Howdy y’all. I guess it’s my turn to write this thing again. I’ll just tell you, because I’m required to do so, that my name is Ben and I’ve been bumbling about Dancing Rabbit for a hot minute now, doing things and touching stuff in a vain attempt to live a little simpler than I could outside of a community like this one. Some of my attempts succeed—like using all three sides of the toilet paper—while others seemingly drag me into an ever more complex fiasco of using resources in order to save resources. Sure, if I could find a level and a tape measure and if I understood what they do, I wouldn’t have to shim up every piece of furniture in the house, but my house is sort of an amorphous blob lacking a flat surface anyhow. Besides, at some point every year we obtain a little indoor rain, so having sloping countertops which naturally drain is a bit of a boon.
One of the more persistently complex fiascos I encounter is finding alternative methods for feeding livestock. Now, it doesn’t take a degree in agronomy to grasp the concept that using arable land to provide food for your food is kind of a net loss in terms of calories, fuel, and fertility on a finite planet such as our own. Still, feeding an animal to obtain a yield can be a totally sensible approach to feeding people depending on what the critter eats and how it’s kept.
Our pigs are currently munching on immature or frost-bit produce, like squash, tomatoes, and peppers. A widespread frost came a couple days ago and instantly denuded the mulberry trees, leaving crispy piles of high-protein fodder on the ground for the goats to nibble. Sugary-sweet honey locust pods hang from thorny branches across the prairie. Perhaps these are the soybean of the future. Like soybeans, honey locust pods might function as human fodder when properly modified. I consider myself a food artist and while I’m always excited to throw down some tasty vittles, I have no reservations about eating something that tastes weird either. It’s just that the margin between starvation and deep intestinal distress is drawn too thin for my tastes with some of these fodders that are infinitely more appreciated in the chomping, frothing jaws of a hog than my own. As for corn, I have plenty, but unfortunately, I can’t digest that either.
A couple/few weeks back, we went on over to the Huff’s farm about three miles up the road and put in about half a week walking fields of blown-down corn, gleaning what we could. It was imperative for their herd of cows that the corn be removed, otherwise they might become sick or die from bloat when they are moved out into the fields. Like a lot of important work, this was a job that could never be mechanized and so, some of us went out and gathered what we could. Now, as the benefactor of these spoils—not to mention our pigs and chickens—I need to build a corn crib. There’s a lot I could say about picking up corn, but I’ll just leave it at this: I move a lot of things back and forth. All the time. That’s just what I do. It never gets old, ever. And maybe that’s how a sane and sustainable world ought to operate, as a constant reshuffling of resources toward their next highest use.
Our culture throws away a lot of stuff. It wastes and then it employs immeasurable amounts of fossil fuel energy to make all that waste go “away.” Not me, not here, not anymore. That’s why I have piles of stuff, boxes piled with stuff, and piles of stuffed boxes. My house currently reeks of languishing sweet peppers, fermenting tomatoes, Asian pears, and laundry. The pears and the laundry are kind of mixed together. That was an accident, but I’m gonna let that situation ride itself out for a minute because I need to write this thing. But don’t worry, I’ll put it all to good use even if it’s kind of weird tasting or my pants smell vaguely fruity this winter. At some point, it’ll be too cold to sweat anymore, and I’ll just cease doing laundry altogether. My little boy is done with diapers, so I don’t have all his necessaries to wash. In the winter, I use something called “cold therapy,” where I hang my pants outside for a couple, few days, let ’em get frozen and windblown, and put them back on like everything’s normal, which it’s not. Everything is not normal. The cleaner the pants, the closer to my body they go. A month or two from now I’ll be wearing three pairs of pants anyhow and they can just kind of shift position every day of the week in a constant cycle of renewal. It’s a theory I’m working out in practice, but today is only a one-pair day.
