The Frost Has Come: A Dancing Rabbit Update

All good things come to an end, I hear, and in my 15-plus years at Dancing Rabbit, it has so far held true that every warm season is sooner or later met with a first frost. I did see the forecast—patchy frost here the other morning—and I’ve seen the marginal impact on beans and sweet potatoes in the garden. The first definitive frost is expected tomorrow night. I anticipate climate change may shift our seasonal expectations over time and we may end up in zone 6a instead of 5b, but for this year we’re seeing frost just a hair later than average.

Ted here, to share with you Dancing Rabbit’s news for the week. One thing that has shifted somewhat over the years is the extent to which Sara and I will go to keep tender garden plants alive through the first round of cold weather. I have gradually found more acceptance of this inevitable end to the growing season as well as a willingness to engage in final pre-frost harvests without hedging my bets we might nurse frost-sensitive plants a little longer.

Our last visitors of the year (photo by Brian)

The truth is, once the first cold weather rolls through, the tender plants might survive but don’t usually do much further setting or ripening of fruit, so any benefit is marginal. Still, we have the benefit of everything that did make it this far; our kitchen overflows right now with ripe and ripening tomatoes, peppers, and other summer fruits, and we’re stowing potatoes in the root cellar. All the rain also brought out the first shiitakes on one of the mushroom logs I inoculated last April: two dinnerplate-sized beauties on a log from an oak tree that formerly grew in Ironweed courtyard.

I’m pleased to look out the window and still see the rich green hues of the warmer season made still more vivid by the persistently wet conditions. A renewed downpour has just begun as I write, on top of 7-10 inches logged in my week’s absence as well as some since. All I can say is, “thanks!” but it feels like too much, too late to undo the drought’s effect on the growing year and the wet, together with the onset of cold temps, has me diving under the bed for my long underwear.

At least I can count on autumn to bring on more wind power. With all the gray days recently, our off-grid power system with its failing battery bank would be quite sunk were it not for the surge in steady winds that typically arrive this time of year to complement the solar power we rely on. Sara has finished assembling a record of our current power needs and uses so we can determine the appropriate size and scale of a replacement battery bank. Now, finally, we are ready to place the battery order, along with a few other people adding to or replacing their respective battery banks. Just in time for winter . . . phew!

I was away to the East Coast last week and into the beginning of this one, so despite missing a lot of the rain as it fell, I have certainly grown accustomed to the muddy, wet soil and path conditions since my return. This has affected the experience of visitors in our final visitor session of 2018, some of whom are camping in this transitional weather. As one of their liaisons meeting with them each morning, I’m on the front-line to hear of their experiences (of cold and wet, at the moment) and help them get their needs met on behalf of the community. Despite living here for a long time, I’ve somehow managed to miss performing this task until now. There is always a new experience to be had here and volunteers needed to do what needs doing.

As an example, just when I was struggling with the mud and trying to add mulching paths to my heavy to-do list, new resident Colwyn showed up Saturday and again on Sunday with a wheelbarrow, shovel, and rake to mulch some of the hardest-hit paths in my neighborhood. For this type of work, he earns an hourly rate from the village commons, but seeing the need and voluntarily committing to scheduling the time and doing the task is invaluable. Thanks, neighbor.

Speaking of new residents, our newest, Jason, arrived from Colorado in my absence and started setting up his household in advance of his partner arriving later in the month. It was a heck of a week to attempt this, trying to protect all the important things he brought with him from the elements, but when I saw him last he was still in good spirits. I’m extra excited because they will be joining us in Ironweed eating cooperative later in the month. Welcome to the village, Jason.

There was also another tractor training during my absence. Tractor exposure isn’t unusual for kids growing up in this part of the country (as Aurelia is continually reminding me), but many of us come from elsewhere and don’t get that growing up. I never drove a tractor until I first worked on a farm in Maine as an adult. Training is held once or twice a year and allows everyone in the village who wants to experience the joys of mowing and moving heavy stuff around the chance to do so.

As mentioned above, I traveled eastward last week with my daughter Aurelia for a family event. The travel logistics part of traveling is often skipped over in the telling, but the trip out was more notable than usual in that we had a five-way rideshare, fully occupying a sedan carrying the five of us from Dancing Rabbit to three different events in three eastern states during roughly the same time frame. Over the years, we’ve concluded (backed by research) that our efforts to coordinate travel and maximize the utility of every trip we make is one of the most effective ways we at Dancing Rabbit have reduced our transportation-related footprints.

Sunday marked several birthdays among our friends and family. So, after our weekly scheduling meeting, Tereza called her mother Joyce (and someone else recorded for former member Kassandra) while the room full of Rabbits sang the Dancing Rabbit birthday song. In recent times, I have used a similar strategy for my mom’s birthday. It’s always nice to have an instant choir for special events!

Hesitant as I am to let go of balmy, warmer weather, it isn’t all bad. Once I’ve accepted the arrival of colder temperatures, I am free to appreciate the warmth of the first fires of the season. Despite the lingering warmth of our buildings earlier in the week, we had our first fire at home and our first wood-cooking fires in the kitchen. That is a welcome development because the solar oven has limitations in this weather and I’m ready for some warming casseroles and breads.

Dancing Rabbit’s final public tour of 2018 is at 1 pm on Saturday, October 27, so be sure to schedule it in if you’ve been meaning to come see us and haven’t made it yet. Pizza on Thursday nights at the Mercantile doesn’t stop though! We hope to see you soon.

I wish all our readers a smooth transition into autumn and all that it brings this year. Here’s hoping you have abundant food, shelter, and firewood or other fuel stored up and plenty of company to keep you warm.

Looking for Dancing Rabbit swag for yourself or a special someone? Check out our new store where you can get all the best Dancing Rabbit gear!

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