Natural Seasonal Flow: A Dancing Rabbit Update

So much solar in the courtyard! We have solar panels powering the Common House, a solar oven baking bread, and the newly designed solar parabolic cooker (aka the death ray) that can boil liquids in minutes. Photo by Nik.

So much solar in the courtyard! We have solar panels powering the Common House, a solar oven baking bread, and the newly designed solar parabolic cooker (aka the death ray) that can boil liquids in minutes. Photo by Nik.

Howdy y’all. Ben here, with another field report from our little post-petroleum oasis here in the rolling hills of Northeast Missouri. As I tingle from the sunburns of the recent past I am simultaneously nipped by the cold of autumn approaching. Transition engulfs our environment. Clusters of ripening honey locust pods hang heavy on the branch. Hickories, walnuts and oaks begin to shed their masts, casting dice in the craps game of survival.

The evening hour is thick with the persistent buzz of cicadas, some of them intercepted in mid-air by cicada killer wasps. I am occasionally pelted by their twitching corpses, which descend from treetops overhead. In the lull of twilight, an enormous moon appears. Tonight shall be the harvest moon. Grain corn, sunchokes, turnips, and young roosters all await my knife this week. The forecast calls for nights in the upper 40s to lower 50s. The muskmelons in my garden languish on the vine, the eventual victims of frost or rot.

I must seem a bit maudlin to the reader. It happens every year. This is the springtime of death. If only I could go to seed like the prairie grass, put forth into this soil some encapsulated embodiment of my life’s energy to ensure the survival of myself and my species, then the winter which blows daily nearer might not dampen my view of this year’s work. Then I could truly go dormant.

But I am not prairie grass. My work is unceasing. I am nearer to a squirrel than anything, triggered into one last frenzy of toilsome action by the appearance of acorns. I split a cord of wood per week. I stuff cob into cavities of my unfinished home. I seal a cache of turnips, intern cabbage forever inside crocks and jars. I keep a keen eye on the fattening fowl as my last pair of usable trousers begs for a belt or suspenders. Strolling downs paths of the prairie I glean seeds of trefoil, partridge pea, bundleflower and clover for distribution among the pastures and paddocks of our hoofstock. Donkey manure, hedgeballs, and mown indian grass sit in buckets about my warren. The stuff of my current existence.

At night I dream of rabbit, deer, and duck. I am the coyote. I stalk the edge of the draws, and lay in wait. I am not prairie grass, I am a human being. I set no seed, I harvest the life-stuff of other beings, plant and animal. I am human, and though I attempt not to wage war with my environment like so many other humans, my relationship with my habitat is fraught with challenges. I have perennial allergies this time of year, feeling physically shut down at times. The tops of my feet are scarred by chigger wounds and poison ivy. Vermin steal from me.

Surely, fox and mink are not far away from the barnyard. Give them their tax, I say, but no more than a few birds. At other times it seems my survival is aided only by this habitat, even in a village of like minds and open hearts. I feast on astringent autumn olives near the pond with my daughter. Together we walk an old fenceline, gathering the fallen boughs of osage and oak for cooking fuel. We chew on the fresh oily kernels of sunflower which heavily hang drooping on heads seemingly lowered in prayer.

In and around the village, I absorb the sensual meanderings of our shared simple life. The creaking of cart wheels on gravel, the joyful noise of children and adults at play, the sight of visitor groups about the commons, on their way to workshops and work parties.

Bucket by bucket, villagers put up homes of earth, straw, and wood. The serene prairiescapes are occasionally broken by the appearance of a truck bringing sand and gravel to worksites. I hear the whine of planers and table saws just beyond the nodding, waving heads of blooming goldenrod. Likewise, others in the village hear the consistent splitting of oak almost daily from near my home. I spend a good deal of time performing acts of constructive destruction, which sometimes spill over into destructive destruction, such as when I ever so slightly rock a splitting maul over my left thumb, or drop a log on my foot. My curses blacken the air momentarily before I return to the steadfast thumping of steel on wood. I am the still pond, concealing a current of fearsome unknowable lifeforms underneath.

I am tormented by nasties, not unlike the goats, sheep, and donkey currently struggling with swarming flies. Skeeters buzz in the evening stillness, manifested by my endless collection of buckets. It’s been a good year for spiders. They don’t bother me none, but the cobwebs spread across the newly plastered walls of my house so quickly that they appear ancient. Tent caterpillars dangle in silky nests above, dropping dung as they devour the leaves of my baby hazelnuts. Once in a while I find one crawling on me, callously crush its green innards, then thoughtfully toss it to a chicken. Rodents of various sort gnaw tomatoes off the vine and find their way into our harvest of sunflower and sorghum seeds, leaving behind a telltale collection of chewed up hulls.

If I sound like I’m complaining, I’m not. Well, perhaps I sort of am.

My musings these days are merely the result of a life spent increasingly integrated into the natural flow of the seasons, though I am lucky enough to be insulated by some type of economy. Were my lifestyle to be truly subsistence, I would probably starve to death. However, this is an ecovillage, and I can get by as a person who’s really only good at growing turnips.

On the other hand, if I really was a squirrel, I’d get by fine in this mast acorn year, without communal support. Or not. And it wouldn’t matter, because I wouldn’t have the leisure time to mope around musing on the rodent condition. As a human, I don’t starve gracefully. I spend these autumn days retrospectively saddened by what hasn’t been accomplished, and what has been lost.

Still, there are successes this year. The house is much more well sealed. The goat kids are growing by leaps and bounds, the pastures are becoming richer, our roof is now covered in dirt and planted to winter wheat, our drainage has been perfected, my firewood is mostly split and seasoned, and I still contend that we Critters have the finest compost on farm.

