Howdy y’all. Ben here at Dancing Rabbit, just waiting on a thaw.
While this hasn’t yet been the coldest winter I’ve experienced in Northeast Missouri, it is fairly unpleasant to go about my daily necessities at times, between keeping the stock and ourselves fed and watered, and my daily visit to the draftiest functioning outhouse on farm. Without reliable, temperature-controlled, below-grade water storage, I must frequently shuttle water from the county spigot in five-gallon buckets across a landscape I like to refer to as Tundra Lite.
The grasses and forbs have gone into a state of true dormancy, whereas even a couple few weeks ago, the goats could still go off and find some sort of anemic-looking forage. So could I, actually. While the kale and collards have finally kicked the bucket, I am still able to gnosh on turnips and sunchokes for vegetable starch, if I feel so inclined. In fact, they taste better, between the sugar-enhancing cold, and the general increase in my hunger. It takes a lot of calories to make a body this slight and gaunt. Work helps too, I s’pose.
Our root cellar is functioning better than ever before, though there is room for improvement. The thirty-odd quarts of pressure canned venison and duck confit haven’t burst, even on the sub-zero days, but some of the squashes have morphed into squishes. They eat just fine to me, and it makes it easier to serve a perfectly tender butternut.
We’ve got so much squash that right now as I type this, my daughter Althea is building some sort of crude pulley system on the bookshelf to dangle a couple of them off the ground, while the cat and baby paw maniacally at said cucurbits. It’s homeschool physics class.
While there is much to do here besides manipulating vegetables with the use of simple machines, the dormancy of deep winter does in fact reestablish and secure some amount of physical, emotional, and intellectual fortitude. A perennial activity for me is perusing the endless flood of seed catalogs that arrive, though as my life as a gardener and farmer progresses, my excitement about obscure beans and rare fruits is more tempered by experience and reality.
I don’t much care for thinning carrots, or weeding onions, and at times I am pressed hard to pull time out of thin air enough to do the work that I do value and enjoy, let alone make the life-or-death decision of which carrot sprouts to spare or pull, infinitely. We all have choices to make here about how to spend our time. Other than a handful of communal work requirements, nobody sets schedules, though my infant son Arthur tries really hard. As do the chickens, and ducks, and goats, and pigs. The donkey? Well, he looks like he could skip a meal.
Still, building a life outside of the endless hierarchy of managers and supervisors requires practice for those of us born and raised into that pyramid. I’m happy to not exist in a pyramid, but rather a dodgy-looking dirt house built by amateurs with most of the necessary tools. I used to be my own boss, but I have children now, and they are prime motivators. They really get me finding all sorts of things to do out in the arctic chill.
Right now the pastures, prairies, and paths are glazed with a thin covering of icy snow, providing a canvas upon which to follow the comings and goings of various critters. There are signs that a single deer has been prancing across the mown path in front of our young hedgerow, stopping once in awhile to prune the easiest-to-reach twigs of mulberry. Down in the bottoms, prints of ‘possum, coon, coyote, and fox speckle old trails. About the yard are the distinct pointed prints of chickens, and the smaller, equally distinct markings of sparrows and other small birds. The rabbits seem to repeatedly hit the same pathways every evening, and out on the west slope I found a set of cottontail prints that abruptly end simultaneous with a great span of wingtips impressed in the snow. Surely, some rabbit has met its demise in the talons of a large aerial predator, and I am glad it wasn’t me, yet, though it certainly would be a fine way to go, being fed to hawk babies.
Earlier in December, Esmerelda farrowed another litter of piglets. They have made it to that stage where they are tiny but rambunctious, squeezing through fences to raid the winter poultry yard, wreaking havoc as they steal feed, grunting as they thunder at full bore among the frightened fowl like fleshy little bowling balls. Luckily, they grow quickly enough that soon they’ll be unable to wedge their yet-uncured hams through the hog panels, but for now I find their little prints ranging all about our leasehold, free to explore and practice rooting about in the third-of-an-acre expanse. I believe it is the right of all pigs to roam freely, within some sort of human-created boundaries of course. May the rest of their kin, confined behind steel, on concrete, in artificial light, have that chance as well.
In human news, our local telephone co-op has finished installing fiber optic string things all over the village. I guess they found some critter smaller than a gerbil to carry the information packets through the tubes. While this newfangled technoshtuff has been mostly embraced here at DR, some of us with smaller, off-the-grid electrical systems now have to contend with hoping it is sunny enough to call the fire department in an emergency. Good thing my neighbors can generally hear it when I’m yelling.
Still, this latest advance in faster-than-ever cat videos is inspiring me to look into carrier pigeons, which I’ve wanted to do for years. They can deliver a note, produce phosphorous-rich droppings for the garden, and, if all else fails, become dinner. I consider these things clear advantages in comparison to a faster internet, but what do I know? There are plenty of folks here who rely on internet connectivity for a sizeable part of their livelihood.
In fact, we couldn’t pay for our chickens and associated infrastructure without the little boost we get from selling their feathers to jewelry makers online. Still, the internet easily draws me into a stupor, and not the good kind. I typically use it to access forums for homesteading answers and come away a few hours later with less information and battery power than I started with. The best part of our new connection is that I need a small child to hold the router in the air so that it can link the landline phone to the battery bank. Carrier pigeons. Look it up.
So things are more or less dormant at this moment. Or at least in maintenance mode. Sure as the subnivean voles and meadow mice are busy at work beneath their snow blankets, deep in their hidden world, capturing and storing energy, doing the hard work of cultivation and fertilizing the earth, so too are we, I believe. It’s a world of nightmares out there, and here too, at times. This time in history is full of perilous situations and difficult choices. There is no easy way out of a starving planet, or a war-torn world, increasingly divided by boundaries of every kind, glaciers and conflicts heating up every year. There’s no hiding, and there’s no running away.
I’m standing my ground right here, even if it looks a little more like sitting this month. I’m rooted in this place, and I think the earth beneath us and the world around us demands that we all have a piece to nurture, steward, and protect. If you haven’t yet, please find your piece of dirt, and stand on it. We have a lot of work to do, and a fair bit to un-do too, I think.
Want to learn more about creating a more sustainable life for yourself? Check out our online education series “How to Live like an Ecovillager,” where Dancing Rabbit teachers cover topics ranging from creating a carbon-efficient kitchen, to making your home and lifestyle more carbon-conscious, to building skills for cooperative culture! Learn more here!
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.