New Folks and Tadpole Eyes: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Red-sided gartersnakes enjoying more than the passive solar heat in the greenhouse. Photo by Stephanie.

Red-sided gartersnakes enjoying more than the passive solar heat in the greenhouse. Photo by Stephanie.

Maybe it’s because I wasn’t looking hard enough, or maybe it’s because I have never seen them in that awkward, alien stage in between being a child and truly becoming an adult, but I have never seen tadpoles as big as my thumb until now!

Nik here, and sitting by Ye Olde Ponde at the end of a long work week, I happily noticed the fish were beginning to tear around the shallows, popping up for bugs, and then hovering as motionlessly as spaceships. I inched closer to see if I could identify what kind of fry were so prolific this season. But something about their movement—a propelled undulation—tipped me off. Then I saw the big, Martian heads, eel-like tails, and, on just a few of them, the budding idea of legs hanging about their tails.

These were bullfrog tadpoles, not the tiny, black, rubbery-looking swimmers that I caught in mason jars as a kid. I realized how fleeting these odd creatures were, in transition, so everyday is literally seen with new eyes.

Pollywogs and tinkle pinks? What kind of blog is this becoming anyway?!

But I sat on the shore and watched in serenity…for almost as hour! I began to think I finally understood why all those Hollywood stars won’t stop yakking on about their koi ponds. There were murmurings from the village children about days and days of tadpole catch-and-release missions (and a short debate of whether eating one would be a worthwhile experience…) but I was glad I saw them for myself.

The flock of kids here is accumulating new ranks as we come into Spring and the first work exhangers of the season arrive. Jody and Sandy are the newest wexers at the Milkweed Mercantile bed and breakfast, and Jody’s son, Cantrell, has been acclimating to the woods, ponds, prairies, and the local denizens.

Being the new kid in town was never a picnic for me; kids can be cruel one day and your best friend the next. Each day is truly a new one, seen through new eyes (that Beginner’s Mind jazz those Zen-folk are always yakking on about). It takes bravery, tadpole or bullfrog, to make the leap to living out here.

More workers, interns, and visitors are about to descend on our little hamlet, bringing tents and ideas and kids and expectations which will all be put through the wringer. So with those tadpole eyes that I’m trying to manifest, the summer is looking exciting and new for this community in constant transition.

Natural building workshops, an extensive permaculture design course, goat & chicken raising boot camps are all on the horizon, so stretch those little legs and take the first leap!

•                  •                 •

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.

Sharing the Abundance: Permaculture Design Course at Dancing Rabbit!

Dancing Rabbit is excited to host our very first Permaculture Design Course, August 29-Sept 6, 2015! The very experienced teaching team of Bill and Becky Wilson from Midwest Permaculture will lead the course, and Dancing Rabbit member Sharon Bagatell will apprentice-teach with them. In this blog post, Sharon shares a bit about why she is so passionate about permaculture.

Shupie's abundance includes this big hanging fruit called a "papadilla" — a cross between a papaya and a granadilla! Photo by Sharon.

Shupie’s abundance includes this big hanging fruit called a “papadilla” — a cross between a papaya and a granadilla! Photo by Sharon.

Shupie was standing in her garden. She reached out to me with a bag full of green beans and a big smile. “For you. Take them home!” she said, “We have abundance!”

If you’re a gardener, you might not find this act of generosity surprising – gardeners often share their bounty. But this was Malawi, East Africa, at the beginning of what they call “The Hunger Time,” when subsistence farmers have little to sustain their families, much less to share with others. That day in February though, Shupie and her husband Benes were showing me around their homestead, and it was overflowing with food! Ah, yes, I thought, THIS is what we mean by the permaculture ethic “Share the Abundance.”

Shupie and Benes had taken a Permaculture Design Course just last October. They learned about building soil, water management, diverse food sources, and energy systems, and then went home and turned their small farm upside down.

Permaculture’s system design approach simply made sense to them, and, Shupie told me, they saw their work as an important investment in their long-term household economy. Five short months later, they were already reaping the abundance.

Permaculture is not always such “presto change-o” magic, but for me permaculture is magical. It is the most solutions-based, hopeful way of looking at the current state of humankind that I have come across in my years of work in environmental education and activism. In the words of Bill Wilson, teacher extraordinaire, of Midwest Permaculture:

Permaculture looks at life squarely in the face and simply asks the questions:
What is? How do things really work? It then lays out multiple paths toward building abundance, security and health into our living systems to benefit humans AND the natural world that sustains all life.

It is honest.

