Spring Has Sprung: A Dancing Rabbit Update

As we approach the equinox, I’ve been noticing and appreciating the lengthening days here in Northeast Missouri. Our chickens have too, going from two or three eggs on a good day to a dozen-plus day after day here in mid-March. Just as the grass is greening up, brightening the drab beiges and browns of our winter terrain, so my senses are perking up and noticing all the outdoor things I need to do! Ted here bringing you the latest from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

During an unseasonably mild stretch that ended last week, it felt as though everything wanted to be done at once, especially in the garden. I stepped outside early one morning to see a lone Great Blue Heron flying over the village, surely the earliest in the year I’ve ever seen one. The ground had dried out just enough for us to think it was solid enough to bring in a trailer load of manure from a neighbor; then each of two loads managed to dig deep ruts in the road margin and require some tractor or truck pulling to escape from their plight. I always feel like I should know better after this many years growing here, but the imperative to get the garden up and running (fat green peas!) means I’m willing to run some risks to bring in the fertility we need—and repair some ruts.

In any event, Prairie and I did get the first few flats of seeds started 10 days ago, and direct-seeded peas and radishes in the garden just prior to a more seasonal run of cold, grey, wet weather. Shiitake mushrooms started to button on my most precocious logs, but are only slowly growing as the thermometer dips back to, or below, freezing some nights. Nonetheless, the peepers and woodcocks are piping up each evening, the clocks went forward, and I can feel it: the season is shifting inexorably out of winter and into spring. Time to get the tomatoes and other summer veggies started now that the sun is returning. And yikes! I still haven’t pruned all my fruit trees.

Before I leave winter entirely behind though, I must share that for the first time in my life I motivated when the deep freeze first broke to gather up some sugaring gear, tap some trees, gather sap, and boil it down for days to make maple syrup. I’d helped with most parts of the process in the past, but never followed the thread all the way through. The effort produced a bare gallon or so of finished product (representing maybe 60 gallons of sap from a dozen trees over a couple of weeks), surely the most expensive syrup I’ve ever enjoyed, but I will do it all again to reap the pleasure it brings, that first opening into spring. Thanks go to Javi for the loan of his taps and buckets (while he was in New Hampshire’s sugarbush, as it happens), and to Andi and Ezra for sap gathering, fire tending, and other help along the way.

As Liz mentioned last time, the goats started kidding around the beginning of March, and some of the later kid names from the naming raffle include Ulysses, Prometheus, Anna Banana, Goatar, Fatty Lumpkin and Tartuffo. Until the animals go out on pasture, I hold a daily chore of bringing hay and water to the goats and cows. I am thus subjected each day to a dozen absurdly cute baby goats gamboling about the barnyard, tumbling over each other, sleeping in piles, and butting their tiny heads, and I’m expected to respond to their entreaties for attention by holding and petting them to help make sure they are well socialized to humans as they grow older. It is truly difficult, but I get through it somehow. Needless to say, I’m rarely the only human around.

This week my extra credit mission for the dairy co-op was to retrieve a truckful of good hay from a local farmer with Javi and Mae, which brought the added enjoyment of getting acquainted with some local back roads I’d never had occasion to drive on before. Other people from the co-op showed up to help get the hay stowed in the barn before the heavy rains arrived. Nothing like a good spring work party to get the blood flowing. We also managed to disappear a full gallon of brined feta cheese made with cow’s milk the previous week. Since we have goats and this cheese generally relies on sheep or goat milk, I’d never thought to make feta with cow milk before, but it turned out to be delicious and well worth repeating until we wean the kids and start milking the goats in May. It also happens to take less time and effort to produce than cheddar. Bonus!

The past week saw a marked expansion of COVID-19 vaccine availability here in Scotland County, so the majority of those villagers who wanted to get the vaccine had an opportunity to do so, even as other parts of the country are moving more slowly through their prioritized tiers of hopeful recipients. I’m not sure why we were so favored, but imagine it hasn’t hurt that our local hospital’s leadership has been featured in national news stories more than once in recent months, speaking to the pandemic realities faced by rural hospitals.

I had been very much on the fence about whether to get the vaccine myself, wishing there had been more time to accumulate a deeper body of evidence about possible side effects and whatnot, but in the end I decided to go for it, motivated by thoughts of reclaiming some sense of normal, seeing my family and friends more easily, traveling with less worry, and so on (I think I sort of remember what it’s like to eat at a restaurant). I keep seeing the emotional and practical impacts this year has had on all of us, and I am so ready to turn the page. More Ultimate frisbee, potlucks, dance parties, work parties, visitors, and pizza nights.
This coming week I’ll be joining in as a panelist on our nonprofit’s Ask a Natural Builder Anything online event from 3-5pm on March 25th. Sharing our passions with visitors to Dancing Rabbit has been one of the most central threads to my many years here, and I’m eager to start connecting again with people who have similar yearnings and want to get their hands dirty building shelter with natural materials. Experimentation in natural building is only one of the things we do well here, but it has been among the most popular to visitors, and the most satisfying and life-changing to me. Please join us for the event! Tuition is on a sliding scale of $5-15, and you can sign up at www.dancingrabbit.org. I hope to meet you there.

On a similar note, our nonprofit Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture will also be hosting a virtual Women’s Retreat, May 14-16. This popular program builds on one of Dancing Rabbit’s longest-held values of women’s empowerment, and is led by our Executive Director Danielle Williams. I’m lucky to share a kitchen with her daily and can attest to the way she builds and holds a group, bringing out each person’s contributions to a vibrant whole. Don’t miss it!

We are building out our other programs, both live and virtual, for 2021, so be sure to check out the offerings on our website regularly. Interested in a deeper dive? You can also fill out an application for a work exchange position there. Can’t wait to see you here this year—we miss our friends and visitors! Until next time, here’s hoping spring flowers and new green leaves adorn your days to come.

Ted Sterling is a jack of all trades around the village and a longtime member of DR. He is a fixture at Ultimate frisbee games.

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