No Matter What the Weather Does: A Dancing Rabbit Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Happy Rabbit Retelling: A Dancing Rabbit Update

One particularly beautiful example of a completed game of "Exquisite Corpse". Photo by Nik.

One particularly beautiful example of a completed game of “Exquisite Corpse”. Photo by Nik.

Another calm Sunday night sittin’ here by the fire with my trusty dog, Henry. The day was a brisk one with 25 degrees readin’ on the gauge and a slight breeze headed out of the… sky.  :)

Katherine here to give you the goings-on in Rabbitville as a long time reader, first time writer.

My morning started off just right with a nice brunch made by Nik at the Mercantile. They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I just have to agree when that warm plate of food comes out pairing ever so nicely with my hot coffee and seat by the fire. The company is pretty nice too as we mingle with the locals and B&B guests. Today, however, found us just with the Rabbit folk in what I like to call our fluffle (rabbit family).

I do enjoy my fellow communitarians in our various shapes, sizes, and personalities. While I would call Ma’ikwe more of an extrovert, I would call Bob more of a trapezoid and Dan more of a farmer. We are all so very different in our passions and even daily functions, yet share a value that looks something like sustainable community. So if you ever find yourself itching to wax philosophical with an activist, a vegan, or a rhombus, come on over to brunch (served every Sunday at the Mercantile) and see what’s cookin’. Every course is served with a side of smile and a cup of good cheer. Just be sure to ask for the duck joke.

And speaking of the Mercantile, congrats to Alline on her new cookbook, “Beyond Toast: 40 Wonderful Ways to Use Jam”! I am personally pretty stoked to see all 40 ways during a reading/tasting from the book, happening later this week.

The first two inches of snow blanketed the town just a few days ago and the snowballs and giggles are already flyin’. ‘Tis the season to stretch one’s throwing arm before endeavoring out amongst the snowball ninjas that have found their way into our village.

Every year I attempt to be classified as a snow ninja and every year my giggles seem to hold me back. I doubt much will change in that department, though one can hope.

With the snow comes warm fires in our stoves, and with our stoves comes wood, and with wood comes my next topic of choice— our clarification of the lumber covenant.

Eco Progress, a very hard working and awesome committee that helps keep DR fine tuning our ecological super-powers, has researched for many months the particulars of our 5th Ecological Covenant: “No lumber harvested outside of the bioregion, excepting reused and reclaimed lumber, shall be used for construction at Dancing Rabbit”.

They have conducted surveys with Rabbits, read extensively about bioregions, interviewed founders as to their intentions, and so much more in an effort to ensure that we are all on the same page, and that that page is made of vellum.

The clarification came to the Village Council meeting and was eagerly discussed by more than a few interested Rabbits. While we still need to come back for a second meeting, we got through and decided upon most of the proposal in what turned out to be a polite and lively discussion. When even the definition of construction is up for debate, you know it’s gonna be a good time for all.

Speaking of good times, Ellena left us with a farewell party this week that was something of a smash. The wexer (work-exchanger) turned friend invited us to drink hot chocolate and laugh at the funny faces in the mirror as we painted them up for a rousing good time. While baboons and princesses are a must-have at any good paint party, one can never go wrong with a good tribal or leaf around the eye.

As if that wasn’t enough to get the imagination going, we played a game of Exquisite Corpse to round out the affair. This game entails just a pen, paper, and ingenuity. One starts a drawing on the top of the paper, covers the image, and passes the paper on to the next artist, who adds to the work without seeing the previous contribution. The result is a sometimes hilarious vision that is sure to please at least one in the room.

On a interesting intellectual note, I just read that this game was inspired by the French Surrealists of the early 1900s, and was found to be both fun and enriching. Remember that for your next DR Trivia Night.

One last momentous celebration that I would like to mention is Alyssa’s 40th Birthday! Our village has what I think a most grand tradition for birthdays ending in the “Big 0″, known as the Birthday Spectacle. Dating back many years, Rabbits have seen silly, bizarre, and brave sights that live on in our stories which are passed down into legend. If only I could regale you with the tale of Cecil and the Death Defying Cistern Drop! But that my friends, is a story for another day.

Alyssa’s birthday was a lovely time to get together and appreciate friends, food, music, and dance! As for her Spectacle… that is her story to tell…

And as for this retelling of events passed, it has been my pleasure to share with y’all just one Happy Rabbit’s experience. Thanks for readin’ and ‘til next time, *K*.

[Editor's note: Katherine generally peppers her writing with smileys, and asked me to leave at least one in. Can you find it? Yup, up at the very beginning! Perhaps we can tempt her to write more often by promising more smileys next time...]

•                    •                   •

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.

Night Sky Wonder (and other news): A Dancing Rabbit Update

Skyhouse against a particularly picturesque sunset. Photo by Nik.

Skyhouse against a particularly picturesque sunset. Photo by Nik.

Hello, Readers!