It is realistic.

It is powerful.

Although permaculture is an ever-growing international movement, you don’t have to travel to Africa to experience its honesty, realism, and power! I’m delighted to be part of the team that is putting together Dancing Rabbit’s first Permaculture Design Course.

This PDC Course at DR Consists of our Pre-course Studies plus 9 Very-Full Days on Site.

This PDC Course at DR Consists of our Pre-course Studies plus 9 Very-Full Days on Site.

And talk about abundance!! This course will blend two of the greatest adventures in sustainable living – permaculture and ecovillage living! The combination of systems design thinking and day-to-day examples of an evolving human habitat is sure to abound with meaningful, inspiring, and potentially life-changing experiences.

For course details and registration, click here!

Before I end, I’d like to share a little about the “magical” of permaculture to me.

Permaculture is all about connections. I don’t simply mean connections between plants, water, soil critters, climate and all those great things you’ll learn about in the course.

I mean connections among humans as well. I mean the kind of magically uplifting connection I had with Shupie and Benes on their farm across the world in Malawi.

Though we came from completely different racial, ethnic, language and educational backgrounds, through our passion for permaculture we shared a profound and joyful connection.

“Yes! You get it!” our smiles and hugs seemed to say, “Humans CAN live sustainably on this planet. We CAN share the abundance!”

Bill and Becky Wilson of Midwest Permaculture inspire this very kind of uplifting connection in their masterful teaching. I hope you will consider sharing the abundance, and joining us this summer for the very first Permaculture Design Course at Dancing Rabbit!

Murmur of a Spring Electric: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Also this week, Sharon gave a slideshow presentation of her trip to Africa, followed by music and baobob fruit sampling. Photo by Illly.

Also this week, Sharon gave a slideshow presentation of her trip to Africa, followed by music and baobob fruit sampling. Photo by Illly.

Beneath a thinning coat of dry, golden field thatch creep the emerald antennae of spring grasses. We are not yet to the season of green-up, the one pastoralists and their ruminant cohorts alike anticipate all winter. This is equinox, the great leveling of Earth’s forces, especially for us here in the temperate reaches of America’s Midwest. After a brief age dominated by northerly winds, arctic air, and the pale glow of human made light, I feel the strange familiarity of spring.

Howdy y’all, this is Ben, and I’m sorry if I’m getting all nostalgic about the seasons here, especially if you’re in a place where summer is ending, or on the equator or in the arctic, though I hear it gets to be spring up there too. I guess there’s just something about the way this place smells, once the soil thaws. Sometimes the smell is pretty good. Sometimes one must acquire an appreciation.

Well, nobody must acquire an appreciation for the smell of duck manure, but I think it helps. One of the reasons I prefer ducks to cattle is the size of both their bodies and their droppings. Duck manure dries in only a couple of hours of March sun, and by some function of natural alchemy transmogrifies into fluffy, flaky, magical fertilizer. It’s happening on my porch right now! I will grant that cow manure needn’t smell very rank, and generally emits little more than the airy suggestion of sourness when homogeneously deposited across a healthy, open pasture, and that if anyone were to confine ducks in one place for a while, well, things may become rank there as well. But I digress, and unless you’ve had the opportunity to breathe a whiff of the duck-sweetened prairie pasture land of this corner of Northeast Missouri, you may feel less nostalgic than I when it comes to this olfactory indicator of the seasons’ turning.

There are other ways to sense that we are on the cusp of spring, like peepers singing in the draws and ponds, the arrival of new birds, the gradual yet sudden reemergence of yarrow, comfrey, and wild onions. The empty roads and vacant landscapes of our slumbering village carry travelers again; up and across a low rise I see the mud-streaked visage of children seeking tadpoles.

The elderberry buds are fat and neon green. Everywhere the smell of damp hay and leaf mold rises, along with the chatter of fat robins stalking the sod for worms. Here and there protrudes cress, peppergrass and crocus, every overturned piece of wood conceals a colony of roly polies, or the stretched tendrils of sun-starved grasses. My child has already returned home with a tick on her back. Beneath the breezeblown thatch of these rolling hills, the murmur of a spring electric deepens.

There is, rightly so I believe, a necessary aura of tumult around this time. Atmospherically speaking, air masses are battling each other for dominance, if you’ll bear the personification. I sure do miss a good thunderstorm.  As flora and fauna awaken from their dormancy, or seemingly spring to life from moisture and warmth, the struggle for survival begins anew. Here I am without hardly a notion of what to start on first, and several generations of dayflies have passed from birth to the great beyond already. Our laying flock is highly active at the moment, providing at least two dozen eggs a day. If we can’t get these eggs pickled or sold, we’ll be up to our ears in no time. Abundance always seems to necessitate work.