But pride in my work is no different than a lack of pride in my work, and I am left to wonder if this land would be more harmonious if I were to shed my humanity and become a coyote, a squirrel, or a stand of grass, thrashing about my existence, sticking to my role in this habitat, all without complaint, or pride. Relearning harmony with the earth at this time in existence is a great undertaking, in a world where bug spray, Big Macs, smartphones, and petroleum are readily available.

And as I sit on the sagging porch of rotten soft maple that I never got around to fixing this year, amid buckets of clay, feathers, and dreams left unused, duck manure under my feet, I cannot help but feel some glimmer of hope for the whole remarkable enterprise we have undertaken, as an ecovillage, as a subcommunity, and maybe even as a species.

Because in a year in which I got more inches of rain than dollars, a year in which I found a grand total of five blackberries, a year in which I can officially check off less than a third of our outlined goals as a homestead, I can look northward in the direction of an approaching winter and see the bobbing head of my child combing the woods and fields for puffball mushrooms, tender leaves of violet, healing yarrow leaf and bee balm.

This is the springtime of death and I am the tired drying prairie grass that sets seed in the soil I’ve manured with my own sweat and blood. And my own manure, too. Autumn is here, or will be soon enough, and I may as well lay dormant like the slumbering grasses and forbs, or expire as surely as the rooster who likes to crow into our window every morning, or lay beneath the nearing snow, confident in the seeds we’ve cast if not the fruit of our collective labor.

Then again, all of this is a lot of words and high falutin’ metaphor, and there’s wood that needs splitting, walls that need plaster, and ducks that need processing. The cold is a-comin’, but it ain’t here yet, and I reckon I’ve done enough yammerin’ about my situation for up until the snow hits the ground, and between now and then I think I’ll just keep hiding turnips and chopping wood like I’m prone to do. Even if I envy squirrels, or feel like a coyote, or aspire to be grass, the fact is I’m merely human, and I have a lot of human things to do right now, not to mention all the human things I’d like to undo…

•                 •                 •

Dancing Rabbit’s Annual Open House and Village Fair is coming up: Saturday Sept 27th, 2014, 1-4 pm is your chance to see all the changes since the last time you were here, or to attend for the first time if you’ve never been! Free tours happen every half hour, and there will be lots of friendly Dancing Rabbit folks on hand to answer your questions, a Village Fair selling unique crafts and goods, and some complimentary refreshments. Check out www.dancingrabbit.org/ohfor details.

•                 •                 •

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. A regular free tour of our village happens on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, April through October: the next will be Saturday, September 13th, beginning at 1:00 pm. Tours usually last one and a half to two hours, and you don’t need a reservation. Or come to our Open House (details above) on the 27th! If you need directions, please call the DR office at (660)883-5511 or email us at dancingrabbit@ic.org.



Into the Sunset: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Thanks to all the Rabbits who helped overhaul the Common House kitchen as we begin yet another visitor session (Yes, that is Toon hiding behind the stove...) Photo by Katherine.

Thanks to all the Rabbits who helped overhaul the Common House kitchen as we begin yet another visitor session (Yes, that is Toon hiding behind the stove…) Photo by Katherine.

This week at Dancing Rabbit has been simply pleasant and ordinary in a lot of ways. Progress was made on building projects, gardens produced in abundance, we hung out at the pond, carried on our committee work, worked our income jobs, and did our chores. Same old, same old. For me though, everything I did and witnessed took on a special sparkle of affection or patina of nostalgia, since many of them I was doing or witnessing for the last time.

Hi, this is Sam, and I’m writing to you as I begin a sort of encore week at Dancing Rabbit, since I had planned to leave at the end of August but will stay for one more week. This will be my last time writing this update for y’all, though if you subscribe to the March Hare blog, you’ll likely see more of my work there in the coming weeks.

It’s a little harder than usual to recall what happened this week, since I’ve removed myself from the announcements email list, so I can’t use my inbox as a cheat sheet. A lot of the Critters have been out of town, at sheep conventions and what have you, so Mae was enjoying some quieter time between chores.

Plaster work is going on at Moon Lodge and Rae and Illly’s house. Tereza has a new shed, The Grocery Store is looking tidier than ever under its new management, and the planted beds in The Bean Field community gardens are looking impressively prolific. Wildflowers are continuing their colorful slow-motion annual parade, and I saw the first Monarch butterfly of the season. Cicadas are now at peak noisiness, I think.

This week we said “see you later” to our friends the Bushmans, as they moved away from Rutledge for family reasons unrelated to the tensions they felt around recent meetings and ordinances there.  They weren’t members of Dancing Rabbit, but so many of us knew them through the children’s friendships, work relationships, and general socialization that their departure was notable enough to warrant a going-away brunch.

Some folks stopped by Thistledown to enjoy finger foods and cocktails in honor of my going away, too. I was so touched at one point by a gift I received, I had to go have a little cry before rejoining the party. (Thanks for the bowl, Thomas.) Cob had promised folks there’d be prizes, and he declared some winners that night. For my part, I declare Katherine and Nik tied for winner in the vegan category, and I’ll bring them their prize of my purple sunshine t-shirt just as soon as I’ve washed it.

The pond weather has been just right, and I’ve enjoyed reading my book while the kids frolic in the water. For me, the pond is really one of the most important aspects of life at DR, and besides personal relationships, it’s the thing I’ll miss the most. Access to a clean swimming hole, with views of rolling wild prairie and lush draw, where everybody knows your name and herons come to visit, is something hard to achieve without community. I’m going to miss it a lot.