Allow me to introduce myself…

My name is Lucas. I participated in the September visitor program, and got a strong sense that something profound is happening on the ground here. I have since become a resident, leaving a cushy cubicle behind in Tennessee.

It is my great honor to have the opportunity to “speak” with all of you on a regular basis.

I hope you enjoy my perspective. I sure do!

Though the final visitor session and tour of the season is over, DR remains a hub of connection, hosting a gathering for the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), as well as the annual meeting of the Board of Directors of DR Inc., the non-profit arm of Dancing Rabbit.

I was pleasantly surprised to find these guests remarkably down-to-earth, full of great ideas, and just plain good folks. The community’s been thrilled to host so many seasoned leaders and minds, and have taken full advantage of the opportunity to get to know them better.

I find it comforting to know that we’re all more or less pointed in the same direction. It was wonderful to see the Board and village members so in-tune with one another; I’d argue that this week has served as a testament to DR’s solidarity in the quest for sustainable progress.

The predicted cold snap is pushing the village into the final stages of winter preparations a bit sooner than expected. I’ve heard the Brussels sprouts and lettuce will be harvested earlier than normal this year, and the egg supply is steadily tapering off, along with the sun’s warmth.

I’ve found myself wondering what a foot of snow will be like; I’ve been in cold climates, but never much snow; maybe 6 inches at best. It seems this year I may get the chance to hop on a sled and do something ill-advised. Perhaps y’all will see a fun photo of me this winter, terrified and tumbling! I will do my best.

Construction on the town center road is progressing nicely. Its completion opens up new areas for development by prospective home owners and entrepreneurs. It’s exciting to watch, and I wonder what the area may look like one day. I imagine it bustling with local, sustainable, fair-trade activity; perhaps hosting large community dinners and events…so many possibilities!

Halloween certainly didn’t pass unnoticed here at DR. The holiday was celebrated with the yearly “progressive fiasco”, a house-to-house tour where the community dresses up in their scariest/favorite costumes, and Rabbits open their homes, sharing food, drink, stories, and music until the early morning hours. I’ve never been to a costume party full of “grown-ups” before; I had a blast, and I’m pretty sure everyone else did too!

Another wonderful aspect of living away from the city is the night sky. The stars are amazing here. I often find myself gazing upward on clear nights in awe and reverence of the sheer number of stars, and scale of our universe.

As a budding astronomer with the goal of bridging into astrophotography, I have been learning about the celestial navigation techniques that humans have used to explore the Earth. No matter what our individual heritage or ethnicity, the stars have been guiding our ancestors, inspiring stories, and keeping our time. It is a shame that so many now live under constant illumination, missing out on an ancient light parade so profoundly subtle, magnificently silent, and historically significant.

In the city, there just doesn’t seem to be much to see. It’s no wonder that millions now rarely look up, choosing instead to constantly stay indoors, separated from the environment and sights that drove countless generations forward. I wonder at the consequences of losing our connection with the stars.

It took about 40 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight for us to get to the moon. It’s now been another 40 years, and we have surprisingly little to show for it. Perhaps people are losing their wonder. Perhaps we feel too large, too important now, with no great expanse to humble us each evening.

As someone who has mainly lived in cities, I’ve also very much enjoyed watching the trees and landscape change. Never before have I seen fall manifested so suddenly, so dramatically. Being surrounded by the natural environment is an equally humbling experience. It is an untamed power, one that can sweep the land barren, or bring plentiful bounty. It is a consistent reminder that our ability to adapt to changing environments could very well face its greatest test in the next few generations.

Projects such as Dancing Rabbit serve to restore my hope that we can ultimately respond to climate change as responsible people. I am proud of my choice to live in and serve with this community; I see the choice as one of responsibility and patriotism, and I believe that over time more and more citizens will as well.

•                    •                   •

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.

Assumptions, Change, and a Big Ol’ Bottle of Humans: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Skunks, cowboys, caterpillars, cats and dogs were all in attendance of the Dancing Rabbit progressive Halloween fiasco! Photo by Rae.

Skunks, cowboys, caterpillars, cats and dogs were all in attendance at the Dancing Rabbit progressive Holler-ween fiasco! Photo by Rae.

Howdy y’all. Well here I am again, on the sustainable frontier of America’s heartland, in another seemingly calm time of transition, dormancy, and death. It is early November, and I am happy to not be a deer, though sometimes I am mistaken as one.

My name is Ben, not that you need to know, and if you’re reading this, you may have assumed I live at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, amid the undulating prairie hills of Northeast Missouri. That assumption is correct, but any other preconceived notions you have may not be.

I am certain that there are many assumptions, stereotypes, and rumors about ecovillage people circulating about the wider populace, when and if the subject ever comes up conversationally. Even inside the ecovillage, there are all types of untruths and not-quite truths. A natural human occurrence, not to be ashamed of.

Sometimes our assumptions about other people are way, way off. Sometimes they are not only true, but more true than we can imagine. At no time does this lifestyle of assumption seem more obvious to me than in the final few days before election season.

