As Much As You Possibly Can


At the Agway in town I buy cat dewormer and make conversation with the middle-aged woman at the register. She’s wearing a Great White concert tee, so of course I ask her about that, and she reels off a list of all the shows she’s going to this summer – Skid Row, Pat Benatar, Loverboy, I think maybe Dokken, or maybe it’s someone else, those 80’s era hair bands sort of run together for me – and then she tells me that she got tickets for her daughter, too, and I can see in her eyes how much this means to her, and for a moment I imagine the two of them pumping their fists and singing along with Sebastian Bach.

“Thanks, hon,” she says when I leave with my dewormer, which I’m going to stuff down the skinny cats’ throat to see if maybe it’s worms that’s making him look so small, though it could just be age and the inevitable diminishment it visits upon us all. It’s been a very long time since anyone’s called me “hon,” and I have to admit that I sort of like it. I mean, in this day and age you can imagine a person being offended by it and yet at the same time it seems to me as if the world would be a poorer place without middle-aged woman in Great White concert tees calling their dewormer-purchasing customers “hon.”

Driving home, it’s all new-mown hayfields and wind-tossed trees, the undersides of their leaves slivery against the sky. The ribbon of gravel road like being carried on a mud-brown river. Coming out of the corners, rocks ping off the underside of the car. I know that sound like the sound of my own breath. All these years of dirt road driving, all these years of them taking me just where I need to go.

The road begins to climb. The car shifts down, the engine surges. The smell of summer is pouring through the open window, and I want to tell you what it smells like, but I can’t. It just smells like summer, the way rain smells like rain, the way snow smells like snow. The way you want to just slow down and breathe in as much as you possibly can.

I really enjoyed this conversation with Ada Limón. You might, too.

17 thoughts on “As Much As You Possibly Can”

  1. Ben, thank you for this post! I’m trying to smell summer as it is, in fact, the first full day of summer around the world. I’d like to find a dirt road to drive down but those are few and far between around here. They do nothing but disappear with the steady onslaught of growth that began in the late 60’s. And soon, if not now, the smell of honeysuckle will appear, another summer smell. I hope it has survived the growth.

  2. Ben: I think I’m a little older than you (66) but I can identify with the “hon” comment. There is something endearing about it….coming from the proper source….age-wise that is. It’s a little disconcerting coming from a waitress who (theoretically) could be my granddaughter.

    Re: Summer smells….many, many years ago, I was riding a motorcycle through country roads late at night. On both sides hay had been cut that day and the scent still lingered in the moist air. Poets often refer to the sweet smell of new-mown hay. Having thrown a few bales myself in 90 degree heat, I just wanted to get it in the barn and go take a shower…not too concerned about the smell. But that night still returns to memory at times and it was indeed a sweet smell.

  3. Since I’m a Northeast girl in a rural area too, I think our “Summer smell” is probably similar. However, it’s probably different in different regions of the country, right? I don’t know, maybe its as much a mental thing as an actual physical concept.

    1. interesting, and I bet you’re right. I also find that smell is maybe the most associative of our senses… or of mine, at least. Sometimes it seems like everything I smell calls to mind something else.

      1. At the risk of being “Poindexter” smell is the only sense that is not “processed” or interpreted by our consciousness via the thalamus. Instead, smell is primitively wired directly to our limbic/emotional/memory areas of the amygdala and hippocampus. Think of when you walk by a stranger wearing the perfume of an old girlfriend for instance. So, in terms of anatomy, smell is the most associative and emotional sense. Thanks for the piece Ben, long live people saying “hon”, or the male equivalent, “boss or hoss”. GT

  4. Truly a lovely way to end this summer day, even if it was rain/sun/short/jeans/t-shirt/longsleeves kind of day really. Thanks for a wonderful piece of writing.

    If you have not read this from the NYT, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/20/opinion/how-animals-see-themselves.html?unlocked_article_code=AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACEIPuomT1JKd6J17Vw1cRCfTTMQmqxCdw_PIxftm3iWka3DLDmwaiOMNAo6B_EGKZa18ItI13jGSQMQEK7IiAeByw-pEMkhzRhLuooeBnN5NBRQJnr-JfzF82YPRD_d_-CX2b2K9JaAkmLOysR7bOX3hXfaMzXF1cAp6qJUxckWg2iZcla2RFLYkj4JuzLx2UMABMDQGbSaBvvPiAgwve4nVK0GBtXRlHr1RSjrRntWD6r0fcw40CVrOTHN34mxU-8oLcZpMf_65d0h8DZK41bYBCWVoL5OrAYkxROXXl7Zpub3Nq3-c2UNQAJjYsx7h1J-ypFKImb4&smid=url-share about how animals see themselves and we see them (or not), I think you will also find it worth your time.

    My best,



    1. Interesting article! I have had a similar thought, that when we think, “I wish I could be (insert animal of choice) for just one day” what we really mean is “What would it be like for me to be a ….?” It is impossible to think about outside of our own perspective. Thanks for sharing!

  5. The custom of calling people “hon”, “sweetheart”, and the like is alive and well where I am from and I hope never changes. I’m not sure I want to know the person that would be offended by being called an endearing term. We all need to be as kind to one another as possible, don’t we?
    I used to play a game in the car when I was a child. When returning from a relative’s house or other place after dark, I would close my eyes and try to guess where we were on our return trip by the smells coming in through the window and the turns and swerves of the car. I would occasionally peek to see if I was right. The tell-tale sign was when the tires left tarmac and hit gravel. That sound is home.
    Hope all is well with you and yours! Thanks for the post!

  6. Thank you for these, Ben – for all of em.

    Will you be at Carl’s celebration of life Saturday?

    Best, Lily O’Hara (that lady that came up on summer day to maybe work alongside you and Penny)

    1. Hi Lily, nice to hear from you. Thanks for reading.
      Yes, we’ll be there tomorrow. See you there.

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