I’m also going to miss pizza night, and having a neighborhood bar where they don’t mind if I don’t buy anything, so long as I come in to spend time, and when the barkeep asks how I’m doing, I’m pretty sure he really cares. I’m not going to miss feeling responsible for the selection of the Board of Directors of a non-profit organization, but I will miss living with others who are passionate enough about some of the same things I am to spend their time and energy making decisions like that. From what I hear, the Board, as selected on Sunday, is chock-full of awesome people. I have high hopes for what Dancing Rabbit can accomplish with their leadership.

It will be interesting to see what the next few months and years bring for Dancing Rabbit. How will the ever-changing cast and crew, not to mention team of writers, perform over the next seasons? I may have dumped my last bucket of humey, but there will always be a part of my heart here at DR. You can picture me in chaps, with a duster flowing dramatically in the wind and my charming sidekick close beside. I’ll say, “Well, it looks like my work here is done. I’m needed elsewhere now,” and then ride off into the sunset.

•                    •                   •

Editor’s Note: We’ll miss you, Sam and Kody! Thanks for being here and doing all you’ve done over the years– wishing you the best of luck in your away-from-DR adventures!

•                    •                   •

Dancing Rabbit’s Annual Open House and Village Fair is coming up! Saturday Sept 27th, 2014,  from 1-4 p.m. we’ll be showing off all we do to friend and neighbors. Free tours will happen every half hour, with friendly Dancing Rabbit members to answer questions, a Village Fair selling unique crafts and goods, and some complimentary refreshments. Check out our website or our Facebook event page  for details!

•                    •                   •

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.

 



Ecological Cooking—Food Co-ops, Dancing Rabbit-style!

In the Skyhouse Kitchen Coop. Photo by Rachel Katz.

In this third installment in her series on Ecological Cooking, Dancing Rabbit member Sam talks about food co-ops, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage-style!

It’s been a few weeks since we had an installment of our series on more sustainable cooking. That’s my bad; I’ve been out of town, and this particular topic is one that’s a little less straightforward than the ones I’ve covered so far. Nevertheless, without further ado, let’s learn a little bit about the ecological benefits of… Food Co-ops.

So far, with hayboxes and solar ovens we’ve talked about technologies that make smart use of facts of physics to use heat more efficiently. The food co-op is a technology that helps optimize not just the efficiency of heat, but also some more subtle impacts of feeding ourselves.

You might be familiar with one kind of co-op, one that’s almost exactly like a grocery store, with maybe a membership fee and an accompanying discount. At DR our food sharing manifests in different ways, often with a deeper involvement than store-type co-ops. Often there are chore rotations, shared kitchens, cook rotations, and meetings to decide what kind of leftover storage containers to use or whether teabag strings should go in the compost.

One term we hear a lot when talking about ways to improve our efficiency is “embodied energy” or “embodied impact.” That’s referring to the energy or impact that is used or incurred in order to get an object to us for use. A solar panel, or example, has a certain embodied impact from the energy used in manufacture, energy used to transport it, the energy and other impacts of mining for materials, and the infrastructure for the factories, transport vehicles, etc. Everything has an embodied impact “cost”.

One of the ways we can minimize our personal share of the impacts due to our kitchen appliances is to share them. When we share the object, we share the cost. If ten people are sharing one stove, fridge, sink, teakettle, etc, that divides each of our share of that impact by ten. Those of us living in intentional communities and large families have an advantage over those of us who live in single family homes. Many folk at Dancing Rabbit live in “cabins” within easy walking distance of each other and that don’t all have amenities like running water, a stove, a fridge, or even a table and chairs.

Preserving in the Ironweed Kitchen Coop. Photo by Stephen.

Preserving in the Ironweed Kitchen Coop. Photo by Stephen.

Here, also, we know each other well enough and share enough of a commitment to good communication and peaceful sharing of things, space, and chores, that having one kitchen every several households is a pretty natural decision. I know not everyone lives in an ecovillage, so sharing appliances with your neighbors might take more of an effort than it does for us. Honestly, that kind of thing is what makes places like Dancing Rabbit so special. That said, I have some ideas to help you get some of the benefits of food co-ops without tearing out your kitchen.Even without spreading the impact of our appliances over more than one household, there is efficiency to be gained by cooking larger batches, and sharing among more people. For one thing, cooking a large pot of stew, baking an oven full of baked goods, or sauteing large amounts of onions and garlic is more fuel efficient than doing the same amount of cooking spread over several kitchens.

That’s because each burner has its own heat loss and other inefficiency, and using more of them compounds more of that wasted energy. Having a dinner club to share meals with once a month, week, or day, can save a lot of fuel, even if everyone has their own kitchen. Of course, if everyone is traveling by car to get to the dinner club, you lose some or all of that advantage, but at least you get to hang out with your friends.

Eating in a big group might not appeal to everyone, and for those who prefer to dine alone or in smaller units, I have a solution as well. Try cooking very large batches of stews, pie filling, sauces, and other food that can be canned in family-meal size servings, canning them while they’re hot (which does add to the fuel used) and then either storing them for your own use or trading among friends. You get all the convenience of packaged food without the disposable waste. It doesn’t get you quite the efficiency that group meals will get you, but it does have some ecological advantages, allowing you to buy unprocessed food in bulk, cook in big batches, and buy produce (i.e., impactful-to-ship food) in season only.

Canning, glorious canning at Skyhouse. Photo by Rachel Katz.

Canning, glorious canning at Skyhouse. Photo by Rachel Katz.

