Until I’m Too Tired to Carry On


Pip and the church

On Christmas morning I awoke early, and as is my custom sat silent by the fire for a time. One cat rubbing my ankles, the other still sleeping on the couch, the darkness slowly easing toward light.

When the day had come in full, I could see that it was snowing, not hard, but not soft, either. Steady. Certain. I did chores, ate two eggs fried, drank coffee, and tiled the mudroom floor in my usual fashion, which means eschewing spacers in favor of a squinted-eye approximation of the gaps between individual tiles. Chasing the cats off the fresh-set tiles until exasperation won over and I pushed them outside into the snow, falling harder now.

I finished the tiling, filled the cookstove firebox, and skied, straight uphill to the height of our land, then traversing the sugarwoods, feeling in love with the solemn beauty of the forest in winter, the rangy limbs of the maples dark against the lidded sky, wind-driven snow adhered to the rough bark of their trunks. The air was cold, but I was not, and so continued through the woods until I could sense that the light had reversed its journey, now easing toward dark. I bee-lined for the mountain road, and skied its unplowed shoulder toward home, face into the wind, past the old church, then the town hall, and over the bridge where the Jamaicans didn’t die.

Chores again, cleared our drive and those of my small plow route, then drove a dozen miles to Melvin’s to help with the feeding out and bedding down of his small herd. Enjoying driving through the new snow, the storm winding down but not yet finished, the heater on high, the truck in four wheel drive, steady and sure on the slick roads. At Melvin’s I fed the cows, peeling armfuls of hay off a first cut round bale for the heifers, then from a bale of second cut for his 14 milkers. Christmas music on the radio. The air thick with the sweet smell of fermented hay and cow itself. Melvin going about the pre-milking routine he’s gone about for the majority of his nearly 70 years. Almost 70 years old and putting 14 cows in the tank; I guess that’s what retirement looks like when retirement’s not an option. Or not much of one, anyway. The snow still falling outside, both of us absorbed in the rhythm of our work and not talking much, the cows shifting in their stanchions, watching me pass with something between wariness and anticipation.

Back home, the fire’s gone out. I light it again, the house so quiet I can hear the flames from upstairs in bed, where I lie reading until I’m too tired to carry on.





25 thoughts on “Until I’m Too Tired to Carry On”

  1. In the solitude of life without family around, it is amazing to see the breadth of one single day’s achievement, both practical and spiritual. Thank you Ben!

  2. I’ll never retire. Partially because I can’t afford to and partially because I can’t not be doing something. Maybe I’ll quit when I’m too tired to carry on. Pretty much the way it is. Or will be.

    1. I used to tell my son when he was young that “Boring is beautiful.”
      Now that he’s 29, “working for the man,” he admitted recently he now knows what i meant by the phrase.

  3. Having had a stroke 2 1/2 weeks ago, I long, not for excitement, but for the simple, ordinary tasks that I have taken for granted for so long. Your day sounds like bliss, and I hope that I will recover sufficiently to keep going, like Melvin. There is so much joy to be found in mindfulness of the ordinary. Thank you for the way you remind me of this every time I read here.

    1. Sorry to hear about your stroke, Cally. I’m wishing for you as speedy and complete a recovery as possible. Thank you for reading.

  4. Ben,

    I really like your stories about living in rural Vermont, as they remind me, to some degree, of the time when I was growing up just across the Connecticut River in New Hampshire. I think that it is nice of you to take time out of your busy schedule to help farmer Churchill with his chores.

  5. You wouldn’t think a woodstove makes any noise, but it does. After a day of toddler chitter-chatter, the creaking of the stove and the whirring of the fan spinning on top is quiet music to my ears. Beautiful view you’ve got up there on the hill.

  6. Hello Ben. I am again reminded here of how similar our lives our. Different in many ways, of course, but similar at the core. Which is to say earthbound, earthheld, earth our home and shared inheritance.

  7. “The opportunity for real, soul-satisfying work, so rare in our day, is found abundantly in rural living. Here a man can make long-range plans and can carry them out without exploiting his fellow man; for the things that he uses are things that exist to be used: soil, plants, animals, building materials, etc. he can live a whole life of work without once using another man as a mere means for carrying out his plans. And neither does he become a tool of someone else. With the materials at hand he can employ the splendid coordination of mind and hand to create something of value for his family. He can fulfill his real nature in real work. And this work is much more joyful than any mere recreation. As a matter of fact this work carries with it its own recreation, so that the man who works does not have to worry about how he is going to have his good times. The work itself is a good time even though it be hard. There is a joy in toil which the football player knows not. It is a quiet joy that comes from the knowledge that one has accomplished something, something of real value, and that the accomplishment is his own.”

    ~ Willis D. Nutting

    1. It’s just the back side. The rest is yellowish, trimmed in red, like the steeple. I wonder why… maybe they ran out of yellow paint.

  8. It sounds like an utterly fulfilling day to me. Peaceful, simple, satisfying. Connected. And I can feel the place through your words as much as through that wonderful photo. Thank you Ben.

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