I’m not a good gardener, but I am a highly excitable one. A good gardener, I think, would have peas and onions in the ground by now. That’s not how I’m going about it. I’m planting lambsquarters. Everywhere. You might know them as goosefoot greens, or pigweed, or huauzontle, depending on your vernacular.

These chenopodiums (same family as quinoa) don’t need much encouragement, and are a bane to tidy gardeners. I am not tidy. These annuals really like to drive their roots deep, a defense against drought. The leaves are tender and tasty early on, and end up getting bitter and tough as they age. Well, there ain’t nary a green that doesn’t do that, cultivated or not. And lambsquarters have been cultivated, as early as 1700 BC by aboriginal Americans.

Why pull these things out when we can eat them? Goats like ‘em fresh or dried like hay, chickens and ducks will take them chopped with clover, nettles, and chickweed, and they really bulk a salad up in those early days when the garden yields little. They also seem not to give a rip where they’re sown, whether in the most fertile, well-structured organic garden soil or atop a fifteen foot mound of clay.

I remember once performing the awful task of pulling a quarter acre of the stuff on someone else’s farm. Awful tasks are always performed on someone else’s farm, whereas they become some sort of Zen practice at home. It has to do with having a boss, I guess. I had blisters from pulling after a few minutes, and the whole time, these people had goats, loafing around dumbly and hungrily in an adjacent pen. Like many first time homesteaders, they went broke due to a lack of creativity.

It’s almost as bad as having so many resources and so much money that you don’t have to be creative in farming, which pretty much only happens with hobby farmers. Then there’s the kind of farming where there’s so much debt and red tape that the farmer isn’t allowed to be creative. Pursuing my agrarian dreams at Dancing Rabbit has been the ideal incubator for my creativity, between my lack of debt and lack of money. We are beholden to no one but the livestock, and we can either innovate new ways of feeding and maintaining them in earth-wise manners, or eat them. Win-win! Well, for some of us anyways.

But of course, I’m not a real farmer. I’m just a guy who spends his time admiring the smell and consistency of duck manure, spreading weed seeds, and arguing with goats and chickens. Sure, I might plant two or two hundred trees a year, spend countless hours and minutes a day moving fence, hauling hay, hauling water, hauling feed, but I don’t operate a tractor, I don’t have a farm loan (yet) at a farm bank, and I’m perplexed about hog bellies and cattle futures. Who isn’t?

If there’s one thing I know about farming that isn’t just cattle dung, it’s the tumult and turmoil of trying to raise a good yield during a narrow window of time in accordance with whatever kind of weather we get, and I think that is something true of farming land as well as building an ecovillage. In myriad ways we are navigating the same storms and droughts, the patterns that bond us a bit more to the land. Even if we aren’t really farmers, we finally got the USDA to come and admire our little poultry project, so at least I’m somebody.

You know somebody who probably would qualify as a farmer? Johnny Appleseed. I got curious about him recently, as he has cropped up in Althea’s school book. The kid’s story was quaint and vague. According to the myth, Johnny Appleseed was some kind of gentle, wilderness-adoring tramp with a pot on his head. He kind of wandered around there for a spell and spread a lot of apple trees, because he liked them. I can relate to some of that. Not the pot part.

A bit of cursory research reveals that he was also a vegetarian, a missionary, and a capitalist, albeit an ascetic one. This guy could probably do alright here.  It turns out he planted orchards of apples from seed on the frontier so that he could sell the plots to incoming homesteaders. But he never used grafted varieties, due to his religious convictions, just seed-grown stock, since most of the apples were intended for cider production, safer than water at the time. (In some places it probably still is.) Appleseed was not only a skilled orchardist, but an accomplished real estate developer, like many modern farmers have to be.

I’m not much of an apple grower. Not for a few years at least. But I’ve got a lot of hedge apples. As I’ve probably stated before, I’ve been collecting hedge seed for a living fence for the past coupla years now, storing the mushy fruits in barrels of water over winter until the flesh melts and we’re left with a slurry of gooey seeds ready to sprout.

As a part of my taxation for picking these up and using them to my own ends as a human being, I allow other critters to freely munch on them the four or five months they’re stored like this, to the point that a very fat squirrel has moved in nearby. I see this squirrel constantly stuffing its cheeks with hedge seed, and scurrying about stashing the quarry, some of which will doubtless as the spring re-emerge to feed future generations of rodentia.

