When Old is Better: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Another old way: Harvesting duck weed from the pond instead of purchasing or growing more feed for the birds. Photo by Nik.

Another old way: Harvesting duckweed from the pond instead of purchasing or growing more feed for the birds. Photo by Nik.

“What do we say to power tools?”

“NO!” The crowd roared in response. A man stood on a wooden stage in the middle of a crowded 10-bent timber frame barn; he held a broad ax aloft, like a mustachioed viking.

Roy Underhill, long-time host of PBS’s The Woodwright’s Shop, which you may remember flipping the channels and seeing two lumberjack-looking gentlemen talking about mallets in a set that looked like a falling down barn, was speaking at the Handworks Hand Tool Convention in the Amana Colonies in Iowa, just two hours north of Rutledge. It was a bit like Woodstock for wood workers…kind of. A ship of foolhardy wood enthusiasts from Dancing Rabbit biked up or carpooled for the event.

Weaving together woodworking, mythology, satire, and even a few Star Wars references on his soapbox…er, wood bench, Underhill had the whole crowd hanging on every word.  Woodworkers and tool makers from across the globe gathered in the timeless little town of Amana.

There were chisels, hatchets, travishers, moulding planes, and saws as far as the eye could see—but not a single corded (or cordless) power tool.  Mark, from Red Earth Farms, wielded his banjo all day at the event, and was spontaneously asked to warm up the crowd before Underhill took the stage—and he filled that barn and those people with beautiful tones.

Returning home to Dancing Rabbit that night, I not only thought about how for years I’ve been improperly sharpening a drawknife but also about how doing things by hand, or doing things “the old way” has a strong hold for many at DR. But then again, using technology and making the community a more prosperous place through engineering and science also has strong roots here, back to the founders. They were not cart-and-donkey back to the landers, but students and computer programmers who cared deeply about the future of the planet. Now there are Rabbits with a cart and a donkey, but that cart was still beautifully engineered!

When does “the old way” need help from “the new way”, and when does “the new way” become unsustainable? Ask ten Rabbits and you’ll likely get ten very different answers, but it’s one of those questions that make this such a dynamic place to live! How do we conserve energy and water and still wash clothes? “Scrub and wring by hand!” “Energy efficient washers!” “Hook up a bicycle to an old washing machine!” “My aroma is my cologne!”

Every need from the modern world translates to Dancing Rabbit, and finding out if that way is sustainable or not goes through everyone’s head and consciousness. Can we plant this by hand and still make a living? Can we cook this with a solar oven? Will this natural building material stand up to Missouri winters and Missouri rains?

Questions that can seem so minute, can have a very long thought process, especially when building—like how much insulative material needs to go in a roof, what that material is, whether it fits within the building covenant, and how much wood is needed to make that a well-engineered roof and is the wood salvaged or locally cut.

One of the biggest broken-record moments is when guests and visitors come very excited with new, grand ideas and ask, ‘Why haven’t you tried this?” or “Hasn’t anyone ever thought of doing that?” and almost always, not always, many people who have come and gone have tried and put it through the process and it hasn’t proven to be sustainable in either this specific village sense or the global sense. Ideas are the blood that keeps Dancing Rabbit alive, but yes, we know about earthships.

Most stances on that “new way” v. “old way” debate are all over the board with members of Dancing Rabbit, but some issues are definitely fought with hard stances. Like on the “new way” end of the spectrum, food production seems to be a big issue with many here. This past weekend, one of our own, Lucas, was invited to speak on behalf of Veterans for Peace at one of the March Against Monsanto rallies across the country, this one in Springfield, Missouri.

Monsanto, or at least its seeds and products, are well known in any agricultural area. Better yields and more pest resistant, but in exchange for restrictions that the seeds cannot be reused and a worry that genetically modified seeds (which fall into the GMO category) are not healthy for a biodiverse and productive land in the long term, or healthy for people.

From reports by his Rabbit support and cheerleader, Katherine, Lucas spoke in true Dancing Rabbit fashion—emphasizing what we can do on our own for good, instead of just slandering what they see as bad. Lucas is still fighting the good fight at home to make this a better place. We thank him for all his service.

While I sharpen my drawknife to start building a more sustainable home, I know every detail will be agonized over. But that’s what I want. I want answers and, even more so, I want questions. I want to question where that board comes from and how it was treated (in its milling process, not ethically) and how can I stain my shake siding naturally. And after a long day’s work on those questions, what’s for dinner? That’s a much bigger question!

