Wanna Carry a Duck? A Dancing Rabbit Update

Welcoming the newest 'kid' to the village, baby goat Sorghum, a few of the kids spent the spring afternoon teaching him to run foot races and walk on a leash down Main Street. Photo by Josi

Welcoming the newest ‘kid’ to the village, baby goat Sorghum, a few of the kids spent the spring afternoon teaching him to run foot races and walk on a leash down Main Street. Photo by Josi.

Dancing Rabbit doesn’t have all the answers, we aren’t always right and we aren’t the solution for every person who feels drawn towards the ecovillage way of life. We are often our most strident critics. But this cooperative attention to our actions compels us to effect change for the good of more than just our individual selves.

Josi here, writing from a dry chair in Julie’s wood shed while the rain patters and the wind whips. I’m inspired by Nik’s inflammatory opening to his illuminating column from last week. It’s been a very full seven days and spring has finally smiled on northern Missouri. (Update: it’s snowing hard as I finish editing this).

The first Saturday Tour brought visitors from around the country, on perhaps the warmest day yet this year. Bob guided them through the village, explaining intricacies of straw bale construction, rain water harvesting, and our renewable energy systems.

Many Rabbits, myself included, took the opportunity to speak one on one with tour guests and the 10 folks who came to spend the weekend at the Milkweed Mercantile Eco-Inn. Over delicious food, including Nik’s Black Eyed Peas with Chowchow and Alline’s rendition of the Librarian’s Carrot Cake, we got to know our inn guests and why they came, from as far away as DC, to spend the weekend in a rural ecovillage.

I always enjoy hearing why folks come to visit us and what most struck them as being different from their expectations. This week I heard curiosity on everything from why we don’t all eat together at every meal to what exactly our Village Council style of government means. In answering these questions, it’s worth pointing out that one of our goals is to be a village of 500-1000 people. We are laying the foundations for a much larger population and our customs today reflect that intention.

We eat together twice a week and once a week that includes a rotating potluck with members of our neighboring communities, Red Earth Farms and Sandhill Farms. Most people’s eating scene is communal every day, there are several co-ops where a once a week cook shifts means your lunch and dinner are prepared for you the other six days a week. When our village is five to 10 times larger, most people’s eating patterns will look much the same.

Until 2013, the members of Dancing Rabbit participated in a full consensus style of governance. Every decision was agreed upon by every member, and most major decisions were made in full-group meetings. Consensus doesn’t mean majority rules, it means that everyone either endorsed or abstained on the issue, blocking a decision is a rare occurrence and usually outweighed by consideration for what is best for the group. Today, our Village Council (VC) is an elected group of seven Rabbits who discuss and decide (still using consensus) upon the larger decisions facing our community.

Many other committees exist with their own unique realms of responsibility and their findings inform the VC.  Imagine the complexity of facilitating 300 or 700 people all being heard and coming to agreement on every policy and project of public concern. With DR’s current size and anticipated future growth, traversing the path from full consensus to a representational council was deemed a necessary step. Like all things, it continues to evolve, and our conscious attention to balance and improve what we create is in evidence.

No, DR isn’t perfect, we don’t have all the answers and not everyone who tries our own special brand of sustainability, canned here in northern Missouri, will choose to embrace it long term. Being a Rabbit is an active choice, renewed daily, not merely to live a life intrinsically expressing one’s beliefs but to challenge those beliefs through openness to others’ experiences and perceptions. We cooperate together to find the answers that work in this place, in this moment. And we’re doing that in a demonstration village, wide-open to the world.

In other news (not taking place within Josi’s head):

The Critters’ baby goats (Honey & Sorghum) have become playmates for village kids and will soon be winning foot races with the two-legged Rabbits.

One of our many friendly neighbors brought a free load of horse manure for Dan who, along with Julie, promptly set to work dispersing it throughout Dan’s vineyard.

Bethany Boyle, Staff Reporter from Truman State University, visited the Mercantile for Pizza Night to interview staff and guests about what makes this weekly tradition such an important part of our community.

Rae’s work on the Outreach Committee continues to engage student researchers conducting interviews; some visiting the village, others connecting virtually from all over the world.

Snowflakes sprinkled down this morning, as final preparations for the first Visitor Session were underway; visitors arrive this afternoon and Thomas has been busy finding indoor sleeping space for them until the weather warms.

