Sometimes it Feels Liberating

December 20, 2016 § 29 Comments

img_4888

Running lard through the grinder to facilitate rendering. We go through at least a quart per week. More if I get a hankering for fried chicken. Which I often do

On Saturday a pelting rain fell, turning the snow to slush. I ran in the heaviest of the precipitation, foolishly underdressed, churning my legs fast as possible to build body heat. By the time I turned back, where the road turns from third class to fourth, and the snowplow stops plowing, I was soaked through but warm enough.

The day before I’d skied late in the day, up through a sloping hayfield and into a high elevation sugarwoods Penny and I had first explored the day before that. It’s a beautiful, open, untapped bush; I can ski from here to there in 20 minutes or less, and then the options are boundless. This town perches on the edge of wilderness, or what passes for wilderness in Vermont. Sometimes this feels isolating to me. Sometimes it feels liberating.

I’m pretty sure I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I’ve always been in pretty good condition – this life does not suffer sloth, and we eat real clean. But this year I’ve been tending to my body with increased awareness and intent, and I like the way it feels. Even my bouncing pouch of gut fat – an, old, old friend – is much reduced. This despite frequent and liberal applications of lard and cream and bacon. Friends, let me remind you: Eating fat does not make you fat. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with being fat or at least part of the way there – I think our culture is way, way too obsessed with body weight and appearance. But my point remains: Do not fall for the lie that dietary fat equates to body fat. It’s a load of hooey.

I don’t write about food much, and I’m probably not going to start. But I will say that I think in general people get way too wound up about how they eat. I think it’s unhealthy as all get out. And I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out, or even care to have it all figured out. We eat the way we do mostly because it fits our life and our budget and our ethos, and because we observe how good it makes us feel in body, mind, and spirit. That’s pretty much the long and short of it. Heather and I keep joking about putting on a “No Bullshit Diet” workshop, but then we realize that probably no one would sign up for a workshop that’s comprised of pretty much one sentence: Avoid processed foods and stop worrying, already. Because sometimes it seems to me that people like fussing over how they eat. Can’t for the life of me figure out why, but that does seem to be the case.

Anyway. It has gotten cold, and what snow remains has frozen into an iced-over sheet. There’ll be no skiing until more snow falls, but that’s ok. And anyway, I keep replaying a moment from my ski on Friday, when I was sluicing down a steep hill through the trees and flushed a fat deer. It bounded across my path in big, arcing leaps, suddenly in a hurry to be somewhere else. I pulled up short and watched it disappear.

 

 

You’re Going to Fail

December 17, 2016 § 38 Comments

Yesterday morning the temperature was a rousing twelve degrees below zero. The air was still when I awoke, but the wind had howled throughout much of the night, forming graceful wave-like patterns in the accumulated snow. I love this weather, the cold not merely a factor but a force. There is an emotional quality to any weather, of course, but for me, nothing is so evocative as deep cold. I’m not sure why.

It has been a very long time since I’ve written about education, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Mostly I’ve been thinking about how my ideas have broadened and softened with time, not from any specific experience, but rather, I think, from an evolving understanding that rigidness in thought is a precursor to assumption. Or, as someone put it to me recently, a great deal of certainty leads to judgment, while an acceptance of uncertainty fosters compassion. And not merely for others, but for oneself. Naturally, this applies to so much more than one’s beliefs around education.

I think the homeschooling (and particularly those of us following an even less conventional path) community often finds itself a defensive posture, perhaps in no small part due to the certainty of others that our educational choices are not valid. And when one feels judged in such a manner, the most natural thing to do is to dig in, to deflect that judgment and with it – let’s be honest – the possibility of substance in the views behind that judgment. And so, rather than acknowledging our own uncertainty (and I know of very, very few home and unschoolers who do not at times experience uncertainty) and the inherent vulnerability that comes with uncertainty, we double down in the opposite direction.