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Have you been wanting to check out Dancing Rabbit live and in person? Now’s your chance! There are still a few slots left in the next visitor program session, happening June 1- 22, 2015.  If you want to be part of the fun, get in touch with us soon to request a visitor program application!

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Don’t forget! This summer we’re hosting the first ever Permaculture Design Course at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, August 29-Sept 6, and we’d love to have you join us! Find more info here.

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Finally, here’s a nice piece about us and our work: Sustainable Development in Action at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage — please share and enjoy!

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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.

New Life and New Ideas: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Lucas feeds one of the little balls of squee (aka kittens) that were rescued from the machine shed. Photo by Cameron.

Lucas feeds one of the little balls of squee (aka kittens) that were rescued from the machine shed. Photo by Cameron.

Hello again, dear readers. Lucas here, excited to inform you all of this week’s developments at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage!

New life and new ideas are swirling around the village this week. Even during the breaks between tours, events, and visitor sessions, the village is staying busy!

Three of our own recently returned from the Climate Reality Leadership Corps course held in Cedar Rapids, IA. I had dinner with one, Illly, just yesterday. He had an amazing time. I can tell his level of motivation and his breadth of knowledge have skyrocketed! Al Gore not only made an appearance, but apparently did a significant portion of the training. It is wonderful be in a community that thrives upon education and social engagement!

Seven kittens (AKA little balls of squee) were rescued from a precarious perch in the machine shed. Folks, I am a cat person; I long ago quit trying to hide it. I don’t know why that is, I never had a cat or a dog growing up, but I’ve always preferred the former.

The stray mother cat chose a terrible place to keep her kittens, and they had wandered far and wide while she was away. Most were also struggling with eye infections. I happened to be walking by just after their initial discovery, and got to take part in cleaning and caring for them.

We placed them in a box large enough for the mother to be able to feed them in, and within a few minutes, we watched as the mother surveyed, approved, and hopped in with her little ones. So far the healthiest, and most friendly, kitten has been dubbed “Big Head”. They will soon be ready for adoption, and I’m hoping some of them might find homes here at DR so they can have real names!

Members of the goat co-op are now proud “parents” of two more baby goats! They join “Cream” and “Sugar” for a total of four so far this year. Both males, they are happy, healthy, very colorful, and adorably playful!

As for me and my partner, Brooke, we have just moved in to a home we’re renting here at DR, Bluestem. We couldn’t be more excited to have so much space! Until now, we have been living in a room just large enough for a bed, two desks, and a dresser. Though we have been cultivating the garden adjacent to Bluestem since March, we feel like we are now getting our roots into the ground here– much like the seedlings we have been coaxing in the greenhouse. It feels great to have a place to plant our metaphorical flag. We are poised for growth; the sun and nutrients are here, with enough space to feel comfortable.

Now, if I can just get the rabbits (the non-human type) to stay out of the garden! I now know how Elmer Fudd felt. “Wascally”, indeed. Eleven lettuce starts…nibbled down to the nub. We already lost our peas a few weeks ago. It was a sad sight to behold.

I didn’t see any rabbits for a few days afterwards, and had hoped they had moved on. Then, while moving some hay, I stumbled upon a nest of barely-haired, shaking babies. I gathered and moved them out of the area, but I seriously doubt that will solve the issue. They appear to be smarter than the traps, the fence, and, ultimately, the Lucas. Or at the very least, more determined. I am grateful that they are so selective in what they chose to eat; most of our garden has remained untouched.

The struggle is real here at Dancing Rabbit. It is most certainly a labor of love from my perspective, and I suspect many (if not all) others’ as well. It is our hope that through all our different efforts we can foster more abundant, sustainable lives; lives based on mutual respect, peaceful resolutions, and environmental sustainability.

We seek to demonstrate that possibility to not only the rest of the world, but to ourselves as well. Whether we are becoming climate leaders through education, or providing our own sources of food through gardening and animal husbandry, or giving our time to community tasks, we are all, in our own way, working to create a world of new life and ideas.

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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.

93% chance of… inspiration?

Hi friends!

Ma'ikwe bringing Dancing Rabbit to the

Ma’ikwe on the first leg of the Dancing Rabbit Speaking tour this spring. Photo by Illly.

Ma’ikwe here, thinking about and getting ready for National Speaking Tour: Round II. While I’m enjoying my summer at home, I can already hear the call of the road, from the not-so-distant month of September.

Or maybe that’s Mariyam, the tour coordinator, calling to say the schedule is filling up for the fall, and I should let folks know so they can get in on the fun… Otherwise you might miss out on bringing Dancing Rabbit-style inspiration to your neighborhood.