Katie, our first wexer (work exchanger) to arrive this season, spent time busting pallets apart to be constructed into raised garden beds in the former community garden.

Stephen became our newest Member and Joe applied for Residency – Welcome!

Karen Hanrahan returns today for another stint as the Milkweed Mercantile’s Artist in Residence; her photography captures life from a very unique perspective.

Alyson treated the office staff to a rendition of Prince’s “Sometimes it Snows in April” as this update was being readied for publication.

After approval from Land Use Planning, five lucky ducks have a new home on the Cattail Pond. On the first warm day, as the last light leaked out of the sky, Althea, Sparky, Katherine, Mae and Josi ported Khaki Campbells and Muscovies from Critterville to their new shelter. Moments like those, having answered the random request of “who wants to carry a duck?” are when I’m most thankful for the diversity of life we interact with so frequently here.

So come visit us, and experience for yourself the life we are building together. There are still openings in upcoming Visitor Sessions and several educational courses will run later this summer; or make it an official vacation and book one of the rooms at the Milkweed Mercantile Eco-Inn.

Upcoming Events! DR is hosting a short educational workshop on seed starting by Rabbit Dan after the Village tour on April 26th. Look for more info in next week’s update. Other upcoming events: If you’re in the St. Louis area, you can hear Rae speak about DR and green living on Thursday April 17th in Town & Country. Dancing Rabbit will also be running an education booth at the St. Louis Earth Day Festival on April 27th, while long-time Rabbits Ted and Sara will be representing DR at our booth at the Columbia Area Earth Day Festival, also on April 27th.

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.



A Traveler Returns, Insightful: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Brooke presents at the SfAA Conference about her Dancing Rabbit research.

Brooke presents at the SfAA Conference about her Dancing Rabbit research. Photo by Nik.

“Ecovillages are not the answer,” Dr. Joshua Lockyer told the audience at the Ecovillage panel at the Society for Applied Anthropology conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico this March. A constant champion and visitor to Dancing Rabbit, Dr. Lockyer is an anthropologist in the forefront of studying intentional communities.

“Ecovillages are not the answer; they are laboratories for change in broader society.” His words may have sounded harsh at first listen, but they were rooted in hope. “Transformation is a process. It doesn’t happen all at once.” From those simple, straightforward statements, I saw a new, outside look, an academic look at what we just call ‘home’.

Nik here, freshly returned from a rare vacation in the Southwest. In my new attempts to be more sustainable in my travel footprint, I opted to take the bus instead of flying or renting a car as I previously would ought to do. Unfortunately it was a rude awakening to the world of underfunded mass transportation—a 12-hour ride from Dallas to Kirksville turned into a 3-day adventure that sometimes felt like I was trying to reach Mt. Doom in Mordor… Next time I’ll try the train…

The trek down to Dallas was an easy and fun carpool with fellow Rabbits and two Texas natives, Brooke and Ashly. The terminus of the trip was the SfAA (Society for Applied Anthropology) conference in Albuquerque, where Brooke, an anthropology grad student, was presenting. Over the last year, she had been collecting data from the village (waste & recycling, power usage, vehicle & fuel usage, and interviewing for a sense of general well-being) for her thesis project. The panel she presented with focused on different ecovillages and intentional communities all over the world, and it happened to be one of the higher attended discussions of the whole conference!

Aside from Dancing Rabbit, villages were studied in New York, Italy, North Carolina, and Eastern Europe, as well as a community garden in inner-city Oakland, California. The extremes of the spectrum were represented in the research; from far-flung hippiedom experimentalists in the Piedmont region of Italy to far more practical organizations to help the disenfranchised find skills and community. Seeing Brooke’s presentation on Dancing Rabbit abutted against the others truly galvanized the pride I felt for where I currently call home.

Same with seeing the side by side data comparisons of the “Average Rabbit” to the “Average American”—it was shocking to see a graph of how few resources we live on here; in fact we often hear on the streets (or footpaths) that at DR “we should be doing more!” and “we’re so mainstream!” or “life is too easy here…”

The numbers don’t have an agenda, and it was good to feel validated in the fact that we are making progress on the life less consuming. Generally, consumption and waste at DR was ten times less than average across the board, and the state of well being and happiness reported by most Rabbits was ranked good or very good.

