Has To Taste Like Turnips: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Howdy y’all.  Ben here, just in from the cool, slimy drizzle currently permeating our atmosphere here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

After a long week of summery weather, a cold front has finally pushed aside the warmth and sun I’ve become accustomed to, and replaced it with precipitation and a more Octoberly type of cold. I am hesitant to ever describe the weather as beautiful, which so many other folks often do. I’ve always felt like the weather is just the weather, and that all variations have their benefits as well as drawbacks for us humans. But folks wanna talk about the beautiful weather, when it’s beautiful to them, and so I heard a lot of that this past week.

I also heard a lot of mooing. Some of the neighboring cows managed to make their way through the fence and into town a few nights back. While their impact seemed relatively minor, mostly a little pockmarking of turf and much free fertility deposited, it seems to have become quite the social event around here. I heard at least one reveler (human, I assume) clanging some pot lids late at night, because that’s really all we have in the way of weapons to face down massive kale-destroying herbivores like moo cows. I’ll have to admit that I sat this particular rodeo out. These days I only deal with my own runaway livestock. That being said, it was nice to have something interesting and engaging occur around here this week.

Ducks feasting on pumpkins. Photo by Ben.

Our billy goats are in full-on randy mode. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being around goats in rut, you know just how fun that can be. Sunny, our Nigerian dwarf buck, has been particularly ornery. He apparently perceives me as a threat to his status, if not his actual mating prowess. Flattered as I am, I wish I could assure him that I’m all full up on relationships. Living in an ecovillage makes me less lonely than I wish I was sometimes, and I require little in the way of caprine affection. It’s not that I can’t take the physical high ground with him, but I just don’t have the time, nor the inclination, to engage in a wrestling match. His odor seems to transfer to me quite readily, and then I bring it with me wherever I go. People around here generally appreciate seeing a young person with the appearance of having worked on a farm all day, but nobody wants me bringing my goat stank into the hardware store, for example, or some of our area’s finer dining establishments.

Beckoned by the bleating chorus of does in heat, the buzz and whir of windmills, and the frequent blasts of hedge apples Isaac Newton-ing onto my various tin roofs, the autumn weather seems to have finally set in. The mulberries, elms, and maples have begun to change to gold, and here and there the horizon is punctuated by the blazing tone of wild cherry going dormant.

I somehow managed to get about a hundred garlic cloves planted and mulched before this most recent rain, despite the fact that my toddling boy Arthur insisted on planting some of them. Apparently his outstretched thumb-to-pinkie ruler is not six inches yet, so his spacing was off, but he’s learning the fundamentals. In order to get said garlic put in, I had to sacrifice the last of this season’s tomatoes. Our extended warm season has left very little open space for next year’s crops. The rest of our tomatoes will sit green in a paper bag in the back of our house until they either ripen or the pigs get hungry.

According to the forecasters, a hard frost may set in at the end of this coming week. It’ll be time to bring in sweet potatoes and the rest of the squash. I might could even start a fire in the house soon. Still, I expect the abundance to last well into this winter. I expect the goats will still yield a bit of milk, and that we’ll continue to have much in the way of collards, kale, and eggs well into December. And manure. I’ll always have ample access to that.

My older kid, Althea, fractured her wrist on a trampoline earlier this week, which I’m pretty sure is what trampolines are actually designed for. It is hard for me as a parent and somewhat compassionate human to see children endure injuries, and yet I am relieved for my daughter to have reached this milestone occasion. I didn’t really break any bones until I was in my twenties, and then it was way too many at once, and I somehow always felt like I was missing out on that experience. Not to put any of my crushed dreams on my kids. Unfortunately, she may not get the opportunity to finish out horseback riding for the season, and her upcoming woodworking class may need some modification. As of this writing, her spirits appear somewhat lifted, as long as nobody acknowledges her injury.

In a classic example of rural community interconnectedness, I had to cancel a day scheduled for cutting firewood in exchange for a pig, and Althea’s nurse at the urgent care clinic happened to be the very same person I was supposed to cut the wood for. As I root deeper in Northeast Missouri I find myself appreciating this wider sense of community that I have, some mix of familiarity with geographical distance.

On the inverse, the design of our ecovillage is “European,” which is to say, packed like sardines and full of old stuff. This works best with familiarity as well. Having been here for five or so (very) odd years, I am still accustomed to a general sense of anonymity, in myself, and in others. There is still a contingent of our population that is transient, if not downright ephemeral. I really don’t need to know everything about everyone, and I don’t think I trust anybody who does need to know everything about anyone, but it helps my interactions greatly when I know something about someone that isn’t merely superficial, if you follow me.

Still, there is a time and place for anonymity. For me, that time is between now and March, and the place is comprised of a fifty foot bubble around my person. As the last of our visitor sessions and workshops draw to a close and folks scurry into their dwellings, their larders full of this year’s harvest, their insulation fluffed like common rodentia, I now have the time to look back on all the folks who’ve come through this year, many of whom feel less familiar to me than most of the chickens I know, and ask myself whether or not I’ve made a positive impact on any of them. That is, in fact, a part of the stated mission of this place, but often, when discussing things in the realm of sustainability, I don’t actually feel sure that I know the answers about how to live. I have a load of opinions, though.

My theory, based in experience, is that living sustainably is not easy to do, and there’s no way to purchase a more sustainable lifestyle. I can wash diapers in a bucket, grow enough food to fill some bellies, and build a house out of dirt, but human cooperation is a key to sustainability that hurts my brain sometimes. When humans get together and cooperate, some of the hard work can become better distributed, and yet, more humans seems to necessitate more work, more resources. This project requires a lot from folks, which is pretty much true of all of the problems that need solutions in our world. It’s up to humans to take it on, because the elephants and the squirrels and the cacti and the plankton are all innocent. There’s nobody else on earth who can take credit for our mess besides us. And nobody who can clean it up.

That being said, I sometimes strategize about my clean up, or at least am willing to debate about what constitutes a mess. I think it’s too late in the game for our solutions to look, smell, sound, taste, or even feel good for the uninitiated. My life is nice enough, moderately pleasant even, but in order to keep living lightly, it has to taste like turnips, and feel like duck manure now and then. I am not taking the time to smell the roses in some sort of blissed-out state of nirvanic unemployment, but I do occasionally make time to get ripped up by the thorns on the multiflora rose out in the pastures, when I’m working.

If ever I come up with a packageable solution to our global crises that does not include hard work, human cooperation, and real effort, I promise that I will not hesitate to sell it to everyone, if that’s what it takes, but in the meantime I think I’ll just continue trying to make this lifestyle look good in my own special way. By looking good, I mean looking possible, and cheap to boot. Still, I believe sustainability is kind of like eating lentil gruel on a daily basis. You’ll do it when you run out of options. Actually, I think sustainability might actually be eating lentil gruel on a daily basis, in which case the (over)developed world suddenly has a lot of catching up to do. OK, keep it simple, y’all.


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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