A whopping 93% of people who attended a tour talk this spring went away inspired, and 90% said it changed their perspective.

Here’s what a few of them had to say, in their own words:

“…provocative and enlightening…”

       — Tom Venner, Dean of the College of Sciences and the Arts, Eastern Michigan University

“Ma’ikwe’s talks engage you on a thought experiment showing how life could be radically more sustainable, equitable, and just possibly even more fun. Her argument for action is compelling, and despite some of the harsh realities she confronts, she keeps it creative, compassionate, and inclusive for everyone who is captivated in attendance… Few people are more life experienced or passionate about sharing this timely message.”

      —Christopher Kindig, Business Manager, Fellowship for Intentional Community

“Ma’ikwe’s visit was the profound reminder of the commitment we need to make to change our lifestyles rapidly if we want to leave our children a livable planet, as well as the glimpse of an abundant, fulfilling world that is waiting for us when we move beyond fossil fuels.”

      —Marissa Mommaerts, Director of Programs, Transition US

Sneak Preview! Fall tour spots so far: Portland, OR, Boise, ID, Yellow Springs, OH, and Greensboro, NC. Check back soon for details, as well as newly added events!

To find out more about booking a talk or workshop for the fall in your area, contact Mariyam at speakingtour@dancingrabbit.org.

Thanks for all you do!
Ma’ikwe Ludwig
Executive Director
Dancing Rabbit, Inc.

Happy Busy May: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Sandhillians, Rabbits, Red Earthers, and friends dance around the May Pole at Sandhill's May Day party. Photo by Nik.

Sandhillians, Rabbits, Red Earthers, and friends dance around the May Pole at Sandhill’s May Day party. Photo by Nik.

Happy May y’all! Katherine here with this week’s renderings of Dancing Rabbit life.

It’s been a great one as well as buuusy! Monday found me in a DR Inc. prep session for Give STL Day, which Dancing Rabbit took part in on Tuesday, May 5th.

Give STL Day is a St. Louis, MO based, 24-hour fundraiser in support of local non-profits. This is our 2nd year participating and from this Rabbit’s perspective, it went great! Thank you to all of the donors who helped raise over $2,000,000 for Missouri non-profits! No, that is not DR’s cut, I just want to appreciate everyone!

As I am a self-proclaimed cheerleader for the non-profit, I was happy to rally the Rabbits and visitors to support this fundraising day by making treats, writing blog posts (see Cameron’s here and Lucas’ here), and basically keeping the energy soaring up, up, and up! Way to go team! We did great!

Wednesday is preschool day at Dancing Rabbit where myself and Brooke entertain youngins from ages two-point-five to seven. Usually this day is marked literally by the face paint we all leave wearing, and this day was no different. We picked the flowering mustards for our hair and munched on the sorrel in my garden.

When planning my garden, I take into account my smaller of stature friends and plant wonderful snacks for entertainment of mind and tummy. Sorrel, onions, and mint are our spring snacks and eventually we will be getting into the strawberries, ground cherries, and cherry tomatoes. My heart soars knowing that our four year olds can identify the edibles on our land and even educate some adults.

Thursday is pizza night at the Milkweed Mercantile! I have been honored to maintain the position of “Pizza Bella” alongside my bestie Mae for the last 4 years. I go in in the morning to make the dough and return in the afternoon ‘til well into the evening slingin’ pies for fellow Rabbits and anyone else that would like to stop by. We serve local and organic ingredients with a smile and a beer. Since word has gotten out the last few years, we have seen many more local faces from Memphis, Kirksville, and then some. Everyone is welcome to pizza night every Thursday from 4p – 9p. Calling the Mercantile ahead for reservations is strongly encouraged!

Friday was filled with committee meetings and a new resident MARC interview. MARC is our Membership and Residency Committee that funnels folks through the “living at DR” process. Cameron is our latest applicant and Ted, Vick, and I had a great time asking questions and learning more about this new potential Rabbit. Some questions include, “why do you want to live at DR?”, “how do you feel about our mission?”, and “if you were to throw a party for the village, what would your theme be?” We usually get some pretty good answers to these questions and this is definitely one part of the job that I love. While there has been no official word on Cameron, I would say his chances are pretty good.

“Happy May Day!” is what was was being called around town on Saturday. Sandhill Farm celebrated 41 years this weekend with a lovely party for friends and family. Flowery face paint graced folks from ear to ear and made the May Pole dance ever so much more colorful.

