Into the Sunset: A Dancing Rabbit Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

•                    •                   •

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

•                    •                   •

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

•                    •                   •

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.


The Biggest Dipper: A Dancing Rabbit Update

A blossom in our rain garden. Photo by SunGee.

A blossom in our rain garden. Photo by SunGee.

I am not a singer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

•                    •                   •

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.


Dogged Hope: A Dancing Rabbit Update

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

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

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

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

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

Not so for 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

•                    •                   •

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

•                    •                   •

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

Livin’ the Love: A Dancing Rabbit Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

•                    •                   •

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

Heaps of Appreciation: A Dancing Rabbit Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

•                    •                   •

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

What’s the Best Way to Build a Green Home?

Timeline 1998: Cecil laying the first bale at Allium, Dancing Rabbit's first straw bale house.

Timeline 1998: Cecil laying the first bale at Allium, Dancing Rabbit’s first straw bale house.

What’s the best way to build a sustainable home? As Lloyd Alter says, location matters most, so to begin, a sustainable home should be at an ecovillage like Dancing Rabbit, or anywhere that doesn’t rely on cars to get around. After that, what type of construction is most sustainable? Of course, it depends on the individual situation.

In Dancing Rabbit’s early days, we strongly considered Earthships as the best way to go. They are self-described as “radically sustainable”, a term DR has applied to itself from time to time. With a holistic approach incorporating energy use, water recycling, food growing, and low-impact building materials, they seemed perfect to address multiple sustainability issues at once.

The extensive reference materials seemed to be a blueprint for green housing (although we couldn’t afford the full construction drawing set, now selling for $3,500). We even considered flying Earthship’s founder out to coach us, but $1,000/day and paying for a first class plane ticket was beyond our modest means. Still, we spent a lot of time poring over the Earthship books and talking about pounding tires.

About that same time, strawbale construction was also starting to make the green building news, thanks to folks like Matts Myhrman and Stephen MacDonald, The Last Straw, and Out on Bale. In the summer of 1995 Tony Sirna and I built a strawbale chicken coop at Sandhill Farm – our first foray into strawbale construction. It seemed to go pretty well (although we hadn’t yet mastered the art of plastering – that would be several years, and umpteen coats of fallen-off plaster, later).

Global Earthship model in Taos, Mew Mexico. (Source: wikipedia)

Global Earthship model in Taos, Mew Mexico. (Source: wikipedia)

In the end, we settled on strawbale construction over Earthships. At least for our Missouri climate and soil, staying up above the clayey ground seemed the better choice, and straw was plentiful enough in our area.

Years later, two news articles remind me of that decision. One is that strawbale construction is in the next version of the international building code. As Andrew Morison puts it, this code “is the basis for the Residential Building Code in virtually every jurisdiction in the US. So once these jurisdictions adopt [the new code], there will be a straw bale code for almost every jurisdiction in the United States.” And it’s a small world – one of the big proponents of the code change was Dan Smith, who was the architect for Skyhouse. Congrats, Dan, and hopefully this code change will make building permitted strawbale buildings easier nationwide in the future.

It helps to have community mates when moving timbers this size! Construction of Moon Lodge at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

It helps to have community mates when moving timbers this size! Construction of Moon Lodge at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

The other reminder was a more critical piece by green building guru Martin Holladay, “Earthship Hype and Earthship Reality”. If you are interested in green building and don’t read Martin’s blog, you should, and this piece really gets into the details of Earthship construction, since apparently their sustainability claims set off Martin’s “E.A.S., or exaggeration alert system”. While there may be a place for Earthships in some circumstances, their cost and thermal performance issues make me glad that Dancing Rabbit focused in on strawbale in the end.

How long does a strawbale house last? I don’t know – all the ones I helped build are still standing, and others have been standing for over 100 years). Strawbale construction gives a good balance of affordability, beauty, thermal performance, air sealing (if plastered properly), local materials, and adaptability to a wide range of architectural styles. I can’t say it’s the best possible way to build, but if you want a green building and have straw in your area, you might consider it.

