Liz, with her son Graham, on the SubHub build site.

Dream Building: My Dancing Rabbit Story

My name is Liz, and I’m building the structure of my dreams at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, using lots of natural building methods and materials. This is my story. 

Liz, with her son Graham, on the SubHub build site.

When my adult son, Graham, came here to live, I was willing to let our relationship develop in a freeform way. We gardened together for the first year, while working in Cob’s 8000-square-foot garden. We talked while we worked, and our conversations were the hidden treasure of that season. We hatched a plan to contribute to the village’s housing supply, in ways that would encourage affordability and cooperation, while earning sweat equity. Teaching permaculture classes, and supporting a more robust work exchange program for the village, were also high on our list.

Our plan took many forms, most of which didn’t come to fruition over the following fall and winter, but along the way we learned a lot about co-op models for everything from raising seed money to growing food. We also learned a lot about natural building and design, as it pertains to Missouri’s hot summers and cold winters. Going to morning coffee over at the Mercantile during the winter was invaluable, because of all the casual conversations I was able to have with members of my community who have built structures in the village over the years. I learned from them what worked, and what didn’t.

Finally, in the spring, we caught a break and I was able to buy a partially completed strawbale building located in the neighborhood where we hope to form a sub-community within the village. The purpose of the building expanded from a family residence to a community hub building (hence its name, SubHub), where sub-community members can cook and eat together, and have access to a shower, clothes washer, woodfired boiler and a large pantry. There will also be a large room for classes, meetings and creative project gatherings. The kitchen will be large, and open for cooking and food production classes (fermentation and canning, for example).

Soon after I bought the building (and before too much panic and overwhelm could settle in), several experienced builders in the village offered their assistance with our project, and it became the focal point for Dancing Rabbit’s 2019 natural building workshops. Hassan, a community member and one of the workshop instructors, helped us to finish the foundation and frame the walls in preparation for the students’ arrival. Another village member, Kyle, worked with us on planning for all the different systems in the house, including: plumbing, electrical, radiant heating tubes in the floor, solar-heated water, the woodfired boiler, and a mini-split for additional cooling. He also helped us understand how these systems are implemented in a strawbale house. Hassan and Kyle even teased out a solution for how we could add two sleeping alcoves under the roof, (which was very challenging, given that the designs of the three prior owners of the unfinished house I bought did not include a second story, and the roof had already been constructed). After three weeks of assessing the building, we decided that our goal for the spring/summer/fall season would be to complete the foundation and walls, finish the exterior and interior plastering, and install the windows and doors, to enclose the building and protect it from winter weather.

Thirteen people attended the natural building workshop in July, with Hassan and Julia as the teachers. SubHub came alive with so many people laughing, joking and working together to stack bales and plaster them with clay and lime. The weather was hot and humid, but luckily we had a roof to work under, and plenty of cold drinks from the Milkweed Mercantile, Dancing Rabbit’s very own eco-tavern. 

About half of the group was women of different ages. I watched as some of the women jumped in right away, while others stayed back until they were comfortable volunteering for things. By the second day, everyone was working, up to their individual energy level, and no one was left out of the process. I learned many details about how to make plaster look finished and professional, and about how different ratios of clay, sand and straw are mixed for each layer of the plaster: more straw for the first coat of plaster so it sticks better, and more sand for a finishing layer. The biggest change I’ve noticed is how much patience I have these days; how little my feathers are ruffled by a setback or a change in plans. I think this is because I am doing what I’m meant to be doing, (as well as my meditation practice, and because I feel supported by my community).

What has it been like working with my son on SubHub, over six weeks? There have been times when I have marveled at what he knows, that I didn’t know he knew, like his carpentry skills, for example. (I had forgotten the kid’s carpentry classes that he took as a homeschooler, and his time in Wales helping to build an environmental center). He also had many carryover skills that he gained in the village last year from a timber framing workshop. There are times when he gets frustrated with a process, or a result, and we are able to move through it fairly quickly, which I attribute greatly to the skills we’ve both learned while living in community.

