August is a busy harvest month at Earthaven. Abundance (and labor) abounds.
Unplugging from consumer culture, living simply and building community . . . it’s not an easy path! As I review my past ten years here at Earthaven, I’ve discovered that letting go of efficiency may be a shortcut to village togetherness and happiness.
I owe so much gratitude to the Tribal Condo, one of the earliest timber framed, hand built structures at Earthaven and a place that I call home. While the original builders gained much needed skill, building with lumber hand harvested from the land, the house has minimal plumbing, salvaged leaky windows, and no inside insulation between floors. In essence, it’s a house that needs constant maintenance and care. In 2001, I took a leap of faith and bought into the 1000 sq ft “apartment” house.
In the early years, I wondered if I had made a poor decision. Clearly, this house was inefficient and likely to decay sooner than other homes. However, as Suchi (my house partner) and I began to maintain and repair it, we noticed how each episode offered a tremendous opportunity to connect and relate within the village.
One year, our roof blew off when a strong wind funneled down the mountain and pulled out purlins that had only been nailed (not screwed) in. Torrents of rain came down, and all the residents of our home crawled out on the roof at two o’clock in the morning to pull the tin back on. The next day, villagers offered to provide lodging for us and repair the damage. It was awesome how the community helped us through our “disaster!”
While efficiency offers a way to make the most of the available energy, time, and money we have on hand, it doesn’t always maximize opportunities for relationships in a community. Take a look at Nature: at one level it’s very inefficient, but at another level, it provides myriad opportunities to weave a tapestry of dense interdependency within a locale.
“If a house is built too well, so efficiently that it is permanent and refuses to fall apart, then people do not have a reason to come together. Though the house stays together, the people fall apart and nothing gets renewed. Coming together … to do communal tasks gracefully—tasks that a machine could do in an instant anonymously—or to repair rickety houses ensures the very smiley togetherness so missing in the pre-planned, alienated lives of modern civilization.” (Secrets of the Talking Jaguar: Memoirs From the Living Heart of a Mayan Village, by Martín Pretchel.)
Suchi and I chuckled after discovering yet another item to be fixed in the house. “Please pass the bottle of inefficiency,” I decided. “I’d like to sprinkle some more of that on my plate of life.”
Kimchi Rylander is co-Firekeeper, and longtime member of Earthaven Ecovillage. An artist, deep ecologist, and permaculture activist, she is currently building delicious new cultural topsoil beginning in “her own backyard.”
The harsh truth about milk is that it was made by a mother for a baby. We take the baby cows away early in order to get the milk and in exchange offer care and food in other forms.
L.C. (Large Cow) has been bred 4 times, four years in a row, so that we may continue to have delicious, nutritious milk for our family. While it is true that we separate momma from baby, we also make sure baby gets enough milk, fed to the calf via a bottle, two or three times a day.
But not this year. This year L.C.’s calf would get adopted by L.C.’s daughter, who was due to calve around the same time as L.C. If we could somehow convince Mireille (pronounced mee-ray) that she had given birth to 2 calves, then Mireille could serve as nursemaid and L.C.’s calf would have a bovine mama and get all the milk she wanted. And we would get out of having to bottle feed, water, and otherwise take care of the young one which can be a tedious, daily task.
We figured it was worth a try, but we weren’t too hopeful. I had read that it was
difficult to get a cow to adopt a calf that wasn’t her own. Cows depend on their sense of smell to tell them a lot of things, including who their babies are—or are not.
But we had to try. So when Mireille calved first, we froze the placenta. When L.C. calved 10 days later, we pulled it out of the freezer to thaw. We separated L.C.’s calf (named Coco) and (on the second day, after bottle feeding her colostrum for a day) we put her in the barn with Mireille’s calf (named KaCow). Coco and KaCow spent about 8 hours together, with no mother, mixing smells, peeing on each other, and keeping each other company. We can all tell you it wasn’t an easy 8 hours. The calves were hungry and wanted their mommies. Mothers were full of milk and wanted to feed their young. The whole village could hear the incessant mooing.
Finally, in the evening, we tied the placenta around Coco like a belt. I rubbed the juices from the thawed placenta all over Coco—top to bottom—in hopes that she would smell like her big ½ sister (who is also her neice).
Then we brought Mireille into the barn, distracted her with some food, and reintroduced her to her “twins”. There was definitely some confusion, but ultimately Mireille let Coco nurse! We could hardly believe it.
Two more days of isolation and we let the calves into the field with their mother. Again, we stood in disbelief as the two calves nursed with no real problems.
The true relief that it had worked came he next morning when Lee reported
that Coco was nursing from Mireille while KaCow just laid contentedly on the ground next to them. At that point, we could congratulate each other and the cows for a job well done. As Lee says, everyone’s got a job on the farm, and Mireille is doing double duty. We’re so proud.
Liz Diaz arrived as a work-exchange at Earthaven in the Spring of 2010, just in time to jump into Imani Farm, Village Terraces Neighborhood, and other exciting adventures. Her farm specialty is moody and unpredictable animals – of which she has many harrowing stories. She currently works for Useful Plants Nursery and takes care of Oakley Swiftcreek, her adopted nephew.
It never snows in North Carolina. “Or so I was told,” said Tanya Carwyn, who moved to Earthaven from Colorado two years ago. “So I sold my skis before I left.”
The other common thing you’ll hear people say about this area is that we have the “mildest temperatures on the East Coast.” While that’s probably true on a scale of averages, at least historically, the last two winters have been colder and snowier than many places much farther north.
Last year, the winter of 09/10, we had three major snowstorms of well over a foot of snow each time. This year we’re on our third snowstorm already and it’s just the middle of January.
