Aurelia with fresh Ironweed produce

Gardening, Governance, and Growing Up: A Dancing Rabbit Update

I am munching an ear of corn from the garden as I write this, one of the last ears of several dozen that we successfully grew and managed to eat this year – as opposed to the many we’ve grown and lost to racoons in many previous years. This is just one of a variety of successes we’re experiencing in Ironweed garden this year, from abundant cucumbers and broccoli to a growing number of warty gourds, herbs, flowers, and other veggies. It’s not that we don’t usually grow lots of good produce, but to experience so many successes all in one year is exceptional. Ted here to bring you the latest from Dancing Rabbit at the abundant midpoint of summer in a decidedly strange year.

It is not just that the weather has been cooperative, seasoned with regular rain and unusually mild temperatures, but a product of the garden receiving enough steady attention to make a lot of things happen; each at the right time, week after week and month after month. The steadiness is especially important with getting plants established, and in some cases with keeping them alive. Our increasingly indispensable work exchanger Prairie is a significant force in that equation, working on her second year with us, and we’ve offered her the position of garden manager for next year.

For various reasons, the squash family struggles here. Squash bugs and cucumber beetles are both plant consumers and vectors for bacteria and viruses that can fell robust-looking plants overnight. Even when growing less susceptible varieties, keeping them alive long enough to produce and ripen fruit requires searching for and destroying eggs and live insects several times a week, along with steady watering and keeping all weeds away to maintain airflow. Slack off on your efforts for a few too many days, and a very happy squash patch can rapidly devolve into a disheartening wasteland of dead vines. Maybe the Covid pandemic has me more focused on sanitation this year than in other years, but despite the standard busyness of life in summer, we’ve managed to stay ahead of them long enough for us to bring in a satisfying harvest of squash and cukes. Just now we’re starting to lose some, but I’ll keep up the good fight.

Not all harvest victories happen in the garden, but still they depend on timely effort to avoid going to waste. The windfall carrots Prairie mentioned processing in her last column have now fermented into an astounding quantity of extremely tasty, salty-spicy-sour pickles. We sold a bit to some interested neighbors, but live pickles do not stay happy for too long in summer temperatures, even in the root cellar, and we only have so much refrigeration space available, so to extend the life of the product, they need to be canned. Once again, it fell to Prairie to engage in this further processing, as I was heading out on a float trip in northern Iowa this past week. She did it with little more than some hasty verbal advice from Sara and me and her innate pluckiness, but rank upon rank of beautiful orange pickles now grace our cellar shelves, to feed us in the winter and beyond. As Sara put it, Prairie earned her canning badge this week! 

Javi checked in from the end of the first week of his annual stint on a fire crew out west. Based in eastern Washington and training to be an engine boss this season, he reported that they had worked four 100+ degree days in a row, and were between fires, with dry lightning expected so that all were on high alert. I’m missing my beer brewing partner, and we worry about his safety sometimes, but I’m always fascinated to hear about the experience, and to hear this year how the fire crews are out of necessity isolated in pods with strict protocol on masks, keeping track of who they’ve been in contact with for more than 15 minutes, and so on. We humans like to resist change, yet we adapt steadily to that only constant.

John returned from several weeks away and a successful surgery and recovery, having kept us apprised of how he was doing along the way. We’re glad to have him back and grateful for his jovial presence and willingness to pick up the vehicle co-op’s maintenance tasks in Javi’s absence.

In our plenary Zoom meeting last week we successfully chose a new slate of villagers to serve on the Village Council. Joining mid-term members Liz and Thomas, on the rising council will be Dan and first-time councilors Ben and Cat. The meeting was not without technical glitches, and relied on formats honed in live meetings over past years, but went off successfully in the end. We’re thankful to those willing to serve the village in this way so that other villagers can focus their time elsewhere, and hopeful that we can return to live meetings some day.

Work exchanger Eric stood in for me on cheese making while I was away this week, and was in the process of waxing a healthy-looking hybrid cow-goat cheddar when I walked into Ironweed upon my Friday return. His cheesemaking skill has grown steadily over the past couple months, and he expresses interest in raising more cattle and expanding our cooperative dairy if he settles here. Three cheers for spreading the workload!

Our nonprofit Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture (CSCC) this week wrapped up our virtual visitor program, with a variety of villagers giving filmed seminars with live participants on various topics from DR history and “inner sustainability” to land use planning, alternative energy, permaculture, and more. In a year when we have had to cancel our normal visitor sessions, we hope these filmed versions can reach those interested in our work and in potentially moving here. In this as in other ways, I’m continually grateful for the internet in our rural location, and struggling to imagine how different the experience of COVID-19 would be without it. I do enjoy being a little removed from the mainstream, but as much as I prefer analog tech, the computer and the magic of digital devices and world-wide connectivity are indispensable to my quality of life.

Later this month, Sara and I will be taking our daughter Aurelia, born and raised here in Scotland County, to board at a Waldorf-inspired high school five hours away in Viroqua, southwest Wisconsin, where she already has some friends from the singing event we’ve attended in nearby Decorah, IA in past years. Like schools everywhere else, they are working hard to figure out what combination of protocols and precautions will allow in-person education to recommence, having been dissatisfied with the remote-only learning that was forced upon them in March. We are savoring every moment with her, simultaneously excited for her to take significant educational steps toward adulthood and self-direction, and fending off the sadness of the hole she’ll leave in our daily lives and the texture of our community. She leaves by choice, knowing we’re still close enough to see her regularly, and that she will always be welcomed home with open arms.

I have learned over my 17 years here that every year’s weather is different, but I cannot remember any previous first week of August with five days forecast with highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s. It might just be the sadness of losing my daughter from my daily life soon, but there is something of late September in the air just now. Elderberries are ripe and falling. Rudbeckia and sunflowers are blooming to make seed for the future. Tomatoes, peppers, and okra are ripening as fast as they can, knowing their window of opportunity is short. Some potatoes gave up in the few weeks of hot dry we had, and want to be dug, but sweet potatoes are getting really excited, plowing their energy into fat, sweet, storable goodness underground. Field peas are flowering and going to seed, making more calories for us to eat this winter.As the unsettled world continues in its storm-tossed movement, I hope you are able to find times of calm confidence that, sooner or later, we’ll either return to something like normal or learn to adapt and find comfort in what is. Here’s hoping that as a culture we can learn to accept each other’s differences and dial back the sense of division and animosity that seems to be consuming our country. We have made it through numerous extreme moments before, and we will do it again, but we’ll get there sooner the sooner we lay aside our disagreements and seek common ground. Meanwhile, keep up your good work of holding it together as best you can, and know that we’re all in it together!

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