This morning, already confused by the unnatural, disharmonious and totally made-up notion of Daylight Savings Time, I blearily tuned to our local radio station to catch up on the weather, school lunch menus, and obituaries, and was immediately and thoroughly bombarded with election messages.

I don’t intend to knock our elected officials, but I generally don’t intend to elect them either. It seems every one of them wants to claim to support my values. Their assumptions about said values range from fairly right on to way off base. Either way I’m more of a mixed bag, and I reckon the same is true of most folk.

I sense that in the future, the local elected officials in these parts may become more keenly aware of the intentional communities-based constituents of their constituency. And before I know it there’ll be county coroners, treasurers and prosecutors shaking hands and schmoozing with me while I’m in the middle of hauling buckets of dubious contents from one site to another, as I oft am known to do.

I both fear and welcome the politician who truly takes my ideas under consideration. But until that happens, I’ll just keep doing what I know is right, and if I talk much more about what that means, well, I might start talking like a politician myself, and I’m not so sure that y’all need more of that right now.

What I do believe is that if anyone who is running for office even attempts to reconcile all the values being held at this ecovillage into a singular platform, they’re gonna have a hard time of it. None of us really fits the stereotypical bill.

On the surface, an ecovillage may bring to mind an image of some well-educated, well-meaning, gentle, vegan pagans with a love of hand-holding, drum circles, and an almost unbearable level of proximity to one another. Under that, when you come to know us, you may be shocked to discover that we’re all quite different.

Some of us display a knack for financial or organizational savvy. Some of us couldn’t make it through a semester of community college. Some of us seem less than starry-eyed, or at least more willing than expected to honestly report what our problem is with another person. Some of us are spiritually inert hermits who do not partake in jam band music or kale smoothies, but instead spend their daylight hours slaughtering ducks and chickens.

It’s just a big ol’ bottle of humans here, as extraordinary and mundane as anywhere else, so if some political personality wants to bridge the spectrum of sustainable present here and create an agenda that will keep us all happily voting for them, well then I believe that blessed soul ought to just drop out of politics and join us here, where we’re all our own elected officials all the time.

So on to the weather. What Dancing Rabbit update is even worth reading without a note or two on our climatic conditions? For starters, it is currently beautiful outside, even though fall colors peaked two or so odd weeks ago.

The wind is brisk, the sun is bright and angled, and only a few stubborn leaves remain clinging to branches, mostly oak. Underfoot the dead dry leaves sizzle as they transform from verdant natural solar panels, transmitting some type of arboreal life-force, to a protective blanket for dormant roots, and eventually nourishing soil.

The days are crisp and often windy, plucking hedge apples from the gnarled limbs of osage and sending them plummeting earthward like bombs armed with genetic material. They come down with great force, scaring the hiccoughs out of me as they pop like shotguns on the metal roof of our outdoor kitchen, roll along and careen past the water catchment, gaining velocity on the downhill slope of our warren, scattering the flocks of ducks who stand about nipping at clover like feathery bowling pins of the grassy lane.

At night, frost, harbinger of death, the atmospheric equivalent of the crows of the field, sinks its fangs into diminished autumn gardens, leaving for us in the morning the decayed and devastated corpses of shrivelly green tomatoes and frost-bit lettuce, almost as lifeless and limp as the kind you might purchase in a grocery store.

Horseradish, collards, and mustard persevere in the Critter garden, but visually lack self-esteem, partially hunched shadows of their former botanical selves, their once lurid hues darkened by the vampire bite of the coming winter.

Some folks take to blanketing their garden beds in row cover on the frosty nights, whereas I personally prefer to risk it and do nothing, then spend the next morning in a dual state of wonder and dismay at what survived and what didn’t. It keeps me in touch with mortality, an important thing in this place, and at this time of year.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, folks: sometimes ensuring continued life on the planet means we need to get a bit more comfortable with dead things. I’m not a zen monk, and I wouldn’t even know what one was if I seen it, but I find my own ways of taking solace in the inexorable cycle of existence and non-existence.

All of us here, in varied ways, are tuned into nature’s existential struggle with itself, and we will all grow and be destroyed, as well as grow things and destroy things, whether we like it or not. Being sustainable, I think, requires participating in a system where destruction and regeneration perpetuate each other in a harmonious way. Take firewood for example: it is essentially the cadaver of a tree which is utilized to maintain life, and when managed properly, can replace itself before it is eliminated forever.

Many folks around here have chosen November as the semi-arbitrary start date for wood heating the home. Being a part of a cooperative micro-homestead kitchen scene which eschews the use of compressed gas fuel, we started up a little bit sooner than that, since all of our cooking incorporates wood heat and/or reflective solar ovens. There just ain’t any sense in heating up your food outside when it’s 45 degrees.

