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As Big and Quiet as it Wants to Be

After the rain

Finally the heat breaks, and rain falls, though not enough. But not enough is better than not at all, and in the morning when I drive over the mountain road, my passage through the trees is shrouded in mist that looks so much like smoke that even though I know it’s not, I keep smelling the air just in case I might be wrong.

In the evening after the heat breaks, I count primary ballots at the town hall. There are 42 of them in total. It’s a good turnout. Jig and I sit at a wobbly table and I call out the chosen names and he makes hash marks on a page and at the end we count and see that everything adds up and this is democracy in our little town.

The daylight is contracting, and at an early hour this morning, it was just cool enough to raise goosebumps on my arms. The summer softness hasn’t hardened yet, but you can sense it’s going to, incrementally at first, slowly, slowly, slowly, then more quickly, until the air is a knife’s edge that won’t go dull for months.

The younger boy packs his truck, he’s headed West (of course he’s headed West, don’t they all head West?), and even though he isn’t even gone yet, I feel the impending quiet. And maybe I fear it, too, just a little, all that empty space after so many years of fullness, it’s hard to know exactly how to shape myself to fill it. Or maybe the trick isn’t to fill it, but just to let the space be there, as big and quiet as it wants to be.

34 thoughts on “As Big and Quiet as it Wants to Be”

  1. Nice piece. It’s the same here. The daylight is contracting but winters here are mild so I look forward to it. We’ve had so much rain! More than last year so it’s humid. How do you keep deer and other critters out of your garden? Of course they have to go west because there’s not a whole lot of land east of you like there is west of you. Or maybe it’s the rotation of the earth. Like we’re on a treadmill. I think you’ll find something to fill the space. Big. Quiet. Both good.

    1. Hi Renee, knock on wood, but we mostly don’t have a ton of critter pressure on the garden. As you can maybe see in the photo above, it’s right by the house, which certainly helps. Rye did dispatch a woodchuck earlier this year, but it’s the first issue we’ve had in a very long time. And yes, I suspect I’ll find something to do with myself.

  2. Beautiful. All of it. I know those days of big and quiet are coming even though my two are 10 and 11 – still young but big dreams are already there. My youngest wants to buy a van and drive across country and my oldest really hopes there is a way he can just ride dirt bikes all day. 🙂 . Though the world is big, I think they know home will always be there.

    1. Well. Seems your oldest and I have something in common;)
      10 and 11… such a great age. But I guess they all are in their own way.

      1. Forgot to mention in my earlier comment a book I’m reading that made me think of you – Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff. Check it out. 🙂

  3. Big space….yeah, We had just moved into our house the day before my youngest daughter started to kindergarten. I took a video of her that morning before we left. I asked how she felt about starting school. Her response was very cute. On the first day of senior year, I reprised that video shot with the same question.
    A year later, we moved her into her college dorm. I was OK with that but a few days later on the first day of school in our district, I recalled all of this on the drive to work and I totally lost it. I hadn’t cried like that for many years. Time….it’s a bitch. She always wins.

    But now this same girl is weeks away from delivering our first grandchild. Time…. seems she’s an angel after all.

  4. Hi Ben…..Last night we had a powerful, lightning filled storm roll through here, not so much a roll but an extended visit. It was the first thunder storm this summer, unusual to wait until the 2nd week of August for this. The air behind it slowly entered the region overnight and the temp in my bedroom dropped 11* as I slept. At 5 30 I had to get up to lower the windows and turn off the fan, so different from the last few weeks of heat.
    Summer here on Cape Cod will not diminish for a month or more and I’m happy about that but we need rain. Not to the point of desperation but we’re getting uncomfortably close to that. Regardless, the knife’s edge will come in the not-too-distant future.
    Thank you for this post and the photograph!

    1. Glad it’s cooling off down there, too. Really, it’s been about the finest summer I can remember overall. Could use still more rain, but you know the ole saying: You’ll get what you’ll get and you won’t get upset. Or something like that.

  5. Today marks what would have been my Dad’s 84th birthday. The space he left is still “there”. He was big, as in the space. Quiet, not so much! Xo

    Let me remind you of one of your older posts (one of my favorites):

    “……I picture him there, sitting in a maple tree in the cold and quiet woods, thinking thoughts I’ll never know. And I am thinking about how even the people we love the most can sometimes seem so mysterious to us, and yet how we can somehow love them all the more across that mystery, across silence and time and distance, and how this must be the truest love of all, the one unbound by these constraints.”

    You hit me in the feels today, friend.

