Easily Tickled

July 15. The mid point of summer. A beautiful day. I milk early, then ride my bike through air that’s heavy and cool from recent rain. Up the long climb to Cole’s Pond and back down, passing Louie out tending to his chickens, he’s 70 or so, still keeps a big flock with his wife Annie, still puts up square bales, and far as I know still goes surfing from time-to-time, driving to the coast and back in time for chores.  And noticing how I notice the old men more and more, maybe the way a young child observes the new adult, always looking one generation ahead for a clue of how it’ll be for us, how we might end up, and from what I can tell, Louie’s way doesn’t seem too bad. I roll through town, pass a young woman sitting on a picnic table in her front yard, smoking a cigarette over the top of a mask that’s pulled down just far enough for the task. Up Schoolhouse Road, past the clothing optional campground, trying to look like I’m not looking (but I’m not, really!), and then to the very top of the mountain where the God is Love sign has disappeared since last I was here, which is somehow disappointing to me, even if I’m not actually 100% certain that God is Love, though it seems as at least plausible as anything else I can imagine, and a whole lot more comforting, too.

Looking back, I see this is the fourth post in a row I’ve mentioned riding my bike. I’ve been enjoying riding my bike; I rode a lot in my younger days, miles and miles and miles, in sun and rain and even snow, and it’s been nice getting back into the rhythm of it. I like the way it makes me feel, tired and exhilarated at once, and the way it brings me up close to the world. I can’t finish a ride without stopping to chat with at least one person or another, even on these quiet back roads, and I can’t go a mile without passing something that tickles my fancy, though it’s true that my fancy is easily tickled.

In addition to riding my bike, I’ve been reading a bunch, and heartily recommend the following. I’d love other suggestions in the comments! Hope everyone’s doing well as can be.

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts (an all time favorite)

In the Fall and Lost Nation by Jeffrey Lent (two other all time fave’s)

The Adventurer’s Son, by Roman Dial



24 thoughts on “Easily Tickled”

  1. Good Morning Ben,

    God is love itself. And He loves you immensely.

    Thank you for your writing. It has blessed me.


  2. Ben,

    Just as I tended to sit in the back of the classroom in my childhood days, and feel magnetically pulled to corners at social gatherings even now (well when social gatherings were permitted), I don’t comment online, about anything, ever. I choose observation over participation, something I criticize myself for frequently. Alas, this post is forcing a comment out of me. Your writing makes me see the world around me more clearly. You words help me notice and (I think) better understand and appreciate the people in my life, especially those who I tend to overlook or downright ignore (like the young woman smoking over her mask). Thank you for noticing and for so artfully sharing what you see and experience. I would be remiss if I ended this comment without recommending Wendell Berry’s “Jayber Crow”. It’s my favorite Berry novel, and I find a likeness between your writing and his (a compliment to you both). – Peter

    1. Glad I was able to drag you out of hiding, Peter. Your comparison is real compliment; thank you. But even more so the simple fact of you commenting. Take care.

    1. Ha! I suppose “old” is all in the eye of the beholder. I read that years and years ago, perhaps I’ll do so again.

  3. Hi Ben,
    In my spot on the northern California Coast I enjoy Vermont life through your eyes. Having just turned 75 has been an eye opener for me. Just feel lucky I got this far!

    The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman Is a fascinating read.

  4. I’ve been biking again lately too, and loving it – with a little electric assist. Because I’m old. 😊
    Shantaram! What a crazy romp. Love it. I have been reading a lot of Kate Atkinson and recommend her Jackson Brodie series, which, while she very much rejects being genre-fied, are detective novels.
    Thanks for these beautiful glimpses of your life.

    1. Ellen! So nice to hear from you. Glad to hear you’re getting out and about. And I’ll definitely check out the Brodie books.

    1. Oh, they’re out and about, doing all sorts of teenage things. Both have work right now, which is a blessing. And both have trucks, which I suppose is also a blessing. A mixed one, anyhow. thanks for asking

  5. Ben! Shantaram is an all time fav of mine as well. I was sad when it finally ended & David, at least at that time, had not written any other novels.
    North Star, by Magnolia Electric Co has become an all time favorite of mine. You suggested it several years back. So thanks a ton. I mention your blog here to folks I think might enjoy it, but Im never sure they like it as much as I do. That sentence reminds me of the heading for a piece you might write, lol.

    1. Thanks for the comment, AK. I think there’s a sequel to Shantaram, but I’ve heard it’s not nearly as compelling. I haven’t sought it out.

  6. I have observed that most young people, anyone under 50 for me, seem to hold the elderly in something close to, but not quite, contempt for doing things “the old way” and for not consulting GOOGLE every time they have a thought or question. It seems like many of my friends who are approaching retirement are looking back on their lives and dwelling on what they didn’t do, rather than celebrate what they did do. I find the exercise of 20/20 hindsight to be a worthless,, since you can’t rewind and do it over, already knowing what the outcome would be. Like Mary Chapin Carpenter’s lyrics say, “I don’t cling to remorse or regret”, I just try to do better next time the opportunity presents itself.

    Or so it seems to me.

    1. Hi Jeff, nice to hear from you. I’ve heard it said that people regret the things they didn’t do more than the things they did. Though I suppose much depends on what you have and haven’t done. Agree with the not clinging, and trying to do better.

  7. “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan. This is a comprehensive narrative of what happened and why during the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, most notably to the people who lived through it. A very well researched, smooth read, I highly recommend this book.

      1. Thanks Ben, I’m well and back on Cape Cod for who-knows-how-long. Hope all is well with you and your family.

  8. Thank you for giving me more to add to my long list of holds at the library. My recommendation is The Forest by Edward Rutherfurd. It centers on life in England’s New Forest over about a 900 year time period. All of Rutherfurd’s books do this – focus on one place over the course of many years and I find that fascinating. I have often sat in a spot in our woods or by the river and thought what it must have been like in that very spot 100 years ago, 300 years ago, 3,000 years ago. His other novels “London” and “Sarum” are great, too, but “The Forest” just appeals to me the most. Still waiting on a new book from you, though, Ben (no pressure!)

  9. I like your bike rides – while missing my own. Taking notice is a good thing. Hope you’re able to be “surfing” at 70 (even if it’s not really surfing,) or whatever tickles your fancy:-)

  10. Ahh, this made me laugh. Most of the signs are still staying up in Arizona, and the clothing optional camps are not an option here. But maybe not for long. We just took a hike with kids last night talking about the trail being perfect for some mountain biking, then we ran into a black rattler, all fat and happy in the evening coolness.
    So many good book recommendations, thanks everyone. I am reading “Apples and the Art of Detection” by John Bunker, and it is a nice slow and fun coffee read for me, dreaming of all the fall apples 🙂 With kids we just finished “Beardance” by Will Hobbs, all of his books based on four corners region here are special.
    Stay well, Ben, and enjoy the summer.

  11. Slant of Light by Lent is also good.
    Am currently reading The Great Depression by Robert S. McElvaine, looking for parallels.
    Next on my list is the new Life, Luck and Poker by Maria Konninkova, looks good for keeping it real.
    Hard to beat The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans for timely history.
    And for something light I turn to the incredibly un-PC short stories of W. Somerset Maugham. He is dear to my prescriptivist heart and a sharp observer of humanity.
    Garden is exploding and hope to finally finish first cut in the next ten days or so.
    Take care,

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