But as we move into the season of home heating, many of us at Dancing Rabbit engage in the perennial activity of acquiring, processing, and storing firewood. Firewood, you may have heard, is made out of dead trees. Perhaps there is an assumption out there about ecovillagers that there are no dead trees in our lives, and that if a tree were to be seen being harvested by humans that we might all shriek in horror, or sit, heaving in the dirt, weeping and confused, and very very cold.

I’m here to tell you that it isn’t quite like that, though I believe all of us here try to find an acceptable balance between the necessity of living forests, and the necessity of dead trees. Personally, I’d rather at least handle my carbon before I burn it, giving the forest’s own sacrament to my survival a tactile survey in my own hands, an experience I’d be separated from were I to indulge in heating from some faraway, unholy flaming nectar of the earth, like so many modern buildings.

We are temperate North America. The Midwest in particular. In the course of one year, our temperatures can swing 120 degrees Fahrenheit. A lot of us at Dancing Rabbit are very different, but we all, in some capacity, rely on wood heat.

Not being raised in a wood-heated home, I am still evolving in my wood stacking technique. The chopping and burning comes natural, but the stacking sometimes makes me feel like I’m failing geometry class all over again.

I recently went for the tall, narrow, wall of wood design. It remained acceptably rigid and stable for many days. Then, at about ten o’clock the other night, as I walked out onto the front porch en route to the outhouse, a hedge apple dropped from high off the tree, catapulted off of our living roof, and crashed onto the top of the stack, which immediately cascaded forward in an avalanche of noise and dust. It struck me as amusing in the moment, but I became more fully aware of the tragicomic implications the following day when the wood needed to be re-ordered.

As resistant as I am to the notion of measured time, I cannot help but constantly feel ahead or behind schedule. Mostly behind. When the lumber fell, it was like I lost an hour of my life which would never return.

A rooster doesn’t know to sleep in whenever the time of day is miraculously suspended for an hour, and truth be told, neither do I. Sunup is sunup. And that’s when some things need to be done, particularly if you are a person who works with animals.

And so, some of us here, our lives inseverably linked to sunlight, go on with our day, whether or not the clock says 5:30 or 6:30, or, as in my case, you have several clocks and none of them say the same thing. Still, others here lead lives more dependent on measured time rather than the traditional sunup to sundown routine. Good for them, I guess.

Now I can make all kinds of assumptions about these people, and I probably do. I can make even more assumptions about events and happenings here at Dancing Rabbit, and perhaps I should, seeing as though this column is to serve as an update about those things. However, being the socially inept, spiritually inert hermit that I am, I did not attend this week’s Halloween celebration, Day of the Dead celebration, Village Council meeting, nor any of the other scheduled events on our shared weekly calendar.

I did, however help in the construction of Dancing Rabbit’s newest loop of roads, an experience which admittedly brought mixed emotions. In general, I am cautious about roads. Roads bring things places, and that means change. Sometimes, I stubbornly refuse such change, or hate to think of it.

Most roads in America serve as a good place to get run over. Though I have at times personally enjoyed the spoils of such incidents, it is overwhelming for me to consider the vast quantities of plant and animal life affected by the building and use of roads.

The roads here are different. For one, they are rarely visited by motor-carriage, and when they are, we have a new policy of a five mile per hour speed limit. Though the the brand-spanking-new blinding white gravel sweeping along my homestead takes some visual adjustment, ecovillage roads can be much more appealing to the eye than the average interstate highway. Save for the occasional woolly bear caterpillar, things don’t generally get run over here. In fact, ever since the new road went in, our ducks have laid claim to a small gravel swath for sunbathing.

Aesthetic complaints aside, I do recognize the utility of bringing things places. One day, perhaps soon, the road that stretches beyond our little piece of the ecovillage will be lined with other homes and other lives. Building the road to welcome these future villagers comes at a cost, both financial and environmental. The irony of scraping away layers of sod to lay down lifeless gravel on an artificial roll of road fabric in hopes that folks looking for an opportunity to live sustainably can find one is not lost on me.

And gravel isn’t very enjoyable when you’re barefoot a lot of the time. People come here to live a dream, sometimes they leave to live another, and sometimes they don’t know which dream to live, and they walk these roads and others to find where on earth suits them best. I appreciate not having to push the wheelbarrow through mud deeper than my ankles anymore, but I don’t feel much called to travel any roads to anywhere these days.

For one thing, I am at the beck and call of a mixed herd of goats, ducks, chickens, and a donkey, not to mention a certain human child who belongs here very much, as well as many other human friends I am mutually reliant with. And even when the social world at Dancing Rabbit picks up velocity, I prefer to ride in the passenger seat at most, if I’m not completely bunkered down at home, my feet planted firm like the sleeping roots of trees in November.

The visitor season is overwhelming enough for me, so I don’t reckon I’ll be amid the cosmopolitan sprawl of modern America. This little bottle of humans is good enough for my liking, even though the contents are constantly changing. This year, Dancing Rabbit has watched a lot of folks move up and down the road, and for some of them, I admit being only able to assume what dream it is they’re chasing.