I found the potluck particularly delightful this year as four potato salads made an appearance! What can I say? Great minds think alike! The pretty chill day ended with a bonfire which I am sure boasted of song and dance, body and soul. Thank you, Sandhill, for sharing your land with us in a most magical way.

Which brings us to Sunday and more meetings! We had our Week in Preview, also known as the WIP, where we schedule our goings-on for the community with a full circle of Rabbits and usually a good deal of laughter. After the WIP is usually a Village Council meeting, where this week we talked about long term planning for the community and what that has/will look like. I super appreciate living in a place where so much care goes into planning our future together.

So there it is folks! My week in a nutshell! Sprinkled amongst the aforementioned activities were walks on the land, cook-shifts over the rocket stove, and many a precious hour in the garden. The weather rained, sunned, and blew along as the Rabbits here built, processed, and just plain lived our lives. Busy is as busy does and I feel pretty darned proud of what we are accomplishing here. ‘Til next time, thanks for readin’!

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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.

Did Ya Get Your Corn In?

We interrupt this update for the following Timely Reminder: today, May 5th, is Give STL Day, when your online donation has a triple chance of being amplified if you give between 12 and 12:20 pm Central time. Check out this page for details!

And now back to our regularly scheduled update…

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Some of the cutest kids in the village, tentatively named Cream and Sugar, were born last week. Photo by Ben.

Some of the cutest kids in the village, tentatively named Cream and Sugar, were born last week. Photo by Ben.

Did ya get your corn in? Climatic conditions being what they are here in the heartland, I’m going to be asking this question a lot in the coming days. Makes me seem more farmerly.

This is Ben, over here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and for better or worse, we’re in the height of spring. Though it is pretty easy to expound on the beauty and hope inherent in the season, what with our garden beds bursting with mustard and radish, the pastures greening up nicely, the constant song of birds, the flittering showers of maple samaras, ad nauseum, I cannot help but notice that for every treasure to be found here on these rolling prairie hills, small tragedies are concealed deeper down in the shadows.

There are the dead baby birds catapulted from their nests by spring winds, pink and ant covered in the brush; frost-killed leaves on young mulberry shoots misfortunate enough to have sprouted in cooler microclimates; orphaned deer mice, unable to feed themselves, starving beneath grassy tussocks. Sure, the spring is abundant with life, but the natural world has its sobering checks and balances too.

So I’m not an expert on much, which is fine. It’s been said that an expert is someone who can blow the bit out of a mule’s mouth from the other side. I’m not sure by whom. But one way of gaining expertise is to continually make new and different mistakes in a narrow field of inquiry. That is what I’ve been doing for many consecutive years with my corn planting.

I’ve tried tight plantings, spacious plantings, rows, blocks, three sisters variations, planting my corn in furrows, and putting the corn in holes. I’ve put the corn two inches deep in a hole, one inch deep, and a half inch deep. I’ve sprouted it before planting, and frantically scratched it in with a hoe during a thunderstorm. I don’t have any expert advice for you about corn, I just like talking about it. That’s all.

Spring is the time for tonics. As I attempt to shake the final vestiges of another winter from my gradually aging bones, I find myself compelled to devour fistfuls of violet, peppergrass and chickweed. Then there’s the tonics I feel less compelled to take, though I suspect they’re healthy. Dock, henbit, and ground ivy, the bitterer the better. Makes the blood rise like sap in a tree, the old timers say. But spring tonics aren’t merely for us humans.

I send my child to the fields and draws daily to harvest chickweed, clover, dandelion, comfrey and nettle as greenchop for our precocious baby chicks. Start ‘em out early on greens and they’ll know what to do when they get to pasture, I say. But I’m no expert.

Just a coupla few days back our goat Alice birthed two kids. The first milk they nurse on contains a rich, oily cocktail of nutrients called colostrum, to get them up and running. While the babies nurse, momma eats the afterbirth, betraying her ruminant status, a sort of postpartum tonic. People sometimes consume colostrum, for the tonic effects, but curious as I am about it, I wouldn’t dare deprive the little ones.

Speaking of oily and nutrient dense, I recently performed routine maintenance on our village’s main greywater system. I sort of hold the belief that if I submerge myself deeply enough in it, I’m bound to receive some type of immune system benefits. Again, I’m no expert, not on health, or greywater, really. I liken it to those folks who eat tiny leaf fragments from freshly emerging poison ivy to reduce their allergic reaction the  plant. Me, I don’t buy it, and being currently uninsured, have no desire to make any mistakes in that narrow field of inquiry. I’m an equal opportunity skeptic: I don’t put much stock in Western medicine, Eastern medicine, homeopathy, or even chiropractors. I do like my tetanus shots, though. And I think Tylenol is a sham.