As one of the ethnographic subjects of these studies, I might venture to say that the ability to be more emotionally resourceful in a close community with many support groups may be a big factor in this community’s residents’ well being. And really all around, becoming more resourceful seems to breed a need to learn new skills one never thought they would ever employ.

For instance, Brooke’s family hosted our group in Texas, and we wanted to cook them a nice meal in appreciation. Brooke was saying that cooking for fifteen people would have once put her in a dead panic, but since cooking at DR, it didn’t seem like any bigger of a deal than cooking for four. This whole notion, which may resonate with members of any community, small or large, was summed up beautifully by one of the other speakers at the conference, Dr. Tendai Chitewere of San Francisco State—“Wealth is not abundance in itself…but the ability to create abundance.”

Interns, visitors, and even members come and go at Dancing Rabbit. They leave in tattered, but well-patched clothes that came there fresh off the rack. They head to the train or the bus station, much wealthier than they arrived.

Dancing Rabbit wasn’t the answer for them, but it was the start or part of their process in changing the world.

Speaking of which, visitor, work exchanger, and tour season is upon us! The first public tour of the year is April 12 at 1 pm, continuing on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month through October. The tour begins at 1:00 pm, generally lasts one and a half to two hours, and is free (though donations to our non-profit are gratefully accepted).  Reservations are not needed for the regularly scheduled Saturday tour.

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.



One Grumpy Bunny: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Our orchardist friend Dan Kelly in Canton had a benefit dinner for the New Orleans Chinchilla Rescue Fund at his place featuring Louisiana seafood. Here, Rabbits Dan, Aurelia, and Julie are happily eating the leftover crawfish. Photo by Katherine.

Our orchardist friend Dan Kelly in Canton had a benefit dinner for the New Orleans Chinchilla Rescue Fund at his place featuring Louisiana seafood. Here, Rabbits Dan, Aurelia, and Julie are happily eating the leftover crawfish. Photo by Katherine.

Hi, this is Sam, and I’ve been a grumpy bunny all week.  I’m sure some really great things happened to and around me, but still, the grumpiness.  Maybe that means it’s time for a “This Week at DR” column that’s not all bright sides and fruit trees.  Maybe it’s time to let you hear the Dancing Rabbit Blues.

Well since my baby left me (ba-dum)… Just kidding.  I do enjoy blues, though, and was thrilled to go on a date with my sweetie in Memphis to see Trampled Under Foot.  We had a really nice time and at $12 a ticket door price, it was a bargain.  Here’s the Dancing Rabbit downside: taking a vehicle co-op (DRVC) car to Memphis from here costs about $20, so with two people in the car that almost doubled our admission price.  It’s true that for a person like me who doesn’t use the cars overmuch, it still ends up being less expensive than owning my own vehicle, but sometimes that DRVC bill feels like a punch in the gut for this working single parent.

Another economic downside that hit me this week is the cost of decision-making.  We try to be very mindful and exhaustively inclusive about the making of any decisions that affect all or lots of us here.  It’s a really nice idea, and it takes a huge number of people-hours.  Huge.  Lately we’ve been moving more and more toward showing our appreciation for the people who do this work (which is not always all of us) by paying them for their time.  That’s nice; it’s a hard job, I think they should get paid.  On the other hand, it’s making my bills go up and that is hard to swallow.  In a community of 60-something people, my portion of the cost of consensus is more than what I pay for a generous term life insurance policy.  Oof.

I do some of that paid decision-making work, and I do some volunteer committee work, but committees are so not my thing.  I hardly ever got into fights as a kid, so I never got slapped with the “does not play well with others” label, but that’s mostly because I kept to myself, from preschool on.  Sure, I played team sports: I was a good right fielder (sometimes catcher) and an even better soccer fullback.  Get the picture? Contemplative, solitary, defensive, waiting patiently for the right moment to thwart your score.

All that’s just to give you an idea how unnatural it feels to me to sit at a table with three other people making decisions that could more easily be made by one.  I love the idea of everyone having a say, of checks and balances, and multiple perspectives… It’s just not an environment I personally thrive in.  At DR we’re expected to do this kind of work, though; it’s part of the price of living here, and for me, it’s one of the downsides.

One of the upsides to living at Dancing Rabbit is meeting people from all over who think we’re really cool, or at least worth checking out.  We’ve had a couple of student groups come lately, working on projects or just expanding their worldview, and more are coming soon.  Our first visitor session starts soon, too, the same day as the lunar eclipse, actually, and the tent platform crew was out repairing those this week.