If you can find a bulk natural food buying club in your area, you might be able to save money and packaging by buying your staple foods in large amounts and having them brought straight to your neighborhood, instead of to a store first. Check out www.UNFI.com to ask about buying clubs in your area. While I’m plugging unaffiliated websites, let me say that my favorite way to store, say, 25 pounds of rice, is in a reclaimed 5-gallon bucket with a Gamma Seal Lid on top. My favorite supplier of those lids is www.freckleface.com. Buy in quantity (with your neighbors and buying club members) and save!

Sharing cooking chores has an advantage outside the fuel savings as well: time savings. It might seem like a bit of a stretch to call it a more ecologically sustainable choice to spend less time cooking dinner, but consider what you, good citizen, might do with that extra time. Might you build a compost bin? Walk or bike instead of driving somewhere? Plant a garden? Write for a sustainability blog? Or maybe you’d spend more time cuddling your children, lifting weights, knitting, or getting a little more sleep. That’s cool, too.

Another advantage to food coops of all kinds is the efficiency of space they yield. Houses without kitchens, or high person-to-kitchen ratios are smaller, per person, than houses with kitchens, and that smallness leaves more room for wildlife, carbon sequestration, growing food, or some combination of those or other worthy uses of space. Plus, smaller spaces are easier to heat in the winter, saving fuel that way, too.

Food co-ops like those we have at Dancing Rabbit, with shared kitchens, rotating cook shifts, and shared gardens and garden chores, enable us to cut our use of energy, time, space, and the embodied impact of appliances. If more people in the world could find ways to share kitchens, the savings would add up. Since you probably live in a house with a kitchen already, perhaps getting to know your walkable neighbors well enough to share a meal occasionally, or making large batches and gifting them around the neighborhood, could make a positive difference both socially and ecologically.

•                       •                       •


Sam’s had experience as a scientist, a sailor, a dive guide, a bartender, a housewife, a teacher, a farmer, a vagabond, and a business owner 
before coming to live at Dancing Rabbit from 2009 to 2014 with her son. Now Sam spends her time working online, homeschooling, watching Netflix, reading, writing, and running a couple of tiny businesses.



The Biggest Dipper: A Dancing Rabbit Update

A blossom in our rain garden. Photo by SunGee.

A blossom in our rain garden. Photo by SunGee.

I am not a singer.

Nik here, and don’t get me wrong, I can carry a tune with a group. I even fronted a wailing band back in high school. But unlike some folks, a tune isn’t floating in the air as I walk down Main Street.

Coming home to Dancing Rabbit after a three-week-long trip, I am afraid that we brought an oppressive front of heat and humidity along with us. Overwhelmed with a feeling of homecoming gratitude mixed with a need to escape the heat, the first thing I did when we got in was head to the swimming pond.

Thankfully, not a lot had changed in our time away, though Hassan’s long, golden tresses are now short and he’s looking mighty dapper. Cans of seasonal jams and pickles have stacked up on the shelves of the Milkweed Mercantile, as well as a lot of progress on the building of the Milkweed’s honeymoon cottage, with the help of work-exchanger Irene and her dad, Norm (who has been an entertaining and cheerful guest for two weeks). The cottage will be a new rental space for guests of the Mercantile, and it will boast a (hold on to your skorts) solar-powered hot tub!

One change that Katherine was dreading on our trip was the inevitable growing up of her baby ducklings. What were peeping ping-pong balls of cuteness when we left had matured into peeping brown footballs!

As someone who hadn’t spent much time raising birds before this year, I hadn’t even thought of something that happens to all of us at a very special time in our lives. The ducklings’ voices started to change! They were hitting poultry-puberty, and their peep-peeping was gradually turning to little quack-quacking.

It was also a fantastic week to return for celebrations—Sharon celebrated her birthday with a Fiesta de Chocolate; sweet and savory dishes made with cocoa filled the table of her and Dennis’s timberframe and cob home, Robinia. Dan played a set of Latin-American songs on guitar, and everyone spoke Spanish for a chunk of the evening…well, some of us spoke and some of us stumbled.

Later, the very same evening, a group of us from Sharon’s party climbed the hill into Critterville. The candle-orange glow of a fire and the rhythmic sounds of drums grew as we neared the gathering. Didgeridoos buzzed alongside the cicadas. There was steady chatter of conversation and two of Bagel’s visiting friends from Chicago were dancing with flaming hula-hoops and juggling sticks. Our baker-extraordinaire intern, Dandelion, picked up a flaming hoop and joined in their dance. Jaws were collectively dropped, because we had no idea of her talent!

They all made patterns and movements that must have been practiced for years, and this doesn’t even touch the fact that not a single bit of fabric or flesh was burnt! Trails of fire danced in the night air for hours, along with the hypnotic drumbeat and didgeridoo roar (and more hidden talent was exposed, as I do now believe our didgeridoo competence ratio puts most places to shame).

It was a night like one I have held in my dreams of what Dancing Rabbit would be. I know that Dancing Rabbit and communities in general are never just one thing or one idea. But it was a perfect night that tickled my once-held preconceptions.

That first evening back home, as I emerged from the cool water, the last pink light of the sun faded from the horizon. Stars spattered across the Milky Way, already bright, and the frog and insect chorus crescendoed as I sat to dry on the wooden dock. Ursa Major hung in the northern sky.

Since I was a teenager, I would point out that most famous of constellations, and to whoever was my companion on that late-night stroll I would say, “That… is the BIGGEST dipper I’ve ever seen!” They’d groan, or sometimes even laugh if I was lucky. But me, I’d always laugh at my own lame joke.