I’m still elated, after the natural building workshop. I feel so much joy in creating a space for others to join me in learning new skills, and my heart is full of gratitude for so much help from total strangers; of course, by the end of the workshop they weren’t strangers at all!

If your dream is to create a natural building of your own design with your own two hands, join us for our next workshop from September 12-15. Hassan, Liz and the students will be building a living roof over the west entrance of SubHub, along with lots of other cool elements. Space in the workshop is limited, so confirm your spot today!

04.08.2019 Liz

Tending The Garden: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Time stands still for no one, and that is certainly true at Dancing Rabbit. Liz here, describing the ebb and flow of life at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Spring has definitely sprung. The whole landscape is turning green and the first bulbs are beginning to flower. We have had mild temperatures, rain and cool winds, which is typical of spring weather in northeastern Missouri. Often, when I’m exchanging pleasantries about the weather with my village friends, there will be the inevitable warning not to get too used to it: April often has surprises in store. We had snow for a few days last year, luckily before most people had put any seeds or starts in the ground. When the weather is fine, many people here find something to do outside and the kids can once again be seen clustered around Andrea’s trampoline across the gravel road from me, laughing, yelling, and playing.

Roxie, the newest member of Liz’s family. Photo by Liz.

I have recently adopted a mixed terrier named Roxie, and on these warm days we have been taking long walks on the restored prairie that is part of Dancing Rabbit. We also make the rounds through various neighborhoods in the village, talking to whoever happens to be outside and stopping to introduce Roxie to her new dog friends. Becoming a communitarian has just as steep of a learning curve for dogs as it does for humans: she has to be comfortable with a wide range of humans and the unpredictable behavior of children; she has to get along with dogs, especially those that are allowed to be off-leash here; and she has to be able to deal with lots of comings and goings, especially when we’re hanging out at the Mercantile. I have gotten used to training this dog, who is five years old with no prior training, in what is essentially a fish bowl. I have come to love it, as there is no question I have about training that can’t be answered by someone around here.

Another aspect of village life that signals that spring is here is the seasonal shifting of living quarters. As soon as the weather is warmer, various people move out of their warm winter spaces and into housing more suitable for spring and summer weather. Some people move into tents, and others move to new rentals. Even though my little straw bale cottage is warm in winter and cool in summer, I often get caught up in speculating about where I should move within the village.

My daughter, who has been here for a year now, will soon be moving to Kirksville about an hour away to be closer to her community college classes, and I’ve contemplated renting a larger place in the village with an extra bedroom so that she can come home whenever she needs/wants to. Of course, a larger place comes with additional space in the living room and dining room, and because of that I am looking at renting much more space than I really need just for me and my little dog (she weighs 10 pounds with her harness on). This kind of thinking happens to a lot of us in the mainstream culture, and may be why houses in the U.S. are an average of 2000 square feet nowadays; we are each expected to be so independent that we think our houses must be suited to meet every need we might expect to have. For example, we might think we can’t do without an extra large dining room to host Thanksgiving dinner for the extended family each year, or an extra bedroom so that we can invite friends and relatives to visit from far away, or a large kitchen to cook for parties.

I have a strong memory of coming to visit Dancing Rabbit right before I moved here. I had about 10 items on my list, related to running several businesses from here, that were worrisome to me, and I happened to mention this while sitting at lunch with Hassan and Bear. They invited me to share my list, and they pointed me to a solution or a person to talk to about some shared resource that I could take advantage of. Within a few minutes they solved each problem with a community solution. At the time I was still somewhat unaware of how people share resources here, and it was a revelation that others might be able and willing to help me with practical matters — that has continued to be the case for the last two years. Being in an environment of collaboration, and having the opportunity to practice shifting my thinking from consumption to simplicity, is one of the main reasons I moved to Dancing Rabbit.