Some we will see again. And again. Others are gone forever. Sometimes I’m unsure myself what road I was on, or what assumptions I was operating under, when I showed up here. And truth be told, I don’t need to know the answers. I’m better off working and waiting for whatever blows in next. I just hope it isn’t a stump speech.

•                    •                   •

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.

Reverence: A Guest Post

by Karen Hanrahan

Karen was awarded an Artist in Residency position at the Milkweed Mercantile at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage four times, in four seasons, in 2013-4. She captured many amazing images of our community during that time. Four of these images were chosen for an exhibit opening November 8th at the Jackson Junge Gallery in Chicago with the theme “Eat, Drink & Be Merry”. Over 200 artists from around the world submitted work for the show; the following is from the commentary Karen included in her submission. Please note that the topic is butchering, some of the photos that are linked to are graphic, and that people at Dancing Rabbit make diverse dietary choices, including vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore.

If you had asked me as a suburban child where our food comes from I would have said… from the store.  My relatedness to farm was none.  I trusted that the store would provide, and it did so in its own manipulative way.

My questioning of food as an industry began when I was a new mom.  As my skepticism grew I found myself advocating choice. I became a zealous scratch cook, an advocate of the alternative food movement, especially organics.


Even then, with all my ideals, I was very naive. In recent years I have had the opportunity to befriend many a farmer through my community farmers’ market.

My understanding of where my food comes from has evolved. My utilization of locally sourced food, and eating within the availability of the season, has been enthusiastically implemented.  I feel tremendous regard for the organic and small farm movement.In 2013 I was awarded an artist residency at the Milkweed Mercantile, located at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, an intentional community.

At the off grid village, 70 residents strong, the relationship to where their food comes from is vibrant and intimate. While there I witnessed an expanded expression of food processing from folks raising their own meat, and was able to watch and photograph the harvesting of chickens and ducks.

My being at the right place at the right time was synchronistic, and I didn’t have a whole lot of time to decide how I felt about watching animals being butchered, it was happening and I was capturing it.


I eat meat, and do not have any issues doing so. Yet, I feared for a small moment that the process might freak or gross me out. Instead I found it amazingly beautiful.

One of the villagers commented on the reverence they have for their animals. The word reverence really struck me. They had raised their animals humanely, fed them well, let them roam and peck at the dirt for bugs. They let them be ducks and chickens. They raised them with the intent of eating them.I photographed four seasons at this village.  I saw the tail end of an autumn harvest, the bleak severity of winter, the tremendous potential of spring, and was just stunned by the abundance of summer.  I thought what a disconnect the average grocery store is in comparison to this beautiful relationship these folks have to what they eat.

I wish that there was more of this experience for all.

•                     •                   •


Karen Hanrahan is a self-taught photographer. Utilizing a simple point-and-shoot camera, she captures organic, up close, authentic images. See more of her work on her website.

Defrosting All the Little Lights: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Who wants to watch 'Frozen'? Photo by Josi.

Who wants to watch ‘Frozen’? Photo by Josi.

Hello friends! After a hiatus away from Rabbit-land I’m thankful to be enjoying 77 degree days in late October, and the company of friends, old and new.

Josi here, writing my views on this week at Dancing Rabbit; a viewpoint now closer to that of a visitor trying to construct a cohesive whole from brief glimpses of life on-farm.

The most poignant event of the week was one affecting Rabbits as well as millions of people around the world, an event capable of capturing your heart and mind and linking you to something much bigger than yourself.

I’m not talking about the birth of the NEMO Citizen’s Climate Lobby Chapter, or the weekend program presenting the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta, but something with even more universal appeal than either of those.

“Frozen”. Yes, the Disney movie. Even here at Dancing Rabbit, where modern American culture has less influence than most places, the impassioned voices of children singing the anthems of “Frozen” were a frequent event of the past week.

I’m pretty sure that every child from the tri-communities was gathered Friday night to watch a special screening in La Casa de Cultura. I snuck in before it started to photograph the girls dressed in their elaborate princess costumes, but refrained from staying for the viewing. (The boys, while there to watch, emphatically did NOT want to be in any pictures.)

Feeling I may have missed something important to this column in not watching the film, I was lucky enough to have a second viewing with Althea, Mae, Aurelia and Rae. Curious as to how this had taken little Rabbits by storm, I sought out Mae (who always has motherly wisdom to share, oftentimes turning my perceptions upside down) and learned that the tri-communities “Frozen” phenomenon took parents by surprise. It’s as simple as the sweet love of grandparents for their little princesses. From what I can tell, every girl here was introduced to the songs and stories of “Frozen” by family far away.

Thankful that Mae convinced me to watch, I got to experience the movie through the eyes and voices of the girls (spoiler alert, courtesy of Aurelia: “It gets a wee bit scary, but everything works out in the end”).

