Skunks, cowboys, caterpillars, cats and dogs were all in attendance at the Dancing Rabbit progressive Holler-ween fiasco! Photo by Rae.
Howdy y’all. Well here I am again, on the sustainable frontier of America’s heartland, in another seemingly calm time of transition, dormancy, and death. It is early November, and I am happy to not be a deer, though sometimes I am mistaken as one.
My name is Ben, not that you need to know, and if you’re reading this, you may have assumed I live at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, amid the undulating prairie hills of Northeast Missouri. That assumption is correct, but any other preconceived notions you have may not be.
I am certain that there are many assumptions, stereotypes, and rumors about ecovillage people circulating about the wider populace, when and if the subject ever comes up conversationally. Even inside the ecovillage, there are all types of untruths and not-quite truths. A natural human occurrence, not to be ashamed of.
Sometimes our assumptions about other people are way, way off. Sometimes they are not only true, but more true than we can imagine. At no time does this lifestyle of assumption seem more obvious to me than in the final few days before election season.
This morning, already confused by the unnatural, disharmonious and totally made-up notion of Daylight Savings Time, I blearily tuned to our local radio station to catch up on the weather, school lunch menus, and obituaries, and was immediately and thoroughly bombarded with election messages.
I don’t intend to knock our elected officials, but I generally don’t intend to elect them either. It seems every one of them wants to claim to support my values. Their assumptions about said values range from fairly right on to way off base. Either way I’m more of a mixed bag, and I reckon the same is true of most folk.
I sense that in the future, the local elected officials in these parts may become more keenly aware of the intentional communities-based constituents of their constituency. And before I know it there’ll be county coroners, treasurers and prosecutors shaking hands and schmoozing with me while I’m in the middle of hauling buckets of dubious contents from one site to another, as I oft am known to do.
I both fear and welcome the politician who truly takes my ideas under consideration. But until that happens, I’ll just keep doing what I know is right, and if I talk much more about what that means, well, I might start talking like a politician myself, and I’m not so sure that y’all need more of that right now.
What I do believe is that if anyone who is running for office even attempts to reconcile all the values being held at this ecovillage into a singular platform, they’re gonna have a hard time of it. None of us really fits the stereotypical bill.
On the surface, an ecovillage may bring to mind an image of some well-educated, well-meaning, gentle, vegan pagans with a love of hand-holding, drum circles, and an almost unbearable level of proximity to one another. Under that, when you come to know us, you may be shocked to discover that we’re all quite different.
Some of us display a knack for financial or organizational savvy. Some of us couldn’t make it through a semester of community college. Some of us seem less than starry-eyed, or at least more willing than expected to honestly report what our problem is with another person. Some of us are spiritually inert hermits who do not partake in jam band music or kale smoothies, but instead spend their daylight hours slaughtering ducks and chickens.
It’s just a big ol’ bottle of humans here, as extraordinary and mundane as anywhere else, so if some political personality wants to bridge the spectrum of sustainable present here and create an agenda that will keep us all happily voting for them, well then I believe that blessed soul ought to just drop out of politics and join us here, where we’re all our own elected officials all the time.
So on to the weather. What Dancing Rabbit update is even worth reading without a note or two on our climatic conditions? For starters, it is currently beautiful outside, even though fall colors peaked two or so odd weeks ago.
The wind is brisk, the sun is bright and angled, and only a few stubborn leaves remain clinging to branches, mostly oak. Underfoot the dead dry leaves sizzle as they transform from verdant natural solar panels, transmitting some type of arboreal life-force, to a protective blanket for dormant roots, and eventually nourishing soil.
The days are crisp and often windy, plucking hedge apples from the gnarled limbs of osage and sending them plummeting earthward like bombs armed with genetic material. They come down with great force, scaring the hiccoughs out of me as they pop like shotguns on the metal roof of our outdoor kitchen, roll along and careen past the water catchment, gaining velocity on the downhill slope of our warren, scattering the flocks of ducks who stand about nipping at clover like feathery bowling pins of the grassy lane.
At night, frost, harbinger of death, the atmospheric equivalent of the crows of the field, sinks its fangs into diminished autumn gardens, leaving for us in the morning the decayed and devastated corpses of shrivelly green tomatoes and frost-bit lettuce, almost as lifeless and limp as the kind you might purchase in a grocery store.
Horseradish, collards, and mustard persevere in the Critter garden, but visually lack self-esteem, partially hunched shadows of their former botanical selves, their once lurid hues darkened by the vampire bite of the coming winter.
Some folks take to blanketing their garden beds in row cover on the frosty nights, whereas I personally prefer to risk it and do nothing, then spend the next morning in a dual state of wonder and dismay at what survived and what didn’t. It keeps me in touch with mortality, an important thing in this place, and at this time of year.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, folks: sometimes ensuring continued life on the planet means we need to get a bit more comfortable with dead things. I’m not a zen monk, and I wouldn’t even know what one was if I seen it, but I find my own ways of taking solace in the inexorable cycle of existence and non-existence.
All of us here, in varied ways, are tuned into nature’s existential struggle with itself, and we will all grow and be destroyed, as well as grow things and destroy things, whether we like it or not. Being sustainable, I think, requires participating in a system where destruction and regeneration perpetuate each other in a harmonious way. Take firewood for example: it is essentially the cadaver of a tree which is utilized to maintain life, and when managed properly, can replace itself before it is eliminated forever.