Visitor sessions are great because they bring us new friends, give us a sense of purpose, and introduce us to the next batch of new residents.  It’s kind of like a game; I always wonder when I first meet them, who will be the ones that “stick”.  Some visitors come and never leave, while others go home and wrap things up with their current life so they can come join us.  Some of the ones we really like don’t come back though, while others might get all the way through to membership and then decide DR just isn’t really for them.   It’s a bummer, especially if we’ve formed a bond while they were here.

The weather was good this week.  Unfortunately, my work (DR, income, and parenting) required me to be inside, on my computer, for much of the nice days.  It kills me to be doing stupid computer work when it’s gorgeous outside and other people are gardening, processing firewood, building, or tending their animals.  Unfortunately, contrary to how some of our readers might imagine it, Dancing Rabbit is not (nor ever shall be) a self-sufficient community.  We do not grow anywhere near all of our own food.

Since we have to bring food in from outside, that means we have to send something out in exchange, and currently that something we send out is money.  In order to have the money to buy the food, we must bring money into the community.  That means that a lucky few of us get to telecommute, and consequently spend our beautiful Saturdays stuck on the computer, working.  Boo.

I did, however get my work done on Saturday and spent a few hours in my garden on Sunday.  I discovered that I must have been being really lazy when I “harvested” the sunchokes in the fall because there were enough good ones still in the ground to make a sizable contribution to dinner.  The fact that my lazy past self, the ground, and the plants had conspired to give me such a nice surprise really tickled me.  My garden strategy is based mainly on fail-safe techniques, because I’m prone to bouts of laziness, busyness, and grumpiness.  Sunchokes did not disappoint as a plant that will give me food despite myself, and they improved the soil texture in the process.

I know we usually talk about what actually happened at DR in these columns, but I spent the week mostly holed up in my room, so if anything interesting happened, I missed it.  You’ll have to settle for this report from the gloomy desk of a grumpy bunny, until next week.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. While we dream of spring, when tours will begin again, you can find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.



What I Learned Living at Dancing Rabbit: A Guest Post

Kylie at DR in 2005 helping with a controlled prairie burn.

The other night I was making my favorite late night decadent snack—chocolate chip vegan pancakes covered with chunky peanut butter and dipped in maple syrup—when I remembered that I got the idea for those pancakes from a fellow community member, Jennifer, at Dancing Rabbit, where I lived for two years.

So many of my favorite (admittedly weird) snacks that I make regularly, I first learned at Dancing Rabbit.  Popcorn with nutritional yeast, dill, and soy sauce.  Nori rolls with rice, almond butter, and sauerkraut. Oatmeal crunch with raw oats, peanut butter, maple syrup, and chocolate chips.

I learned serious cooking skills there as well, skills that have saved me money, time, and from being hungry in my post-Dancing Rabbit years as a broke graduate student: how to make beans, bread, biscuits and tortillas from scratch. How to make a satisfying meal when there is almost nothing in the cupboard. What to bring to a potluck for thirty people. Cooking has become a major source of joy for me in my life, and I’m so glad I learned those skills.

I moved to Dancing Rabbit in 2005 thinking I would stay there forever. It turned out I was only there until 2007.  I loved Dancing Rabbit, but it didn’t work for me. I didn’t have a good way to make income. I missed cities, libraries and bookstores. It was too hard to be a single lesbian in a community full of mostly heterosexual couples.  Had Dancing Rabbit been located 20 minutes from a city, I might have happily lived there forever. Or perhaps had I arrived at Dancing Rabbit in the future—say, a time when the new common house was built, more housing and work options were available, and the community was larger.

But even though I only lived there two years, the time I spent there changed and enriched my life in ways I never could have guessed. Having lived away from Dancing Rabbit for six years now, I find the whole experience a gift; one that I am still unpacking, and probably will continue to unpack for life.

I can’t say that after living at Dancing Rabbit I became a sustainability expert. I do live car-free, and have done so for all but one year of my life. That wasn’t a change I made at Dancing Rabbit, but DR is where I learned why that choice is so important, and decided to commit to being car-free.

