Rae and Ted lend a hand at a strawbale-raising party at neighboring Red Earth Farms. Photo by Illly.

Rae and Ted lend a hand at a strawbale-raising party at neighboring Red Earth Farms. Photo by Illly.

Brrrrrrr! The recent cold period here in northeast Missouri felt startling in its earliness. Ted here, with a hat on, to share the latest from Dancing Rabbit.

I know it’s all subjective, that my memory of previous seasons is imperfect. But I don’t remember a 10-day period that didn’t get above freezing in November before. It’s the sort of thing to make one look at one’s store of firewood and wonder how it’ll last when we’re not technically into winter yet, with December, January and February yet to come. Needless to say, I’ve been plugging away at processing the last of our firewood before it gets buried in snow.

Somebody said the other day that this weather pattern that brought us the cold and dumped so much snow in the Buffalo area has been declared a clear result of climate change, with the jet stream pushed off its typical track for this time of year. As much as I believe that human-induced climate change is real, I’m still dubious that any given storm can be chalked up to climate change so specifically, or that we’ll just keep having frigid winters like the last one regularly from here on. But if this is a sign of the “new normal”,  I’m not super excited, I must say.

On the other hand, we did get a brief respite, hitting 50+ for a couple days at the weekend, and even managed to get a game of tri-communities Ultimate Frisbee in, four-on-four. Once I realized it was going to really rain a decent amount, I also got water diverted into our two cisterns, topping them up before the low-recharge winter period settles in.

In the continuing saga of Ironweed kitchen’s low-tech water system, just before the cold set in, I’d piled straw over the mound of the cistern. The 1700-gallon polyethylene tank was originally installed well below grade, where the warmth of the earth would keep it and the supply lines running into the kitchen thawed through winter.

But in a failure of judgment at the time, in the autumn drought we had two years ago, I didn’t ballast it with water prior to a 4″ rain that ended the drought. Next morning, the cable and short anchors I’d installed proved they hadn’t been up to the task; the empty cistern had floated when its pit filled with rainwater.

The following spring I had it pulled out, but the ground water I could not pump out of the pit turned what remained to mud, which the backhoe couldn’t remove, and I could not get it re-installed at the proper depth. Thus we have had to build up the earth around and over the second, shallower install, which is more exposed to freezing temperatures.

Last winter the surface of the water in the cistern and the water in the supply lines to the building froze, which meant opening the cistern lid every three or four days, breaking through the ice, and manually running a hose through a vent pipe into the building to a spigot just before the pump to allow it to fill the 55-gallon storage tank inside. In sub-zero temperatures, and with a pump that isn’t great at priming itself, that was not a lot of fun.

In tying things up for this winter, we’ve added the straw cap in hopes of keeping the water in the cistern from freezing, and laid down foam insulation and layers of straw and earth over the places where the pipes pass. The last section, where it comes out of the ground to go through the wall into the pantry where the pump is, has a length of plug-in heat tape attached to it.

The last step for winter is to build a small insulated hut over that spot, in hopes that in an insulated location, the heat tape running for an hour or two ought to successfully de-ice the emerging pipe and allow water to flow. Under these conditions, I am less than excited about a winter as cold as the previous one. Mild would be just fine with me.

In other news, this past week saw my long-hoped-for dream of a goat co-operative start to take shape. If you’ve read our updates for a while, you’ve doubtless heard something about Mae and Ben’s goats and other livestock, and the additional character they’ve added to village life.

I’ve been interested in helping care for ruminants ever since working with sheep and other livestock the first time I worked on a farm, up in Maine in 1996. Somehow, though, we have not found ourselves moving beyond chickens in the Ironweed realm. I had begun to despair of ever getting there on our own, and had resorted to throwing the goat co-op idea out there in village conversation any time I thought a potential co-op participant might be in hearing range.

One way or another, the Critter folk heard my desires and opened the door a week ago. Rae and Illly and I joined Mae, Ben, and Sparky to talk out the idea over brunch last weekend, and by this past weekend, we were gathering for a work party to prepare space to store hay we’re planning to acquire in the near future, and to walk one of the female goats over to a neighbor’s place at Red Earth to be bred.

The latter effort did not pan out– it seems it’s not always a straightforward assessment as to whether a goat is in heat or not. I couldn’t have been happier, though, to participate in all of this and start to feel like my hope of working more with goats was a dream no longer. The prospect of sharing in the milk and making cheese come spring will keep me going through the cold months as I take my turns at hauling water down to the barnyard for the animals.

Dancing Rabbit is experiencing its typical population contraction just now, as various folks have taken off or will soon take off for holiday travels and winter absences of one sort or another. Having traveled more than usual for various reasons this year, I’m really excited to be sticking around for Thanksgiving and Solstice. Ironweed is taking on a few additional eating co-op members for a while, as Bobolink’s numbers are too low to sustain. Game nights and other diversions are growing in frequency, too, as we all spend more time inside and the sun sets early.

Nonetheless, at our smaller-than-usual weekly planning meeting Sunday, we were able to shop for holiday gifts, among them Thomas’s hand-carved wooden bowls and spoons, and neighbor Kim’s artisanal herbal soaps, not to mention a goodly quantity of new-to-us auction items various people were letting go of.

With more diverse foods and more of them put up for winter this year, I’m excited to start making good use of the abundance. The Thanksgiving meal Thursday evening will kick us off in style. There’s local venison and duck on the menu, despite the lack of turkey, alongside all the standard sides, desserts and other fixings.

Down at Ironweed, we’ve just about gone through the last of the fresh kale harvested before the cold snap and kept in the root cellar, so now we’ll move on to the dehydrated and frozen stores. The potatoes in the cellar and the various winter squashes stored in the kitchen loft mean we’ll be eating well no matter what the weather does. If I’m really on it, I’ll soon start up a regular practice of sprouting seeds to provide a bit of green food for both the humans and the chickens through the winter.

From Dancing Rabbit we hope you gather with friends and family for much deliciousness this week. May you have a few moments of peace to consider all that you have to be thankful for in life, and relax a bit in warm, bundled comfort.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Tours are over for the season, but will start up again in April. In the meantime, you can check us out online at www.dancingrabbit.org, call the DR office at (660) 883-5511, or email us at dancingrabbit@ic.org.