Howdy y’all. Ben here, bringing you my recent observations from the sodden hollows and misty hills of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeast Missouri.
Humans are not generally the first thing I interact with in the morning, and that’s been working out for me pretty nicely so far, as well as for the humans. Every morning I am greeted by an ever-insatiable horde of chickens walking up the footpath from their cold season range, traipsing through the fog and mire for snackies. I emerge from my fitful sleep, and before mixing feed, or even pulling on boots I dash to the outhouse and do what people typically do in an outhouse, except that I chirp out in my chicken-voice, “OK chickens, I’ll get your snackies real soon, babies. I’ll get you your snackies.”
The first cock has begun crowing as I run back to the house, and I wander around until I find the appropriate footwear and handwear for morning chores. The morning song and drone has changed in the past week or two. In my anti-meridian slogging I can hear the bark and chirp of robins, redwing blackbirds, and the staccato whine of fidgety sparrows; perhaps even the chittering of a squirrel that has moved into Caleb’s treehouse. I call it Squirrel Caleb.
On sunnier days, bluebirds alight on the portable electric netting containing the goatherd, the youngest of which cry and frolic, similar to my own human herdlings. Having loaded a cart with dogbones, organic layer mash, water, and communal food scraps, I roll downhill. Muscovy ducks nip along or briefly soar as the guardogs dance and pace along the barnyard fence line, sometimes sprinting off to ward away eagles, hawks, whitetail deer, blue herons, or the schoolbus. Chickens and ducks peck the verdant spires of grass while the hogs push their maws deep into the barn mire for a ball of earthworms, or a cache of crabgrass rhizomes. A nanny goat and wether slip out of the barn to call as the pigs and their babies bellow in breast deep mud. It is 6:57 AM and the agricultural zone of Dancing Rabbit has become a cacophony, if not a symphony — more Yoko Ono in tone and timbre than Mozart.
On some days the sun breaks through the veil of cloud, illuminating the maple buds, increasingly verdant grass, tiny patches of henbit, dandelion, and chickweed awakening from their slumber and contraction. Here we are, just passing through the keyhole of our season of hunger, emerging from a time of austerity. My being feels a deep want for green food again, so I grab at a clump of wintercress and snap off the tip of a walking onion, stuffing the whole emerald chunk of dirty, gritty nutrition into my face-hole. After transferring feed to various dishes, the squeal and moan subsides, and I trek my way back to the promise of coffee and waking children.
My day progresses. Sometimes it regresses. I feed my kids, or at least offer suggestions for breakfast, like eggs, since we are literally sitting on 44 dozen of them. Okay, I haven’t literally sat on all 44 dozen of them, but living in a 400 square-foot earthen hovel with hundreds of eggs resting within a dozen baskets causes me to eventually step on one, or smash a few in my hat or pocket.
When possible, I begin a project, like making paper pots for seedlings, adjusting fence, hauling water, haying goats, picking up mulch, fixing carts, hoeing up beds, sharpening tools, fixing things that broke (this week it was the charge controller for our off-grid electrical system), processing firewood, interacting with neighbors, compiling, soaking, washing, rinsing, wringing, or hanging laundry, sorting and cleaning eggs, butchering ducks and old hens, sprouting fodder oats, germinating seeds, fixing gates, picking up debris, tapping maple trees, starting bread, gathering sticks, showing rudimentary care and affection for my family and friends, supporting my math-averse child in her homeschool homework, looking for matching socks, foraging for nutrition, hauling compost, garden planning, posting to Instagram, making transactions on the phone with other farmers, pulling splinters out of my palm, looking for matching gloves, looking for the duct tape, processing my feelings, writing for the village, figuring out how much money I actually have, trying to get my three-year-old to go outside and then subsequently trying to get him off the roof, kneading the dough, making a new a handle for my hatchet, making a new snath for my scythe, peening and sharpening my scythe blade, sweeping, doing the dishes, paying debts associated with our simple lifestyle, apologizing (just kidding), or, perhaps, getting somebody else to do the dishes. (Because I’m a chef, not a cook, and apparently, I’m a bad communist to boot.) In the evening time, after having accomplished, on average, a half dozen of these tasks, I get sleepy, put on some music, and pass out, unless I can’t convince anyone else on the homestead to feed the dogs.
On the still spring nights, walking back through the twilight, I hear the shouts and barks of coyote packs and the song of spring peepers, perhaps interrupted by the passing of an evening train on the tracks two miles away, hooting into the night with its payload of coal. The owls screech and the tallgrass thatch rustles. I hear the electric pop of goat fence shorting out in the damp weeds, and the creak of the tool shed door hinges in the breeze. A woodcock calls its distinct interjection and a coon dog bays.
Is there coming a time in my life when I will feel lonely? Not likely when I’m living here. One of the things I’ve always appreciated, in theory, about this community is that no one lacks a voice who seeks it. It can be difficult to hone my focus through all the squawks, hisses, grunts, shouts, caterwauls, and chirps, but still, as a rule more than an exception, we tend to let folks make their favorite noises here. It serves the entire organism as a whole, and disregards the tastes and preferences of the individual. Me, I personally vacillate between whimpering and yelling, though I prefer to crow, and generally hope to avoid proselytizing.
My voice can only do so much in this context, and it is so important, in a day where social media provides an ear and an eye to so many voices — some of them full of hope, others full of hate — that I use my voice carefully, distinctly. While I truly benefit from writing my thoughts out once a month or so, it now feels better for me to to mute myself and let the whispers and shrieks speak for themselves.
I don’t know if humanity as a whole, as a global species/culture, will rise above its desire for consumption. There is this mytho-poetic image of the snake eating its own tail. Now I’ve met a lot of snakes, and I only ate one of them, but they don’t do that, just like lemmings don’t actually commit suicide. We’re the only species on this planet that actively consumes itself. Is the type of simple living that I promote here the solution? Naw, just a part of it. I have my flaws, and some of them, despite my dedication, lead toward a road to ruin. Y’all do important work too; and yet you’re probably as flawed as me. If we don’t have all the answers, we can still ask all the questions, and maybe asking questions is the biggest way we can care for this planet, and each other. Thanks for asking questions, and listening to the answers provided, within ourselves, and out there in the real world, or what’s left of it. I’m out, for now. Gotta plant these beets.
Would you like to visit Dancing Rabbit and hear from villagers one-on-one? Would you like to spend some time listening to nature’s symphony? Would you like to sneak out to the Fox Hole in the wee hours of the morning and hear Ben’s chicken-voice for yourself? You have a chance coming up soon! Our first visitor session of 2019 starts on April 14th, and we still have a few spots left — you could still have one of them, if you hurry. Click here to start on your application right now. During your visit you’ll get to sit in on a wide variety of workshops covering all kinds of interesting subjects, ranging from communication skills to natural building and renewable energy. Towards the end of the session it might be warm enough to take a dip in our swimming pond before heading in for a delicious homemade dinner, possibly in the company of a new life-long friend. The cost to come for two weeks is only about $50 a day, and that’s an excellent deal, once you factor in the costs of three squares a day, maintenance for tent platforms, and all the time and energy that workshop leaders, cooks, and non-profit staff put in to making everything possible. If you’ve been reading our weekly column for a while you probably know a thing or two about our village, and recognize many of the names, but there’s no substitute for visiting in person. Send in your application now, while you still have time to call in your vacation time at work, and make your travel arrangements. We can’t wait to meet you.