So, Johnny Appleseed, altruistic as he might seem, was making financial investments for himself, all the while providing a little something for future generations, who, well, did what they did to the vast wilderness of North America, and now here we all are, dealing with it as best as we know how. I think I’d rather model my farming off of the squirrel: erratic, opportune, naïve, hopeful, and beyond the influence of self-declared experts in the field, like casting lambsquarters seeds on a mud-caked road ditch in late March.

•                  •                 •

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.

Speaking Tour 2015 = Awesome so far!

by Ma’ikwe

Zach Robertson (host extraordinaire and friend of Rabbits Ben and Mae) with his awesome poster! Photo by Ma'ikwe

Zach Robertson (host extraordinaire and friend of Rabbits Ben and Mae) with his awesome poster! Photo by Ma’ikwe

I’m in love. Not that I’m not completely dedicated to Dancing Rabbit, mind you. But if I’m really honest, I seem to be having a bit of an emotional affair with Bellingham, Washington.

I’m two and a half weeks in to the seven week journey that is my spring Speaking Tour, and Bellingham is the first stop that’s a new city to me. I’ve spent a week each in the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland, OR, talking about Dancing Rabbit, cooperative culture, and the practical and ethical implications of climate disruption.

I’ve had receptive audiences everywhere (and have now spoken to or done workshops with over 300 people), but I gotta say, there’s something special going on in Bellingham. And to think, I almost didn’t make it here…

What saved the day was a community connection. When we asked Rabbits if they knew anyone in Bellingham (where tour assistant Mariyam and I had been struggling to find the right connections), Critters Rachael (Mae) Ferber and Ben Brownlow piped up to say that, why, yes, one of their best friends is a mover and shaker in Bellingham.

And so yesterday I finally got to meet Zach Robertson, a bare-footed, multi-lingual papa who is also part of the founding group of a Land Trust community working to get off the ground here. And Zach turned out to be the key guy we needed to get me up here. And for that, I’m very grateful!

Why do I like Bellingham so much? Maybe it’s because it’s human scale: 100,000 people tucked into the northwest corner of Washington state, with a university and five distinct neighborhoods, walking and bike paths galore, and a lovely creek running through it. Maybe it’s because it has a long history as a “boom and bust” town, and knows what it means to weather hardship together… that kind of thing creates community faster than anything else I know of.

Or maybe it’s because they are one of the hundreds of communities around North America with a fossil fuel industry fight on their hands, and these folks are close enough to the natural beauty of the world to have a good idea of what they’d lose if plans for a cool transport hub actually get approved. Apparently 1500 local folks have already signed on to a public commitment to civil disobedience if the thing passes.

Nothing I can say about the economics of climate change much surprises folks around here. But they are hungry to hear about Dancing Rabbit and what we’re doing to directly address the forces that are driving climate change.

Last night, when I said, “Just stop buying crap,” they clapped.

When I said, “Racism is one of the things feeding in to climate change,” they clapped.

And when I communicate in a dozen different ways that we can do this, together, they clapped, too.

Maybe I just like preaching to a non-pretentious choir, but these folks are clearly my peeps: feisty, intelligent, practical, and in love with life, with a terrific community to show for it.

(Sound familiar? Of course, maybe I just miss home. Now that the snow is gone, that is…)

Last night, after the talk was over, Zach unfurled a beautiful handmade poster he made a few years back. It features Dancing Rabbit statistics, comparing our resource consumption to the average American’s.

It’s a low tech version of my TEDx talk, and it floored me: how many people around the country, even the world, know about us, use us as an example, and we don’t even know it?

I feel very, very lucky to finally be able to share some hugs with a handful of these local miracle workers who are our fans. And to be becoming a fan of my own, of places like Bellingham…

As you read this, I am most likely on a long train ride back to the Midwest. Next up: Chicago, Ann Arbor and Philly. Hope to see you there!

maikwebioMa’ikwe Schaub Ludwig is a pioneering sustainability educator, who, in addition to her work as DR, Inc.’s Executive Director, is head of Ecovillage Education US, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Fellowship for Intentional Community. Her work integrates ecological, economic, social, political and personal approaches, leading to a strongly holistic view of what it takes to truly be sustainable.

She is a regular writer for Communities magazine and the author of Passion as Big as a Planet: Evolving Eco-Activism in America. For more information you can visit her website:

Song of the Pinkletinks: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Even at the first impromptu cook-out of the season, Critters are always hard at work! Photo by Katherine.

