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Notes From a Cheese Maker: A Dancing Rabbit Update

The scythe is an elegant tool, used effectively for centuries, and still the best around for slicing mature grasses and other tall tender plants down to a nice turf with reliable efficiency. No motor, no noisiness beyond the repeated swoosh of the blade singing through its work and the occasional metallic twang of the stone honing the blade.  Annually I look forward to these sounds of the season, only to find that the grasses have passed from insignificance to imposing overnight. In the past week the mowing moment has arrived here in northeast Missouri! Ted here to bring you the news of the week here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, while trying to keep up with the demands of the season.

Some years May brings the precocious heat of summer; other years the reluctant coolness of spring. This year is an example of the latter, with nights in the 30s and 40s most nights so far, though thankfully the numerous tiny fruits on the peach in Ironweed courtyard show that the 20s we saw a few weeks back were not a killing frost after all. Despite the chill, irises, columbine, and roses have all been flowering on schedule, potatoes are well sprouted, transplants of greens are starting to bulk up, and banks of garlic are reaching full height in the garden. The rows of corn seedlings rising in the fields locally still leave me feeling a little behind, though; I’m grateful for Prairie’s steady work in the garden, with the help of other Ironweeders now and again. The greenhouse is full of summer fruits getting ready for their time in the soil and sun. So much potential!

May first means the weaning of (goat) kids and the arrival of goat milk in the dairy fridge, so I’m a couple weeks into producing fresh chevre and other goat cheeses now, feeling both blessed and put upon by the relentless need to preserve the abundance alongside the steady three to four gallons of cow milk Sugar is contributing daily. If I had only to be a cheese maker, I’d be perfectly content, but there is so much else to do! New resident and dairy co-op member Rachelle has signed up to learn the art and already produced her first solo cheddar while I went paddling in the Ozarks for a couple days. I’m always glad to share what I’ve learned—and share the workload! As many hours as it takes and as many jars as I have to wash, I’m still just as gratified every time I get a new wheel waxed and set to age, or open one to eat and share.

With mask mandates coming rapidly to an end for the moment, I’m enjoying the increasing ease and I’ve lately joined those contending with a spring cold. The mask wearing of the past year all but eliminated the typical rounds of flu and most other respiratory distress, so I feel a little out of practice, rudely interrupted just when I need every ounce of energy I can muster to keep up with the demands of the season. As infection numbers drop nationally, I fervently hope we do not have to contend with some of the Covid variants causing havoc in India and Brazil any time soon. Glad to let the mask down a bit, and trying to accept that it might return sooner or later, seeing how readily a cold can make the rounds.

We’ll soon be hosting the first group of visitors to the village after a year’s hiatus, so I’m also dusting off my thoughts on alternative energy and land use planning in the ecovillage context to share with these new folks (these are workshops I typically lead, among the many we offer). I’m looking forward to the influx of new energy visitors bring to the village. The demands of the pandemic made it difficult to imagine we’d ever figure out how to host visitors again, but now that significant numbers of people have gained access to vaccines, and most Rabbits who want one have had it, suddenly it does feel doable. Meanwhile I’ve also been glad for the work exchangers starting to arrive, and various private guests who have come through.

While I was away a bit this past week, Mae and Ben’s house, the Foxhole, got a new foundation poured, a first step along the path to a doubling of their interior living space. New starts always leave me thoughtful of the future. Thinking back to my arrival here in 2001, and how many homes we’ve built in that time where once there were grassy fields, I’m conscious of how much power we have collectively to alter the landscape; and how long it takes, every nail sunk and bucket of plaster applied the contribution of somebody’s labor. As a new generation of youngsters fill the air with whoops and hollers during potlucks and other gatherings these days, I hope some will choose to stay, or to return after going out into the world. I’ll be headed north to Wisconsin to catch up with my own young-ish one, Aurelia, this coming week for a couple days, before she comes home for summer in early June. I can’t wait to have her back.

Last weekend Rachelle and I joined our Sandhill friends for their annual road clean along several miles of our local paved road. Along with gathering up all the accumulated refuse, and despite the unusually heavy traffic associated with the Rutledge Flea Market’s monthly opening, Rachelle and I managed to have a good conversation about the historical trajectory of Dancing Rabbit, where we’re at now, and how we can best keep moving forward balancing ecological rigor and social sustainability. As one of the newest arrivals in the village, she’s been having talks with just about everybody to get a sense of how she can best plug in and put some of her engineering background to good purpose. Yay for new energy—and another ultimate frisbee player!
In closing, I want to thank all those who donated to the Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture, our educational nonprofit, during last week’s Give STL event. You help make it all possible! Until next time, here’s hoping your spring is blooming prodigiously and all your projects are going smoothly. Be sure to check out Dancing Rabbit’s website for the latest on programs this season, and how you can get involved. The online women’s retreat is wrapping up as I write this, public tours are returning soon, and we look forward to seeing you here.

Ted Sterling is a long time member of Dancing Rabbit. He turns with ease from scything, to cheese making, to laying cable for our village electrical grid. We are lucky to have him living here! Browse our website, www.dancingrabbit.org, for ways you can visit us, or help us with our mission.

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