Given the popularity of “Frozen”, I wish I had some brilliant revelation to share with you about its transmission to children in this intentional community, but alas, it is only another piece of the puzzle I’m working on in my mind. A puzzle that can’t be completed for another 20 years, when the little pig-tails return from college and I finally get to see what kinds of adults grow out of childhoods spent in ecovillages and homesteading communities. I’ll let you know when I finally put the pieces together. I’m sure the answers will surprise us all.

I ponder their lives a lot, wishing I’d had that kind of childhood, watching for clues as to how it will shape them as adults and how they will shape the world they inherit. I tried to equate “Frozen” with “Aladdin”, the most moving Disney movie of my childhood, but just can’t. Have things really changed that much in a quarter century?

In other Dancing Rabbit news, the FIC (Fellowship for Intentional Communities) Board meeting took place in downstairs Skyhouse last weekend. Representatives from all around the world attended, several of them via internet, as the FIC was doing inter-organizational collaboration with several other groups, including the Canadian and American branches of GEN (Global Ecovillage Network) as well as NextGEN (GEN’s youth caucus).

It’s hard to convey how inspirational it was to brew my morning coffee and get to overhear leaders of these groups discussing the future of their organizations. I may err slightly in my assertion of DR being the epicenter of intentional community, but from where I stood this week, it rang true.

In other news, new roads are nearing completion on the northern edges of the village, and landscapes I’ve learned to traverse by starlight have been transformed into infrastructure better suited for development of the built environment. It’s amazing the difference a culvert can make!

Seeing fields change to accommodate development here at DR isn’t as sad to me as watching the same activities transform the suburban fringe of St. Louis; at least here I know that painstaking process took place before the laying of new roads, planning that will allow for a supportable expansion of the human footprint created by this ecovillage. Over plates of vegetable soup, Bear related how much attitudes have shifted to accept this expansion. He also reassured me that the gravel was as local as possible, coming from Edina, only 16 miles to the south.

Speaking of local, a quote by Woody Tasch, founder of Slow Money, has been much on my mind: “Local is the distance the heart can travel.” Despite living three hours to the south, DR is still my local.

I save my organic staples shopping trips for when I’m in Rutledge and can visit the mecca that is Zimmerman’s. This Mennonite general store is my destination for replenishing everything from organic coconut oil to neem toothpaste and mason jars. I also frequently carry fresh eggs and meat – raised by friends in the tri-communities – to gift to friends in St. Louis.

Maybe this column is less about what happens at DR and more about what flows through the village, connecting with the rest of the world: popular culture capturing young hearts and voices, environmental activism birthing new chapters of citizen’s groups, humane food making its way to St. Louis dinner tables, philosophical teaching studied in India and shared at DR.

All of these things are made possible in new ways by the love of a community that practices what it preaches, giving me a framework for personal sustainability in any place I call home. Ultimately, that is why our world needs more ecovillages: this cooperative culture, experimenting as it grows, provides a model for living in harmony no matter where you reside.

No longer being able to call DR home has given deeper meaning to the elusive truth that personal sustainability is a worthwhile goal wherever you practice it. I’m thankful for a new perspective of the little lights we can all ignite, lights that can benefit from having a place like DR that shines as such a bright example.

So many Rabbits I’ve come to know are now scattered far afield, from Berkeley to Bay, Arkansas, to Manhattan; Rabbits whose paths, like mine, have led away from DR. But those paths are lit by the lights of community and the lessons learned while immersed in this expression of cooperative culture.

Living in community can awaken a desire to be of service on a scale previously unconsidered. Sometimes, as I’ve found now, one must leave community to find the path one is best suited for. I’m thankful my path includes continually returning to Dancing Rabbit, and the people who daily live the values I find so inspiring.

I didn’t have a chance to get to know many of the visitors who came and went this season, but I see them through the eyes of others. So many amazing people who have sought out the life and lessons embodied at Dancing Rabbit, some returning to faraway homes with a new perspective on living, and some choosing to remain and begin a new chapter of life as a Rabbit.

If you’ve always wanted to experience for yourself the village written about in this column, consider a 2015 sojourn to northeastern Missouri. There’s something of value here for everyone, and perhaps the greatest lessons are those that are carried out of the ecovillage and into mainstream culture.

Whether the community that grounds you is an intentional one on the scale of Dancing Rabbit, or a more spontaneous expression in a larger city, I hope this little slice of life here leads you to discover what is local for your heart, and how you can grow and be of service in exactly the space you find yourself now.

•                    •                   •

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.

Time and Transitions: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Construction on Dancing Rabbit's new Town Center Road broke new ground this week. Photo by Dennis.

Construction on Dancing Rabbit’s new Town Center Road broke new ground this week. Photo by Dennis.

Resident Vick here, with my mind on transitions and transitions on my mind…

See, lately, I’ve been spending time getting to know some of our most recent guests at Dancing Rabbit. Namely, the woolly bears – fuzzy-wuzzy orange and black tootsie rolls, larval adolescents of the Isabella tiger moth – who I repeatedly find myself needing to rescue from the bicycle path near my tent.