But back to that first bit, about the simultaneous miracles and tragedies of spring. We’ve been grieving the loss of a few ducks at our homestead this week. Two in particular, Bernadette and Francois, our prized momma ducks, who have reliably raised large clutches all on their own for as long as we’ve been in the duck business, were nabbed one recent night.

Reading the kill, which again, I am no expert on, coyotes seems to have been the culprit. Now, we don’t lose much livestock ordinarily, and when we do, it’s usually a wayward adolescent bird who was bound for the butcher block anyway. We sort of write it off as taxation to the land we’re on, an unintentional offering for some other poor starve-gutted critter that deserves a chance at making it here too.

But these ducks were special, and I feel quite taken aback by this unfortunate episode, despite the fact that I myself am perhaps the biggest predator of ducks in Northeast Missouri, being as though we raise them primarily for meat. This being said, I see much hope in our landscape.

After a couple years of artificial chick brooding, which is inefficient, unnatural, and fraught with mortality, we are letting our broody hens do the work, with amazing results. Natural chick brooding is highly effective, less work, cheaper, and I believe leads to healthier, more precocious chicks.

Also, my daughter is successfully raising an orphaned field mouse to good health, keeping it fed and warm (mice love chickweed too), tapping into her own innate nurturing instincts. The day is nigh when the little mouse will probably dash away, wild and free, so that one day it might nest in our root cellar and steal our precious organic grain. Oh well. I tend to think that all the important work that needs done on our planet is going to have setbacks.

One look at our current state of environmental affairs can sometimes feel like an utter tragedy. And it is. But our common path to a sustainable future is paved with a lot of small signs of hope, not unlike our own paths here at Dancing Rabbit. We all gotta cut our way through some brambles and poison ivy now and then, but it only gives me more appreciation for the hard-to-see things, like the minute inchworms, baby squirrels, and the flowering forest floor in early May.

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Been wanting to check out Dancing Rabbit live and in person? Now’s your chance! There are still a few slots left in the second session of our visitor program, happening June 1- 22, 2015!

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And if you planned to join in on the Give STL Day fun, but were so captivated by Ben’s column that it slipped your mind, here’s the link to the event again! Thanks for your support!

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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.

New Folks and the Mighty Mushroom Hunter: A Dancing Rabbit Update

There was bountiful morel mushroom foraging this week. Photo by Nik.

There was bountiful morel mushroom foraging this week. Photo by Nik.

Hi friends. This is Alline, reporting for Dancing Rabbit.

As I write this the date is April 27th – by the time this appears in the local newspaper, the Memphis Democrat, it will be Thursday, April 30th. How the heck did that happen? Pretty soon it will be May Day! Our neighbor Laura is reviving the age-old May Day custom of the May Basket (leaving flowers anonymously for friends and neighbors), and soon we’ll gather at Sandhill Farm to dance around the May Pole. Before I moved here I hadn’t done this since kindergarten. I love the opportunity to gather in the warm spring sunshine, while musicians play, and watch the ribbons of cloth become woven as we dance around the pole.

The theme around the village this week is New Folks. We’ve sailed through the first week of our first visitor session of the year and are having a great time. It is always amazing to me the number of people who continue to be interested in what we’re doing here; it is always a delight to discover what excellent human beings they are. Our recent group is no exception – they are talented, thoughtful, articulate, smart, and excited to pitch in. We are excited to let them!

This group of visitors come from all over the country (and one from Italy!), and have a wide variety of skills to contribute. In a group of 11 adults we have teachers (of English and a variety of musical instruments), farmers, a chef, web designers, electricians, a couple who spent time working at the Catholic Worker House in New Orleans, a family from a forming ecovillage in Bloomington, IN, and a bunch of fabulous kids.

I have the opportunity to lead the workshop on Dancing Rabbit history for each visitor group. This time we were able to show a short documentary film made in the fall of 1999 by an Iowa film student. It is in VHS format, but we found an old VCR and hooked it up. What fun to watch!

The difference between Dancing Rabbit then and now is startling. In November 1999 there were three buildings started (Allium, the Timberframe and Skyhouse), hardly any trees, and just eight people sitting around the dinner table. Flash forward to 2015 where there are 28+ buildings, thousands of trees, and 19 mailboxes. Whooee!