Even at the first impromptu cook-out of the season, Critters are always hard at work! Photo by Katherine.

Let’s sing it all together now!.. “Oh, what a beautiful mornin’, oh, what a beautiful day. I got a beautiful feelin’ ev’rything’s goin’ my way.” Yes folks, I may be a young gal of 30 but I certainly did start my mornin’ singin’ this song from the classic musical Oklahoma! Thanks, mom & pop, for raisin’ me up with the good ol’ Rodgers & Hammerstein!

Hey all, Katherine here singin’ along to another week in Rabbitville. While I would love to say that Spring has Sprung, I am aware that the last frost date is still over a month out for our area. What that means for us is that seeds are starting in our greenhouses and trees are being pruned around our land.

My friend Aurelia (age 8) was spotted picking up those very whips for what I suppose will become some sort of neat schooling project. Perhaps a basket? Knowing that she is a part of the goat co-op, they may very well have gone straight to the herd. That would be good eatin’ for our very pregnant nanny goats who are due mid-April.

The peepers are peeping, the peepers are peeping! Yes folks, these chorus frogs have emerged once again from their winter slumber to charm our village with their wonderful song. They can be heard night and day in the very early spring after the snow has melted and up to 2.5 miles away! This is quite a voice for a tiny being less than an inch big.

When I write these articles, I love to do a little research into some of my topics. Fun Fact about the spring peeper: other names for them, in Canada and New England, include “pink-winks”, “tinkletoes”, and my personal favorite, “pinkletinks”.

The song of the peeper is just another of our “firsts” for the year. I saw my first ant the other day, bee yesterday, and bat this evening! I was extremely excited each time and greeted every friend respectfully. Our lives in the village and those of the flora and fauna are quite interconnected, as we learn to share our land with all of the beings and live in harmony.

Building houses and digging ponds can be quite a game-changer for ecosystems and Rabbits are quite aware of the impact that we are having. As individuals, we choose to live with nature in our own personal ways; as a village, we have committees such as Land Management that monitor our impact and attempt to lessen the literal footprints that we are creating on our 280 acres.

Within the village proper, the sun has certainly had its effect on our folk as we emerge from our winter cocoons and begin work (outside) again. Kyle has been splitting away shingle after white oak shingle to make a roof for the 80 year old log cabin that he has been rebuilding since last season. Acquired from Larry Mitchell’s farm south of Edina, this awesome structure that was built by Mitchell’s father during the depression will soon be gracing the slopes of DR’s very own King’s Forest.

The King’s Forest is only a few years old, planted by the Critter Collective, and boasts of being a food forest. “What is a food forest?” you may ask. Well, let me tell you! A food forest, also known as forest gardening, is a low-maintenance food production method based on a woodland ecosystem. Making use of companion planting with fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables, this edible ecosystem builds a woodland habitat that is delicious for all of the senses.

Speaking of delicious sun-kissed activities, this beautiful weather has allowed our meals to move back outside among the birds and bees, and remember what it is like to feel the wind in our rice. I was once again able to bake up some apples and raisins in our solar oven for a contribution to our tri-community potluck, held every Tuesday.

Meal times in the village can be very special when the work day is through and a great spread is waiting in yonder courtyard. Many folks have found that eating dinner at 6:30 still leaves enough sunlight afterwards to squeeze in a bit more work, or at least leisurely pick up our strewn-about tools. Whatever the event, in this weather, it is sure to be enjoyable.

And as we fade out this week, I would like to share gratitude for y’all wanting to hear our collective song (which some Rabbits are known to dance to). I am also encouraging an outdoor foray for yourself to experience the wondrous songs of nature and to tune into the collective harmony. In the words of some particularly famous rolling stones, “…you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.”

•                  •                 •

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.

Warmer Weather and Pulling Together: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Pulling together, a team of Rabbits large and small lug ~800 lbs of log to DR from neighboring Red Earth Farms. Photo by Katherine.

Pulling together, a team of Rabbits large and small lug ~800 lbs of log to DR from neighboring Red Earth Farms. Photo by Katherine.

Hi friends! The heck with March coming in like a lion – we’ve got some definite lamb weather happening, and we couldn’t be more pleased. Just when I feel like another cold and snowy day will put me over the edge into a morose pit of crabbiness and despair, the sun comes out. Literally. Hooray!!!!! It’s SUNNY! And WARM!!! (Excuse me for a minute while I jump up and down and do a happy dance…)

OK. Back to business. This is Alline reporting on all the news from Dancing Rabbit, fit to print or not.

