Howdy y’all. Ben here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, where I’m currently doing my best to stay ahead of the changes in the weather. Folks who’ve read this column for years certainly know by now that we Rabbits, like most rural folk, have a preoccupation with the weather. After all, it dictates a lot of our choices, habits, and has a relative impact on what foods are available, what roads and trails are generally accessible, and in my case, how ornery the animals are.
We’ve been in an unsettling warm dry trend for this time of year. Today carries some chance of quenching rain, and I have hooked up all our above ground water catchment systems for the year, despite it being February, because I can hardly haul enough water to keep the pigs and goats sated. The clovers and grasses are greening again, buds of currant, viburnum, and quince all bulge with life, I’ve developed my first tanlines of 2017, and I was even nipped by a mosquito, no joke.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the weather as much, let me be clear that this ain’t normal, folks. It ain’t normal, and it’s exactly what to expect as our species continues to engage in activities that flood our atmosphere with carbon. Y’all can choose to deal with it or not, but the next generation has no choice. And while a seventy-degree day in February feels pretty nice, I don’t think that we’re becoming a tropical paradise so much as a wind-scoured, sun-baked plot of clay. It is naïve to imagine something so Eden-like as when we’re all living on mangos and coconuts here in the former prairie. I speculate it may look more like a lot of people in sackcloth fighting over the good honey locust pods if we don’t get our act together.
The change in seasons has also caught the animals off guard. The warm winds have set our ducks off on their annual nest building sojourns, the hens are producing a bounty of eggs, the hogs are rooting and wallowing, the nannies are loud, the billy is randy, and Donkey spends a good deal of time looping the barnyard at a trot to blow the stink off himself. Something in the air seems to be setting the pheromones flowing.
As the grasses green up our chickens refuse to remain within the confines of the barnyard in anticipation of pasturing season, and at any given time a dozen or so jump the fence and roam far and wide in search of green food and bugs. The roosters are crowing mighty early most mornings, and it is apparent that this is the time of year when a young cockerel’s thoughts turn to love. Here, at the end of winter, hunger accumulates and the goats in particular seem insatiable.
Just this morning, as I went out to feed and water our critters, I discovered that our sow taught herself how to pull a t-post out of the hog run fence. There were juvenile pigs everywhere, eating eggs, turning compost, breaking buckets and causing general havoc. In the process of rampaging, they managed to tear down the goat barrier for our chicken yard, and the whole herd was in there, stripping bark off the dogwoods, while Donkey aggressively brayed and dashed about the main yard, chasing little pigs. I am quickly growing weary of these increasingly chaotic morning scenes, and long for grazing season, when all the animals can be spread out, doing what they’re meant to do, and out of each other’s business.
Our little billy goat, Sonny, is all out of sorts. He has been gradually asserting both his dominance and his stinkyness. Due to a shortage in nesting accommodations, the chickens have been laying in his pen, and in order to retrieve said eggs, I’ve been having to face off with him, like some type of backwoods version of American Gladiators. Only I don’t have horns.
I’ve found that he’s generally scared of the high-wheel cultivator, so I bring it with me as protection, wheeling it around with me, though I’ve remained vulnerable to getting my butt head-butted as I stoop under his shed to recover eggs. This all finally ended when Mae took him down and put him in a goat submission hold last night. Seemed to cool his jets, but it did smell remarkably goaty in our house last night.
All of this is to say that the season is beginning early, and in earnest. A couple weeks back I held out on the hope that I’d have the opportunity to maybe read a book before spring. Now I’m happy if I can get to bed with my checklist of necessary work completed.
My boy Arthur turned one year old last week and can now ambulate upright, often quicker than I can track. He has an unceasing curiosity regarding poultry, pigs, sticks, and stones, and uses the boundless energy that he’s getting from somewhere to pursue these things. The kids, unbound by the walls of home, dash about free and bare of foot, constructing lean-tos and dugout forts.
The lowlands smell of spring, the sweet, deathly decay scent of leaves and fungi doing their thing. The juncos, cardinals, and chickadees have left our yard for dense cover, and above my head are constant, gradual skeins of snow geese headed north, honking consistently like passing freight trains.
With early spring comes hunger, and in recent weeks raccoons and ‘possums have been staking out the henhouses. I’m hungry too, and it is grilling season, and so I’ve managed to make use of said varmints in a way that is working out better for some of us than others.
Unseen in the boughs of cottonwood and oak, a hooting of owls bookends the darkness of night. Cluster flies are making their way out of the woodwork in my humble earthen home, buzzing groggily in the windowsill.
I see more and more of my human neighbors as well, as they shake off the slumber of winter rest and go about the business of springtime, gathering sap buckets from the maples, pruning fruit trees, digging garden beds, and even heading to the pond for a chilly dip.
While I am happy to be rooted here, harmoniously connected to the seasons, I cannot help but feel a bit of unease this spring, with the climatic land beneath my feet shifting so intensely. I worry about the water-intensive crops and livestock we’re raising in the dry times, and I worry about flooding in the wet times. Farming is essentially gambling, I’ve figured this out by now, but it seems that for the bulk of human history, it was all held within some certain physical boundaries, and these boundaries are dissolving every year, along with the ice caps. When I am this connected to my survival, and my survival is connected to my physical environment, it becomes a challenge for the conditions of this physical environment to change so dramatically. The same is true for our greater community, both local and global, in not only our physical realm, but the political too.
While here in my neck of the woods I feel keen to embrace the turmoil, mostly because I have no other choice, I worry that the larger part of humanity may well give in to the fear being generated out there by manipulators of all political persuasions. Living a land-based lifestyle has given me the opportunity to be still, to tune out the noise of an ever-complex civilization on the brink of self-extinction, and to be able to listen more deeply to the other voices present on this planet, underrepresented as they may be in our media-obsessed culture, but still the bulk of our global biomass. Here and there I see the red blaze of an elderberry bud breaking, verdant blades of grass reaching up through the thatch, or a lively clump of dock emerging almost before my eyes. Chickweed and henbit speckle untilled garden beds that were dormant a week back. These things will sustain us now, but I don’t know what the future holds, if there comes a time where there is no more winter to provide the dormancy these plant neighbors of mine require.
Now I’m not discounting one more snow this year or anything, but I’m making the call that winter is over. Nevermind the groundhog. I don’t trust groundhogs. I eat them. Winter is over, and you won’t see me jumping for joy about it. It is time to stop being dormant. It is time to do the hard work.
Truly yours, Ben.
Wanna come do some hard (and often rewarding) work with us? Our Sustainable Living Visitor Program offers workshops, work parties, plus an all-round awesome introduction to our ecovillage. We’re offering six visitor sessions in 2017, and the earlier you apply the better chance you have of securing a spot. Hope to see you here soon!