Looking at the Big Dipper in the purple Missouri sky, I smiled to myself. For the first time in three weeks, I was without my companion; there was no one to groan at my joke. There is a joy in solitude, especially when community and companionship surround you all day. I smiled again at that thought, looked up at the stars, and began to quietly sing a song I learned at Dancing Rabbit:

We are living ‘neath the great Big Dipper
We are washed by the very same rain
We are swimming in this stream together
Some in power and some in pain.

•                    •                   •

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.

 



Dogged Hope: A Dancing Rabbit Update

A foxy little pup in need of a loving home. Photo by Julie.

A foxy little pup in need of a loving home. Photo by Julie.

I can’t help but feel lucky to be writing to you while I have 2 gallons of barbecue sauce in the pressure canner and a cute stray snoozing on a dog-bed by my back door. The barbecue sauce has a home, but this little 15-pound wonder-dog came home with me the other night and has been rumored to have been wandering from Rutledge to other further neighbors’ homes for a number of weeks now.

Julie here, writing to you this week beneath sheets of rain, and from atop its consequence, “quick mud”. I haven’t seen tomato blight since I was gardening in Connecticut back in 2009, and never thought I’d ever see the likes of it in these parts.

In the past 3 years, I’ve seen the ground so parched that its deep cracks shifted house foundations. Our gardens were so dry that you could almost hear their collective sighs as they were relieved with our sun-baked garden hoses, revitalized with portioned precious water until the next unanswered hope for rain. You get the idea.

Not so for 2014.

Although I am very grateful that I’ve only had to water my garden a grand total of once this year, not counting getting seedlings started, it seems a bit disturbing that moderation seems to be a word that is absent from mother nature’s vocabulary as of late. Now, I’m not sure how normal these yearly fluctuations really are looking back historically, but to me, the idea of feast or famine in terms of getting water needs met doesn’t feel sustainable from just about any standpoint. Of course there are notable expected differences year over year due to El Nino, La Nina, and the Jet and Gulf streams. The dichotomous extremes between this year and last are so unlike one another that it would seem that there is no reasonable explanation that doesn’t include a disruption of the natural order of things. Here’s to hoping that we experience a tad bit more balance in the future.

When it isn’t raining, I’ve been taking advantage of the 280 acres we have access to as one of the perks of living here, like ripe, wild plums that can be harvested with a small shake of a branch. These sweet juicy fruits can serve as refreshment along a walk on our mowed paths that follow both the perimeter of our land, as well as countless side paths that meander along prairies blanketed with purple bergamot.

It’s a beautiful time of year to camp at a campsite here, cook food on an open fire, and sleep under the stars. Of course, some of us do that everyday, but for me it is an event. Whenever I allow myself this treat, it seems as though my internal clock is reset in ways that living in my house cannot. There’s always a lot of stimuli in the village portion of our land, with our homes being very close to one another in a “village model”, and sometimes it’s just nice to get away and reestablish an inner rhythm.

This week brought with it a definitive decision from long-term member Sam. She has just purchased a house in West Virginia, and is hoping to begin the next chapter of her life nestled in an area of picturesque natural beauty. She has an entrepreneurial spirit that will allow her to thrive irrespective of her geographical locale. I have no doubt that we’ll soon be hearing about this thriving business or another. Good luck Sam, we love you!

But back to the pup, I don’t think I can keep her, as I seem to be moderately allergic. She looks to be about a year old, doesn’t seem to bark at all, does well on a leash, is house trained, and knows how to sit. Her red coloring and fluffy tail resemble that of a fox, and she needs and deserves a home that will spoil and love her as much as I plan on doing for as long as she is under my care. If nobody responds to the fliers I made to find her owner, I can only give her to a very loving and attentive person. Please consider making room for this pup in your life by offering her a forever home!

•                    •                   •

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.



Ni hao-dy, Y’all: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Gyoza, cooked for community dinner by our visiting group from China. Photo by SunGee.

Gyoza (Chinese dumplings) cooked for community dinner by our visiting group from China. Photo by SunGee.

Ni hao-dy y’all. That’s a Missourian Mandarin greeting for just regular, plain, old howdy.

This is Ben, with a special global edition of my irregular missives from Dancing Rabbit. No, I am not writing to you from anywhere other than Northeast Missouri, where I sure enough ought to stay. You see, an ecovillage attracts lots of different sorts of human beings. Some of these people are travelers. They like to go to places that must seem fascinating.

Being a half-hour (tops) bike ride to the Rutledge Dog and Gun Exchange is a fascinating enough cultural immersion for me, but there are others who choose to experience a wider view of the planet than I tend to experience down here in the hollers of NEMO. Now I will not attempt to discourage any potential readers from global travel, but that’s mostly because I believe folks will do what they do.

But, y’know friends, for most of human history, people didn’t just go around here and there like it was nothing. In fact, we aren’t too many generations off from a time when folks didn’t hardly leave the county, let alone the country.

I have ecological reasons for not going anywhere, as well as personal ones. The personal ones are namely that I do not do well with airports, foreign or domestic governments, or money. I don’t even think the new U.S. currency looks real, let alone something with some fake-sounding monarch emblazoned across it. I’ll take ELMS (our community currency) over that.

Anyhow, between the goats, sheep, donkey, and a hundred and a half odd birds, I don’t reckon I’ll be going anywhere at all for a long while. Northeast Missouri is perfectly splendid enough for me in these days of lingering dew, bergamot blossoms, and cicadas. Perfectly splendid, and oddly un-August like.