I do eat all organic food, eat mostly vegetarian (I was a vegetarian before DR, but a vegetarian who didn’t know how to cook!), shop in a food cooperative, share my living space with housemates, and bring cloth bags to pick up my groceries. I shop at local independent stores whenever possible, and try to buy sparingly, and to reuse items.  I use compact fluorescent bulbs, take fewer showers, use products that don’t harm the water supply, flush the toilet less, buy recycled materials and recycle as much as possible. But, I still have a long way to go when it comes to living sustainably.

The attraction for me in moving to Dancing Rabbit was always primarily about living in community, and secondarily about sustainable living, so perhaps it is not surprising that the main takeaways for me from living at Dancing Rabbit were more personal and interpersonal. I met so many great people at DR, including my best friend Tereza. I learned about the joy of feeling connected to a whole community of people. I discovered so many creative ways to have fun with other people that I had never tried before: singalongs, ultimate frisbee, open mic nights, ice hockey, sweat lodges, board games, charades, and crafts. I still deeply miss the creative and impromptu social life I had at DR—it has been really hard to recreate that aspect of ecovillage life in the city.

At Dancing Rabbit, I learned how to speak up at meetings: how to take my own feelings and opinions seriously and to share them with other people.  I learned that I can influence other people; I don’t have to be a passive observer in the groups I belong to. I also learned how to organize events, a talent that has helped me immensely in my post-DR work and social life.

Perhaps most importantly, living at Dancing Rabbit made me realize that the way things are in our American cities and towns and workplaces is not the way things have to be. Collectively, we can change our minds, we can create something else. We can work with each other to try different ways of living. The major gift living at DR gave me was immersing me in a much more creative way of approaching life, helping me realize that life is meant to be lived to the fullest.

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Kylie Sparks (formerly Suzanne) moved to DR in 2005 from Portland, Oregon, and is currently a reference librarian and ESL tutor in the Boston area. She loves learning languages, reading mysteries and science fiction, cooking, and contra dancing.



Flavor of the Season: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Despite wintry weather, Dan already gathered his third harvest of greens this week from his "high tunnel" greenhouse at Dancing Rabbit. Photo by Dennis.

Despite wintry weather, Dan already gathered his third harvest of greens this week from his “high tunnel” greenhouse at Dancing Rabbit. Photo by Dennis.

Sunday marked the last sugaring day of the season for this year, with a yield of a little over 800 gallons of sap, or about 16 gallons of syrup. This haul is pretty significant considering that our abbreviated sugaring season this year was a mere 2 weeks. The sap that flows now will be unsuitable for anything but drinking and potentially brewing. Despite the temperatures outside being perfect for sugaring, with the nights below freezing, and the day time temperatures mostly residing above, the silver maple trees have budded out, likely as the consequence of a string of lovely days that were a false prelude to spring. The intermittently singing chorus frogs have likely shaken their webbed fists at the sky in wonderment of these odd fluctuations.

Julie here, writing for you this week under the thumb of hopefully our final polar vortex. The bi-polar demonstrations from year to year in what to annually expect in reference to preparation for the season to come has so wildly shifted that I just don’t know what to think anymore. I am hoping that this week will be the last cold snap we experience, since I have been running low on wood for quite some time now. So many of us have had to scramble to find more fuel this winter as the result of record-breaking freezing temperatures, while other parts of the world such as Alaska and the Arctic were experiencing record highs. Times they are a-changing, and judging from how extreme these changes have been, I can only wonder at the probability that things will turn up in our favor.

Even so, Dan’s hoop-house is producing local greens by the bucket-load for us. I just finished eating a candy-sweet spinach salad that is unlike anything you could ever buy in a store, with the stems bursting with a surprising flavor that is incredible all on its own. If anyone tells you that all food is created equal, you are being misled— vegetables have such an array of flavors and nutrients based on the variety grown, and the medium it is grown in.

Unfortunately, the produce you find at the grocery store is neither grown for flavor or for nutrient content; it is grown based on maximum volume production, and its ability to survive a truck-ride across the country (and sometimes back again)! Broccoli now only has a quarter of the calcium it had in the 1950’s (and we all know how delicious calcium is!) A cup of this veggie used to have more calcium than a cup of milk, and now what we’re almost universally getting at the grocery store is a variety dubbed Marathon, likely because it is in a race to the bottom.

