Oh hey y’all. It’s me, Ben, taking time out of the limited daylight hours to give a little update on life here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. I’ll do my best and make it briefer than usual, for in these short days of waning light, there is much to be done before the sun turns the corner and disappears for fifteen hours.
It has been awful dry lately, to the point where I almost miss the sensation of having my muck boots suctioned off my feet in the mud. The relatively mild, okay, freakishly mild weather has given me opportunity to transplant currant and willow cuttings into the soft, dry, unfrozen soil, which may actually need watering here in mid-December. Yesterday’s forecasted rain was little more than a heavy dew. I have enough rainwater captured in our aboveground tank for approximately one more day of farming before I’m back to hauling it by the bucket from the nearest county spigot.
The animal chores are feeling as ceaseless as the long night with so little sunlight to perform them in. With the pastures dwindling, fragile in this cold drought, I am daily feeding honey locust pods and hay to the goats and donkey. In the quest to raise our pigs free of grain and commercial feed, I am feeding them squash, turnips, potatoes, hay, sunchokes, and trimmings from poultry butchering. Zimmerman’s Store in Rutledge let me take home a crate of enormous cucurbits that had been frost damaged, some of them longer than the swine themselves. The pigs thank y’all very much. I think those are squeals of appreciation, at least.
In trying to remain thrifty in our animal feeding, I’ve reduced the amount of organic milled feed for the chickens, as they aren’t quite paying rent with the eggs this time of year. To compensate, as there is little in the way of insect life or grass to forage right now, I’ve been sprouting whole corn and oats in buckets. I’ve got buckets of sprouts all over my little house right now, which is fine, because they make nice seats (we don’t really own any indoor chairs) and they match all the other buckets I keep. I haven’t really moved onto the interior design phase of home-ownership, other than the bucket motif.
Some folks really appreciate the cozy, togetherness thing that goes on this time of year. I’m happy to appreciate it all as distantly as I can. A family of four can certainly dwell in a 400-square-foot space, particularly when they’ve been deconditioned out of expecting the more lavish extravagances of an energy-hungry, western, first world lifestyle. Still, there are times in the winter when I start drafting up excuses to go stand out in the cold and stare at chickens instead of enveloping myself in the special sort of claustrophobic coziness that toddlers and needy cats seem profuse in. The back half of our house is basically strewn with laundry and boxes of feathers, and the front half is blanketed in water buckets, boots, firewood, diapers, and boxes of squash. It’s loud, as little Arthur has discovered the joys of hitting things with sticks, and the whole thing smells like a combination of corn sprouts and rendered duck fat. I’m not complaining about being abundant in these resources, I just appreciate them more when I’m not consistently tripping on them or spilling them on the rug.
Lucky for everybody, the rest of the family will be travelling for the season, as so many folks do this time of year. While I cannot wait to bachelorize the house for a couple of weeks, perhaps have some mostly non-verbal meals with neighbor Sparky, I do ponder the relatively recent phenomenon of biological families living hundreds and thousands of miles apart from each other. Before the days of fossil-fuel powered locomotion, people were more rooted in their place, perhaps more likely to see the value in stewarding the only land they were connected to. It’s all good and fine to see the rest of the world, or Omaha for that matter, but I’d stay planted in the thin soil like a stubborn honey locust. I can’t even handle going to Kirksville anymore.
Besides, I can always dig around the recycle center here and find a four-year-old National Geographic if I want to know more about other places. With all the critters relying on me, I’m more than rooted, I’m basically stuck, which is my favorite way to be. I like to think of myself as being perennial. My mother recently moved near to us in a sort of simulation of the old ways that families habitated, but still, if we were doing it the horse and buggy way, the geographic distance between us would be still be far, cold, and tedious to travel.
While the pastures are lean and frostbit, and our gardens are completely barren save for a few verdant garlic sprouts, we are eating well, and within season. Our diet is fairly heavy with meat and roots this time of year. Instead of canning our summer produce, I’ve opted to dehydrate most of it instead. Every meal has a sprinkle of dry lambsquarters or mustard greens in it, for roughage. Now and then we get to break into some aged goat cheese. City folk would probably shell out to eat as meagerly as we sometimes do, and as intrigued as I am by the notion of selling a five dollar turnip (it’s artisanal), I’d ultimately rather be a provider than a producer, and keep folks closer to their food than that. I’d prefer not to be the only person smelling my animals. That feels local enough, to me.
With Mae and the kids gone, I’ll be focusing more intently on dog training. We just got a couple of working pups, Gilda and Fang, and they’ll need a lot of focused attention so that they become natural, non-lethal predator control for our stock, rather than predators. So far, so good. They generally roll over and dash back to their corral when verbally reprimanded for chicken chasing, so I’ve got that going for me. They’re also cute, if you’re into dogs. They sure do seem to produce a lot of fertility for such little things. I’ve been keeping a barrel of kibbles for them, in addition to bones for feeding. The barrel doesn’t have a lid on it at the moment, so this morning there was a young possum in there. Possums are fine, but I don’t think I’m hungry enough for one that eats kibble, so I guess I should go find a pair of gloves and set it on its way to fatten a bit more. I’m glad I remembered that I have to deal with that.
This afternoon we’ll be bringing the goats back to the barn for the season, which will certainly tone down the water hauling chores for the winter. Just like us, they’ll be living off the fat of the land, in this case, hay and honey locust pods. It’s been a good year of grazing despite all the dryness, but I’m feeling ready to have things a little more consolidated. Nonetheless, I am not looking forward to the tricky social dynamics that lie ahead for them when they discover that there are dogs and pigs living in their barn, which is why I’m looking forward to next year’s barn raising.
As ignorant of it as I sometimes am, there is a whole human social scene at Dancing Rabbit as well, and recent days have been marked by a variety of gatherings, celebrations, losses, and other foibles endemic to our species. I’ve had good friends and neighbors suffer the loss of family, receive emergency appendectomies, get cool haircuts, sing karaoke poorly, get sick, go broke, make money, feel stress, boredom, really, the whole array of human experience. In this time of long darkness, the fields and prairies asleep in winter dormancy, the pathways all but empty of people, the air quiet save for the rustle of dead grass, is when community is perhaps most necessary. This is why folks gather in winter. Me, I’m gonna go gather eggs and some kindling right now. After I let the possum out for a walk.
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.