Howdy y’all. Ben here, among the rolling hills of Northeast Missouri, where Spring sprang official. I’m here somewhere between the freak flurries of pebbly sleet and the slow unfolding blossoms of plum.
You know what they say about the weather here in our neck of the woods? If ya don’t like it, wait five minutes. Assuredly, that country witticism originates here and nowhere else. Come late March we here in the Midwest are walking a razor edge, weather-wise, as our tree friends begin to break dormancy, exposing their fragile reproductive systems to the onslaught of forty-mile-an-hour winds and early morning frosts. Then there are those days of warmth and tranquil breezes, drying the garden soil enough for a few peas, as well as the line-hung diapers.
The pastures and footpaths, courtyards and sod roofs have seemingly transformed overnight from trampled, sleeping clods of thatch to perky verdant stands of grass. This frustrates the goats endlessly as they loaf about tonguing great piles of hay which three weeks ago were gourmet, but now cut no muster with their highly attuned, snobbish ya might say, palates. They know there’s grass out there. Mounds of clover and lively young dock leaves as well.
It’s in the air, along with swarming bees, evening gnats, and big fat robins. Goats have hay, and humans have cabbage. They’re both good in December, but come along vernal equinox, they don’t hold the same appeal which they once did.
It’s the time for spring tonics, a time to cleanse and reset the body, long disoriented from a winter spent loafing, shivering, and eating our respective fodder. Along the sunward side of walls and fences, wintercress, peppergrass, chickweed and chive stand up for plucking. I never wash these, I just stuff ‘em and chow, grass, grit and all. Spring tonics don’t work without dirt.
Chickens eat vegetable vitamins as well. Chickweed and henbit have those names for a reason. But to really round out a natural diet, chickens need bugs. Lucky for them, I’ve got rotten old barnwood all over, and just kicking a plank over opens up a squirming buffet of worms, wood roaches, roly polies, and what have you.
We’ve cut down on supplementary feed, but egg production has certainly peaked. Our flock is currently making three dozen eggs a day, not to mention the ducks. We have exceeded the community demand for eggs by approximately two hundred percent. Eggs are a fine food, I think, especially when they come from a flock allowed to exhibit all its natural behaviors. Still, we might need some hogs or something to reckon with the surplus. I just can’t figure out mayonnaise.
Raising livestock, at its best, is a conversion from what’s naturally growing yet unpalatable, or even indigestible for human beings, into something tasty. To keep the goats from getting ants in their pants about getting onto pastureland that is just too young and fragile at the moment, we harvest the rye cover crop in our garden with a sickle and haul it down for lunch.
Still, they want a spring tonic of their own choosing. A few nights ago they broke down a door in the barn and decimated the dogwood and elderberry in an adjoining henyard. These are the tragedies which befall those of us who raise goats and trees.
I have taken to walking them along the bottom portion of Dan’s vineyard for an hour at a time to nibble on a nice little field of clover. Goats, being the sociable critters that they are, can be quite easily herded without fence for as long as you wanna stand around in the grass for, so long as you understand their body language, and they your’n. It is even possible to do it with an infant strapped to your chest, and nanny goats seem to have a particular fondness for human babies, it seems. They like the smell.
In fact a lot of things are possible with an infant strapped on. Some of them are relatively straightforward, like carrying buckets or making sandwiches, and some require wisdom and skill, such as pruning trees with a handsaw, or relieving oneself of bodily effluent.
Eating soup is surprisingly difficult, as is chasing down a high strung miniature donkey. Still, donkeys need chased and limbs need cut, so like many generations of our forebears, we must run awkwardly, attached to wailing infants, shaking sticks at large beasts as we eke out our curious existence.
Having a one-month-old along for the ride isn’t all that bad. We get the occasional bouts of frantic, toothless smiling, the pleasant coos, and the sorts of grimacing one only makes when soiling themselves. Once baby Arthur can hold his head up, I might just design some type of bucket-based child carrying system.
The inefficiencies of child-rearing on the homestead were traditionally offset by the responsibility of the other children, and often to the detriment of the mother. Big sis’ Althea, who has at least six good years of callus on her feet, fills the need for extra help somewhat, but often times she explores. Technically, that means she’s missing, but probably within a half mile of home.
Lucky for us, we aren’t all alone in the sticks, hauling water from the creek and shooting squirrels for supper. For one thing, we don’t have too many squirrels here. And another things is that this is in fact an ecovillage. Though we as individuals are fairly responsible for our own long term survival, we are held in a net of cooperation.
This past week, in addition to keeping the walking water flowing, the humanure hauled, the critters fed, I was also able to perform some amount of maintenance on our pond dam, measure out leaseholds in our agricultural area, transplant wild plums, get a rooster kilt and et’, pot up hazelnut babies, muck out the duck pen and the chicken house, go vote in Rutledge, and perform a few bike tune-ups. This would not have been possible without the collective power of community. And I ain’t gettin’ warm or fuzzy on ya here either.
Though many folk are attracted to intentional communities because of the social aspect, or some desire for deepened human connection, I ended up where I am mainly ‘cuz I’m generally stubborn, and uncooperative in situations that provoke environmental destruction. The ecological function of human cooperation has only begun to dawn on me, as I witness my neighbors endure their own trials of spirit, and often receive the support they need from others. It’s like we can choose to all fight for a bigger piece of lousy pie, or we can all make a better one, and bring it to potluck. Just get in line before the children, I say.
Well, the sun is quite up now, scythe blades need sharpening, babies need bouncing, seedlings need watering, and if it gets as cold as they say on Wednesday night I’ll have to swaddle the Nanking cherries in old feed bags. Then there’s dishes. If Arthur cooperates with me I might just pick up buckets in the barnyard, or hunt for mushrooms.
Still, the spring is fickle. The peace, tranquility, and downright good fortune of a fine day in March can be shattered in a moment by the approach of dark thunderheads. And though I like a good downpour as much as anyone– it fills the rain barrels, grows the grass, and gets those socks I left in the yard clean– you’d a thunk I’d figured it out sometime in the past 31 years that times turn hard in an instant.
Maybe we’ll stop quarreling, build an ark for our neighbors (all of ‘em; black, white, animal, vegetable, whatever), and eat pie ‘til the rainbows show. Or maybe we’ll be up some creek, paddle-less. To me it’s about as sure a thing as what the weather’s gonna do in five minutes.
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Spring is a great time to plan a week to recharge! With 11 rides and hikes in 2016, there are even more options to be a Climate Ride hero. Register at climateride.org and support our work by selecting Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage as a beneficiary!
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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.