It is a pleasure to write to you this week of the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and undoubtedly some other holidays celebrating the shortest days of the year and the sun’s return toward more warmth and light. Ted here to bring you the latest from Dancing Rabbit at the dark of the year.
I’ve been buoyant with the abundant sunlight and relatively mild temperatures this week, which have allowed the paths and the chicken yard to return to de-iced pathways and good chicken forage. I’ve even managed to harvest some useful outdoor water with the snow melt, despite having drained all our rainwater barrels at this point. I do seem to recall an epic community sledding event on Monday as well, first of the season, but that seems like ages ago now.
Getting out for frequent walks is one of the gifts of this current weather streak. I’m repeatedly entranced by the winding mowed path on Big Prairie north of our swimming pond. Of all the mild interventions we’ve engaged in on our land trust in 22 years, including seeding four fields to native prairie species, burning various fields at regular intervals, and planting upwards of 14,000 trees, none seems more apparent than the Indian grass that has expanded into dense stands even where we never planted it. Its tall, stiff golden form covers the surrounding terrain up there and reflects the bright afternoon sun, dazzling the eyes as we walk through it. It springs back from every burn cycle more resilient than before.
Despite the days still getting slightly shorter, our chickens surprisingly picked up the laying pace this past week, going from one or two eggs a day at best (from 18 hens) to five or six a day for four days straight. We are fortunate to be able to fall back on eggs from the Critters when we don’t keep up with our kitchen’s demand, but I always enjoy the satisfaction of consuming the product of our own efforts. As I start mentally populating the overall to-do list for the coming year, starting a new batch of chicks is moving up there.
With Mae and kids taking off for a couple weeks for the holidays, Ben is holding down the fort out at Critterville. Our calf will consume all of Sugar’s milk without Mae around to separate the calf at night and milk her in the morning, so we won’t have milk until her return. I had just cleared the decks and made a nice six-pound cheddar before realizing that there wouldn’t be more milk. Thank goodness there was one more day’s milk to come before Mae left, so we have a bit for kitchen use and holiday baking in the meanwhile. Nothing to make one appreciate a valuable resource more than to have it go away unexpectedly! I’m also trying to get myself into a daily habit of helping to ferry water supplies to the barn, in appreciation of all that liquid milk I’m not getting right now.
Sara, Aurelia and I walked out to the highest ground on our land early this morning (just northeast of town center on the border with our neighbors, the Neeses) to observe the return of the sun following the longest night, the Winter Solstice. I loved the way the sun oozed above the horizon in an uneven molten glob, impossible to look away from at first and then hard to look at directly before it had fully leapt above the horizon. We remembered numerous years past when we’d run into other friends at that hour doing the same, and thought of those friends near and far.
I am not a strongly religious man. I grew up with the Episcopal faith but have steadily hewn to science and rationalism as a teen and adult. Undoubtedly, there is more present than can be described by science thus far, and yet I am content without deity or any idea of an afterlife. I think it is my duty to use what time I have to try to minimize my impact on a world that is groaning with the weight of human endeavor. I am trying to accept the capriciousness of life, and appreciate every beautiful moment I have while I have it. As I share this holiday week with friends whose faith and sense of tradition are many and various, I can’t help but notice we all desire much the same: peace, good health, shelter and food, reasonable abundance, the love and support of enough family and friends to get through the hard times when they come, and to help those family and friends do the same.
Alongside those preoccupations of the mind, I am still at work in the physical realm, wrapping up the new plumbing in our greenhouse wall, preparing to install siding on it, and hoping to trench in some electrical conduit and lines this week after calling the state’s pre-digging hotline to get the existing utilities mapped so we don’t hit them while trenching. NEMR folks came out within a few days and marked the one phone line that crosses the area in question. I was grateful for the quick response. The depth of the frozen ground is key to the possibility of still getting the lines in the ground before winter makes it harder to do, so I’ve been glad of the snow cover through the latest cold snap and now for these persistent sunny warm days. I might just get the job done before the Gils return to their home in mid January!
Next door, Dorothy is actively moving herself into her new home out on Skunk Ridge. I’m wrapping up a few last details on her electrical system, so I get to see the transformation in stages. I have deeply enjoyed watching the conversion from work site to home over the past couple months. There is a wood stove yet to install, but so far the house’s southern glazing is keeping it sufficiently warm enough not to require active heating measures. Next door, Thomas and Scout have largely completed the foundation work for Connie’s new house in the past month or so. Our newest neighborhood is taking on some character as it adds a third structure.
We learned this week that Charlie and Hills have decided to move to a farm community in New England in the near future. Alyx, Benji and family also departed for winter elsewhere; as did Dan, headed for Florida. It is always a little heart-breaking when community members we’ve grown to know and love decide for the best of reasons to move on to someplace else, whether seasonally or permanently.
The world has so much to offer, and I’m always glad to know Dancing Rabbit’s influence is spreading to some new place through people who’ve lived here, but it is still hard to lose these important parts of who we are as a group, even as I see decisions on newly-accepted community residents coming through my inbox. Cycles and cycles; the only constant is change.
Down at Ironweed we’re also feeling the personnel changes of the season. Tereza returned from several weeks’ time away just as Danielle and Prairie departed for multi-week travels of their own, but not before Prairie got some thermal covering installed at La Casa while Danielle snapped a photo, and I held the ladder. Tereza, Nathan, Sara, and I shared a Solstice brunch; while Thistledown’s annual Christmas Eve dessert potluck, and the Mercantile’s annual Christmas morning potluck brunch, are bright social (and gastronomic) spots in the coming week. Meanwhile other meals will be smaller and quieter, and we are on the lookout for opportunities to share meals informally with others.
We were glad to be present for the Mercantile’s last pizza night of the season this past week, where we saw friends and neighbors alike. Aurelia spent Saturday morning at the first monthly brunch of the new Northeast Missouri Makers’ Guild, toting her steadily-growing bag of spun fibers and the mysterious wooden needles she uses in the practice of nalbinding (picture a circular accent above the second letter), a needlecraft popular among the Vikings (yes, the Scandinavian merchants of the Middle Ages). I’m waiting to hear the date of the first brewing event for the budding local brewers’ guild. Active jigsaw puzzles keep showing up in the great room in our Common House. Life could be more dull!
Wherever you are and whatever holiday you may hold dear this time of year, we send much warmth and joy to you from Dancing Rabbit. Thanks for being part of our wider community! We look forward to seeing you again in the coming year. Happy New Year to you.