The short version:
Native Californian finds happiness and contentment in the Midwest. Loves seeing the stars, gathering food from the garden, and building a strawbale house in the eco-village of Dancing Rabbit.
The lengthy version:
I’m 42. I grew up in a suburb of San Francisco and moved to Berkeley after college. I loved living there–the amazing array of restaurants, great movies and cultural events, independent bookstores, my book group, the free papers, bicycle–friendly streets and a full social life. Little by little, however, I became aware of a gnawing dissatisfaction. Our drafty loft apartment with no room for a garden, my fun but stressful job with a “cool” company, the minute amount of time I got to spend with my husband (Kurt Kessner) and our friends, the long list of things I wanted to do “when I had the time.” When our landlord, who we adore, offered to let us buy into the building with no money down, I was surprised at my reluctance. What was going on here?
I fantasized about what it would be like to “retire.” I would quilt, garden, read, volunteer for literacy programs, travel-and I would surround myself with a community somehow, where I knew my neighbors and they knew me. We would share our lives, help each other, hang out, have dinners together-all the things my current neighbors and I always intended to do, but never could work into our schedules. Months of soul-searching led me to understand that I needed to find another way to live. The plan I’d always followed–college, career path, home ownership, nice car, etc.– wasn’t working for me. I wanted more. And yet I couldn’t pack another thing into my already-overloaded schedule.
Our landlord’s offer got Kurt and I thinking about our dream house–it would be solar powered, sunny, warm and cozy, a place where friends would gather. We looked at land up near Mendocino, and then realized that we didn’t want to have a wonderful house isolated from other people. We then looked into co-housing–we loved the idea of intentional community with people sharing the same ideals, yet with privacy for ourselves. This plan crashed and burned when we realized that, after finding a really wonderful community to be a part of that we’d have to leave for 10 hours a day in order to pay for it (Bay Area real estate prices). It was then I began to suspect that I really didn’t want to work a 40-plus hour work week. (“Well, who does?” you ask) About this time friends (thanks Gary and Emily!) gave us a copy of A Reasonable Life: Toward a Simpler, Secure More Humane Existence by Fernec Mate. I also picked up Your Money or Your Life (by Dominguez and Robin) from Kurt’s bookshelf. I found that I wasn’t alone in my desire for a simpler life, and that (perhaps) I wasn’t nuts for wanting the things I did. Plagued with fears that we were really just lazy, we began to research. Was it possible to support ourselves, have a comfortable home, plentiful food – in short, a livelihood–without spending the better part of our lives “working”?
Factor into all of this that I also consider myself an environmentalist. I lead national backpacking trips for The Sierra Club, usually beginning trips, so that I can help others learn to be in the wilderness respectfully. (Kurt and I met in ’93 on a backpacking trip, and were married in ’97. But back to the real story) I recycle everything and vote Green. I sold my car–Kurt and I both did pretty much everything, including laundry and grocery shopping, by bike. We purchased organic vegetables from Full Belly Farm, a CSA. But in the long run, it didn’t feel like enough. While we tried to live our lives simply, we were still sucked into the consumer vortex–buy, buy, buy. Had I ever worn out a pair of shoes or pants? Nope. Just where did I think all the garbage that’s hauled away each week was going? What kind of labor and resources went into the manufacturing and selling of all this stuff? I wanted to find a way to help the earth rather than to continue, in spite of all my sincere efforts, to be part of the problem. I wanted to stop talking about the environment and find a way to do something positive.
One day Kurt did a web search using the word “sustainable.” What came up were a lot of communities. I had no idea that there was a “communities movement,” or that it would have any relevance to me. (Boy, was I in for a surprise.) Dancing Rabbit was the second hit he got. We read everything on the website, including the back issues of “The March Hare.” We were amazed. DR seemed well thought out, had sustainability guidelines that we supported whole-heartedly, and had the legal framework of the land trust sensibly hammered out. Here were people attempting to live a sustainable lifestyle. They owned 280 acres in a land trust, they grew much of their food, they were bright, committed to communication, and didn’t claim to have all the answers. We loved the idea of bio diesel.
Kurt and I came to visit DR in February ’99. While the community was definitely in its pioneering stage and very raw physically, the dream was taking shape and on its way. The people were warm, friendly and engaging. The food was great. We spent a lot of time talking about how our plans and talents might fit with DR, and by the end of the week we asked to be considered for membership. We went into the sound proof booth (really Cecil’s bedroom) while the Rabbits discussed our membership. We were welcomed back into the room to applause and cheering. We went home and broke the news to family and friends (with mixed results), had yard sales, filled out change-of-address forms and rented a moving truck. We were nervous but excited.
We arrived at DR June 24, 1999, and still can’t believe that we get to live here. DR land and the area around it is beautiful–rolling green hills, oak, elm, maple and mulberry trees, spectacular sunsets, and, except for the neighbor’s cows, is peaceful and quiet. We understand how fortunate we are–we had worked hard the last couple of years to pay off our credit cards, sold our car, and the only debt we have are our (eternal) student loans. We had some savings, which we used to buy our solar set up. Kurt is a carpenter by trade, so he’s working on building our house, which he’ll tell you about in his bio. I’m in charge of earning money to support us. Since the cost of living in Missouri is minuscule compared to the San Francisco Bay Area (where, for example, our rent was $1,200 a month) it’s not really difficult. I’ve actually had more job opportunities here than at any other time in my life. I’m working for the Fellowship for Intentional Community revamping their newly purchased on-line bookstore that carries community-related books (http://bookshelf.ic.org/) and having a great time. I’m also a Certified Massage Therapist, and have begun to build a practice here. Kurt and I get to spend a lot of time together, which we love. We’re living close to nature–we watch the stars, birds, bugs trees and flowers as they change through the seasons. We’re learning about ourselves, our relationships with each other and our friends and families, what we really value, what is important. While we’re busier than we’ve ever been, it doesn’t feel frantic. We have meals with the rest of the Rabbits, have sing-alongs and game nights, lots of laughter, and many, many impromptu conversations about the things that are important to us. For us, life doesn’t get any better than this!