For the last few months, Mae and Ted have been working diligently with Mae’s miniature donkey, getting him (the donkey, not Ted) used to a harness and training him to actually pull things. He apparently wasn’t very excited about this idea in the beginning. Frankly, who can blame him? But he’s learned to love it, or at least learned to love making Mae happy, and is often seen pulling a cart around the village.

When Thomas found just the perfect log for his new workshop, it was merely a small inconvenience that it was located half a mile down the road at Red Earth Farms. He just rounded up the donkey and half a dozen of his favorite (strong) Rabbits to bring the 800-pound beast home.

Looking at the photo I can’t help but laugh — it seems highly improbable that little Donkey was making much headway. But after the harness broke and Donkey was relieved of his gazillion-ton duty, the pulling fell to the humans. Brooke reported looking out her window and being surprised to see, strapped into the harness, not Donkey, but Ted. Unfortunately, we do not have a photo of that.

Once the log was here at DR, Thomas brought out his enormous (handmade) maul and a hickory wedge and split the log into quarters. And then, according to Kurt, “he just moseyed up Main Street with the split logs in his cart (also handmade, of two bike tires, scrap wood and a long, long tongue).” Who needs TV when we have Thomas adventures?

This week also marked the annual distribution of Validation Day Cards. Many of us dislike Valentine’s Day — if one isn’t in a romantic relationship, February 14th becomes a glaring, blaring, uber-depressing reminder of that fact. Looking for ways to be more inclusive, we stole, um, I mean, borrowed the idea of Validation Day from the Twin Oaks community in Virginia.

In our version of the holiday, each person in the village has a card made especially for them, reflecting various aspects of his/her personality, interests and talents. And then, everyone (who wants to) signs the cards. All 50 of them. This is why we don’t get around to distributing the cards until the end of February (or even the beginning of March) — it takes a while to write in all of the cards.

The good news is that it is always worth the wait. It is really lovely to have the opportunity to tell one’s friends how much they are appreciated and loved, and being on the receiving end is equally heartening.  I keep my Validation cards in my desk drawer and dig them out occasionally for a reminder of many of the good reasons I continue to live here.

As the weather gets springier, so do we — designing our gardens, starting seeds, and making our summer plans. Many Rabbits will again host work exchangers (aka wexers). As the name implies, those participating in a work exchange receive food and education in exchange for their work.

Wexers have the opportunity to learn about aspects of life here at the ecovillage — natural building, organic gardening, cooking for and hosting guests at the Milkweed Mercantile, raising chickens, ducks and goats, and much, much more. Wexers bring an exciting burst of energy and enthusiasm to the village each summer, and we are always grateful for the folks who join us for a few months. And some wexers even decide to stick around and eventually become members. Work exchange is an excellent way to determine if life at Dancing Rabbit will be a good fit for you. If you’re looking for a rewarding way to spend the summer, there are still a few positions open.

In the Shameless Commerce Division of this column, the Milkweed Mercantile Eco Inn will re-open on Thursday, April 2 for the 2015 season. We invite you to come and stay in our super comfortable strawbale, solar & wind-powered B&B and experience what life at DR is all about. We are open Thursday – Sunday for guests. Pizza is always served every Thursday.

And as it gets warmer, tour season gets closer! We offer free tours of the village on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month from April to October — the first of the season starts at 1pm on Saturday, April 11. Donations to help us continue our educational and outreach efforts are gratefully accepted.

We hope to see you all, for one reason or another, here at DR soon! Though if you can’t come to us, maybe you can catch Ma’ikwe on her national speaking tour. After successful talks in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dancing Rabbit Inc.’s Executive Director is on her way (by train) to Oregon and Washington.

She’s presenting her talk “Sustainable is Possible: Creating Low Carbon, High Quality Lives… Together.” It’s an expanded and updated version of her popular TEDxCarleton talk in 2013, and shows how Dancing Rabbit residents are living rich, full lives using only 10% of the resources of the average American. This version includes a new section on climate disruption, and the choices we can all make to address this pressing issue. After Washington state, Ma’ikwe heads to Chicago and Michigan — don’t miss her!

•                  •                 •

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.

Older and Colder: A Dancing Rabbit Update

"Land ho!" Thomas leading an ecology-focused land walk during an Open Space retreat session. Photo by Dennis.

“Land ho!” Thomas leading an ecology-focused land walk during an Open Space retreat session. Photo by Dennis.