Most of this past week we’ve been having some funny weather, more Pacific Northwest than Heartland. What in tarnation is going on with the climate these days? Oh wait, I think I know.

In the morning our barnyard is fogbound, punctuated by the ghostly silhouettes of chickens and ducks in the mist. When the sun shows up, if it ever does, dewdrops linger along the cornsilk and drip from the flowering grasses and forbs.

Bobolinks sometimes decide to grace the drooping heads of our sunflowers, but more often than not it’s sparrows. Mice of the sky, I call them, another flourishing species successful if only because of our own human habits. Good for nothing but biomass and cat food, I say.

The nights are often quite cool, as illustrated by numerous tomato plants that seem to be lurching towards ripeness, as opposed to their typical profusion of fruits this time of year. On the plus side, it isn’t a hundred five degrees and dry, like the last coupla three years.

So the unseasonably mild weather has been strange enough, but this past week, in my experience at least, has grown more and more surreal with each passing day. Not choosing to travel much due to my carbon diet and general state of overstimulation, I’ve still been honored by the presence of folks from other parts of the world. Most of them are here at Dancing Rabbit this week.

First there were Laura and Kasper, two friends of Stephen. They’re from Denmark, which sounds sort of like Dancing Rabbit if it had about six million people and a queen. Apparently, the bicycle infrastructure there is solid, with segregated bike lanes and great swaths of the city totally car-free, and the nation as a whole is attempting to significantly cut its carbon emissions. Though these steps are still small, it ought to serve as an example about how a new, environmentally aware cultural political paradigm can exist without having to look like the apocalypse.

Then there’s China: a huge nation, growing rapidly, which means burning lots of lots of petroleum. I might not get out much, but if the issues of National Geographic in my outhouse are to be trusted, it seems like things are really picking up speed over there. No, I don’t think it’s good.

Like a lot of the world, the population of China is urbanizing, disconnecting from its land, as it were. Sometimes I reckon human beings think the planet’s resources and ability to heal itself grows with the economy. I might be over here, down in the hollers, unable to see much more than these hills and fields, but a lot of the world’s population is increasingly unable to see much more than concrete tenements, power lines, and the eerie flicker of a proxy planet on screens.

The idea of places like Chicago, or Kansas City, freaks me out enough, with their respective masses of humanity and sprawling asphalt anacondas suffocating the land, let alone a city like Chengdu, which has something like 19 million people. So yes, when a large group of folks came to Dancing Rabbit all the way from Chengdu this week, it was a little surreal to me.

I knew this was supposed to happen. Hosting a group from China was a known fact for about a year. I guess I forgot until I went down to the common house one day, and realized that there were a lot of new people, most of them speaking in their home tongue.

I reckon that the Chinese folk visiting here are in just as much a surreal place as I am, being as though we are one of the few parts of America where people share cars, compost their own manure, and live in strawbale homes. I don’t imagine they thought the United States would be quite like our quaint yet highly important experimental village.

On their second evening here, we were honored to attend a cultural exchange. Most of my knowledge of China comes third hand from magazines and books such as the classic Farmers of Forty Centuries by F.H. King, which seems to paint a different picture from what I saw that night at the exchange. Granted, I had to duck out early for the evening’s farm chores, but most of what I saw involved contemporary Chinese pop music, and associated dances.

Apparently, a stereotypically common sight in China’s cities is flocks of middle-aged women who congregate before the work day in public spaces to perform highly choreographed, aerobic dancing. It’s better than choking down Egg McMuffins and yelling obscenities at other drivers on the expressway. Still, during a time of the year when I am most often stomping cob, cutting hay by hand, and digging potatoes, suddenly being in a room with a lot of people from halfway around the world bringing us cultural gifts from a truly modern urban environment was a bit iconoclastic.

We were then treated to a slideshow of life in China. Most interesting to me were the photos of food vendors on the street. Of course, I don’t need a market outside my door to get my veggies, on account of having a garden. In fact, if I want to eat a duck or chicken, there is ample opportunity within 20 feet of my doorstep. Still, I felt mildly enticed to try eating a turtle or some fermented preserved duck eggs after the slideshow.

Urban folks sometimes find our simple country existence to be a world of ambling nightmares. I wonder if they have poison ivy, chiggers, or ticks in China, and how it’s working out for them here.

I admit that my perspective is often more local than global, and that I have not personally achieved the level of communication and sharing with our visitors as I’d like. Talk is a very imperfect form of communication, more so when we don’t share a common tongue. The native English speakers living with me seem to have a hard enough time understanding what it is I’m trying to say sometimes.

I’ve also been musing upon the odd parallels between my life and life in China. Omnivores in China eat a lot of parts of the animal that most Americans don’t. So do I. A lot of folks still get around by bike or foot. Me too. On the other hand, many Chinese have embraced a sort of capitalistic, western, popular culture within their mildly communistic economy, whereas I personally practice some form of backwoods, low-technology communism in a mildly capitalist economy. China, along with much of the developing world is modernizing, by which I mean consuming more resources, while I am attempting to power down my consumption and stabilize my impacts on the planet. Perhaps Dancing Rabbit will make more sense to our visitors in the context of our nation’s creaking urban infrastructure, halted economy, and depopulated rural areas. That’s why Dancing Rabbit makes sense to me, at least.

Rounding out this sort of funky week was yet another visit from folks far-away, some friends of Bagels who live in a community in Chile, and then a monthly reiteration of the Dog and Gun Exchange, where everything is for sale.