Spring is also a time when we get ready for visitors with Land Clean Day. Most of the village pitches in for three hours weeding, mulching paths, clearing brush, repairing foot bridges, and many other tasks. My favorite land clean task is mulching paths. Christina and I have taken on this job several years in a row now, and we catch up on personal news while filling up our wheelbarrows before wheeling mulch out to different parts of the village.

I have mixed feelings this year about hosting our first visitor program, so soon after the Situation. I find myself not signing up for any of the volunteer positions, such as picking up visitors arriving at the train station or airport, leading workshops, or cooking for visitors, which I would usually do. I am amazed that most of my fellow villagers seem up for having strangers here for several weeks, looking at our lives in detail during a time of turmoil and fatigue. I am glad that they are up for it so that I can fade into the background until I’m ready to come out of my shell and be social again.

There have been so many changes this winter, and I am grieving them. At the same time, spring energy is stirring in me and my mind is presenting plans for action this season to carry me through the summer. In that spirit, and to encourage all of us who find ourselves without stable ground to stand on and aren’t sure which direction to go in, I offer some words from Jack Kornfield, dharma teacher and author, from his book called, No Time Like the Present:

“In Zen they say there are only two things: you sit [in meditation], and you sweep the garden. And it doesn’t matter how big the garden is. As you quiet your mind and listen to your heart, you discover that your spirit will not be satisfied unless you also tend your garden. Pick something you care about. It can be local or global, reducing racism or fighting climate change. Educate yourself, make close friends with others who are different from you, join the local school board, volunteer at a hospital, work for a political cause, or help the school plant a garden. Lower your carbon footprint. Add your voice and energy. Plant seeds for a compassionate future. You can’t change it all, but your freedom empowers you to contribute to the world, and your love gives you the way to do so.”

What do you care most about? What occupies your thoughts and stirs your feelings? For those of us living at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, the answers include ecological sustainability and living in community. If you’re on a similar wavelength, we invite you to visit us sometime this year. You may learn some new things, make some new friends, and return home with new tools with which to tend your garden.

Frost glistening on last year's Queen Anne's lace.

Braving the Weather: A Dancing Rabbit Update

We’re all affected, every day, by the arrest of one of our community members several weeks ago. Liz here, with the difficult and delicate task of writing about life at Dancing Rabbit. While I could use this column to express how it has affected me, it seems pale in comparison with how it has affected some community members more directly, so I’ll take a page from my midwestern neighbors and talk about less tender subjects.

Frost glistening on last year’s Queen Anne’s lace.

Since January, I have been commuting to Kirksville twice a week, taking my daughter to classes at a community college — trying to commute, that is. She has not been able to attend most of her classes in person at this point because of the winter weather, in all its myriad forms. Assessing whether to drive on a class day involves reading the weather report in detail, as well as asking anyone who is driving the tributary roads that lead from the village to the main highway about how they fared. I experienced for the first time what it feels like to stop at a stop sign, accelerate at, oh say, three miles an hour and have the car slide across the intersection into a snowbank. I had just enough time to dig the snow out from around the car with a snow shovel before a kind man with a truck stopped and pulled our car out.

I am becoming conversant with weather terms I’ve heard of but haven’t experienced before such as: drizzle, freezing drizzle, sleet, freezing rain, freezing snow, and other terms I had to look up, like freezing fog (which conjures up some horror/alien movie, and the reality is not far off) where fog molecules freeze on the first flat object they encounter, such as a car windshield.

I am also building a mental weather/driving database, which takes concentration, study and practice. After all the white-knuckle driving I’ve done to get out to the main highway, I’m feeling more accomplished. Last week, right as we were leaving for class, my daughter patted my arm and said: “you’re brave, mom”.

Of course, there is almost no subject that can’t be addressed by the coffee group that gathers at the Mercantile every morning. (I’ve half a mind to ask the group how to achieve world peace this week, just to test that theory.) Road and weather reports trickle in as people come into the Mercantile to get their coffee. Meanwhile, vendors who have finally made it to our village come to deliver goods pitch in their two cents, adding a regional aspect to my weather database. I save bits of advice and information gleaned from conversations with people here who grew up in places with severe winters, in case I’m faced with a new weather/driving situation.