Many folks around here have chosen November as the semi-arbitrary start date for wood heating the home. Being a part of a cooperative micro-homestead kitchen scene which eschews the use of compressed gas fuel, we started up a little bit sooner than that, since all of our cooking incorporates wood heat and/or reflective solar ovens. There just ain’t any sense in heating up your food outside when it’s 45 degrees.
But as we move into the season of home heating, many of us at Dancing Rabbit engage in the perennial activity of acquiring, processing, and storing firewood. Firewood, you may have heard, is made out of dead trees. Perhaps there is an assumption out there about ecovillagers that there are no dead trees in our lives, and that if a tree were to be seen being harvested by humans that we might all shriek in horror, or sit, heaving in the dirt, weeping and confused, and very very cold.
I’m here to tell you that it isn’t quite like that, though I believe all of us here try to find an acceptable balance between the necessity of living forests, and the necessity of dead trees. Personally, I’d rather at least handle my carbon before I burn it, giving the forest’s own sacrament to my survival a tactile survey in my own hands, an experience I’d be separated from were I to indulge in heating from some faraway, unholy flaming nectar of the earth, like so many modern buildings.
We are temperate North America. The Midwest in particular. In the course of one year, our temperatures can swing 120 degrees Fahrenheit. A lot of us at Dancing Rabbit are very different, but we all, in some capacity, rely on wood heat.
Not being raised in a wood-heated home, I am still evolving in my wood stacking technique. The chopping and burning comes natural, but the stacking sometimes makes me feel like I’m failing geometry class all over again.
I recently went for the tall, narrow, wall of wood design. It remained acceptably rigid and stable for many days. Then, at about ten o’clock the other night, as I walked out onto the front porch en route to the outhouse, a hedge apple dropped from high off the tree, catapulted off of our living roof, and crashed onto the top of the stack, which immediately cascaded forward in an avalanche of noise and dust. It struck me as amusing in the moment, but I became more fully aware of the tragicomic implications the following day when the wood needed to be re-ordered.
As resistant as I am to the notion of measured time, I cannot help but constantly feel ahead or behind schedule. Mostly behind. When the lumber fell, it was like I lost an hour of my life which would never return.
A rooster doesn’t know to sleep in whenever the time of day is miraculously suspended for an hour, and truth be told, neither do I. Sunup is sunup. And that’s when some things need to be done, particularly if you are a person who works with animals.
And so, some of us here, our lives inseverably linked to sunlight, go on with our day, whether or not the clock says 5:30 or 6:30, or, as in my case, you have several clocks and none of them say the same thing. Still, others here lead lives more dependent on measured time rather than the traditional sunup to sundown routine. Good for them, I guess.
Now I can make all kinds of assumptions about these people, and I probably do. I can make even more assumptions about events and happenings here at Dancing Rabbit, and perhaps I should, seeing as though this column is to serve as an update about those things. However, being the socially inept, spiritually inert hermit that I am, I did not attend this week’s Halloween celebration, Day of the Dead celebration, Village Council meeting, nor any of the other scheduled events on our shared weekly calendar.
I did, however help in the construction of Dancing Rabbit’s newest loop of roads, an experience which admittedly brought mixed emotions. In general, I am cautious about roads. Roads bring things places, and that means change. Sometimes, I stubbornly refuse such change, or hate to think of it.
Most roads in America serve as a good place to get run over. Though I have at times personally enjoyed the spoils of such incidents, it is overwhelming for me to consider the vast quantities of plant and animal life affected by the building and use of roads.
The roads here are different. For one, they are rarely visited by motor-carriage, and when they are, we have a new policy of a five mile per hour speed limit. Though the the brand-spanking-new blinding white gravel sweeping along my homestead takes some visual adjustment, ecovillage roads can be much more appealing to the eye than the average interstate highway. Save for the occasional woolly bear caterpillar, things don’t generally get run over here. In fact, ever since the new road went in, our ducks have laid claim to a small gravel swath for sunbathing.
Aesthetic complaints aside, I do recognize the utility of bringing things places. One day, perhaps soon, the road that stretches beyond our little piece of the ecovillage will be lined with other homes and other lives. Building the road to welcome these future villagers comes at a cost, both financial and environmental. The irony of scraping away layers of sod to lay down lifeless gravel on an artificial roll of road fabric in hopes that folks looking for an opportunity to live sustainably can find one is not lost on me.
And gravel isn’t very enjoyable when you’re barefoot a lot of the time. People come here to live a dream, sometimes they leave to live another, and sometimes they don’t know which dream to live, and they walk these roads and others to find where on earth suits them best. I appreciate not having to push the wheelbarrow through mud deeper than my ankles anymore, but I don’t feel much called to travel any roads to anywhere these days.
For one thing, I am at the beck and call of a mixed herd of goats, ducks, chickens, and a donkey, not to mention a certain human child who belongs here very much, as well as many other human friends I am mutually reliant with. And even when the social world at Dancing Rabbit picks up velocity, I prefer to ride in the passenger seat at most, if I’m not completely bunkered down at home, my feet planted firm like the sleeping roots of trees in November.
The visitor season is overwhelming enough for me, so I don’t reckon I’ll be amid the cosmopolitan sprawl of modern America. This little bottle of humans is good enough for my liking, even though the contents are constantly changing. This year, Dancing Rabbit has watched a lot of folks move up and down the road, and for some of them, I admit being only able to assume what dream it is they’re chasing.
Some we will see again. And again. Others are gone forever. Sometimes I’m unsure myself what road I was on, or what assumptions I was operating under, when I showed up here. And truth be told, I don’t need to know the answers. I’m better off working and waiting for whatever blows in next. I just hope it isn’t a stump speech.
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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.