  6. Ben – senescent old man that I am, I’m sitting here with tears rolling down my cheeks. Not only do we need rain badly out here on the prairie, your mention of your “younger son” brought to mind all kinds of your postings of long ago wherein you shared with us the comings and goings of your boys and Penny. My younger boy left for the West more than 20 years ago and he now has two teenage boys of his own. (We have 8 grandkids and 9 greats!)

    I don’t remember exactly when I started reading your little essays and admiring Penny’s photos. but it must have been somewhere around 2014 (the oldest date on your essays that I have saved.) Without invading their privacy, someday when you are feeling a bit lonely and down, why don’t you write a little piece sharing some of your thoughts on being a partner and a parent and an “unschooler.” And let us know where (more or less) and how (ditto) Finn, Rye and Penny are in 2022.

    Thanks much!
    PS: I was much moved by Lisa’s comment above too.

    1. Hi Gene, thanks for your note; it’s always nice to hear from you. One of these days maybe I’ll do a post about why I don’t write much about my family anymore, though it might be simple (and true) enough to say that there came a point at which it just didn’t feel right for us anymore. But I’m happy to share that both boys are doing great, as is Penny. I really appreciate that you take the time to read and comment here. It means a lot.

  7. When my son left for college, he was only 45 mins from home, much to his dismay, but that’s how the cards fell. He never came home, except for a couple of days at Christmas. It was very hard on me & I missed him terribly. You just reminded me of that, and how nice it is to hear from him now almost daily, and have him want to come home to visit.

  8. In some ways it doesn’t seem all that long ago that I first “discovered” the writer Ben Hewitt in the Outside mag article, and the world of unschooling which was becoming a hot topic. It was what I was looking for at the time, knowing that it was the route (the unmapped route) that I wanted to follow with my daughter one day. I was kind of awestruck by the life your boys lived – what seemed so normal for your family was so unheard of. I’m happy to say that my almost 10 year old is happily enjoying and learning on her own path. I think you know its a sign of success that your boys are independent, strong, and curious, but it doesn’t make the next step any easier.

    1. Thanks, Katie. I think they are all of those things, and I’m glad to be reminded of it. Best to all of you down there.

  9. Awww….now you’re making ME sad. My son still has two years to go before he leaves, but…for some reason your post is reminding me how quickly that time will go….

  10. My tiny little home was so full for so long with my two boys, who are now off living their lives about as far away as they can be (opposite coasts) and still be in the same country. I’ve been reading your essays for years, rarely a commenter but your writing touches my soul. Big and quiet is an excellent way to describe the space they have left behind, but I find ways to fill my time and they communicate often and come home for visits when it’s possible. I’m hopeful that they’ll find their way back home when this phase of their life has passed, until then we just keep living. Time marches on. Thank you for your thoughtful perspectives, I look forward to your posts!

  11. Wow, Ben, they are both all grown already? Gosh, time sure has flown. Why I’m surprised, I don’t know, since my two step-sons are just behind yours and will soon be 15 and 18. It seems to have been only a blip from when I first entered their lives (sigh).

    And, now, a new chapter turns for all of you, with dreams and adventures still to be imagined and brought to life. The west is always a draw for those of us raised in the northeast, it seems, as I answered the call myself oh so many decades ago.. Great adventures are for those who decide to take a risk, which soon adds to their knowledge, skill set, and humanity. You have raised them well, so enjoy what comes next – more stories to thrill the readers, I suspect!

  12. So, where is Rye going and what is he planning to do?

    There is a lot more “west” from Vermont than there is east from Vermont.

    Wishing him safe travels. It is hard on mom and dad when the kids leave home, hard when they come back too!

    1. Isn’t that the truth! My three all came back home after college/grad school but each stayed only a year or so. And that is now many years ago. We kinda sorta wish they would come back a bit more often than they do. but they all have their own kids and serious jobs now and optional travel is not part of their lives,

      1. When my oldest was working as a seasonal ranger in a National Park, I couldn’t wait for her to get the NPS out of her system and get a real job, but now that she has a real job we seldom see her.

      1. Unbelievable! What a perfect gig for a son of yours! When he sees his first elk he’s gonna be amazed at how much larger they are than your typical white tail or mule deer!

  13. I headed west at 24…27 years ago. Rite of passage? Wanderlust? All I know was I had to go. Been in Colorado 26 of the last 27. If he needs some friendly folk or support in northern Colorado, let me know.

    1. Thanks, Dave, that’s super kind of you. He’s actually (somewhat) in your neck of the woods, working for an outfitter outside Meeker.

  14. I wish him well, being a hunting guide is hard physical labor combined with long hours and high expectations by the clients. Since elk are migratory, they are tough to pattern, here today and gone who knows where tomorrow.

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