Howdy y’all. Ben here, filing another report from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in beautiful Northeast Missouri, on a late February day that’s feeling more like late March.
The hay-poor goat farmer part of me eagerly anticipates an early green up of the pastures, as does the gardener part of me. The part of me concerned with climate instability, as well as the tick magnet part of me, hopes for at least a couple more good, hard freeze weeks, though being witness to the burgeoning spring here on the gentle sloping prairie savannah is always thrilling to me.
A mile above, great skeins of Canada geese, numbering in the thousands, migrate toward their springtime climes. An eastern bluebird has been flitting along the low branches of honey locust nearly every morning on my way down to do chores. Our home is warm enough on the sunny, still days that a fire is unnecessary, and we’ve already had our first barbecue of 2016.
Sap flows in the maples, and by midday the heady aroma of spring, a sort of earthy, sweetly spoiled leaf decay smell, wafts along the fencelines and draws. I can leave water buckets outside overnight, this week at least. All the frozen chunks of log scattered about our warren can be pried loose now to reveal wriggling earthworms, a nutritionally dense tonic underfoot of chickens kicking in the duff. Gone for now are the stark, short days of prairie winter; the scolding of blue jays has been displaced by songs of other birds.
The other day, while raking thatch near this year’s tree plantings, I stumbled across a secret lush stand of grasses on the south side of our agricultural space. It wasn’t long before the donkey and goats began to graze the spot. I share my humble home with a lot of lifeforms, among them about a hundred hardwood tree cuttings, many of which have set roots and broken bud already.
In the garden, tiny verdant blades of rye sown late last fall make their presence known as they creep sunward through the desiccated cornstalks and beanvine of last year. Assisting life in this manner, from embryo to maturity, is an investment of hope, and sometimes a suspension of my disbelief in those dark days when winter seems an eternity.
I also believe the same is true of human procreation. There is no doubt in my mind that continued exponential population growth is a major factor in resource scarcity and environmental degradation. To make a human child in this time of our planet’s history must therefore be an investment in faith.
We call him Arthur, and he came into our world about a week ago, at home, weighing nine pounds and two ounces, native to the soil I’m gonna stick these baby trees in. Though I hope that both my children will continue the work we’ve begun here at Dancing Rabbit, or at least gather pecans from the trees we’re planting this year, I recognize that not all kids embody the values they were raised with.
Still, Arthur is off to a booming start, being off grid, among the grass and the trees, with no fossil fuels, outside the consumer culture. His big sister thus far floors me with her physical prowess, natural knowledge, care for all living things, and moral indignation. I see the potential in children to be not a drain on dwindling resources, mere mouths that need to be fed, but a gift to our future Earth, particularly when raised naturally, without the nasty trappings of our faulty civilization, like racism, sexism, consumerism, or pretty much any -ism.
Anyhow, child rearing comes with its requisite responsibilities, and despite the stereotypical storyline much voiced in our mainstream culture, my work as a father did not end nine-odd months ago. Luckily, I have discovered that most of a child’s needs are met instinctually. When Arthur begins a-hollerin’ from the bassinet, it feels perfectly natural for me, yes, a man, to pick him up, pat him, and rock my hips. Of course, I’m known to pace about impatiently from sunrise to sunset, and I typically cradle heavier stuff than a baby. Like hay bales. A hay bale is like eight babies.
Then there’s diapers. A lot of folks complain about diaper changing. Often men. I don’t wanna hear it. I live a rustic lifestyle, and by rustic, I mean filthy. Every day I handle infinitely greater amounts of infinitely nastier substances and objects than the occasional coupla ounces of baby manure. I take pride in my management of manure; it is truly the greatest product that our simple micro-farming operation yields. An infant weighs, like what, two ducks? Do you have any idea how much dung two ducks produce in a day, or how much fouler it is? Slightly more, I say. Not enough to get worked up about.
In aligning with our values around material use, Mae and I use cloth diapers and handwash them. It ain’t no thang. Two five gallon buckets, one with soapy water, the other with clean water, straight from the clouds via my roof, with the addition of a plunger-style laundry agitator and about ten minutes a day is all it takes. Baby poop doesn’t even smell bad, but then again I’m a connoisseur of odors. That’s French for “don’t give a rip.”
Though I eschew many “traditional” notions of a man’s role in the rearing of children, I sort of fell in line with the cultural norm that has been relegated to fathers in terms of homebirth. The day was cold, so the midwives had me boil a lot of water so that Mae could labor in a warm tub, and handled many of the physical tasks, with the exception of labor and delivery. Althea and I got to watch Arthur emerge from his internal slumber, I eventually had the chance to cut the umbilical cord (surprisingly tough), then I fed the chickens some blood. Homebirth is remarkably clean, in my experience. Way less cleanup than butchering a goat.
Education is a need children have that hasn’t proven difficult to provide yet. Spend an hour with a six year old and see how many questions they ask. Better yet, see how many questions you can actually, truthfully answer. Thus far, our homeschool curriculum has been loose. Providing an education in community is even better, because I don’t have to know my multiplication tables, when somebody else does. In fact, that’s how I built a house. No lesson plan? No problem. Hey kids, your recess is one week. See ya when the violets bloom.
In all honesty, with the support of others, we’ve gotten the opportunity to step deeper into educating Althea this year, whose current obsessions include natural processes, winter tree identification, artistic technique, reading, and the American Revolution. I step deeply in a lot of things though, and then I track them all over the house.
Well folks, there’s a lot of business I reckon I’ll attend to, and even though it may be the end of the world as we know it, it’s a nice day, at the apex of pleasantness, I’d say. My career demands that I hay some goats, plot out some trees, hold some kids, and wash some diapers. I’m funemployed.
That being said, I reckon that seasonally we are in a time of scarcity. February and March is technically the hunger gap for us in the temperate Americas. Other than a scant few overwintered turnips, barely a handful of succulent chickweed, and whichever rooster is the meanest, there are few homegrown edibles to be found at the moment. The fields are still obfuscated with dull, brown thatch and the trees are bare and seemingly lifeless.
Yet underneath all appearances, good things are gestating, I promise. In this age of anger-based partisan politics, civil war, economic injustice, social inequity, and cultural strife, we might all take a moment to recognize the promise held in the soils we nurture and the seeds we sow, whether they be vegetable or human. And if you’re a dude, and you come here to see what this ecovillage business is all about, that’s great. Just be willing to wash some poop pants and smile while yer at it.
• • •
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.