During the three weeks of their stay at DR the visitors eat in different kitchens throughout the village. This not only spreads the workload among many Rabbits and their food cooperatives, it also gives the visitors a chance to meet and interact with many members of our community, and to experience food “dogma” that may be different from their own. Reflective of the spectrum of ecological sustainability represented here at DR, each food coop/kitchen has its own approach to food. One might be local & organic, another exclusively organic (but not necessarily local), and a third might consume only produce the co-op can grow itself.

Since eating is such a social ritual, it’s an excellent way to connect with one another – meals often last much longer than the time it takes to actually eat. There is something elemental about sharing food and drink that seems to allow folks to open up, and more willing to divulge a bit of themselves. On Sunday evening it was the Mercantile’s turn to host the visitor group.

Kurt and I have been running the Milkweed Mercantile for over five years, but since I’m not a professional chef, a large group of diners often rattles me; it is daunting to look out into the dining room and see 30 expectant faces. I worry: will there be enough? Will they like it? I was blissfully relieved to find that once again the visitors’ positive attitude triumphed; there was enough, and they did like it.

With the influx of new people, this week’s song circle was downright spectacular. Brought to the community years ago by Tereza and Alyssa, song circle is held almost every Wednesday night. We don’t use instruments in song circle, but instead depend upon those who can carry a tune; the rest of us join in joyfully and with gusto (no skill required!).

There are lots of harmonies, and new songs often become part of our ongoing repertoire. It is great fun to sing a song while remembering the person who originally taught it to us (“hey, let’s sing the one Liat taught us about the alligator!”). Even though these friends no longer live at DR, they live on through the songs they brought to us.

Odd as it may seem, I glean an enormous chunk of my daily DR intelligence through Facebook. It’s funny what I can learn about a person who lives a mere 30 feet from me by what they post on their page (much more, sometimes, than actual conversation!). Facebook is where I learned that Nik came back from the woods with over two quarts of morel mushrooms.

Inspired by his dazzling foraging success, the Mighty Morel Hunter (um, that would be me) followed in his intrepid footsteps and set forth to bring home my own bounty. Oh, my poor ego. While I did find six morels, that was all I found. I still don’t have a good understanding of where exactly they will be. I never know if I just can’t see them or if they’re simply not there. I can imagine them hiding in the woods, whispering and giggling while ducking under a violet: “hee hee hee – she can’t see us now!” The bad attitude of these mushrooms does not make me love them any less.

This next Sunday and Monday (May 2 and 3) members of Dancing Rabbit and Dancing Rabbit Alumni will be participating in the Baker Creek Spring Planting Festival down in Mansfield, MO. You may have seen the Baker Creek Seed Catalog, which seems to be a favorite of every gardener I know. Filled with photos of organic, heirloom vegetables and fruit, it is pretty much considered “veggie porn.” That is, one look and you are filled with lust and desire to have each and every one of those plants in your own garden. Mrs. Milkweed’s Jams & Pickles, Artemisia Soaps and a couple other local-to-DR businesses will be selling their wares at the Festival.  If you attend, we hope you’ll stop by!

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Also coming up, on Tuesday May 5, Dancing Rabbit will be participating in Give STL Day, a 24-hour online giving event put on by the Greater Saint Louis Community Foundation. We’ll be joining hundreds of communities across the country to raise money for the greater good—all on a single day. Prizes and incentives will be awarded throughout the day, both for donors and organizations, so we hope you’ll consider joining in on Tuesday and multiplying your impact. Last year we raised almost $5,000 for Dancing Rabbit’s nonprofit organization, thanks to our awesome supporters!

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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.

Only Connect: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Althea holding Wallace. His spiffy new collar should make him more visible to birds, less likely to hunt them successfully. Photo by Katherine.

Althea holding Wallace. His spiffy new collar should make him more visible to birds, less likely to hunt them successfully. Photo by Katherine.

The morning after my return home from a month away, I was greeted by the sights and sounds of springtime (robins, peepers, budding trees) and hugs from community mates, all saying “welcome home”. So lovely! I felt ready to jump back in to DR life. Aaaand the next day fell ill and missed two-plus weeks of community action. So it goes.

Tereza here with news of the past week at Dancing Rabbit. There was potluck at Sandhill, and Friday community dinner, and follow up from Land Clean endeavors, and carrot cake at the Mercantile on Thursday night, and a concert by Anna Laube, all of which I missed. (If you know me you can probably guess that I was most sad about missing the cake.)