I can’t imagine learning these life lessons outside of a community context. One can’t mention winter driving around here without Javi’s name coming up, as he is fearless and tireless in rescuing community members from road mishaps. During the worst of the icy weather several weeks ago, Kurt drove my daughter and I in the truck as far as the highway, with Alline following so she could give Kurt a ride back to the village. Both of them smiled and waved encouragingly at us as we drove off towards Kirksville.

Well, the weather has changed drastically in the last few days, as it does here in this corner of the world, and the ice has melted in the torrential rain, providing us with a different driving challenge: mud. Tomorrow my daughter and I leave early in the morning when the mud will still be frozen and I expect we’ll make it out to the highway — I just hope we can make it all the way back…

This week we have a bonus column from T, all about the trials and tribulations of winter weather at Dancing Rabbit.

We have to talk about the snow. The snow changed everything. (According to my official, Top-of-the-Picnic-Table-o-Meter, we got about 14 inches before it thawed.) I hadn’t seen snow like that since 2012 in Kansas City — Christmas Day, I think. I love the snow; but it changes things. (Things always change, huh?) Here are just a few stories about how things were different at Dancing Rabbit during January, after getting over a foot of snow in one week.

Everything was white; beautifully, purely white. The glare off the snow on a sunny day was blinding — I love that! I also love how bright it was walking outside one night with the full moon lighting up everything as it reflected off the snow. Seriously, I looked behind me more than once to see who had installed a new porch light. For the record, there are no street lights here at DR. We all wear headlamps — and we don’t speak for everyone, so I’ll speak for myself — I wear a headlamp … when I remember.

After the main road, parking area, and a couple village routes was plowed, there were a few huge piles of snow here and there around the village. Even after the warm-up that followed, those piles lasted quite a while. (I thought some of them might last until the daffodils poke out.) I also enjoyed making the occasional snowball from these long lasting piles to try my aim at some unsuspecting tree, which was just standing there minding its own business. I love the big leftover piles of snow.

What I don’t love is that my truck got stuck again. (Maybe you remember back in September when I first arrived and got my truck stuck in the muck?) Well, I learn slowly sometimes. This time, I thought my truck was in 4 wheel drive, but it wasn’t. Even though I was once again parked on a slope at a disadvantage, I gave it a try so I could go into Memphis where I get phone reception. (Sorry if you tried to call me. My truck was stuck in the muck.)

I dug out the wheels, cleared the windows of a foot of snow and warmed up the engine for several minutes. Result: the spinning right rear tire sunk into the snow. (I was displeased.) I walked away and the truck sat there, awaiting yet another tractor rescue. I toyed with the idea of leaving it there as a testament to human folly and the power of Mother Nature; a warning to future generations about the perils of chronic truck stuckage. Sad thing is, I bet I get it stuck again, and probably again. I learn so slowly.

While some Rabbits went into hibernation mode with all the snow (and certainly none rode their bicycles) folks still got out and about, whether it was for exercise or to get work done. Sleds were in abundance. (Our sledding hill just down the road, La Vista De La Moo, was very busy last month.) I also saw a couple cross-country skiers and one hiker wearing boot gaiters to keep the snow out of their boots. I even heard rumors of snowshoes, though I never saw any for myself. Wouldn’t a pedal-powered snowmobile of some sort be a cool contraption for snowy days like those? Someone invent that, why don’t you?!

Clean electricity being produced by the winter sun on freshly swept solar panels atop our common house.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with sweeping floors, but did you know that here at DR we also sweep our roofs? Specifically, we sweep off the solar panels that are attached to many of our roofs. A sunny day, even with a foot of snow on the ground, still allows us to generate clean, renewable, off-grid electricity for our village, but the solar panels have to be clear of snow to let the sun shine in. I had a question about whether cold reduces solar panel efficiency, and I knew just who to ask: Kurt says the solar panels produce electricity even more efficiently when its cold AND the reflection from the snow amps up the wattage. We’ll take all the watts we can get. Some of our solar arrays charge big batteries in individual homes that store the power for later, and some of our systems feed into our local micro-grid and then on to the regular, local grid which we are tied into. Our efforts continue to return twice the power we draw from the grid.

