The community on the ranch is indescribable. At Rice alumni repeatedly encouraged us to enjoy the thriving environment of passionate, fascinating people; it would be rare to come across again. However on the ranch I’ve found a more engaging, cohesive community. It’s smaller which changes the interaction, and the passionate, fascinating co-volunteers have so much to share and learn from one another. We sometimes discuss how strange it will be to leave the ranch, return to “the real world.” Because our education programs discuss themes of group formation and respecting others we have countless inside jokes and gestures that act as a code of conduct for the community. When I say “I respect you,” I actually mean that I want to flip you off. When I offer you my thumb to hold, I mean that I am happier losing a playful game because winning it makes you happier. We truly rely on Heifer’s twelve cornerstones and site them regularly in jest when someone may not be embodying them to the best of their ability.
Off the ranch people aren’t as conscious in their lifestyle nor as open to our own unique standards of cleanliness or food consumption or resource use, to name a few. Here are a few anecdotes that have highlighted to me how remarkably unique ranch life is:
Reduce: As we sat on the porch and watched it rain for the first time in three weeks, Victoria suggested we wash our hair with rain water channeling off the roof. I have successfully gone without shampoo and conditioner for five months, I have been taking compassion showers, and I have danced in the rain on more than one occasion, however this situation hadn’t presented itself before. Of course I obliged.
Reuse: Our farm manager has a particular loathing for the blue twine that is used to tie hay bales. He has no problem with it when used for that original function, but reusing it as a janky fix for something that requires other tools (e.g. a rabbit hutch) is unacceptable. So unacceptable that he spent ten minutes at a ranch-wide meeting presenting a slideshow of its frequent, inappropriate uses on the ranch. But there is so much of it, and I consider it a resource, so I’ve decided, with the cooperation of the livestock department to collect it, and then use it to knit him a dashing blue twine scarf.
Recycle: In Perryville we are able to recycle only plastics 1 and 2. A housemate was about to throw away a plastic container, but someone urged her to check it. “Number two,” she affirmed, and one of us may have clapped. Okay it was me. “Oh wait, that was number five,” she corrected, and our company awed in sadness.
Water, water everywhere, but I refuse to put it on the lawn: There is competing evidence as to how much of the world’s water is potable, but for the most part they seem to agree that it’s an amount hovering near 1%. Therefore when a co-volunteer discarded water from a cup on the grass, my friend, Marybeth, and I gasped in unison. In my humble opinion this is better than dumping it down the sink, but still disappointing because lawns are evil, remnants from our British heritage that are too much work to maintain considering that they are inappropriate for the US climate and ineffective carbon sinks. Better would have been to save it for a garden or animal or hand it onto a human; we have no fear of germs on the ranch.
Honey, if you love me, would you please, please say so? : I am quite slow to forge a deep bond with someone I’ve met recently. Instead I wait until I feel that I can trust them and know how they will behave and react in certain situations; I want to be sure in my judgment and understanding of them as an individual. Thus when I arrived to the ranch, I was overwhelmed with how quickly new volunteers announced their platonic love to one another. After six weeks though I came to understand the compassionate love my friends were explaining and even adopted the verb myself. But it simply slipped my mind that it may not be received in the same way off the ranch, and this proved true when a declaration of love slipped from my tongue when visiting a guy friend. “That’s an overwhelming statement,” he replied. But it wasn’t for me anymore. It meant that I know him, I want happiness in his life, I appreciate him as a friend, I recognize his strengths and weaknesses, and I accept him for it.
These anecdotes delight me. I live and interact with others who understand the value of resources and recognize that they are limited. Furthermore they too seek a slower lifestyle striving for more sustainability and more education on how to achieve that lifestyle. Plus they speak their opinions and share that information with others. Through it all we foster a compassion and love for one another. I enjoy my time on the ranch, but I also look forward to bringing these ideals with me in my next venture, wherever that may be, and sharing them with “the real world.” Actually that may not fit my fancy. I could instead find environments that foster these ideals already.