I was very glad to make it to a support circle, requested by Kassandra, held in Casa on Thursday evening. Fifteen of us met with her to offer support on some challenging issues she’s facing. There was discussion, sharing, and a powerful “human sculpture” exercise.

As helpful as it was for her, it was also good for the supporters; at least it was for me. I felt connected with the group, and happy and proud to live in a place where asking for and offering this kind of support is valued.

The next day I felt lousy again, and worried that I might not be able to attend the long-awaited training planned for the weekend. Luckily, by Saturday morning I felt well enough to go.

Every few months the Process Team offers short trainings, usually done by Rabbits or neighbors, on topics such as notetaking, consensus, and DR’s decision-making process. But every two years or so they organize a more major offering, usually bringing in outside trainers. This year three people came from the Matrix Leadership Institute for a two day full-community learning event, and I thought it was a great experience.

A majority of Rabbits attended, at least part of the time. Still unwell, I was horizontal and confused for most of the first day, but even through my hazy brain fog I could tell that the tools we were learning and practicing were helping people feel closer and more connected.

Nathan seemed to get the theory more than I did, so I asked him for a summary. He said that the “matrix” in the name refers to the collection of connections (or “pipes”) between all the individuals and subgroups within a group. Each pipe represents the flow of information between different entities within the group.

The more that information can flow freely between all the pipes within the matrix, while in front of the whole group, the more intelligent, flexible and resilient the group becomes, and the more leadership emerges spontaneously from different places within the matrix to address the needs and issues facing the group.

Nathan also said: “At first I was skeptical that we were going to get anything new from the training; by the end I thought the results were amazing and profound. While we still have real differences and tough decisions to make, I feel a much greater connection and sense of hope that we can value our differences and move forward in a way that honors all the different intelligences and gifts within our community.”

I heard a number of Rabbits say they gained new understanding about feedback, especially around separating intent and impact when communicating about our actions. We learned about giving appreciative feedback (“when you said or did x, the impact on me was y”) and differentiating feedback (same construction, adding “and I would prefer z”).

The idea seems to be that if a group can get used to offering feedback (of both kinds) regularly and easily, it can become something people like and want, rather than something to dread.

All in all it was an interesting and powerful two days. The feeling in the air reminded me of some of our annual retreats “back in the old days”: lots of emotion, lots of excitement, and feeling close with everyone, even those I had staunch disagreements with.

At the end of the weekend Dee said something along the lines of: “This could revolutionize sustainable relationships the same way the solar oven revolutionized sustainable cooking.” I heartily agree.

I’m so glad to be living in a place where so many of us are willing to show up, be vulnerable, share what’s true for us, and connect. Here’s wishing you connection in your community, too!

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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.

Firsts Of Spring: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Folks in Dancing Rabbit's first public tour of the spring view solar panels, natural building, and bicycle transportation. Photo by Dennis.

Folks in Dancing Rabbit’s first public tour of the spring view solar panels, natural building, and bicycle transportation. Photo by Dennis.

Whew! Time for a breather. I’ve been planting bare-root tree and shrub whips for a week straight, feeling as though my shovel is a permanent attachment to my arm. A handy one, don’t get me wrong- but a little unwieldy. Ted here with this week’s news from Dancing Rabbit.

As I’ve walked about the village this week, most often from home to orchard and back, there’s been a steady tick of first-of-the-season moments registering in my brain. First garter snake sliding off the path as I approach. First cricket tuning its call. First night above 60 degrees. First fruit trees and tulips blooming. First flush of shiitakes on the logs. Today I spotted my first violet flower in the woods and got my first prick by a stinging nettle.

One thing I haven’t registered a first of yet is a decent rain. In our clay soil, the moisture of the past year, frozen in the earth over the winter, lingers long in the soil in spring. But today as I dug holes for saplings, the soil was not noticeably wet. Despite high percentage chances of precipitation several times in recent weeks, and plenty of tentative spitting, we haven’t had one good soaking rain since everything thawed. With garden beds taking on new seedlings every day now, and our barrels for irrigation water not yet filled, I will very soon have to figure out pumping some water from the cattail pond if we don’t receive an inch or two.

…Wow! The power of words… overnight last night we did indeed get our first good soaking rain. I slept with more and more satisfaction the longer it lasted, knowing the real wealth of water that we daily rely on was rapidly accumulating. Then, upon waking, we discovered two water disasters: one, the new 275 gallon tank I had installed recently to catch the water off our house’s north roof had a counter-intuitive main valve that was open when it appeared closed, and had thus accumulated no water; and two, when the pump began to run in the kitchen at breakfast, it soon ran dry— turned out a coupling in the piping from gutter to kitchen’s cistern had come undone sometime in the past few days, so all the hundreds of gallons that might have gone in spilled instead on the ground.