My wardrobe changed a little to accommodate the cold snap. I wore a stocking cap to bed a few nights, if that gives you an idea of how cold it got in my room some nights. How cold was it? Well, my hand went numb walking across the courtyard one day, which only took about 35 seconds, and a friend’s hand froze to his aluminum-clad thermos one morning — he had to pour water from another insulated container on his hand to get it unstuck. It was cold, folks.

“Where were your gloves, T?,” you ask. You aren’t the only one to ask that… I have a pair of gloves to go with each of my coats, but I have two extra  coats in the rotation right now, so I’m having a hard time keeping track of where my gloves are. One is a lightweight, down-lined, coat for casual use and the other one is a durable brown canvas Walhart for doing actual work outside.  

Honestly, I avoided as much outside work as possible during the cold snap, but I still had some outdoor responsibilities to attend to. I keep the outdoor water heater going for the Milkweed Mercantile so we can stay warm when we shower and have hot water to do the dishes. That heater also keeps the Honeymoon Cottage warmed via radiant heating in the floor. By the way, no honeymooners are staying there lately, but the cottage is used for morning meditation, massage therapy, and acupuncture treatments. (Speaking of acupuncture, did you have any big icicles hanging menacingly from your roof? We did.)

I’m also responsible for stoking the fire in the public room of the Mercantile. If you see me there, beam a little sympathy my way, because I got my boot caught in the wood pile and tore off the sole trying to get it out… and the boot came off to boot.  I vote for opening up a sister ecovillage in Costa Rica; or maybe I just need another layer and that pedal-powered snowmobile you’re going to invent.

If you visit our village, you won’t have to endure the trials and tribulations of winter at Dancing Rabbit. You can come in the summer, when the paths are free of ice, the pond is warm, and the whole village is rioting with the colors and fragrances of flowers. It’s early in the season, so we still have lots of spaces available in our annual visitor program. Send in your application today, so that you can join us in leaving the winter behind for some sustainable summer fun.


Living on the Edge: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Since I moved to Missouri from California almost two years ago, I have had a tendency to look back and compare my experiences with each turn of the season. Whenever I can recall a memory of Dancing Rabbit instead of California, things feel a little easier. Liz here, with an update on the new year from Dancing Rabbit.

Liz’s proposed permaculture project site, with her friend the silver maple tree, and a view of Dancing Rabbit’s Old Pond

Last winter I traveled back to California three times for various reasons and it was hard being split between two homes. While there, I had my first Christmas with my young adult kids, but without my estranged partner of 34 years. I sold my house in Berkeley and hauled one last load of my belongings across the country to my Missouri home. This winter my kids are living at Dancing Rabbit and they’re both doing well. As I let go of each strand of my past I feel a weight being lifted off my shoulders and more joy comes into my life.

It was pretty quiet here on New Year’s Eve, with collaging and dream boarding, (an artistic process where people collected pictures and created a visual narrative to describe their dreams for the coming year). There was also a gathering at Ironweed Kitchen where folks toasted to Finland’s new year, which happened at nine o’clock Missouri time, allowing residents an earlier bedtime without missing out. Those who stayed late mixed drinks to celebrate the new year in each time zone and played fictionary, a game in which players make up definitions for uncommon words and vote for the ones they think are best.

Melany and Zach had their wedding and reception at Dancing Rabbit on New Year’s Day. Alline and I rolled up our sleeves (figuratively), cooked the reception feast and served it at the Mercantile with festive lights and cedar boughs on the tables. There was chicken saltimbocca, green beans almondine, and home cooked rolls. Zach’s mother, a cake decorator, brought the multi-tiered wedding cake with her from Texas.