Or how about those poor excuses for oranges that you’ll find in the store these days; juiceless and tasteless! There are countless reasons to either buy from local farmer’s markets, or to grow heritage varieties in your yard if you have the space. I used to have a couple raised beds in the front yard of my urban home; whatever it takes for you to get the veggies YOU desire! If you’re more of a potato chip or French fry type of person, there’s nothing better than fries from potatoes you grew; I was on something of a sweet potato French fry bender a while back, because it’s so much easier to justify when you know where the food came from— they’re practically health food at that point, right?

It’s hard to believe that our first visitor session of the year is in three weeks! It hardly seems time yet, seemingly still frozen in the dead of winter, to share in the construction of our homes, digging of our gardens, and sharing of our lives, but there you have it. Visitors always bring an enthusiasm and vitality that reminds us that what we’re doing here is special, and unique. If you desire to visit Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage this year, please go to our website, and inquire about open slots for this season. We would love to have you join us in our 17th year of building sustainable community!

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. While we dream of spring, when tours will begin again, you can find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.



Maple Sugar Moon: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Althea and a maple tree recline together. Photo by Ben.

Althea and a maple tree recline together. Photo by Ben.

Howdy y’all. Ben here, updating you this week from the hilly reaches of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in beautiful Northeast Missouri. This time of year was known to some Native Americans as the Maple Sugar Moon, as the dynamic temperatures get the sap flowing.

In true testament to my shiftless nature I haven’t been tapping any maple trees myself, though crews have gone out to do so over the past couple few weeks. Instead, I’ve just been hugging maple trees instead, in true ecovillager fashion. I’m more accustomed to sorghum syrup these days anyhow, but I do like tromping around in the woods this time of year, especially when the understory is bare of poison ivy, ticks, and chiggers.

Quite a few posts back I referred to the beginning of winter as the Springtime of Death. Now, it isn’t quite the Springtime of Life at this time, not just yet, but I do believe we’re getting there. The vernal equinox is upon us this week. Somewhere deeper down in the dirt I sense the growing buzz of spring. I have seen the massive hulks of filthy old snow expand and recede for weeks, sometimes giving up the ghost and melting off into our watershed, only to return emboldened as a thick carpet of ivory powder in less than a couple of days. Some days the sun kisses me, makes me sweat and strip down to a t-shirt and bare feet in its sixty-five degree embrace. Other times (yesterday) I wake up in an arctic nightmare. As the old saying goes this is the month that comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Well, we Critters have some lambs due, but they haven’t come out yet.

The Maple Sugar Moon is a time of natural revelation. As the snow melts and rolls toward the Fabius and Mississippi Rivers, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico, the Earth basks nude beneath, baring treasures left behind throughout the winter: bony gray owl pellets, a puff of downy duck feathers, a small collection of shiny pebbles left behind by my child, and weathered yet resilient chickweed, the first wild greens of the year, gritty feeling, tired but alive in my mouth.

I have taken my scythe out on the warmer days to clear out some old thatch on our pastures in anticipation of spring grasses. Beneath the thatch is a whole other world of flora and fauna and fungi, sometimes dead, dormant, or alive. I have found perfectly intact field mice, naturally embalmed in frost, entombed beneath the snow, wrapped up in dead grass for the big sleep.

Taking a low slice of thatch off the pasture, I occasionally slide the blade across the basal growth of a grass clump and see the green concentric rings that promise a flush of sweet tasting goat milk in the near future. The soil in my garden, still frozen solid a few inches below, writhes with young red wigglers, wood roach nymphs, and the occasional groggy-looking cricket. Mats of white fungi penetrate the cardboard laid beneath our raised garden beds. Our compost pile is warm and surprisingly intense in aroma.

I suppose I oughtn’t to get too led on by these titillations of Springtime. A lot of folks have been reporting robins. I have been seeing them since January, so I’m nonplussed. However I have noticed skeins of geese honking way up high, headed North. The cardinals, bluebirds, juncos and woodpeckers seem to have vacated our warren and returned to the thickets, leaving a vacancy filled by common, thieving sparrows. The barren woods provide ideal hunting for hawks that scan the west slope on occasion, scattering our chickens with their shadows.

In matters more visceral, I have been supplementing our chickens’ diet with roadkill. This is a perfect time of year for this sort of activity, with the chilly nights providing necessary refrigeration, and the warm days allowing for some ripening. All I do is hop on my bike, stuff a few plastic grocery bags in my panniers, and head for blacktop. A rabbit here, a squirrel there, and soon my bike is loaded with quality protein that doesn’t cost a dime.

