I Watch it Every Day


It rained steady in the night, and this morning the stream was full and fast. I listened to the churn of the water as I milked, and was soothed despite that restless, rushing motion. I’d been gone for 36 hours, and in that brief span of time the leaves on the poplars emerged, and now lie in a wash of green at the height of the land across the shallow valley to the north. It’s a relief, honestly, just that little bit of color.

During my time away (which is itself maybe another story for another day) I had conversations with other writers. The occasion of my trip had nothing to do with writing (or at least no more to do with writing than anything has to do with writing, which is to say that perhaps it had everything to do with writing), but those of us thus afflicted generally don’t have much trouble finding one another in a crowd. It’s almost like you can smell it on a person, that particular curse of curiosity and then – even worse – the anguish of how best to unpack it, like turning a many-sided stone over in the hand, trying to determine its most interesting aspect. There. Then turn again. No, there. And so on.

I won’t bore you with the details of my personal angst regarding this work, except to note that, with a handful of exceptions, it has of late been difficult for me to maintain my enthusiasm for the craft. Partly, I think it’s a condition of simple habit, the inevitable atrophying of an unworked muscle, until it is no longer able to carry weight that once seemed inconsequential, and so turning over that many-sided stone begins to feel like too great a task. I’ve never been a particularly disciplined or driven writer, always easily distracted by more pressing needs. And lately, pretty much everything feels more pressing.

Still, it was nice to talk with others about their work, about what matters to them and even what doesn’t, about how it fits into their life and even how it doesn’t. It can be pretty lonely stuff, this ceaseless stone turning, and a little company comes in handy.

Furthermore, it often seems to me that everything that really needs saying has already been said, and that what we really need more of are the stories that lie beyond the range of human language. The movement of the stream this morning. The weight of the air, still spitting out rain. The curl of the calf’s tongue around the bottle nipple, and the beaded foam of milk along its surface. Such a funny little detail. I watch it every day, so I don’t know why it still surprises me.




18 thoughts on “I Watch it Every Day”

  1. Sorry but I must suggest you have no more choice about writing—or at least expressing in some way—than your cow has about mooing. It just is. Thanks for both embracing and sharing your resistance.

  2. I would love to talk to a really famous writer like, I don’t know, Mark Twain, John Cheever, Nora Ephron. I wonder if they would be honest or are they so driven that they never have/had a need to be left alone by their writing. Hey, leave me alone for a while. You’re getting to annoy me.

    I read that Scott Fitzgerald actually thought writing was HARD. I have no idea what his issue was if this were indeed true.

    Maybe that’s why most of us writers are so broke all the time. We just can’t keep it up. There are so many things in this world that fascinate me and besides it’s not healthy to sit all day long.

    I agree with Snell. Cows moo. Hewitt writes.

  3. It’s the little things that create unique delight in life’s journey. My eyes (and heart) are invariably opened wider by your amazing capacity to not overlook these “little things.”

  4. Drat the busy, busy. Life that spawns so many bits for the page gets itself smack in the way. And to shove it aside to scribe the thoughts piled up is just not possible sometimes. But it is all stored there and more. The time and place will come and when it does the novel that sits on my hard drive not barely out of Chapter Three will lurch forward. And the check is in the mail.

  5. Love this post, especially your analogy on stoneturning and the end paragraph. Yay! for those funny little details. Yesterday while at the mailbox, I happened to look down and spy a tiny red newt/eft frozen in place at my feet. I’d nearly stepped on him. So I backed away and watched as he crawled over the leaf litter into the woods. Someone wise said, ‘follow the little creatures for they make the first paths’. Indeed, made my day.

  6. I remember when I used to sell my whole wheat bread. I would bake hundreds of loaves every week, and each batch went together in the same way – first the water in the mixer, then the oil, honey, and salt. Finally the flour beaten in with the yeast. And every time, I would watch for the way the honey slid out of the measuring cup on the slick left behind by the oil, the way the salt would catch the air and release tiny bubbles as it settled in the bowl, and the feel of the dough just so in my hands. Details. Is noticing them surprise, or appreciation, or both?

    I think it was Flannery O’Connor who said, that half of being a writer is overcoming the aversion one feels when sitting down to do it. But there must be seasons in a writer’s life, just like anyone else’s. I haven’t written a poem since my children arrived, although bits of them still pass through my mind. My time and energy go elsewhere these days.

  7. One of the things I love about Ben’s blog is that it attracts very interesting people who sometimes have comments that are as good as Ben’s. Love to read the comments as much as I love to read Ben’s post.

  8. “everything that really needs saying has already been said”
    Ben – and Elizabeth – what you said above may already have been said before, but you say it so much more evocatively than I, or anyone else I’ve read, has said it. Your descriptions – not only do you express things I have seen and done myself, but you make me observe my memories in greater detail, and with greater appreciation, than I originally experienced. Your words are magic. Please keep writing them.

  9. Yeah, maybe it’s been said before, but the way you describe the curl of the calf’s tongue when it’s sucking its bottle of milk makes me want to cry, because it takes me back to the organic dairy I used to work at in Vermont, long before I was married and had kids.
    So keep writing, even if it’s such little snippets of slimy tongues. It’s wonderful, really.

  10. I do hope you keep writing your inspiring words. I just wanted to say that I’ve just finished reading The Nourishing Homestead and Home Grown and I was truly encouraged especially with Home Grown. I’ve homeschooled my daughter for the past 6 years and it’s been wonderful although every now and then it’s reassuring to read that other people have the same fears and concerns I have. I did laugh when you tried the Waldorf/Steiner curriculum as this is exactly what I did although we have moved on from that now.
    Thank you for inspiring me as I continue on this journey.

  11. Everything has been said, painted, played, danced, but not by you. I’ve given up trying not to feel pressed to be outside in the spring, and I don’t even have a calf !

  12. What surprises you Ben, though you’ve seen it all before, is the divine way it touches you, every single time.

    I think it was Elizibeth Gilbert who said, we’re all looking for that one moment to recognise the “divine”, in what someone else is doing in their creative pursuit.

  13. Some people can’t write (cough). Some people really enjoy the talents of others because they do not have those talents, and we should all share our talents (if we aren’t too busy or tired….) because it makes life rich and interesting. So I don’t really know what you’re talking about. Baby cows are the cutest!

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