(This may be patronizingly obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: This pattern is precisely why we find ourselves in such a divisive political landscape)

I say this with our older son having just completed a self-designed independent study program through a nearby high school, focused on guitar building and blues guitar playing. He loved it, and not just for the study itself, but for the opportunity to be part of the school community, albeit on a very part-time basis. He is currently designing an independent study for the coming semester around issues of climate justice and direct action, and I am incredibly grateful for the doors his advisor is opening for him, and the mentors who are offering their time and experience. An interesting aside: When it became clear that he wanted something more than what we could offer at home, we visited a half-dozen schools in the area (our town has school choice, which made all this possible). How shocking to experience the vast differences in offerings and overall “vibe” between these public schools, and how fortunate we feel to have found this unique program within reasonable driving distance.

I guess this isn’t really a post about education after all. It’s really just about certainty vs uncertainty, and therefore, judgment vs compassion. It is only now, late-learner that I am, that I’m coming to understand how being less certain can be liberating. And I think it’s liberating because it aligns with an inescapable truth: Life is uncertain. It is fraught and messy and beautiful and hard and I suppose the best thing we can do through it all is try to remain  compassionate and curious. We’re are going to fail at this, over and over and over. With our kids, with our partners, with our friends. With ourselves.

But failure too is good and important because it is also an inescapable truth. You can try all you want to avoid it, and indeed, this is what we are taught to do. So yeah, go ahead and try to avoid. But know this: You’re going to fail.

 

 

 

Stuff

December 15, 2016 § 19 Comments

img_4931

This is a picture of our 14 yr old son, Fin, building his electric guitar. The incredibly talented and ever-generous Creston Lea mentored him through the process. We are grateful. 

img_5031

This is a picture of Fin playing his new guitar. It’s safe to say he loves it a whole bunch. 

PS: Hey, Dylan, recognize the shirts? 

Now when I milk I kneel atop a layer of snow, compacted from repetition of the act, all those hoof and knee prints and even the weight of the milk itself as it gathers in the bucket. In the woods, the snow lies a foot deep or more, and we ski nearly every day. I grew up skiing, and I’m grateful for it, I love that sense of fluidity and grace, and the surefootedness I feel on skis. It’s a big part of the reason I’m so fond of winter.

I haven’t had much time to write much of anything but what I’ve committed to for work, but I will soon. In the meantime, Penny has a few more humble offerings. The birch bark birds pictured directly below are $15, plus $5 shipping and handling for any quantity. They are really pretty and satisfying to hold. I like to run naked around the house with one in each hand, making little tweeting sounds.

dsc_0092

Up next, you’ll find a collection of fine art cards featuring her photographs. Perfect for sending notes to friends, or maybe to our new president-elect. These cards are $5 each, or receive the entire set of 12 for $45, shipping included.

dsc_0097

Here are all the different images you’ll receive if you buy the whole set:

Finally, she still has a handful of birch bark stars available for $10 plus $5 shipping.

img_9720

You can order any of the above right here, or you can email me at ben@fairpoint.net to arrange payment by carrier pigeon. Thank you.

mygenerosityenabler

 

You Used to Say

December 8, 2016 § 16 Comments

img_4901

Down the road a little ways, just before the Dead End sign, I startle a small herd of black angus. They’re tight to the fence line on my approach, but quickly scurry deeper into the pasture, heads high in vigilance. I watch them as I trot past, enjoying the contrast of their inky blackness against the snow-covered trees on the hillside rising behind. Above that, a sullen sky, draining of the late afternoon light. I can smell the cows, all that warmth and sweetness in the cold air.