Happy March from Dancing Rabbit! Whatever the weather says, the first of March always gives me a boost of hope that I may actually survive winter. Ted here to report on the village, after the week in which I reached the age of 40.

It isn’t that the cold is all that oppressive, really. Last winter’s multiple lows of -18 re-set the bar for me, and by comparison, this winter has been more of a coyote than a bear.

On the other hand, my firewood supply is different than last year’s. I waited to process wood till fall. Despite being well-aged, it hadn’t been cut and split long enough to cure. If you’re unfamiliar with wood heating: uncured wood burns sluggishly and produces both less effective heat and dirtier wood smoke.

The first means I have to burn more wood to achieve the same heat, which means more labor, expense and ecological impact. The second also means lower quality of life in a village where we spend a lot of time outside working, playing, and commuting between buildings, even in winter.

In the end, it also means my toes are colder. There is no push-button or dial-in convenience in wood heating such as has become the standard in mainstream culture. I have chosen to participate in all the stages of wood heat, from sourcing to cutting, splitting, moving, stacking, restocking house supplies periodically from outdoor sources in frigid weather, and building and maintaining fires for hours daily. I want to know the real cost of my comfort.

There is only so much time in the day. Sometimes we can’t manage to keep a fire going steadily in our house, owing to travel or commitments or just winter lassitude. We have accumulated lots of throw blankets over the years. We wear wool long underwear under varying warm layers for most of five months, and I wear a scarf and hat inside and out much of the time.

We are pleased to wake up in the 50s most winter mornings. We usually let the fire taper off when/if we reach 65 or so, but as we’ve gotten down to the less cured firewood amidst February’s cold, there have been a few days we’ve settled for a high of 57. That’s about 20 degrees below what my parents consider normal in their push-button house. My warmth-loving mother would not be happy.

Humans are adaptable, though. I read this week about refugees of political, ideological, and military struggles, especially those escaping violence in Syria in the past several years, and the marginal, alienated existence most of them are experiencing in Turkey, Lebanon, and other landing points. Shivering a little when I wake up in the morning in my safe, rooted home and village, with enough food to eat, is a First World Problem.

To offer a disclaimer, though: there are varying standards of warmth in the village, reflecting the numerous choices we’ve each made in construction. Some are about building materials (green vs. natural building), some about design strategies (size, earth contact, passive solar heating, grid-tied vs. off-grid, kitchen included vs. in a separate building, and the varying cost per square foot that these choices add up to), and some are about state of completion (the temperature-regulating earthen berm around our house is incomplete, for example). The overall impact of these choices remains a live debate at Dancing Rabbit, particularly in reference to the ecological impact of building and of maintaining our structures over their lifetimes.

Villager and Dancing Rabbit, Inc. Executive Director Ma’ikwe left this week for the first leg of a national speaking tour, intent on sharing Dancing Rabbit’s work and experience with a still larger audience as she travels along Amtrak’s various routes across the country. I happen to have friends and family with good connections in two tour stops on opposite sides of the country, and so have been able to help find places for Ma’ikwe to stay, and seen just a little of the organizational web forming around this effort. The spring schedule is packed, and we’re excited for updates on how it’s progressing. Safe travels!

As Nik wrote last week, we were in the middle of our annual retreat, and the remaining days, organized in the Open Space Technology style, were varied and thought-provoking. Sara and I have back-to-back birthdays at the end of February that overlap retreat more often than not, so I took advantage of the loose planning to organize a 15-minute fun run in summer attire (plus birthday cape!) to celebrate my 40 years, and to spite the wind, cold, and snow. About 10 of us went out jogging for 15 minutes or so, and were cheered by some of our more appropriately-attired friends both going and coming. I was pleased to have built up a bit of a sweat upon our return.

Post-retreat, we’re now left to find homes for the numerous thoughts and initiatives arising from our many retreat discussions. We also head now into spring, when mental work must share time with ever more physical and outdoor work. I have some seed stratifying in the fridge, and it is time to mix up potting soil and get our first garden seeds sprouting. I also need to wrap up tree pruning and figure out where to plant shrubs and trees soon to arrive in the mail. Bulbs are peeking up outside and maple tapping crews are heading out to collect sap.

Many of us who host work-exchangers in the warmer season are actively communicating with applicants and interviewing to establish our summer crews. I’m talking with folks from California and Newfoundland and various points between. Their enthusiasm matches my own, and the warmth and energy of spring are seeping into my bones slowly but surely as I share with them the variety of work and learning opportunities we’ll be getting into. If you’re interested, please check out the work exchange opportunities available on our website and send us an application!