I once again endured the overstimulation of this enormous flea market/Midwestern cultural event, where even those of us most resolute in diminishing our ecological footprint might feel tempted to hop on a four-wheeler, eat some fried sugar pork, and buy a pack of hunting dogs. I looked around, but nobody had any meaty looking turtles. I felt glad to have made it back with my mental state relatively unscathed, and proceeded to hide down in the bushes for a while.
I’m not leaving here, not for a long while. Other peoples’ travels exhaust me enough. I’m thankful for all the stories you’ve shared, not to mention the dumplings. I will, in fact, eat anything if it’s greasy and tucked into dough. But I just ain’t cut out for the modern world sprawling outside these prairie hills.

I came from a city once. It may have been Chicago, but it might as well be Chengdu. We now have a worldwide urban culture that is quickly becoming similar in all these disparate places. I’m happy to eat your dumplings, and dance your dances. You’ll just have to find me over yonder in the hollers of Northeast Missouri. We don’t even need to share the same tongue to share this particular view of the world I get here.

•                    •                   •

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.



Livin’ the Love: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Ted leads villagers in learning a few Chinese phrases as Dancing Rabbit prepares for more international visitors. Photo by Dennis.

Ted leads villagers in learning a few Chinese phrases as Dancing Rabbit prepares for more international visitors. Photo by Dennis.

Everyone knows you can’t buy love – but if you could, what’s the price tag you can afford? Before you put on your thinking caps, let me clarify the kind of love I mean. I’m not talking about you and your bestie, warm-fuzzies for your aunt Gertrude, or your love of learning, as important as those kinds of love are. I’m definitely not talking about lust, that primitive magnetism we feel with another person, mediated by pheromones and first impressions.

The kind of love I have in mind is consummate, fulfilling and mutually reciprocal – I’m talking about limerence. Suppose I have a machine that can distill the jammiest bits of jam, electrically encode them and transcribe them on your grey matter forever. What’s it worth to you?

Resident Vick here (don’t worry, I’ve never heard of me either) writing to you from beautiful Dancing Rabbit about the most important thing in the world.

The talk of the town this week has been the union between Kyle and Sarah, who decided to celebrate their love for one another with a joyous reception in the company of their friends and family. 

A separate celebration is coming up soon for Rabbits, so I didn’t go to this one, though I did get a taste of heart-shaped sweetness leftover from the party – my sugar buzz was a swell catalyst for the ghost-wind of passion I recall from relationships past – and its reminiscent effect was powerful.

As I reflected on the lavish spring of their romance while they set out to build a sustainable life together, I detected some extra pep in my step and a special eagerness to smile. This was mostly because I share their happiness as they mark this milestone, but also because the occasion allows me to experience a provocative, vainglorious taste of their limerence. 

Maybe it has as much to do with warm summer days and bold summer blooms, or catching a fleeting glimpse of Kyle and Sarah ambling by hand in hand, but all this talk about love has put my mind on the track of how these stories tend to go.  Usually, it’s like this: co meets co, co loses co, co and co get back together fiercer than cute on a timberdoodle, and finally co and co live happily ever after.  I want to know – how do they do it?

Fortunately, culture at Dancing Rabbit has a lot to offer when it comes to fostering multiple dimensions of loving relationships, including the tenderest matters of the heart.  I wonder, for example, how much Victorian botheration could have been averted if Mr. Darcy had gone to Men’s Group to work on his pride, and if Elizabeth had done a little co-counseling about her prejudice. With a little sensitivity training for the residents of Sesame Street, Bert and Ernie could have been open about their relationship. 

If consensus had been a part of life for Heloise and Abelard, their limerence could have grown face to face, instead of through a life-long litany of love letters. And, alas, perhaps a restorative circle between the Capulets and the Montagues would have meant that fair Verona would never need have known that story of woe, of Juliet and her Romeo.

So why did I ask you to put a dollar value on love? It seems inappropriate even to me, because sometimes the best things in life are free, the many-splendored ones most of all. I tried, and I can’t do it.  I suspect you couldn’t either – the equation just doesn’t add up, or at least in shouldn’t.  But it does.

A UK study assayed a hypothetical similitude between the happiness experienced by people who heard a close person say to them ‘I love you’ for the first time and the happiness felt by gamblers after winning a big jackpot. They concluded (don’t ask me how) that hearing someone say you-know-what for the first time induced the same level of happiness as winning $267,000. 

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the benefits of money, and it goes without saying that not all rich folks are happy, but here’s the kicker: when the positive influences of money are compared to the positive influences of true love on measurable criteria like longevity and life satisfaction, you’ll find that love matches money point for point on every count.  The difference is that lots of money comes with lots of taxes, and lots of love comes with lots of hugs and kisses.

Hearing ‘I love you’ on a regular basis also increases persistence of vasopressin and oxytocin in the brain, chemicals that make us feel palpable sensations of affection, emotional closeness and meaningful connection with other people. Couples who exhibit high levels of these chemicals in their systems have been shown to resolve conflicts faster and more permanently than those who struggle to whip up this particular cognitive cocktail.  Simply looking into the eyes of your special someone can have a profound impact.

So take some time every day to look into the eyes of your companions in life and tell them how much they really mean to you. It’s good for you, it’s good for them, and in the long run the time you spend together will be worth much more than a number in your bank account. 

I’m not too shy to say it: I love you! I’m blowing you kisses as I write, and until someone at Dancing Rabbit discovers the secret to growing money trees, we are going to keep spreading the love.

In the same spirit, I’m proud to announce that Dancing Rabbit will soon be hosting a group of ecological enquirers all the way from China to show them what it’s like building a model for global sustainability. Be sure to check out this week’s photo of Ted teaching Rabbits some key Mandarin phrases. Wǒ ài nǐ! (I love you!)

