Howdy y’all. Ben here, finally upland of the soggy pig waller I’ve been slogging about in for the last week.
One week and about a dozen neighbors, plus some sheet metal and some marshmallows, is all it took for me to get our sow loaded onto the trailer, but as the old joke goes, “What’s time to a pig?” In fact, one week ago, I thought I had this pig in the bag, but it turns out that as a sow grows, she typically becomes more ornery, more wizened. That’s true of some of my human friends, too.
In the past week, we’ve had a few frosty nights, as well as a few hot afternoons. We’ve had hot dry winds whip through (fine diaper-drying weather) and some of the first significant rains of the spring. Something about this droughty weather breaking right before I need firm soil for hog wrangling feels quite typical of my luck. Well, at least all my water catchment is full, and with the help and support of so many of my neighbors I was finally able to put this piggy out to pasture.
Spring is coming on in earnest. The days are growing quite long, nettles, peppergrass, and dandelion are all making their way into my meals, as well as the meals of all my animal friends. The henbit is happily in flower, and I’ll be ok if I don’t have to eat it except in egg form. It’s called henbit for a reason. Because it’s best suited to poultry. I have a friend, you might know her, and she loves to serve up henbit. I’ll eat it, but I don’t seem to get the same enjoyment out of it as the chickens, so why take it away from them, especially in the earliest spring, when the grasses have hardly greened around the barnyard yet?
If I haven’t said this out loud yet, I’ve certainly thought it, that farming is basically gambling. Insurance is gambling too, but with farming I feel like I have a lick more control. And then trying to farm as sustainably as possible is like gambling with lower possible returns. I don’t know who this Trader Joe character is, but he’s got some sort of racket, and I don’t think the folks growing potatoes for the fancy potato chips are making out quite like he is. Anyhow, while I’ve always believed there to be a certain element of luck involved in farming, I’m beginning to realize just how many skills the average farmer needs to have, just to stay afloat.
A farmer has to be a meteorologist, a geologist, an accountant, an economist, a biologist, a behavioral psychologist, a mechanic, a physicist, a builder, a laborer, and a marketer to boot. Me, I’m just a guy who leads pigs around with marshmallows, because apparently they like them, but I’m working on the other stuff.
It’s a lot to handle and track all at once, and after stacking on the other responsibilities of raising children, collecting my own fuel, being my own electrician and occasionally repairing/improving my dirt house, I sometimes feel a little bit exhausted. This week has been no exception. Oh yeah, I live in an ecovillage, so I might’ve had to talk about my feelings once or twice.
But today, for me, as a farmer, or at least somebody who spends all my time raising food, living in community paid off in getting Esmerelda up in that trailer, for she’s been suspicious of it for a long time and seemed only interested in stepping up in it if I laid down in it, baby-talking her and feeding her constant marshmallows. That’s the perfect time for all my friends to come in and give her a push. It’s really nice to have friends willing to stand in pig mud with me, otherwise I’d just have chickens out there instead.
Another farm job I don’t have to do by myself is chasing off varmints, now that we got us a livestock guard dog. Her name is Xena, she has a nice, low-frequency bark, and she seems to guard the eggs as well as the chickens, but there’re plenty to go around these days, so I don’t see why not let her have a few of her own. She doesn’t eat them, but she does seem to want to hatch them out.
The spring peepers are many decibels loud, groggy hornets constantly drop out of my ceiling, quince and plum are flowering, robins and rabbits dart through the landscape. Spring seems like it may stick around for good now, and I anxiously await both garden season and mushroom hunting. Now that the threat of having a multiton ice cube is probably over, I have re-situated my water catchment and am currently at or above capacity, which is a reassuring feeling, though I am keenly aware of the irony in off-grid living of having abundant water when it’s raining and abundant energy for lighting when it’s sunny. Still, it affords us the finer things in life, like radios and clean pants. I’ll stick with it.
The birds and the bees are springing into action, tending to their birdly and beely business. The roads are all full of muck, and the ditches are all coming up in daylilies and irises. Our quaint dirt house has been getting upwards of seventy-five degrees when we cook meals on the woodstove, and we’ll inevitably be back in the outdoor kitchen shortly for to appreciate the breeze better, and keep the scorched lard smoke aura that hangs low in the house up and away from our sinuses. The pond is still cold, but I use it more for hygiene than for recreation, so it takes only a few moments to regain my standard level of washed. In the garden, collards, peas, and a few stray garlic volunteers reach up through the soil to photosynthesize a little. I like photosynthesizing too, as long as I’m not too deep beneath some dirt, either.
The busy time is imminent as the ticks and poison ivy, and before long our humble village will be swarming and buzzing with visitors from all over, chasing the chickens, taste-testing the poison hemlock, and asking which of my buckets I put the fabric softener into.
Dancing Rabbit is, after all, a demonstration community, and so, somehow, I’ll gather myself together and take the time to explain the things I know best, like the grease trap in our greywater system, and the existence of chiggers, which few people seem to believe in because they’re both invisible and fantastically nasty little buggers. I also appreciate having some time to demonstrate by myself without an audience, but the contrast between desolation and peak population make both states of being different enough to be interesting and enjoyable to me.
With broody hens and extremely curvaceous nanny goats scattered here and there across the farmstead, I imagine I’ll have plenty of non-anthropocentric social tasks ahead of me to keep busy and distracted, which is basically when I’m at my best. In the meantime, I’d better go lay all my clothes out in the road, cuz it’s easier than handwashing, and it looks like we might be blessed with a little more rain. So long for now, I’ll holler at ya again after I find a mushroom or two.
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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us (dancingrabbiticorg) .