Howdy y’all. Ben here, with an account of this week’s happenings at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, Northeast Missouri. It’s hot here; the sort of heat that boils the motivation out of my blood. Somehow, the air is extremely humid, but the soil is dry to the point of forming fissures. At this point, if you’ve been reading updates from me, you may have noted that I have a major fixation on complaining about the weather. The life we are creating here leaves little space for hiding from it. When extreme temperatures hit, there are a lot of lives at stake, both vegetable and animal.
I wrap the long hot days in parentheses of labor in the dusk and dawn hours. I am becoming crepuscular, like a possum, only less cute, and with more ticks. As the goat pastures have become dry and overripe, the task of moving them comes around more rapidly. At least every other morning or evening, between now and November, it falls on me to scythe grassy pathways for the portable electric fencing. While we have a tractor that occasionally functions, it strokes my ego in a necessary way to know that I can accomplish the same work more quietly, with a slighter footprint. In fact, I believe that a majority of the work that is done by machinery might be accomplished with hand tools, by dedicated humans, albeit a bit more slowly.
I believe in taking the time to slow down and bring our labor back to a human scale. As a village, we have co-created a place where many of our needs, both material and social, can be met at the pedestrian level and I look forward to a time when our perceived need for combustion-driven energy can take a total backseat to simpler tools, mechanisms, and practices.
One way in which that has basically happened this week was in the framing of our new goat barn. For a grueling week of sawing, chiseling, touching stuff, and doing math, Thomas and Cynthia led a group of timberframers, almost all of them green in their experience, through the process of fitting together and raising a geometrically masterful set of heavy, lincoln logs. Now, just a couple hundred feet from where I live, there’s a barn skeleton that will likely stand long after we all lay down forever. Ok, granted, there were some power saws and drills employed a couple/few times and everything was brought in by a truck. Still, with sharp tools, ingenuity, and dedication, human beings are limitless in their ability to do good, ethical work. I can’t imagine what this world might look like if more of us created without employing the forces of global destruction. It would probably have a lot more pegs in it though.
In addition to my steady stream of farm and family chores, I remained fairly engulfed in tasks related to the workshop; mainly baking. There are few things I enjoy more than firing earth ovens when it’s a hundred degrees outside, except for perhaps processing bowls of sweet fruit when it’s fly season. Lucky for me, it is both hot and pestilent this time of year. While serving french toast for our last meal seemed to be a crowd-pleaser, I never want to bring syrup into our outdoor kitchen again. In fact, I’ve consumed more sugar this week than I have since I was eight and I’m feeling a mild hangover from it. I just like to look at pie, I don’t even really want to eat it.
Everybody ate everything we provided, mostly, even though I suspect a full ninety percent of the food contained sawdust and peg shavings in some form (and the leftover raccoon wasn’t exactly a grand slam despite being the most haute cuisine menu item provided). It felt important to throw down some tasty, nutritionally-dense meals, especially because I wasn’t the one hand-sawing in the sun on some forsaken goat pasture. With a high level of precision, I might add.
So, despite the fact that our work on this barn has really only begun and I have a week’s worth of tasks to make up for, I’m calling it a success. Safety was maintained, fun was had, stuff got built, and I think I only reached extreme levels of overwhelm and anxiety like half a dozen times this week, which is pretty much average. I have to go soon and haul some slop, find my kids in the tall grass, and see how much water I can pour into the cracks in the soil, brush my teeth, and try to find out if I own a single pair of pants without an inappropriately placed hole, but stay tuned in the future for more news about potential workshops here. If nothing else, you’ll get to go home when it’s over.
As I look out from my narrow vantage point across my bucket-ridden yard pulsing with baby chicks and ducklings, out past the wooden monoliths sitting plumb and tight, down along the hot dry fields, and through the exploding crop of chest high tomatoes,I cannot quite reconcile how our lives here, so physically and emotionally arduous at times seem to pay off in terms of the total quality of our existence. The work is hard, the yield is often meager, and my brain hurts. Still, I don’t think we’re freaks because of what we’re attempting. I mean, I’m definitely a bit of a freaky individual in real life, but it isn’t because I value the hard work of building a community. I think doing things “the hard way” is a test of how we want to be, as humans. And there’s plenty of hard work for all of us to do, if we want a planet that’s survivable for all life. Well I’ve been cheating enough today, sitting on this computer in front of a fan. ’Think I’ll go toil now.
Come visit us this year to learn practical ways that you can incorporate radical sustainability in your own life! There are still two Sustainable Living Visitor Program sessions and several more workshops happening between now and October, how will you choose to get involved?