Howdy y’all. Ben here, with yet another field report, churned out between the sundry tasks on my list. Where did I put that list anyway? Finding it is probably going to involve a walk in the cold somewhere. That’s my thing that I do in winter. I walk around in the cold.
I slept in two pairs of pants last night. That’s four pants total, I believe. It happened on accident. I usually try for only one pair of pants when sleeping. That’s two pants, total, if you’re keeping count. Like I said, I walk around in the cold a lot. One of the coldest-feeling walks to me is that walk from bed to the woodstove that I perform every waking day. Okay, fine, I sleep on a couch. Nevertheless, after a night nested up under whatever items seem convenient, say, an infant blanket and a towel marked “livestock”, deep inside my many pantses, getting up for the sun-up chores is always this cold, stumbling walk. There are many ways in which my poor ability to prepare gets me stumbling around in the cold more.
It takes three basic components for me to get a fire going: matches, feed bag scraps, and little sticks. No more than twice this winter have I had all three in the house at the same time. So I go walk in the cold a little bit, too bleary to find both my gloves (I can never find both my gloves when I wake up), and look about my myriad hidey holes for the items I need to begin the day. On the one hand, I’m fairly confident that I am living very efficiently, in terms of resource consumption. On the other hand I don’t have a glove.
At some point, temperature dependent, I install my third pair of pants, making for a total of six pantses. This is all according to what I call the “Rule of Ten”. I do not generally appreciate rules, and truth be told, it’s more of a guideline, but the “Guideline of Ten” seems like it’s just asking to be ignored. Basically, at ten degrees Fahrenheit or below, I find it uncomfortable to ride bikes, walk around without multiple trousers, or go gloveless. At ten or below (or -12.222222222, as the rest of the world calls it), the livestock we’re raising are at risk of complications related to the cold. Then there’s the “Rule of 28”, which is an actual rule in my life, stating that the water buckets must be inside the house at twenty eight degrees or less. The punishment is feeling sad when I try to open the lids.
So long as my buckets are all properly placed and I’m clad in enough pants, in the proper order, I can start walking in the cold again for morning animal chores. Until the perfect cart comes along, I must haul the hay separately from any water or other feed. Many mornings are lovely, regardless of the temperature. The sight of tallgrass prairie bedazzled in glinting frost feels extra special to me. The animals are quick to greet, braying, grunting, bleating, and whimpering for attention. I can see their vaporous exhales rise. Sometimes the chickens give off steam as well. On the colder mornings we make frequent trips to our barnyard area, retrieving eggs before they freeze and replenishing water. Lots of walking around in the cold, or trudging, if there’s enough snow to trudge in.
We’ve also had a slew of warmer days here as well. I do just as much walking around on these days, but I’m more inclined to scratch my head and touch stuff for longer than I would if it were cold. Sometimes I start on a project, like fencing, or firewood processing, or pasture seeding. If it’s really getting balmy, I might see if I have any thawed blocks of laundry. With as small a conditioned space as my family lives in, we just don’t have room for too many buckets of diaper laundry. That space is reserved for buckets of oats, or my bailing twine collection. The kids were both sick with some sorta stomach flu this past week, so doing the laundry was a bit like performing a forensic examination of a crime scene. Nothing a little water, sun, and physical agitation can’t fix.
Just like a lot of places, Dancing Rabbit has been hit with an outbreak of illness. This happens now and then. I have a relatively stout immune system, sheathed as it is in a diversity of microbial grime, and still managed to obtain some mild symptoms, though there are others here who’ve exhibited a lot worse. I especially dislike being sick, like probably everyone. One form of small-scale bureaucracy in our community that I have much appreciation for is our Contagious Disease Team. I think that’s what they call it. Anyhow, they give folks a heads up on what sorta bugs are floating around, so that we can make good choices about hygiene, exposure, and the like. They don’t necessarily advocate any form of treatment, generally sticking to “wash your hands”, but sometimes you’ll get a link in the email where I can learn that giving myself a virus homeopathically is not considered a best practice.
Another thing about the cold is that things generally smell more subdued, and I’m alright with that. Still, I haven’t encountered a temperature low enough to tone down the musky scent of buck goat lingering from a hide tanning project going on in my workspace. Smells like home. And while our old buck Sunny is gone from this plane (not physically, I still retain all his bits in some fashion), his progeny live on, and in fact begin to increase, perhaps as soon as today.
Simultaneous with the beginning of Dancing Rabbit’s annual community retreat, we’re expecting goat kids. And snow. While I’m attempting to be both a responsible member of the only society that’ll take me, and a responsible goatherd, I fear I might settle for average in both things. I know my transition time between community meetings and caring for the critters may be impacted by how many different pairs of pants I’ll be transitioning in and out of. The common house, during retreat, is always way sweaty, especially with extra pants. Then there’s the intellectual transition between, say, discussing strategic planning for the whole village, and getting the new nannies comfortable with nursing. Both things are important, and important to not get mixed up.
Retreat is often a challenge for me. First of all, I feel like the word “retreat” doesn’t imply being in the same place I’ve been for years, spending time with folks I interact with daily. Frankly, getting lost in the brush for a while is closer to my idea of retreating. While it’s pretty cool to hear where other people are at, in their personal lives as well as in their work for this community, the sudden flood of information about what all goes on at Dancing Rabbit that I was dimly aware of is overwhelming to my poor, glacial little brain. At least once per retreat I have a moment where my eyes start glazing over, and I turn my thoughts to how least awkwardly I can leave and go for a walk in the cold. That probably has more to do with who I am than what retreat is, because I actually have this moment on a daily basis. Sorry everybody who knows me, or as I like to put it, “I wasn’t paying attention.” Lucky for me, folks here have been toying around with some different formats for meetings, such as Open Space where it’s basically not rude to stand up wordlessly and walk away. That’s my understanding of it, at least.
Dancing Rabbit retreats start off with “deep check-ins”, basically an invitation for folks to do some personal sharing about the status of their lives, further below the surface. Maybe I’ll have time for that, or maybe I’ll be playing with goat babies. I don’t know which sounds more fun. As for right now, all I’ve got time for is this shallow check-in, and that time is up. I have to go walk in the cold now. Bye.
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.