My preference is that we don’t have asphalt slapped all over the land on which distracted drivers fly at inconceivable speeds across turtles, skunks, and other living things, but that probably won’t change for awhile, so I may as well make lemonade out of the situation. Or eggs, I guess. And yes, the chickens do eat it, and enjoy it. Some breeds seem to like it more than others. It doesn’t take more than a day for them to reduce a small, dead animal to hair and bones.

I’m pretty much in the same boat as the livestock. Not that I eat hay or roadkill very often, but this is the hunger gap. There’s no forage. I mentioned the chickweed. If all I had was chickweed, I’d probably die, healthy as it is. Bobolink kitchen invited us Critters over for dinner a couple nights ago. It was really good. They even had greens, stored in their freezer. It feels like I haven’t had anything that was so obviously a vegetable in many months. A special treat for sure, perhaps enough greenery to get me through ’til the cress, peppergrass, and chickweed come on in full.

A lot of dogs have been visiting Dancing Rabbit recently. At least one seems like he’s here to stay, and I don’t mind him that much. He’s laid back and plays nice with our ducks, not like the pack of hunting dogs that invaded our warren just the other day. By the way, please don’t loose your hounds on our land. I think I speak for most Rabbits when I say that I like coyotes just fine, even as a livestock grower. That’s what we have a guardian donkey for. As I’ve mentioned, our chickens will eat anything, and I can’t be held liable if they were to eat your dogs.

Speaking of acquired tastes, I did manage to get the rest of my sunchoke crop out of the ground, and they are much sweeter on the other end of this winter. I cannot say the same for myself, not yet. I feel extremely aged right now. It must be the hunger gap. I just found a few white hairs in my beard. I don’t know how or when they got there. My crow’s feet have deepened slightly. This week is Bob’s birthday. He is twice my age, and probably twice as healthy.

Soon, not yet, will be the time for spring tonic herbs. I sense that the time of introspection is coming to a close for a while, for me, maybe for this village, as we prepare to welcome, or perhaps just endure the nearing busy season. I got buzzed by a honeybee the other day, and it helped remind me just how much work lies ahead. I don’t really know what I’ve been doing the past couple of months, but there’s definitely three hundred or so trees being mailed my way, plus a mound of clay on our warren that’s probably ten feet high, so I guess I’d better put all the books away that I never started and go organize my shovels.

To paraphrase last week’s column, we have indeed survived the winter. Thus far, I might add. The grass does not grow, not yet. But it doesn’t even take faith to see that soon it will. I’ll survive this winter, assuredly, and I’ll probably have some good tales to tell of the Winter of ’14 when I’m older and nearer my end, but I can’t credit myself with my own survival, when so many creatures, animal and human, alive and dead, are responsible for getting me this far.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. While we dream of spring, when tours will begin again, you can find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.



Everything Changes: Shifting into Spring

Yes, that is a goat standing on the back of a mini-donkey and nibbling on its ear. Photo by Stephen.

Yes, that is a goat standing on the back of a mini-donkey and nibbling on its ear. Photo by Stephen.

Stephen here: Yesterday I saw a flock of birds heading north. Their season has ended; their sojourn in the South is over and it is time, they know, to return to spring and fall in to the re-burgeoning of life again.

With it spring births the younglings, the startlings of another year. Another winter survived and another year to thrive. Two of the Critters’ sheep and that goat, Curlie Sue, are growing to bring new life unto this land. It feels archetypal, or metaphorical, or something that I’ve heard in stories and fables and movies throughout my life: the sounds of first life; the big bang; a baby’s first cry; and that first crackling in the ice as the sun comes up. When roofs melt and water rushes down the gutters, I feel the rivers surging with life.

The weather is many things and perhaps that is why we always talk about it in this column. And in those many things we are so affected here. The weather is both the cause and the marker of change. It is the grandfather-grandmother clock that beats the irregular rhythm of our stirrings, and it is the direct cause for so many of our strivings.

We watch the weather warm and go outside to do some chores; we chop some wood so that we can stay warm by the fire. And just yesterday, in this warm weather, I looked at my wood pile and felt a release. I was once coveting and questioning what I had; and now I make fires with more, but far from total, liberty.

We have survived winter. It isn’t over, cold days will still come—maybe even the extremely cold—but the warm days are here. We have had one week of it so far, and I now write at the very beginning stretch of what might get into the 60s. Spring is coming. The clock, literally, is shifting forward (don’t forget!).

