Howdy y’all. It’s me, Ben, writing to you from amidst the evening cricketsong here in the rolling hills and brambly hollers of Dancing Rabbit, Northeast Missouri.
I don’t usually write at night, because I’m asleep then, but as the days shorten and I struggle to keep up with the demands of my so-called “simple life”, I am without the daylight hours to spend on writing these communiqués to you, dear reader. As I age, somewhat gracelessly, I’ve become a lousy night owl. I cannot see very well in the dark, which can be difficult at times in our rustic ecovillage setting where on a new moon I might very well topple off a footbridge, or step on a duck, without illumination.
Whereas in my relative youth I often stayed awake until sunrise, nowadays I barely make it to sunset. I am also generally less fun after about 8:30, just like babies. At a certain point, basically after all the animals and children are corralled, I tend to collapse face down on our fifth-hand couch that’s old enough to be my grandpa, fully clothed, and just drool until about a half hour prior to sunrise, at which point I stare at the ceiling, think about my day, and groan softly until I force myself awake.
The dawn hour has been real foggy lately, the pasture dew heavy enough to soak my pant legs until lunchtime. I drag my feet for the first fifteen or so steps of my chores, but eventually find my stride on pleasant mornings such as we’ve been having. The evenings have been almost chilly lately, giving me the opportunity to cool down our root cellar and house overnight for the still-summery days.
The tomatoes have slowed down in their ripening, most of the flint corn I planted this year is ready for harvest, and the goldenrod, ironweed, boneset, and Indian grass have all begun to flower in profusion. Must be getting late in the year I s’pose.
The cold mornings put the grasshoppers in a drowsy, sluggish state, making them an ideal seasonal protein source for our pastured chicken flock. On the honey locusts, long pods darken as they hang in ropy clusters, sure to begin falling soon. Pears abound in the orchard. The first few clutches of ducks that hatched out this year have begun flying from rooftop to rooftop in and around our agricultural space, which is pretty much the cue to begin the butcher season. As we prepare to enter the nearing springtime of death, when the flowering ends, and the grasses die back, as the animals work energetically in the dimming days to fatten themselves, it is the perennial sight of duck down strewn about my yard which is like the crocus beaconing early spring.
We try to save and make use of the feathers as best we can, stuffing the down in our pillows and furnishings, and providing the finest of the feathers to crafters, jewelry makers, and collectors. Still our space is often festooned in a dusting of the stuff during this season of harvest. I kinda like the way it looks, but I’m told my aesthetic tastes are unique.
Speaking of aesthetics, this past Saturday was our semi-annual land clean event. There’s always a lot of bustle going on during these things, and over my years here I’ve finally discovered my niche in the process is hauling and reutilizing all the brush that’s generated, in the form of windbreaks, goat fodder, and mulch.
In past land clean events, there has been a fervent contingent of folks who work on recycling, scrapping, or otherwise moving things on to their next place of existence (landfilling it.) I just can’t deal with that part, because I see so much potential future utility in almost any material thing that somebody put the energy into to create in the first place. And sometimes it’s true that I’m looking through the machine shed for something that got thrown out three years ago.
Sometimes folks mulch the paths, or fix up something like the hammock swing awning, or the dock. Fixing things is always a way to be more materially sustainable, which is probably why I like to hold on to so many broken things.
Then there’s all the lawn mowing, and the subsequent cloud of ragweed-pollen-laced airborne particulate matter that shuts my respiratory system down for the rest of the day. It always gets me during the late summer land clean, when folks want our ecovillage to look really good for all those Open House guests coming next week.
Between all the hand pulling of the ragweed, the weed whacking, lawn mowing, tractor mowing, et cetera, it felt like I had a wool sock placed into my sinus cavity. My nose did the water balloon thing. Now, you can do whatever you wish with your yard, if you have one. There’s a lot of ways to maintain one’s space, and who am I to judge them based on their aesthetics?
My current lawn configuration this year is mainly a gnarly thicket of sunflowers, complete with darting goldfinches and buzzing bumblebees, undersown with turnips. I keep it as overgrown and brushy as I can, especially along the roadside, so’s that nobody has to see all my broken rusty stuff, random bits of chicken wire, toilet paper tubes (such a cheap baby toy), collections of interesting sticks, gruesome compost piles, dirty laundry, or, for that matter, me. Why mow my lawn with this much treasure to hide? I do cut a fair bit of grass with a scythe in order to make paddocks for our livestock, but I try to stay away from anything but a fixed-blade mowing implement.