As I pass the cows, I’m listening to Jason Molina’s  North Star, which in my humble opinion contains some of the best song lyrics ever written (they’re made particularly poignant by the fact of Molina’s life-long battle with depression and alcoholism, which eventually claimed his life). See if you don’t agree:

You used to say I had what it takes
I think I did if you meant too little too late
I can tell by the looks that I’m gettin’
I made some big mistakes
And I thought you said I was great

Shoot straight and give it my best try
I made my heart as hard as nails
That may be the way you live your life
But it’s almost got me killed

Darling I’m not giving in
That happened miles ago
I heard the north star saying
Kid you’re so lost even I can’t bring you home

Did you think that we were going to last
Honey you know you don’t have to answer that
Half of that was my kind of joke
I don’t remember which half

I didn’t know how blue I’d get
I didn’t know how I’d get blamed for it
I didn’t choose to go down this road
No one chooses to be sick

I’m saying everything is fine
By the look in my eye
But you know darling
Half of what a man says is a lie

It’s your last chance to forget me now
Then it’s done for good
You always said I’d make it out
Somehow darling I knew I never would

I run a short ways past the angus, then turn. They watch me pass again, heads swiveling to mark my progress. Still wary. The snow falls lazily enough that I entertain myself by identifying individual flakes from a half-dozen paces, then seeing if I can catch them in my mouth. Flake after flake after flake, I miss. They either fall to fast, or too slow, or drift in unpredicted directions, and I can’t seem to correct my course quickly enough to make the catch, though not for lack of spastic lurches.

But then I think of those cows, serious and watchful in their field, and there’s something in that image of them – the stark contrast of colors, I think it is, maybe the alertness, too – that sobers me. So I leave the snowflakes alone and run for home.

Written in the Stars

December 7, 2016 § 2 Comments

img_9726Just in time for the holidays, I am pleased to offer a limited run of Penny’s beautiful folded birch bark stars. Adorn your tree, hang them from your ears, or torment the cat; whatever your pleasure, these stars will do it in wild-crafted elegance. Stars measure 1.5 – 2.5 inches across, and are $10 each. Please add $5 for shipping and handling within the US. Multiple stars ship for same price! Payment can be made via the PayPal link below, or arranged by emailing ben@fairpoint.net. Thank you!

mygenerosityenabler

It’s Time

December 6, 2016 § 6 Comments

img_4907

Snow came yesterday, a cleansing blanket, smoothing the ragged lines of the bared ground. The boughs of the conifers hang heavy, and I wonder if the trees hold awareness of this strange new weight, and how it must feel to be so laden, with no means for shaking off the load. How strange to foist my human narrative on the spruce and fir. Perhaps to them, the burden of snow is merely something to be borne. It time it will pass, as most things do.

This morning I walked for a while with my younger son through the snow-hushed trees; when we returned home, I pulled our skis from their summer resting spot under the tin of the cow’s run-in shed. It’s time.

 

 

Soon to Stop

December 3, 2016 § 13 Comments

img_4757

Before the snow

Yesterday afternoon, moving fence for the cows on the cusp of dark, the snow began. It came on fast and hard; one moment there was none, the next it was falling in sheets. A squall, I guess you’d call it. I stood quiet in the pasture for a moment, watching the ground turn to white, watching the cows, bent to their feed, seemingly oblivious to the sudden shift in weather. And then I thought of part of a great line from a great James McMurtry song: Impervious to all abuse. I like how good music sticks with you, pops into your head at the most unlikely times. Like right now, this very moment, a line I’ve quoted here before, from one of my favorite Isbell songs: Find me a place/With salt on the roads/Do what I’m told/Buy what I’m sold again

I finished the fence just as our friend Michael stopped by to drop off the generator we’d loaned to him and some other carpenter friends for their trip to Standing Rock. So Michael and I chatted for a time in the driveway, sharing little pieces of our lives. We do that pretty well. For men, anyway. The snow was still barreling down, maybe an inch-and-half, two-inches on the ground already. I was cold, but felt warmed by the presence of my friend, by the lingering image of the cows at their hay, and strangely, I think, by the snow itself. The energy of it. The insistence of it.

Michael departed, and I walked up the hill to the house, lit and warm by my family’s bustling activities within. Outside, it was dark enough now that I could no longer see the cows from twenty feet away. But as I passed by, I heard the distinctive sound of their chewing, interspersed by the rustling of hay as they nosed for the tender bits. The snow letting up a bit now. Soon to stop.