it will be for those pastures to recover.

Over the weekend we visited with old friends, good friends, people we haven’t seen enough of in the past years, as we’ve all gone about the commonplace business of our lives. They live with their nine-year-old son in a small house in a small clearing carved out of the woods, about a half-hour from here. It’s a place they built themselves, still unfinished in spots in the manner of so many owner-built homes. But no less charming for it.

These friends are our age. They do not have careers in the way most of us think of “careers.” He is a carpenter, charges a fair wage and works as little as possible or maybe just a bit more. Certainly not full time or even three-quarters time. She does some gardening for hire and light landscaping. Again, part time. They spend time with their boy, they work their own garden, they make a little syrup. He keeps the car (old) and truck (older) running best he can, which is pretty damn well; he’s a skilled mechanic, entirely self-taught. They just put up a small greenhouse and are excited by that. They have many friends. They have plenty to do, but do not seem particularly “busy” in the way most of us have become accustomed to, always the breathless pressure of too much to do and not enough time to do it, often feeling imposed upon by people and forces outside our immediate sphere of influence, and therefore shouldering a niggling resentment. I bet you know what I’m talking about, or at least some of it.

It is always comforting to me to spend time with people who have figured out how to make their lives work for them, and I’ve come to realize that my greatest respect is for those whose ambition (if even you want to call it that) is reserved for creating a peaceful life. It’s sounds so simple. Almost trite, really. But think about it for a moment: How many working-class people do you know who’ve been able to pull this off? True, it’s not so easy to do in this day and age, but I also believe it’s not has hard as we talk ourselves into believing. It’s almost as if we lack the cultural awareness of the possibility.

I think that when most people say they want to live a simpler (which is really more complex, but that’s maybe a topic for another day) life, what they’re really saying is that they want to live a more peaceful life. They want their breath back. They’re weary of carrying that small resentment.

When we left our friend’s place the other night, I felt refreshed, and even a little inspired. It’s not that they live so differently than us; indeed, we connect in large part because we embody similar beliefs and similar ideas about how we want to shape our lives. But it’s nice to be reminded of these things. Indeed, it’s important to be reminded of these things, and maybe even necessary. Because for everything we’re learning in this era of mass information and virtual connectivity, there’s a whole lot we’re forgetting. And some of it’s actually pretty damn important.


23 thoughts on “Some of it”

  1. This brought joyful tears this morning. Thank you for reminding me why we are choosing to live a smilar life you are describing – not easy – but worth it – and possible even with lots of kids but certainly not without its imperfections, worries and trials. We try to tell others they CAN do it but most don’t really see it as a possibility just a dream, not sure why. It was our dream too.

    1. Most of Ben’s writing bring tears, if not sobs! He writes the words that ache in my heart, but I can’t put into words – if that makes any sense at all.

      Thank you Ben!

  2. People connect the peaceful life to the outside trappings – the bull calf, the self built house, the suffienct lifestyle – anything outside of themselves and always some conditional future. That’s where the peace is, they think. But to be facetious, having one kid does sound very peaceful.

    1. When my first son was born, I had someone tell me that having one child was just a hobby ! I was a bit insulted at the time since I was in the middle of the sleepless period of infanthood. Now after three, I can kind of see her point :0. I just keep aiming for quiet splendour !

  3. I expect that when I suggest an idea about which I have great excitement, such as my music/writing micro shelter, it occurs to others as much more of an imposition than I had imagined. Your writing is very helpful in giving me caution. Windows. Change of action. There seem to be far more of your community (our people) in NE’n VT than here in Sacramento, from which your blog would reveal something I’d love to read. Here, luxury pursuit reigns. And keeping quiet.

    1. Excitement and intensity likely substitute adequately for rush and pressure. And thus, unwittingly, I contribute to the violence. Whoa is me.

  4. I think that while a lot of people talk about living a simpler, more peaceful life, they wouldn’t really be happy living the life that your friends do. They would have to make too many sacrifices and changes to their current status. Figuring how how to create a life that has the right balance of work and play is tough.
    I feel “refreshed, and even a little inspired” after reading this post – thanks for sharing the feeling.

  5. I have to read into this. I can’t and am not going to become a subsistence farmer. So when I read into it I find the true value for myself. As I apply it I find that the important thing is to choose what I do and then let go of damaging resentment. Choose what I do, put everything I have into it and know that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing even if that’s working in a cubicle in an office on the 18th floor. (I wouldn’t be but just as an example). I put intention into my life and try to stay conscious. Being unconscious and follow the default is what makes me resentful. There’s little choice in this life – really – but what choices I can make I do it for the peace it brings. That’s what you said that strikes the cord for me. Surrendering to the discipline of choice and making it on behalf of my inner peace is where I want to be.