There will never be another winter like this. With that particular little family of animals. There will never be another winter that I will be in this house, struggling and thriving in these particular ways. There will never be that half sized donkey huddled up with those three dark sheep and that white straggling straight hair that is gonna get culled soon. Those goats and those chickens and that little girl who is four and for whom the future is wide open. For she, I am really discovering, is extremely lucky to be growing up in this place at this time. I think and hope… and so for us too…

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. While we dream of spring, when tours will begin again, you can find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.



Coffee Talk and Termite Mounds

A coffee klatch of savory characters. Photo by Alline.

A coffee klatch of savory characters. Photo by Alline.

I am not a morning person. Even when the dawns are above zero, I am not catching any of those proverbial worms. But each day, I rise early for two simple acts: brewing a warm pot of coffee and conjuring warm flames from the embers left in the fireplace. This is my daily routine that I have grown to love this winter.

Nik here, writing from the café at the Milkweed Mercantile at Dancing Rabbit, in front of said fire, coffee still filtering.

Coffee shops and lunch counters hold an indispensable place of connection, gossip, and a vast repository of information in small towns and neighborhoods where folks keep their phones in their pockets. They not only say the pleasantries but also genuinely ask about each other’s families and health. I recall the drive-thru coffee huts that are the antithesis of what a coffee shop should be, as not just a fueling of the sleepy brain, but for fueling community.

In communities, this sharing of knowledge is not just social, but practical, since there is a good chance someone you see that morning over a cup will be needed in your daily routine, or someone knows a guy who knows a lady who has a brother who has exactly what you need (for example, if you need a lawnmower fixed up and are in the market for animal skins, I now know where to head, thanks to morning coffee talk.) And, of course, when you find yourself sliding off an icy road on a shady curve in the road, you best be on good terms with your neighbor with the towline.

Like much of daily life at Dancing Rabbit, morning coffee is just a little bit different than most places. When a mix of locals, travelers, artists, farmers, and others come together, the topics of conversation are…varied, to put it mildly. Where else does a simple talk about construction techniques turn into a detailed tutorial on how to demolish an African termite mound to use for brick mortar in Uganda — and I know what you’re thinking, no, you can’t “knock one down with a truck.” That is strong mortar, I tell you what. That conversation easily segues to the various ways to make adobe bricks and what clay types may work the best in this climate.

Fishing stories are held in high regard, like most places of good repute in the Midwest. Here resides a strong contingency for the defense of ugly (but tasty) fish: catfish lovers, monkfish connoisseurs, and other throw-‘em-backs of scale-less slime and vestigial eyes. Lawyer fish (or burbot) were my personal favorite catch in Wisconsin, named “lawyers” not only for their penchant for bottom-feeding, but also because, legend has it, their heart resides in their rear end.

Anyone interested in U.S. history would be reeling with the amount of sheer knowledge and enthusiasm of the history buffs who seem to end up talking intricacies of 1930s aeronautical design before Sunday morning brunch. Most impressive is a brilliant young man, not yet college age, who goes head to head with the gray-beards about every detail of a battle 60 years before his time.

When Rabbits, visitors, and local folks all come together, there is a wonderful beehive effect that makes a normal routine become very engaging. Last week on Thursday Pizza Night at the Milkweed Mercantile, we were joined by many locals from the surrounding towns, who were on dates or decompressing after work, and we were also honored by the presence of the Mayor! Each week it’s been wonderful to see more and more new faces brave the elements and the back-roads… although pizza and revelry is quite a fine destination.

Speaking of holding space for neighbors, we at Dancing Rabbit and the Tri-Communities have been striving to keep our food more and more local. A series of food producers’ meetings have been in progress to evaluate and organize what and where we can obtain local vegetable and animal products, with the knowledge that they were raised just over the next hill. These meetings have been one more step to ensure not only a sustainable, but a varied and exciting diet for those who love knowing whose hands helped grow their food. That is a true beauty of community, not having to do everything for yourself, and being thankful when someone else makes it available.

That’s all for this week. The great thaw seems to be right over the next hill, but feel free to stop by for a cup of coffee (or tea) at 8 o’clock. There will be a good chance of very interesting conversation.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. While we dream of spring, when tours will begin again, you can find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.