Now’s also a good time to consider Dancing Rabbit’s visitor program. If you’ve been thinking about a visit, to gain knowledge and perhaps consider making this your home, it’s not too soon to contact our correspondent and apply for a spot in one of our five 2015 visitor sessions. The first spring session is nearly full already.

Here’s hoping for swelling buds and growing warmth to all our readers, wherever you may be. We’ve almost all seen some colder weather, but we’re nearly through the worst of it. Hope to see you at Dancing Rabbit soon!

•                  •                 •

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.

Retreat! (or, I Can’t Get No… Sat-tis-fac-tion!): A Dancing Rabbit Update

Katherine, Dee, & Rae are up to planning Open Source logistics. Photo by Illly.

What are Katherine, Dee, & Rae up to? Planning Open Space logistics! Photo by Illly.

The only pleasant part of the negative temperatures of late is the satisfying way that wood splits. Or realizing that no matter how old you are, breaking the brittle top layer of a frozen puddle with your boot toe is secretly satisfying, like cracking through the top of a creme brûlée. Maybe humans just like to break things, especially if it can be a clean, crisp snap.

Nik writing to you all in the middle of Dancing Rabbit’s yearly retreat. Now that sounds great, doesn’t it?! When the logs are so cold they practically chop themselves, the whole village goes on a 5-day retreat. Where to this year? Costa Rica? Barbados? Pocahontas, Arkansas? No thanks, we’ll just hole up in the Common House and be happy for radiant floor heating.

But what kind of retreat is that, we all might ask? Aren’t we supposed to be getting away from this workaday, goat-eat-goat world?

Well, retreat at Dancing Rabbit is a time to come together and present what has been happening for each of us (and our committees) over the last year—to take count of what we accomplished and then decide where we want to intentionally put our energy in the coming year (but there’s also trainings and connection exercises and of course puppet shows, just like any other company retreat…).

Committee reports are always a highlight of retreat, as one would imagine. A lot of committees are needed to run the ins and out of this village, and an annual presentation is the place to let their work shine.

Some of the more memorable reports included the Village Council’s long list of decisions and proposals, accompanied by a slideshow of all the fun things the rest of the village got to do (like sledding, playing frisbee, climbing rocks…), which made us all appreciate our elected body of core decision-makers as opposed to the olden days of endless plenary meetings to get anything decided on. Did I mention there was an accompanying sound effect for each and every decision mentioned?

Eco-progress, a committee that oversees our village’s progress in everything… eco, forwent the power point presentation (to conserve power most likely) and went the Subterranean Homesick Blues route, making all their slides on recyclable cardboard. I’d never seen so many fascinating bar graphs…

Our non-profit and outreach arm’s reports were a bit more dry, but full of accomplishments and challenges alike. But then Land Management’s report was presented by a blind, inter-dimensional frog, who gave us a thorough diatribe on garlic mustard. Par for the course, really.

Beyond the reports and presentations, training exercises sprinkled the days. One such exercise on how to navigate difficult and possibly explosive questions from visitors and guests, was called “Steppin’ in it,” where we discussed how not to “step in it” and make things worse when dealing with such questions. Questions we discussed ranged from, “Why hasn’t anyone built a bicycle-powered smoothie bar yet?” to “Can I camp with my dog and three cats?” to “In the common house, where can I plug in my electric cat-waxer?” And now we are prepared to answer those inevitable questions with more grace.

The second part of retreat is reserved for very important planning; and the strategy is for it not to be planned! Well…kind of…although there is a lot of planning that goes into it, there is no specific agenda besides achieving…something…something yet unknown.

OST, or Open Space Technology, is an approach to purpose-driven leadership in hosting meetings, conferences, community events, symposiums, and of course retreats. It focuses on a specific and important purpose or task but begins without any formal agenda, and reaches beyond the overall purpose or theme. OST has been used by NASA, schools, telecommunications companies, local governments, and countless other organizations to create waves and changes in the way those organizations spend their energies and even how they run.

Using OST in our retreat gives us an open door and clean slate in what we want to achieve in the future, but can also be used as a problem-solving strategy to improve what we are already doing. If something isn’t working, or if something big emerges in OST, it can get a lot of traction on its way to being changed or implemented.

For those of us here who want to change the world, we first have to be ready to implement change in our own communities. Sometimes I think the latter is the harder one. But when ideas come, when new ways are presented, and we can get behind them to make a change, change starts.

And it can be a nice clean snap.

•                  •                 •

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.