Elation turned to dark despair. Our house’s cistern had certainly filled, as had all our other rain barrels, so we’d gained probably 1000 gallons overnight, but we’d probably missed catching nearly as much, and our kitchen is where we use the most and need it most reliably.

We’ll get by, but it was a hard blow to receive at such a full time of year when I’m barely holding it together with the to-do list. The chickens that have been getting out of the yard despite their wings being clipped got unceremoniously shut up in the chicken tractor on short notice at breakfast time. I could not deal with stray chickens raking away at my fresh transplants on top of this frustration with water.

There is of course county water I could draw from in a pinch, with many lengths of hose, but with only two exceptions of a couple hundred gallons when we first installed each of our cisterns, we have never in 11 years of relying on rainwater had to do that, and I prefer to keep it that way. Will water always flow out of the magic spigots? I hope so, but self-reliance is one of the major reasons I live here and do what I do.

Saturday we had our annual spring Land Clean, a cooperative, all-hands-on-deck day to get together and attend to cleaning and tidying around the village on a large scale. With an official Queen of Clean moderating a list of tasks, multiple snacks provided, and beautiful weather, the event is almost always an enjoyable one for me.

Among many highlights, the most notable accomplishments to my mind were the thinning and transplanting of innumerable flower bulbs from overcrowded beds, multiplying our local flowering potential many-fold; and the most thorough emptying of the machine shed I have witnessed in my 12 years here, led by some advance work over several days prior to the clean.

Our machine shed has long served as a catch-all for theoretically useful items that might be valuable in future to somebody else. I have certainly visited it hundreds of times in the past decade-plus seeking something I did not have, and come back with the treasure I sought. But there was undoubtedly a lot of surplus that took up a lot of space, and large-scale weather-protected space in the village is a rare commodity. Last year we had a collection of really nice shop tools donated, but they have been waiting in storage for such a space to accommodate them.

Now some of the freed-up space will go to setting up a shop that is available to all and can aid villagers’ capacity to manufacture our own building solutions. Boosting our internal economy has been one of the hottest topics in the past several years, and numerous ideas have accumulated for the possibilities that cooperative shop space would open.

Despite tending to be the one saying “Hey, you can’t get rid of that! It might be useful!”, I did my best on Saturday to stay away as the trailer was loaded for a dump run by more hard-nosed cleaners, believing in the greater good of the intended outcome. I did score a screen door for our kitchen that was headed to the landfill, however, and saw many others making off with useful items whose time had come. Here’s to the future!

I also backed up Bob on the first public tour day Saturday afternoon, taking half of the crowd and a couple of folks from Missouri Life magazine on walkabout in the village, jabbering away for two hours about all the bits and pieces that make up this village. The infusion of fresh faces after winter give me a real boost, and I’m ready for more.

If you walk about the village these days, you’ll notice an unmistakable sense of mission in the populace. Everybody is planting, tending, building, thinking, preparing for one thing or another, including our first visitor session beginning next Monday.

I have personally planted 85 or so seedlings, between conservation nursery and fruit and nut trees and other plants from Fedco in Maine. Sara and Aurelia dibbled in another 75 one morning (with a dibble bar, a heavy metal wedge used to open a basic hole for a tree and reclose it upon the roots once it is stuck in). Now I’ve got 125 to go, including 50 strawberry plants, but the rest of the trees just get dibbled in and don’t require babying. Conservation nursery trees are inexpensive and significant attrition is expected, though it is hard for me to actually treat them that way.

Planted thickly, the proportion of hickories, redbuds, black cherry, witch hazel and various other species that survive will add significant diversity and future beauty and utility to our draws and wooded edges. For the pawpaw, serviceberry and chokeberry, though, I could not withhold careful digging and a bit of added fertility, hoping for as many as possible to survive and bring more tasty fruit to our lives.

Only when I get through these seedlings (and finish my taxes and prepare for two hives of bees to arrive next week…) can I then return to helping Sara get our normal bounty of annuals planted and transplanted in the garden. No rest for the weary and hopeful.

May all the good work you’re engaged in bloom successfully as the season grows to fullness… here’s hoping you’ll come for a tour or visit this year to tell us all about it. Tours are every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month starting at 1 pm, through October. See you soon!

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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.