I’ve been watching them inch their ways along on some mysterious business and I can’t help but wonder: where are they all going? What are they looking for? Will they recognize it when they find it? Do they see their silken gold cocoons as a kind of dignified auto-enterramento, self-imposed deep-six, each believing it has reached its natural end? Or do they go into it knowing they will metamorphose into something new and different, with talents unattainable to them in their current state?

I have to admit, my train of thought was largely inspired by Kassandra and her innovative birthday celebration earlier this week. She turned forty, and chose to see this milestone in her life as an opportunity to reflect on how the experiences of her past have led her to be the person she is today, while looking forward to her future in a state of awakened anticipation.

Everything started with a brief session of art making – I chose to draw a diverse collage of creatures representing the evolutionary progression of life on our planet, culminating in humankind and journeying into space. Meadoe and Loren chose colorful, free-flowing forms and brocades of interlocking patterns, while the children hung out nearby for a knitting session.

Kassandra’s piece was a take on the number 40, its zero signified by a sunflower borne aloft on a stem of time marked by key years in her past, its seed head an open door to the future with her likeness, complete with characteristic long hair and fuchsia pants, taking the first step across the threshold. At her request, Tereza appended a few piquant feline attributes to the four.

Afterwards, many people came together to offer Kassandra something I have come to call (not knowing its proper term of reference) the Angel Walk. We stood abreast in two long rows, forming a corridor between us and humming in unison. As the blindfolded birthday co walked through, we each offered her a kind nudge further on her way, whispering words of wisdom, love and appreciation. Nathan took a turn as well, face split ear to ear with a Cheshire cat smile, and ended his journey with a group hug, after some spontaneous, and anonymous, partner dancing.

Other transitions are in the works, inside and outside of Dancing Rabbit. The trees have donned their autumn colors to mourn the passing of summer. The gardens have undergone their final harvests. Preparations have been laid for the flush of spring, and heavy rains have shifted the course of meandering paths once more. (By the way, did you know that “petrichor” is a word for that refreshing smell after a drizzle?)

Bagels and his band opened a show for our friend John Craigie, who came back through on his circuitous journey busking across the country. He has a style not unlike Rambling Jack Elliot – I would have made the comparison even if it wasn’t on his website– based on charming folksongs, storytelling and invocation of the indomitable Chuck Norris.

Having seen him play twice, it was interesting to compare his last show to this one, which took place in Dancing Rabbit’s own eco bed and breakfast, the Milkweed Mercantile, which was packed as full as a can of sardines following Thursday’s Pizza Night, which is totally open to the public, by the way. All I can say about the music that night is that one song’s chorus has been haunting my dreams all week – “Let’s talk it over, when we’re sober, and we’re not at Burning Man…”

Our current visitors have undergone a transition of their own, shifting from an insular group of outsiders abiding in a state of culture shock to a real and integral part of our sustainable society. They’ve spent the week learning about what life is like at Dancing Rabbit, helped some of our members with projects around the village, and even put some of our social practices to good use for themselves.I think every visitor group is an interesting group, but this one is especially so, and I’m sad that they will be our last until spring of 2015. There will be plenty of opportunities to visit next year, so keep your eyes peeled for an announcement of program dates, early next year at the latest.

Visitors Andy and Stephanie decided to host a dance night at La Casa de Cultura, where even I could not escape the inevitability of transitions this week. In my case, I was dragged kicking and screaming away from a state of total-non-dancer into a semi-willing isomer of fidgeting around in a dance-like way. I learned a couple of swing steps from Andy, I waltzed for a while with Sharon, and Bri showed me how to cut a rug polka style. It will be a long time before I can keep up with the acrobatic capers of some of our more agile dancers, but at least I got to cross something off my bucket list.

On Saturday we had our first, and maybe only, No/Talent Show of the year, in which truly talented people from our community bare their souls for all to see in performance of art they have worked years to perfect – while the rest of us keep the stage warm between sets by goofing around.

Farmer Dan, guitarist of some twenty-five years, presented a beautiful acoustic Neil Young cover. Cob, in the guise of Mrs. Freud, interpreted dreams for some of the audience with extemporaneous humor, leaving us with the sage advice to include more cookies in our lives.

Meadoe and a partner performed an outrageously funny variety skit including song, comedy and piano playing, for which some folks have been waiting over a year.One of our visitors, David, read tarot cards, and another visitor, Ryo, demonstrated a few Aikido techniques from his native Japan. Then, with musical accompaniment from visitor Nabil, our very own resident Olivander, fabled wand merchant and tallest descendant of the Bullroarer, Bandobras Took, sang a gut-busting rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”, which we couldn’t lampoon if we tried.

Just another week in the life at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, where we bear ongoing witness to climactic transitions that will impact our entire planet, and strive to empower the world to cope with them. I heard that some of the warmer days this week smashed long-standing temperature records for this time of year. It’s nice wearing a t-shirt and shorts in the middle of October, but what does it mean for the kind of planet our great-grandchildren will inherit?  I like to believe that we humans are like the woolly bear, tucked away in its cocoon, changing by small degrees into something new and wonderful, awaiting the right time to emerge and take flight.