I have been very excited about a permaculture project I would like to do, and because I’ve already talked everyone’s ear off about it at Dancing Rabbit, I decided to sign up for an online course through the Permaculture Women’s Guild. There I get to learn more, have access to the student forum, and meet others who are launching permaculture projects around the world.

A permaculture concept new to me is habitat edges. Edges are areas where several habitats meet. This overlapping area usually supports a diversity of lifeforms that take advantage of two or more habitats and form a unique combination of the areas. The edge is where, according to many permaculturists, the juicy, most productive growth happens. I’ve been thinking about how living in an ecovillage can be like living in an edge habitat, with people co-creating sustainable ways of being.

I’ve often been visiting the proposed permaculture site this winter, to watch it change through the seasons. Near an old pond there’s a silver maple tree that looms large in the landscape. Recently I walked up to this tree and asked myself what a relationship with it would look like. Almost before I was aware of what I was doing I reached up while placing my foot in the lowest crook of the tree. Of course! As a kid I had been an enthusiastic climber of trees. But now I’m 56, and I hadn’t climbed a tree since my teen years. Would my body be able to lift me? Would my body remember how to work with the structure of the tree? Would I be able to climb down?

My hands reached out, my eyes calculated, my feet found their footholds. I even remembered to brace my back between its two trunks for leverage. The tree accommodated my body perfectly. Pretty soon I found a branch to sit on and stretch my legs out, back against a trunk, with my body facing the winter sun. I caught some movement to my left and saw my nearest neighbors watching me with concern. I waved and smiled; they waved and smiled back. (Later Jason would tell me how wonderful it was to see me in the tree.) I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. For a moment I savored the warmth of the sun on a cold winter day, and the stillness. I was grateful to rest my body on this living being for a moment and drink in that we were there together.

I’m noticing how content I am to have a holiday come and go with a minimum of festivities needed to make the day special, and the same things in it as any other day, such as meditation, coffee group and taking walks. This helps me understand that my life is just as it should be.

For me, this new year is about moving forward, dreaming of possibilities, and considering new plans. I leave you with firm advice from Jaya the trust coach:

“The habits you created to survive will no longer serve you when it’s time to thrive. Get out of survival mode. New habits, new life.”

If you share Liz’s interest in permaculture, consider attending our Permaculture Design Course. You’ll learn about fascinating concepts like habitat edges, as well as techniques for incorporating features of a landscape, such as Liz’s silver maple tree, into your design.

Another snowy week (photo by Liz)

Two Arrows: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Winter is in full force right now in the Midwest. Liz here, with the latest from Dancing Rabbit. Friends back in California are surely thinking I’m a fool for moving here and Rabbits who have lived at DR for a while are surely thinking I have yet to see the worst of the winter weather. I wondered as winter approached whether I would feel blasé about snow and cold temperatures now that I’ve lived here through one winter. But then nature showed off last weekend and dropped four to six inches of snow with winds up to 25 mph in a nine-hour period. That was impressive!

Another snowy week (photo by Liz)

It was not nearly as impressive walking home from my dinner co-op that night, swaddled in winter gear, my glasses fogging up, with snow blowing almost horizontally all around me, when suddenly both my feet dropped into deep snow. I had a flashlight with me, but everything looked almost featureless in the snow. I suddenly felt like I was in a Jack London novel and I wanted a dog named Fang to pull me out of the snow bank and lead me safely home. I pulled my feet out and took several steps in what I thought was the right direction but I ended up tangled in some thorny raspberry brambles. I stood still and took some breaths, noticing that my nostril hairs were freezing. I imagined a newspaper headline: NEIGHBORS FIND CALIFORNIA NEWBIE IN SNOW BANK, 20 YARDS FROM HOME. With a great sigh of relief, I finally arrived at my warm little house and closed the door on the gusting wind and swirling snow.

Winter in the village means a shift from running workshops and hosting visitors to more personal endeavors. For me that means returning to my meditation and qigong practices in earnest. I have joined a new practice group that meets every morning and after several weeks I’m finally settling in. Another new part of my day is to gather with friends at the Mercantile for coffee in the morning. There is a roaring fire in the fireplace (thanks T!) and we chat about any subject under the sun. It’s a great way to get to know people better and to get different perspectives on life at DR.