And so, we’re on the cusp of the cold season here in northeast Missouri. While many of the leaves are stubbornly clinging to their branches, there are some freshly dropped ones underfoot here and there. The grass, for all intensive [sic] purposes, has ceased to grow. For now, pasturing the livestock is a chess game until whenever we can finish their new winter shelters and get hay. The wafting odor of billy goats in rut is carried in the breeze. To me, this is a lingering whiff of stanky musk too sensuous to enjoy, like a dessert that’s too rich—way richer than the green tomato pie I’m working on. Green tomato pie looks nice, is mildly toxic, and doesn’t taste all that great, by the way.
Wet weather seems to have halted the soybean harvest from what I gather, because the thousands of Japanese ladybugs haven’t started creeping into every orifice of our home yet. The days, when not mired in constant cold rain, are crisp and sunny, sometimes exceptionally windy. Woolly bear caterpillars creep about. Nothing seems to eat them. In the midday sun, garter snakes cling to the gravel roads basking while they can. These are all signposts that it’s time to take your vitamin D, pick up sticks for burning, and get your woolies on.
Our final visitor group has made its exit. The hedgeapples have begun to drop off the Osage orange trees, many of them hitting overhanging roofs and then rolling loudly for moments. I have hundreds of them in my yard and I’m basically amazed they haven’t taken out any of the ducks or chickens. They sound like gunshots, which I expect I’ll hear soon once firearms season begins. The acorns have dropped, everything is dying—or at least conserving its resources for the dark and cold ahead. We have taken one or two bites from the buffet of death’s springtime. It’s the harvest season. Weekly, I am butchering as many mature ducks and roosters as I reasonably can. Daily, I watch the movements of a local sparrow hawk sometimes hovering and hunting the sparrows, sometimes being chased off by them. The elm leaves hang half-dead, dusty, and grayed. Icy, northerly gusts send the sharp thistle seeds and goldenrod “floof” in a torrent. Half-frozen grasshoppers and katydids lie in cold paralysis, awaiting peril. If the cold don’t kill ’em, the chickens will. Last night, I saw a nice sunset over near the pond at Dandelion, complete with geese flying north and fiery plumes of giant Miscanthus maiden grass glowing on the horizon, the last thing I saw before twilight.
A few days ago, about the same time that I got the truck stuck in the mud trying to move the chickenmobiles, my neighbor-friend died of cancer. I honestly don’t know if he’d appreciate being eulogized or memorialized in this publication—probably not—so I’ll make no major attempt to do so, and besides, I lack the words. Words can do a lot yet only do so much, and often, they can’t replace action. Here, in what we call the tri-communities, we’ve had a lot of highly intelligent, caring, and talented people come through and I’ve been happy to see some of them stick around. My friend was highly exceptional in his intellect, his care, and his talent. He was honest, too. With me, he never limited his opinions. Many a time I got to hear all about how bad my rocket-stove was. I think it was all just a part of his compulsion to innovate, to make things somehow better and simpler at the same time.
He created a lot of innovation out of mere scraps, piles of shuffled and reshuffled resources. I’d like to be as tender with my children as I think he was with his own child. Occasionally—at seemingly random times, usually late in the evening—we’d have this sort of ambulatory, roving, two-person party. More than once I’ve been lost in the dark—perhaps stuck in a fence—listening to his sometimes sharp, sometimes obtuse, philosophical rants. Often it was even fun for me and I don’t normally enjoy listening to people talk. I don’t know, everything living dies I guess. And it’s sad, even though it’s perfectly normal and natural and I’m getting more and more used to it daily.
But perhaps, at least for me, it’s sadder still to quit innovating or striving to become better and simpler. I think we desperately need more people in the world living their lives creatively. Things are hard enough for me as I’m sure they are for many others. A piglet gets sick, a fence falls over, I’m out of firewood, out of water. After a day of fixing problems and trying not to drown in them, it can be difficult to motivate further and continue to innovate, conserve resources, and build things better in my physical-material reality and in my personal relationships. I just hope we can all continue to strive for something different than this. And so, I’m done with my words for now, they only do so much. I think I’d like to go make a difference now or at least shuffle my piles of boxes and buckets of stuff around.
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