Ciao for now, and congratulations to Kyle and Sarah for winning the lottery of love!

•                    •                   •

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.



Heaps of Appreciation: A Dancing Rabbit Update

In appreciation for their latest summer worker, Kate, the Critters threw a grilled pizza party for her last meal at DR before heading home. Here, Chef Bagels got a little "floury" with his cuisine! Photo by Nik.

In appreciation for their latest summer worker, Kate, the Critters threw a grilled pizza party for her last meal at DR before heading home. Here, Chef Bagels got a little “floury” with his cuisine! Photo by Nik.

It was a fairly typical summer week in some ways– a few hot and muggy days, some welcome rain, and a couple downright cool nights, not to mention the usual heaps-of-stuff going on — yet in other ways it was anything but the usual. Tereza here with the news from Dancing Rabbit…

Perhaps the biggest happening this week is one of those bad news/good news stories: Ashly was in a car accident Wednesday night. The good news is she’s OK, and it was an extremely lucky thing. The car was totaled, but landed on the exact right fence post in the exact right way so that things were not very much worse for her. There was also an amazing show of help from our neighbors. I’ll quote from an email Alline wrote to Rabbits to let us know what had happened:

“When Jennifer and I arrived at the scene, there must have been 75 first responders. Dozens of trucks and cars with flashing lights. Someone with a big rig set up with his flashers about half a mile from the crash to slow and divert traffic. It was an amazing example of community and working together. Wayne Winn was there and was especially helpful in getting details to us as they tried to extricate Ashly… It was very, very scary. … We have kind neighbors.”

Ashly, and all of us who love her, want to express our great appreciation to everyone who helped, especially Sean Huff, who called the emergency and DR numbers for her. Ashly especially wants to express her thanks to the unknown woman who sat and prayed with her while those calls were being made. Whoever you are, please know that she very much appreciated your support in that difficult time. We are all so grateful that she is OK, and that we live in a place where we can count on our neighbors when things get tough. We all look forward to her full and speedy recovery.

In other bad/good news, we said farewell to Rachel and Tony, who left for California and their 6-12 month sabbatical this week. The good part is that we had a lovely, tear-and laughter-filled goodbye party for them. There were spoken appreciations, a puppet show, cupcakes (mmmm!), the presentation of a book filled with memories (and more appreciations) for the two of them, and (of course!) a dance party in the Casa after. Appreciations ran the gamut from teary to funny. Adriana ended her hilarious offering with the more serious and universally-agreed-upon summary: “Because you always inspire, always encourage; because this place wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you, and it certainly won’t be the same without you.”

Saturday night Dan held a performance of covers and originals in the Casa. Mark from Red Earth opened with his own original song for Tony and Rachel, which was lovely. Dan played two guitars (no, not at the same time!), harmonica, and what I think he said was an Appalachian dulcimer. The music was great, and the appreciative audience made for a fun night out. I love living with such talented folks!

After one of his original songs, a hilarious oldie but goodie about the Y2K bug, Dan mentioned that we shouldn’t be surprised if we found ourselves humming the tune later… Yup, it’s catchy all right. Even my usual earworm-destroying technique of singing the words to the Gilligan’s Island song to the tune of Amazing Grace (or vice versa) has not been able to get it out of my head… Thanks, Dan!

An all-day consensus and DR process training took place on Friday, with the incoming Village Council folk required to attend, and a number of new and not-so-new Rabbits in attendance as well. Laird did the consensus piece, with Kassandra presenting the DR process part.

As we’ve grown as a community and transitioned from full-group consensus to the Council model, many areas are in flux and we are still finding clarity on some things. It can be confusing at times, even for old-timers like me, so I appreciate the chance to get together and go through it with other folks who are interested in governance and decision making.

[Insert time travel noises here]… going back in time a wee bit, Ted forgot to mention in last week’s update that we had an excellent presentation from Brooke and Professor Josh Lockyer about the results of last year’s eco-audit research. The whuh? Brooke (with the help of a number of research assistants) studied our ecological impact and quality of life last year, compared our data to mainstream America, and wrote her PhD thesis about the results.

Part of the research included presenting the results to Rabbits, most of whom probably aren’t going to read all 2 zillion pages of thesis-speak (yes, that is an exaggeration, but I saw her Facebook posts while she was writing and I bet she would agree it sometimes felt like zillions…). The data was presented well, and we of course had not-quite-zillions of questions (“Does the water usage figure for the average American include rainwater catchment?” “Does that vehicle miles data include kids?” “Will you please take out — um, we mean weigh and do data analysis of — our trash and recycling again?” etc.).

It was fun to be all together in one room with my community and see data on a screen that says we really are doing things differently here, and that what we’re doing makes a difference. Many of the numbers looked very good, though it was often difficult to gather the data on DR and/or find comparable data for America in general, so I’m glad that this research is likely to continue.

I’m looking forward to refining the process so that we can get ever-better data on where we need to focus to continue lowering our impact. We know that long distance travel is one area we can improve on, and that figuring out how to better measure food impacts is essential. Brooke is planning to write an article for the DR blog that will present the results, again in real-people words, rather than academese, so if you’re interested be on the lookout for that.

All in all, for me at least, the last few weeks have been a time of appreciating the people in our lives and remembering how precious the time we have together is. Thanks to all of you for reading. Now I’m going to go tell someone I appreciate them, and I encourage you to do the same (if that’s hard for you, I promise it gets easier with practice)!

•                    •                   •

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.