Big Burn, New Kids, Big Game: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Despite what the calendar says, large V-formations of geese have been doing their annual fly-over westward this week, and the wind and temperature variations have suggested early March. We tapped a few maples early in the week, and I’ve managed to get in some outdoor work most days. Just another consecutive year of the hottest global weather on record, and again I’m stuck between welcoming the convivial weather in the moment and worrying about what the unseasonable trend portends. Ted here with Dancing Rabbit’s latest.

Unquestionably the most dramatic few hours of the week came about when the brave folk of the Rutledge Fire Department came out Saturday afternoon to manage the burning of several large fields on our land, totaling 60 acres or more. Various families and individuals from our village attended and helped here and there, as did a goodly number of fire department families who joined us for the spectacle. Many smiles attended the event.

Thomas stands at the ready during the managed prairie burn on Saturday. Photo by Ben.

The burning of grasslands in the American interior to influence local ecologies, including species mix and health, is both a human practice long pre-dating the arrival of Europeans and one that nature itself wields to similar effect. We have used it here to help establish native grasses and forbs on our land, and as an effective way to control the establishment of trees and other woody growth in fields enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.

Given the steady strong wind that day, we were grateful to have the knowledge, equipment, and pure people power the fire department brought, though as it turned out there was still use for the lower-tech tools of that trade that we typically deploy when burning fields (generally smaller ones than this, and in less windy conditions) on our own, and indeed the fire fighters brought plenty of such tools. Soot-smudged Zane and Aurelia were each well-equipped with backpack sprayers which they resolutely wielded to put out spot fires around the edges.

Burning without the fire escaping the designated burn area, in this case demarcated by mowed fire breaks, takes some patient work with backfires lit to burn slowly upwind and increase the effective width of the fire break. In a wind like that, you see, with abundant fuel available, once lit from downwind, the fire rages with extreme speed and ferocity in the direction of the wind, consuming all before it, so the deep breaks serve to deprive the raging fire of its rage. One moment, inferno; the next, poof! Gone, leaving only the massive smoke plume trailing away on the sky and the scorched, naked land behind until the coming warmth of spring turns the blackened fields to green again.

A few other notable moments did come about this week. Perhaps most significant to this goat cooperative member and cheesemaker was the birth of two doe kids to our goat matriarch Curly Sue on Friday evening. Alice, another of our three does, is expected to birth her own imminently, and presumably Honey won’t be far behind. Sara and Aurelia and I ventured down to meet the two wee ones Saturday, and I will leave to your imagination the sorts of sounds we each produced in meeting and holding those little furry critters.

As we headed into the first week of our annual retreat, the Super Bowl made its similarly annual appearance at the Mercantile, bringing more advertising exposure to this non-TV-owning villager than I experience in the entire remainder of the average year. I can only handle so much of that sort of thing, so I am glad that the advertising I do see tends to be the sort upon which a great deal of money and thought has been spent. Still there are quite a few that leave me scratching my head. At least at those moments I could munch happily on Cob’s excellent hot pretzels dipped in mustard.

Oh, and the game itself was pretty well played, though without a horse in the race myself, I was rooting for the team that had never won over the one that had won more than its share in recent memory. I have more family roots in New England than most anywhere else, probably, but I went to sleep lamenting the experience of the folks in Atlanta who spent most of the game building a fair expectation of glory only to see it snatched away at the conclusion.

Toward the end of the game, new resident Dorothy returned home with even-newer resident Liz in tow. Kyle and Caleb also returned home with new resident Ben from a week of house painting down south, and Hassan and Danielle are expected home as well for the start of retreat. It is always good to see people coming home.

The moment that stuck with me most as I dropped to sleep Saturday night after the burn was when I had walked past a small nest of leaves in the midst of a recently scorched field, burned over but not through by the hasty passage of the flames.

I turned back to nudge it gently, curious, and sure enough a rather fat meadow vole not much smaller than the leaf nest emerged slightly. Its well-established home territory was suddenly gone, just some faint trails apparent in the burnt stubble, but it appeared unscathed, and it looked at me plaintively as if to say, “I’ve nothing left but this little bit of shelter! Won’t you leave me be?” It quickly went back into its little nest as I backed away. I hope that its seemingly ample reserves will get it through until it has ventured into un-burned grass not too far off and moved in with its cousins.

May we all have some refuge to find or offer when calamity strikes, and remember the community that knits us all together. Until next time, cheers to you from Dancing Rabbit.

ICYMI: 2017 workshops are open for registration! Sign up soon to guarantee your spot (and snag an early bird discount on CSCC programs)! Or maybe you’d rather come for a visitor session? However it might happen, we hope to see you here soon!

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.

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