•                    •                   •

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.

Autumn News: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Sewing on a rainy dayprintweb

Darleen making good use of a “sew-sew” rainy day. Photo by Kyle.

Hello again, from Ted here at Dancing Rabbit, in that time of year where work takes on a survivalist edge.

As Nik said last week, as you split and stack, there is a tangible connection between the work you do and the ease you’ll feel later as the snow flies. And with the weather trending cooler, that old adage about wood warming you twice comes readily to mind. I’ve always thought it warms me more than twice. Maybe I need a more efficient set-up, so I’m not moving wood from one place to another as much.

We lit our first fire of the year at home last night, on the same day I got down to splitting wood in earnest. Preceding me to the pile of log rounds in the morning was new resident Lucas, who has been accumulating social capital all over the village since his arrival by helping out with this and that, including splitting plenty of wood. Oliver, another new resident, has likewise been offering up help, and on behalf of this village that benefits so much from that spirit of pitching in, I say thanks!

Aurelia and I returned the day before Land Day from a trip of nearly three weeks that took us to the coast of Maine (stopping to see Niagara Falls along the way). We hiked, climbed, collected rose hips and driftwood at the stony beach, studied the local native plants, helped a friend working on building a cabin in the woods, ate some lobsters, and spent a day at the Common Ground Country Fair, among other adventures. En route home we basked in the early glow of New England leaves turning every possible color, and also stopped to visit family in the mid-Atlantic.

Coming home from “out there” is always a bit of a process, feeling both relieved by a return to the familiar and confused by how I can be in love with places and people that are so far away and hard to get to. Sigh.

Land Day served to hasten the process of re-acclimation, with a good strong dose of remembering why we love living here.

Two days later, freshly imbued with the spirit of our home, we welcomed the final visitor session of the year, and within a couple days had a chance to host the whole group (12 or so) down at Ironweed kitchen for dinner and lunch the next day. I love seeing how many we can functionally serve in our smallish space down there. Instant cozy atmosphere. And still the tail end of the season’s bounteous produce to serve up.

Mid-week we were treated to the lunar eclipse late in the night. Aurelia, Sara and I awoke around 4:45 am to go out and watch the last half of the moon disappear, leaving that moody reddish hue behind. I heard indications that others might be out as well, though I didn’t see anyone.

Once the moon was fully eclipsed the cold seemed colder and we soon went back to bed. I’d hoped to get up again and watch the moon growing full again as it set at dawn, but I slept right through. I’ve heard we’ll have two more lunar eclipses in the next year, so maybe I’ll get another chance.

A full moon fire circle took place that night up near our swimming pond, while others of us gathered at the same time for Song Circle back at the Common House. Most traditions here wax and wane over time. Sometimes we can go weeks without enough collective energy to get a Song Circle together, but this time we had a good group show up and the songs flowed easily. I heard from Aurelia and Sara that the fire circle was likewise a good one, in a tradition that has been strong this year.

Friday evening we heard the rumble of large machines coming and marching up Main St. toward town center. They proceeded through the weekend to work on the long-awaited new road there and out into the newest neighborhood in the village. Kyle, our project manager, has been acquiring culverts, drainage tubing, and road membrane for some time, and thinking through all the details.

We’re grateful for the work of all involved, improving access for the continued development of our village. I heard the rumble again this morning for a little while before the skies let loose with a downpour. Hopefully it won’t slow things down for too long.

As the machines rumbled around to the north, many villagers took part in a workshop called “The Gift of Anger” Saturday at the Casa. Led by two experienced outside trainers, it offered tools, tips, and training on that very human emotion and how to work with it in our lives. I did not attend, but heard lots of jokes about being angry about this and that, as well as plenty of discussion afterward that suggested it had brought up plenty of good food for thought.

I finished digging our last bed of potatoes the other day (Sara having done the majority of it in our absence), to cure and put up in our cellar for winter. We grew more spuds this year than ever before, with the cool and steadily moist weather, so we’re looking forward to lots of warming meals this winter, whatever polar vortices or other excitements the winds may bring. Now we are preparing those potato beds with more manure for planting garlic, and getting down to the work of grading and sorting our seed garlic in the evenings. Lots of big bales of straw for mulching arrived this week, so we have all the ingredients for a successful planting.

Alongside dehydrating, juicing, and otherwise storing the last of the season’s plenty, we’re thinking on the last outdoor construction projects and generally hunkering down. I did not think I’d ever be ready for winter again after the bitter last one, but autumn has a way of easing me into it, keeping me too busy to think about it much until it is here. May all your preparations for winter be equally successful!

If you’ve been thinking about visiting Dancing Rabbit for a tour this year, please note that our last public tour of the year will happen Saturday, October 25th at 1pm.

•                    •                   •

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.