The folks who live here with me all have different takes on how to groom their warrens. Some use hand tools, some have front yards and backyards that are intensely gardened, some folks use electric mowers, others use the push type. The electric weed whacker is surprisingly popular. I don’t much care for the noise, but whatever floats your boat, I guess. All these forms of “lawn care” can be highly hazardous to wildlife like birds and snakes, so mow mindfully, y’all.
It is not uncommon to see a short-cropped grassy lawn, next to a piece of prairie, next to rows of cabbages out here. I like that lack of uniformity. This ain’t the suburbs, folks. I only trim our vegetation enough to be able to make it to the door. Besides the arbitrary homeowners’ association rules about hanging laundry in the yard, keeping growing food out of view, and color coordination, the design and slapdash development of suburbia feels entirely unsustainable and unsafe in context with our current global climate dilemma.
In the face of ever-expanding natural disasters like hurricane Harvey, western wildfires, or the extreme monsoons that are currently flooding nearly a third of Bangladesh, it is important to design our places of human habitation with a high level of intention, preparedness, and resilience. After all, Katrina was only the trigger point during the flooding of New Orleans. It was the levees, built by humans, and the infrastructure, which failed and put so much life at risk. In a real estate economy which profits the most when development continually expands, many of our densely populated areas, here in the Western world at least, are becoming paved over into a nearly inescapable trap, magnified by a lack of pedestrian access and a startling lack of redundancy in infrastructure.
Dancing Rabbit will continue to develop in the gentle steady manner that looks to the future, I hope. As the work of creating a sustainable community passes into its second decade, we are building ever more efficient infrastructure and buildings, growing increasing amounts of food, improving soil health, and designing in a way that accounts for the full life cycle of materials. While I am yet unclear on how our project may fare in the event of fire, flood, twister, or nuclear Armageddon, it feels important to me that we continue to take these things into account, even as we expand. It feels more important to me than maintaining a scorched earth policy regarding dandelions.
In suburbia, people of all ages are concentrated away from roadways. In this here pedestrian ecovillage we often congregate in the roads. This is why we maintain a five mile per hour speed limit for the motorized vehicles that occasionally use our roads. During the most recent Village Council meeting, a group of non-Rabbit boys on a four-wheeler thought it’d be fun to zip around our gravel roads at a high rate of speed, in spite of our posted speed limit signs, the children picking berries in the ditches or playing games in the road, or the parade of tiny chicks and ducklings making their way around my house.
Tereza ended up having to leave the meeting momentarily, along with Mae, and physically stand in the way of said terror-wagon until the boys shamefully puttered themselves back out of our community, heads lowered and eyes averted. The local youths always seem so angsty on Sunday afternoons.
This is a pedestrian village for a reason. We value the safety of all our living things here, and I have a tendency to leave poky stuff all over the ground. That’s probably why Dan didn’t mow our ditch during land clean, which I greatly appreciate, by the way. We don’t let our kids gang up on their bicycles, roll down the road, and scare the cows, and I’d like similar discretion from others as well. I really wish I’d been there, as I relish the grumpy neighbor role, sometimes. Hey, you kids, get off of my brush!
Living communally isn’t always about being up in each other’s business. Sure there are shared responsibilities, basic expectations around helpful, civil communication, and an ever-present need for trust and compassion. Still, one of the nice things about being here, behind my intentional thicket, in the shade and protection of brushy canopy, is that I can be left alone as much as I chose to leave others alone. So, that’s what I’m going to do now.
Stay safe, and maybe let the lawn grow out for a minute. The season of rodentia is soon upon us, and we need the snakes.
As Ben notes above, our annual Open House is happening this Saturday, Sept. 9! Free tours begin every half hour from 1-4 pm, plus there’ll be a village fair, petting zoo, and plenty of friendly Rabbits to answer your questions. (If you’re lucky, there might be a few curmudgeonly Rabbits to chat with, too!) And if you’d prefer a more in-depth experience, remember there’s only one visitor session left this year, so apply now, or you might have to wait til 2018.
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) .