Howdy y’all. Ben here, bringing the latest happenings from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, nestled in the humid rolling hills of northeast Missouri. I don’t know if you can smell me from wherever you are, but I can. Right now, I’m getting notes of billy goat, swine excreta, sprouted oats, pencil lead, and beer sweat. I always smell like pencil lead.
If you’ve read more than a couple of these ecovillage updates, I’m truly sorry about the constant obsession with the weather. It’s very relevant here. And actually, I’m not sorry.
To make an understatement, it is hot and humid, as it often is in late July in our part of the world. Today, as of this afternoon, it feels like a six-hundred-pound sow is sitting on my chest, breathing her spicy turnip breath on my face. Last night’s low was probably 75 degrees Fahrenheit, or, translated, not cool enough. At six-thirty this morning, while towing a wagonload of eighty-five laying hens to a new piece of pasture, I was inundated with a freak thunderstorm. By the time I’d transferred the hens, re-set the portable electric fence, moved the automatic, gravity-powered waterer, caught the guard dog, and found my shoes, my fingers and toes were pruned from the precipitation and subsequent humidity. Then the sun came out, and I resumed being sat upon by the sow. Damp, itching, wild parsnip seed clinging to my wet leg hairs, I climbed into the truck, and turned on the air conditioning, mostly for the sake of defogging the truck interior. And that brings me to the central subject I’d like to expound upon.
Air conditioning comes in many forms. My current preferred format is called swimming. It isn’t a perfect system, but all the energy it takes to create the pond has already been spent. Our dug-out earthponds are less cool than the running rivers and Great Lakes of my childhood, but with a minimal amount of dedication and buoyancy, coolness can be achieved by merely bobbling out in the deeper reaches of the pond and scooping up the colder, lower-lying water along my body.
When the wind is still and the sun is bright, the top couple feet of our swimming pond are somewhat akin to some nasty, brothy soup you’d find at a buffet. And yet, I find appreciation in this. My children both also enjoy the pond. Althea, who just turned eight, would spend multiple hours swimming, or at least sojourning along the muck shores, prodding at the duck potatoes and cattails, and scaring up bullfrogs, if offered the opportunity. Arthur, at about a year and a half, prefers to methodically jump into my waiting arms from the dock, occasionally taking a running start.
Another form of air conditioning, the one which I practice the most, is having holes in my clothes. Interestingly enough, my root cellar has clothes in my holes, but that’s a different climate-control practice. You might call it a wardrobe malfunction, especially from some particular visual angles, but I think every one of them breeze holes is appropriately placed. Why would I even deign to patch ‘em, when they function so well? It’d be like suffocating my pants region.
On the nights when our itty bitty off-grid system is cruising along, I do a special yoga position in front of the small but powerful 12-volt fan in our living room. I call it the Spread Vulture, because I’m not as magnificent-looking as a Spread Eagle. I then transfer to the Dead Carp pose for the remaining six hours of sleep.
Sometimes, I do like the dogs, and lay on the floor. Earthen or concrete floors with good ground contact provide the best cooling properties. If you do not believe me, go ask a dog. Sharon just got a new dog, and Christina and Javi got a new concrete foundation. When I am uncomfortable, I seek the advice of animals. They always seem to know the best places to be. I trust the dogs more in the heat of the summer, and the cats more in the winter, when they sprawl in the earthen window benches of our houses. Look, folks, people are foolish. We all know it. Look at the other fauna. Shoot, look at the flora. None of these things emit carbon to stay comfy. Let’s do that.
The final option for air conditioning is a little-known technology called air conditioning. When I moved to DR back in aught twelve, there was very little. Gradually, as our power systems have become more robust, and as the moisture and allergen issues in our dwellings have become more prevalent, so has air conditioning. I’ll say this about AC: It is best when shared with friends. In our quaint ecovillage, I can take a moment to stroll through the common house, or stop into the Mercantile for a refreshment, and experience the benefit of unnatural cool, alongside my neighbors. On the flipside, I can go outside, and increasingly, year after year, feel the negative effects. Namely, an ever-warming climate. I have found that both comfort and discomfort are experiences best shared with others, though I do a fair bit of panting in solitude these days.