  6. I thought I wasn’t as busy as others because I homestead and work from home. I realized how wrong I was when I left most of my paying work at the end of December. I’m still busy but in a sane way. Sometimes we don’t understand the insanity until we’re looking back. Hindsight 20/20 and all that. I think your friends have it figured out nicely!

  7. “The rush and pressure of modern life
    are a form, perhaps the most
    common form, of its innate violence.

    To allow oneself to be carried away by
    a multitude of conflicting concerns, to
    surrender to too many demands, to
    commit oneself to many projects, to
    want to help in everything is to
    succumb to violence.”
    Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

  8. Ben, Once again, you nailed it on the head. I cannot tell you how many times my wife or I have said “I wish I could just step back for a minute and take a breath,” as we rush about our modern day lives. It truly is how I would define the life I seek. I just want to get my “breath back.” Thanks as always for the thought provoking piece.

  9. Where I live there is a fine young moon tonight and in the pasture a new lamb. Earlier, the lamb had tangled herself in a piece of wire, and when I went close to free her, she panicked and then went instantly limp. Freed, she fled to her mother only to circle wide around so as to look back at me. I started 100 cabbages just before supper, and after supper 50 romaines. It’s still fairly cold, but I am hopeful about my summer tomatoes. Tomorrow mid-morning, my daughter and I will be driving over to fetch milk from our neighbor, a young man who milks 4 cows and walks only, no driving. When sometimes he and I play and sing Bill Monroe tunes on his porch, his 4 cows come close to the fence, listen, and curl their tongues up and inside their snotty noses. You should hear my friend sing. He sings like today’s small passing of Saturn—purely, simply, high and lonely. Sometimes his singing and a beer makes the end of my day. Tonight that moon I mentioned earlier will make the end of my day. I’m going now to the chicken house to stand with it. There in the May cold. That’s going to make it for me. I’ll know I’m alive. I’ll know I live simply. I’ll understand why. If there happen to be parts I don’t understand, well, that will be okay too. Simplicity okays ambiguity every time.

  10. This pursuit of a “simple life” seems particularly elusive to people we know with children. So many think living such a life with young ones is impossible (due to outside influences, mostly, from what I hear.) I am always reminded of your post in which you answered the question about exposing children to opportunities (which usually is interpreted as the need to rush here, rush there, go, go, go.) Your answer was another question – what is wrong with our world contracting? Why not encourage our children (and ourselves) to really learn a place, know it like the back of your hand? I imagine there are many people who could not pick out a photo of the back of their own hands from that of others if their lives depended on it. I have used your response many times in explaining why we live as we do and get lots of positive nods of the head but still much doubt in the eyes of parents who just think it isn’t possible (or have a partner with very differing views but that IS a whole ‘nother subject.) If any readers here are not familiar with Esther Emery, I highly recommend her writing (and youtube videos.) I have a quote from her TEDtalk on my chalkboard wall. “I choose simple, I choose small, I choose real.” This will, of course, manifest itself in many ways but it captures what we hope to do with our lives. I can’t imagine a better pursuit than to figure out how to make your life work for you. Quieting the often opposing outside influences and developing the confidence and the skills to live your way seems to be key. Grateful for the inspiration of stories such as these and hopeful to find more examples of such folk in our lives. Thank you!

  11. Right now I am caught in the middle of a sort of transition situation; working to create a homestead, working a part time paid job to help pay for it, raising 3 kids who now are 10,13 and 15 and having a partner working full time for a shit wage as a substitute teacher.
    And I must say it feels much more peaceful or at least satisfying than working 40 hrs a week on some paid, meaningless job, while running to clubs, social events and the gym in the evenings.
    But it sometimes does feel like I am fighting on several fronts here; especially with kids who are being bombarded 24/7 almost with all this “modern” hitech, commercial, individualism kind of crap. Trying to make them see other sides isn’t all that easy!! But I do notice they do pick up what I am trying to show them and they will take it from there.
    If only they were a bit more interested in helping with the gardening…. or household for that matter. Ah well. Can’t have it all, can ya?
    Even though I wish we had friends that felt the same way, but those around us are mostly caught up in the modern-thing too.

  12. Yes. More peaceful. Thank you for putting it in just this way. Simple just doesn’t reach the spiritual depth of Earth and Animal connection that I long for and try to create in an everyday manner.
    I hope that “more for another day” comes soon.
    -Erin in Montpelier

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