Tracks in the Snow

A new baby boy was born to Burl and Troy during the recent full moon eclipse at Dancing Rabbit, before the moon had reemerged from Earth’s shadow. I struggle to credit that it was just a week past. Perhaps it is the innumerable snowflakes that have fallen since (seemingly every day) blurring my recall, but a week past seems a very long time ago.

Folks from the tri-communities of Dancing Rabbit, Sand Hill and Red Earth Farms gathered to celebrate Alyson’s 50th birthday and dance the night away.

Ted here with an update from our fair ecovillage in northeast Missouri, which lies under a steady blanket of white. I’ve been playing one of my favorite games: observing the flow of people-traffic around my home. After each dawn that comes with a new coating of snow, our paths are reestablished by the repeated passage of booted feet over the course of the day. Heavily used paths are well trod by midday, while the lesser-used ones might just have one set of deep footprints peeling off toward a personal shed or a wood pile, only to get dusted over again and left unused for days. I like to get out first thing in the morning in my standard uniform of insulated jacket, bibs, and boots, to shuffle my feet along, clearing and compacting the new accumulation around my homestead to make every subsequent trip easier. (Shoveling just doesn’t seem worthwhile, most of the time.) After breakfast, it’s time to climb my ladder with my long-poled brush and clear our solar panels in this snowiest winter in recent memory.

Wind power has been a wonderful asset through some of the grey days of late, but we got a boost in solar power as well this week, because I finally completed the reset protocol on one of our charge controllers, (a device that limits the rate at which electricity is added to or drawn from our battery bank). I imagined that I had zapped its logic board during the installation of our new battery bank, as it had been nonfunctional since then, but when I completed the process it came back online. The sun came out as well and all of a sudden we were running a space heater for hours at a go, and pulling out our electronic kitchen devices to make use of the surplus juice. Knowing that we can get along adequately for two months without the bigger half of our usual array confirmed my hunch that with all of it producing, and the wind power thrown in, we would be net-positive on an ongoing basis, and have a fair amount of power to sell. The next step is to settle on a new inverter (a component that changes DC current to AC) and bury the wire connecting our system to the local power grid, so we can start exporting the surplus. Meanwhile, electric space heating is a nice perk, as well as a discount on the firewood, carbon cost, and fire-tending labor we otherwise deal with.

Our friend Alyson — former Rabbit, founder and member of Red Earth Farms, village baker, facilitator, and fellow parent, among other roles — turned 50 this past weekend, and we got to celebrate here in the neighborhood. She asked for a dance party, as well as lounging and massage, with some times in which kids could be present and some not.

Andrea rose to the challenge and made her debut as a DJ. She put together a playlist days ahead of time, set up Casa for the event, and gathered volunteers to help in various ways (I provided popcorn flavored with just butter and salt, the way Alyson likes it). Andrea even imported some fabulous and flamboyant clothes from a thrift shop in Edina, where she works as a paramedic, so there were shimmery fabrics and untold numbers of sequins flashing all night in time to the music. Javi put on a movie for the kids, so the adult portion of the evening was surprisingly uninterrupted. It went off beautifully, all the planned elements coming together for one of the better dance parties in recent memory. Happy birthday, neighbor!

That was not all that happened on Saturday. Earlier in the day somebody missed the edge of the road under the drifted snow, while driving our truck to the nearby town of Rutledge, and lodged the right side wheels in the ditch. Insulated by the thick snow, the mud at the base of the ditch was surprisingly pliant and slick, despite several previous frigid nights. Javi, Nathan, Loren, and my daughter Aurelia and I went at it for a couple hours with shovels, gravel, the tractor and a tow strap. We made slow progress, until a kindly neighbor happened by and offered to help. He managed to extract our truck in under five minutes, using the greater weight and traction of his vehicle. That left just enough time for Aurelia and I to hop in a car and join in the tailend of games being played at Stan and Gigi’s place in Memphis. Full day!

The snow fort Prairie and I helped build still stands, though it looks a little more like a ruined castle after a rainy day earlier in the week brought its loftiest heights tumbling down. Refreezing has left the respectable remainder iced over and quite resilient, and I’ve enjoyed going out to observe the muskrat tracks that gambol all around it between the edge of the pond and the snow-mounded hummocks of weeds where they take shelter.

And the barn! I must say I had my doubts, despite Mae’s determination that we would get the goats in there for the winter, but the weather cooperated just enough through early January that we managed to get the roof on and the big doors closed up. Mae built a new feeder for it while I put in the stairs. I’m a little at loose ends now without steady work to focus on, so I go out there some days to test the stairs. I like to rest in the (satisfactorily) dry and sheltered loft, smell the drifting sweetness of hay and goats, and stand on the upstairs deck to enjoy a commanding view of the sunset over our western slope.

One of the things I appreciate about the life I’ve built here is the connection between my participation in devising and constructing a building, water system or power system, and direct feedback on the success of my work when the extremes of weather visit us through the seasons. Certainly there are lessons learned along the way and incorporated into the next project. Perhaps that is the nature of wisdom: layered on like snow through the experience of each year we continue to have the privileges of breath and life.

I look forward to many a warmer evening in spring and watching many a sunset from that barn deck, and I hope that you might come for a visit, so that I can share them with you. Stay warm out there, my friends!

Are your tracks leading you to Dancing Rabbit? If so, now is a great time to sign up for our visitor program, while the opportunity lasts. While you’re here, you might get a chance to meet Ted, Mae and some of the goats they’ve been working so hard to get under shelter. You’ll also get to sit in on a variety of interesting workshops about topics related to sustainability, including renewable energy sources such as the solar panels and wind turbines that Ted mentioned. There will be plenty of excellent homemade food, drowsy sunsets, and perhaps some layering of wisdom.

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