In primarily vegetarian cultures like India, climate control supplants conventionally-raised meat as a major source of carbon emission. In such places, where a growing economy supports a growing middle class, more individuals and family units are choosing to use climate control. In a way, I cannot blame anyone for taking the opportunity to get something in life that they’ve never previously had access to. That’s probably why I have so many goats and chickens. Therefore, I think it is we, in the affluent Western economies, who must blaze the trail back to simplicity and energy sanity.
Very few people want to suffer in the elements, and those who do probably have specific reasons buried within their psyche for that. I’m not here to judge that, but I prefer to do what feels responsible to me. If you want to catch a breeze at your local library, or walk around in Wal-Mart without making a purchase for a few hours in order to bask in the air-conditioning they freely provide, so be it. If you’d like to run an efficient AC unit, on sustainable energy, in your personal dwelling, have a blast. But what I like the most is having your dehydrated, sun-blasted self next to me, out here, in all of our weather’s brutality. Maybe not right next to me, but within view is fine enough.
In other news, helping the food to grow is going well for me. I have just obtained a couple of registered kunekune gilts. That is to say, grass-eating micro pigs. In our modern, subsidy-bolstered, monster-sized, false food economy, those of us with the passion to feed people are turning to smaller, more sustainable ways to do this. The kunekune grows more slowly than a conventional hog, is unable to disturb soil due to its teeny nose, and can subsist on an entirely vegan diet of grasses and vegetables unsuited to human consumption, though I’ve found that they quite relish the whey from our dairying and the dirty eggs I am unable to sell to the general public. Whereas fully mature swine breeding stock can blow up to a size I cannot maintain, calorically, kunekune boars and sows rarely grow past 250 lbs, which I am certain I can sustain on grass, whey, and vegetables alone. Our two recent additions to our animal workforce are named Mercedes and Lexus (Sadie and Lexie for short), in reference to the rather high startup cost.
The pigs I’ve raised in the past continue to yield well after they’ve gone on to become quality protein for my human neighbors. The central barnyard where I’d been feeding them for the past year and a half has become a veritable jungle of volunteer veggies. Tomatoes, watermelons, squash, cukes, pumpkins, oats, and greens have sprung up in the hoofsteps of all our former pigs. Dispensing fertilizer here and there, as pigs are often wont to do, has further encouraged beans, zucchinis, and melons to reach skyward, some of the plants being well above my chin as of this morning. We have a bounty of heat, a smattering of moisture, and fair bit of fertility down there, all adding up to what will certainly be an abundant harvest. It does seem that work and toil beget food, and that food begets fertility, and that fertility begets more food. I hope to keep the whole thing rolling as best as I can, and intend to never enter the downward spiral of depletion and erosion.
Food is a thing of great value, and many foods value many different climatic conditions. I can give thanks to the heat and humidity when I watch trellised tomatoes blush, watermelons swell, cowpeas flower, and corn tassel. I also welcome the cold that encourages kale to take charge in our garden, and puts fat roots on the carrots and radishes. What I’m not so hot on is disturbing the temperature in our atmosphere in order to alter the temperature in our homes. Climate change will probably not look like munching mangoes in Wisconsin. It might be closer to fighting over honey locust pods in the barren, scoured remains of a former heartland. I’d rather moderate between the two, and stay happy with turnips. By the way, if you haven’t planted turnips for the fall, this is the week.
So if you happen to be reading this in the air conditioning, please take a moment to consider the conditions we are creating in the air. And of course, stay cool. Even if you need to poke holes in your pants.
Editor’s Note: As always, opinions expressed in this column are the opinions of the author, not necessarily those of Dancing Rabbit. As we sometimes say, “Ask 20 Rabbits a question, and you’re likely to get 20 (or 25) answers.”
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.