For those of us working or tending animals in the snow, our jobs are harder. And for some, like Art Myers “being snowed in at Earthaven is tough–sledding all day and sauna all night.”
On snowy days, villagers of all ages have been gathering together to sled down the upper pasture at Village Terraces Cohousing Neighborhood.
“It’s an excuse to hoot and holler,” says Liz Diaz, a resident at Earthaven. We 12 to 15 people get together that don’t normally see each other, it’s an opportunity to connect and share in some fun.
This week, after the sledding, there was hot chocolate at Art and Karen’s and on another occasion Chai tea at the Hut Hamlet Kitchen.
Families from afar sometimes worry about us stuck here in our holler. Karen’s mom called, worried about their family. But because we are seasoned homesteaders we often survive these storms better than city people. We have stacked firewood, generate our own power, and grow and store enough of our own
food that most of us could be snowed in for weeks without worry. “I told my mother-in-law that I could even find fresh green vegetables by digging out some collards from under the snow.”
Being and on-and-off-again insomniac, it is not unusual for me to wander down into our common kitchen at 3:00 am for a snack.
My insomnia is worse around the full moon or if there’s too much on my mind. And it’s almost always accompanied by hunger, which won’t let me sleep again until satisfied. So off I go, often full-on naked (trusting that the kitchen will be deserted) to search out a snack.
Before last week (and I have lived here 9 years) I can only remember one other time where someone else was awake and in the kitchen when I ventured down (and that was recently when, at 4:00 am or so, I ran into my pregnant housemate who has taken to being in the kitchen at night due to her own pregnancy-related insomnia) and I can tell you she got quite a chuckle out of my naked self foraging in the fridge.
Last week, Winter Solstice (December 21st) provided a scene that I can safely say from many middle-of-the-night wanderings was an exceptionally rare occurrence.
First though, let me say that Winter Solstice is a big deal around Earthaven. On it we celebrate the darkest night of the year, usually with a meal, ceremony, and a sunrise walk to celebrate the “return of the sun.” From Winter Solstice forward, the days will begin to lengthen. As our ancestors before us, we welcome back the sun for its warmth and heat. Unlike our ancestors, we welcome back the sun to fill our batteries via our solar panels, much needed after such short days.
This particular Winter Solstice was highly unusual in that it was a full moon as well as a lunar eclipse. This has only happened one other time in the last 2000 years (in 1638). Talk about rare!
When we realized this historical astronomical event was to take place we all agreed to meet up at 2:30 am on the deck of the 3rd floor to view the beginning of the eclipse which was set to peak at about 3:17. We’ll knock on each others doors, we offered, as a wake-up and reminder to meet and view this magnificent event.
At about 3:20 or so I heard some scurrying about and realized that no one had woken me. It also sounded quiet out there. I dragged myself up and went out to a fully cloud-covered sky and no house mates to be seen. With some guilty relief I ran back into bed. But alas, it was too late. Fully awake was I. After about a half hour of lying still and trying to sleep I wandered down to the kitchen (thankfully not naked this time) only to find five other people, not only awake, but eating, talking, rolling candles, and just having general merriment.
There they were at 4:00 am having an impromptu, middle-of-the-night eclipse get together. Every few minutes someone popped outside to see if the cloud cover had cleared yet (it never did.)
Shortly after discovering this spectacle, which was as surprising as the unseen moon, I returned to bed, only to hear some neighbors wander over with guitars and soft voices, singing in the next room. For some time, doors would open, people would wander around the deck or up and down the stairs, and sing or talk some more.
While I didn’t actually get back to sleep until 5:30, it was such a special time that I didn’t mind. I imagine it as a sort of sober, reverent, and spiritual college dorm sort of experience that can only happen in community.
Jenna, Marie, and Liz enjoy Sugar Baby Watermelon from the Village Terraces Cohousing Neighborhood garden.
“I never even liked watermelon before now” says Liz Diaz.
Small and sweet with a green rind, red flesh, and small seeds, Sugar Baby is a heritage variety and did well in our hot, dry, summer conditions.
“We must have gotten 40 watermelons from this 10’x75′ patch of garden” says Jonathan Swiftcreek, one of the neighborhood gardeners.
Firewood Workday NOT canceled due to rain!
In other news, our firewood workday had lots of rain, which didn’t seem to stop us or the dancing. We filled our firewood shed with wood from our 2008 agricultural clearing. Our boiler system heats our hot water as well as our homes.
Pictured above: Carmen, Bob, & Steve on the top level. Matthew, Lee, & Debbie on the ground.
Pictured right: Carmen and Steve dancing in the rain.
Creativity at Harvest-Time
What a busy summer it has been! How did it get to be September? Now we’re into cool nights and changes afoot.
Seems like everything comes at once this time of year. And as much as we ask for abundance, sometimes we forget how much it takes to manage it when it gets here.
A friend of Earthaven has a beautiful blackberry farm near to us in Old Fort. Row after row are elegantly trellised and dripping with fruit. They are such a joy to pick, triggering something in our gatherer-hunter cellular memories, as there is a sort of euphoria and focus that comes. Using that long-embedded know-how, three of us picked 12 gallons of blackberries in little over an hour.
Once at home some were frozen, others eaten fresh but one whole bucket – about 3 gallons were waiting to be “put up.”
Last week, with the help of our experienced intern, Liz Diaz, I heated up the 3 gallons, added lemon juice, and a very small amount of sugar. With Pamona’s Pectin, low sugar jam making is possible. In the canner for 10 minutes and 2 hot and sweaty women later, we have 40 cups of blackberry jam! YEAH.
We’ll no doubt be grateful come winter when we break into those!