Cecil Scheib is Chief Program Officer at Urban Green Council in New York City. He is a founder of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage and a member of its Board of Directors.

News from the Sunflower Kingdom: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Henry keeps cool during the dog days of summer. Photo by Katherine.

Henry keeps cool during the dog days of summer. Photo by Katherine.

The Sunflower Kingdom has again taken root in Ironweed garden, and indeed in much of the land surrounding it here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Ted here with the latest.

Sunflowers are native in this part of the world, and it shows: naturalized sunflowers, descended from various cultivated varieties planted by us in our garden as early as 2004, and re-planted lavishly by the local bird population each year, grow without any help from us in nearly all the cultivated space we tend.

Despite our self-impression of being ever more ruthless each year in culling volunteers before they root deeply in undesirable locations, the sunflowers in our garden every summer manage to look like a forest, with a nearly complete canopy. Last year’s champion reached a measured 17+ feet in height, thick and bony as my forearm, and there are numerous similar contenders each year; so you may understand that in our garden, with such tall, consistent cover, we often dwell in light shade from July through September when the sunflowers reign. That keeps the surface temperature lower, and gardeners happy!

When viewed more closely, it is possible to notice that the gaps in the canopy are strategic, and directly related to the presence of intentionally-cultivated plants we’re maintaining solar access for, like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, carrots, chard, and so on. Some don’t mind a little shade through the day and like the cooler ground temperatures, like the cabbages and kale, so a few sunflowers might be left in those beds. The corn and climbing beans are competitive enough to make it alongside the sunflowers, and I love to watch them vie with each other as the summer grows full.

This past week we hosted a one-week visitor session, which I had unfortunately very little time to participate in. It is times like these that I’m grateful to have lots of other community members willing to do some of the hosting when I can’t. I hope that our visitors had a good experience.

Much of the village energy last week seemed preoccupied with the extensive excavation and installation work going on. Horst Plumbing extended county water lines for us up Main St. and out to several locations radiating from town center, with Kyle directing both that and the installation of his own new rainwater cistern. Meanwhile Illly and Tony were hard at work in various locations on the latest round of laying cable and installing meters for houses to connect to our net-positive power grid, BEDR (Better Energy for Dancing Rabbit).

Progress comes with a cost, with roads and paths torn up, dirt heaped here and there, clay brought to the surface to turn to trenchant mud after the next heavy rain. In the past it has taken a few months for similar excavations to settle and return to more-or-less normal. But for those who’ve been waiting to join the power co-op, and those without running water who will now be able to access water much closer to their homes, this is a good step forward, and contributes ultimately to the continued growth of the village.

A good part of my time last week went to food preservation, starting with dilly beans and pickles. We have officially reached the time of year when the volume of produce coming in dictates that dehydrating, fermenting, and canning must be a primary task if we’d like to have a subsequent abundance in our kitchen when the snow flies and the temperature drops.

This week we’re into a first round of tomato processing. Sara just filled a dehydrator with slices, and we’re set for canning diced tomatoes tomorrow. Dan supplied us with two enormous trays full of the fruit Sunday as part of our CSA share, and soon our own will start coming in. If we’re willing to put in the time, those beautiful jars full of tomato-y goodness will smile back invitingly from the pantry shelves each time we contemplate a cook shift in winter.

At the weekend the Red Hill Rabbits (comprised of players from Red Earth, Sandhill, and Dancing Rabbit) once again journeyed down to the Show-Me State Games to compete in an Ultimate tournament with other teams from around the state. We were missing some of our more experienced players for various reasons, and though we were lucky to have some late additions to the roster, gelled as a team, and played hard, we didn’t manage to win any of our games this year. I still had a great time just being in it, and in spending some extended time off-farm with friends I often only get to see in snatches here and there.

Terra Nova, an intentional community down in Columbia, kindly hosted us once again for overnight tenting and a potluck meal. It is good to have friends in diverse locations, and the opportunity to renew connections now and again.

May your gardens be productive, and your temperatures as mild as ours this summer!

•                    •                   •

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.