I have joined a new co-op kitchen for the winter, which cooks and eats at the Mercantile. We are only four members so far, so it’s pretty easy to do my two cook shifts a week. At Thistledown, I was used to cooking for 10-14 people over the summer and fall, so I’m having to pull back on food amounts. Cooking for a small group is more about creativity, since there is time for that, and I’m enjoying that aspect. And the Mercantile kitchen has always been a happy place for me.

Last winter I noticed that as soon as the cold weather sets in at DR, out come people’s handcraft projects. This winter I am determined to make progress on my cross stitch project. Katherine has been proactive in gathering us together and I enjoy the camaraderie as well as watching my son, Graham, learn to knit.

These days I find myself curious about sustainable systems for heating and cooling buildings. Our library has some great books on these subjects. My house has an attached greenhouse that adds passive solar heat to the building on sunny, winter days, but it adds unwanted heat in the summer without any effective way to vent the hot air. Winter is a good time for me to read, contemplate, and understand how various systems can be added to a building for heating and cooling, either as back-up systems or in addition to passive methods to get the job done. I’ve been reading about climate batteries, subterranean cooling tubes, bio-domes, geodesic domes, and the many, very cool systems used in Earthship houses. I’m also studying whether these systems can be adapted for very hot, humid, Missouri summers and cold winters. For every question I have, I have to learn about a new system. Good thing I have all winter to ruminate over these things!

And while DR feels like a comfortable cocoon to spend the winter in, I am still affected by the news of the world. Recently I was reminded of the two arrows story. The story describes how the first arrow pierces our hearts when we hear of sad or cruel events in the world or tragedies that happen in our lives. These events are most often completely outside of our control. The second arrow is our reaction to these events. Both arrows cause suffering. The second arrow is when there can be fruitful awareness and insight into ourselves and others. The second arrow can teach us that we can hold many different emotions at the same time, regardless of what is happening around us. And so I offer a quote from Jack Kornfield, a beloved, mindfulness teacher:

“In our hardships, we discover the courage not to succumb, not to retreat, not to strike out in fear and anger. And by resting in a non-contentious heart we become a lamp, a medicine, a strong presence; we become the healing the world so dearly needs.”

Go safely and with great cheer into the winter season, dear readers.

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Cross-Pollination: A Dancing Rabbit Update

I have a sense of time marching on as the season shifts gears from late summer to fall. Liz here, checking in with the latest about Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. This week we had several rain storms, including one loud thunderstorm that kept me up for hours. I am grateful after these storms that my little, straw bale house stays snug and dry in this weather. I haven’t felt the need to fire up my wood stove, which is how I heat my house, but a nip in the air is telling me it won’t be long.

The village feels quiet since the permaculture design course students departed for home. I was in charge of cooking most of the breakfasts during the nine-day course. While it felt fun and easy as I was doing it, since then I’m noticing the spaciousness in my days for unscheduled time: time for sitting and chatting with other Rabbits, time for leisurely sipping cups of good coffee, time for listening to music and playing solitaire, and putting my gardens in order for the winter with cover crops and mulching.

In the wake left by the permaculture design course, I’ve noticed the various cross-pollinations, as it were, from the Rabbits who took the course. Angela was asking around the Thistledown Co-op dinner table if people were interested in a permaculture discussion group (this was greeted enthusiastically by all of us). I took the course several years ago and have been implementing those principles in my own gardens, in Cob’s garden this summer, and in the plans for the sub-community, which will include extensive gardens for food production and livestock.

Land walk on Land Day (photo by Hassan)

Cross-pollination at Dancing Rabbit fascinates me: what visitors take away from here and implement in their lives near and far; what Rabbits implement at Dancing Rabbit and how that changes the future of the village; what simply gathering at our co-op dinner tables night after night and exchanging information and ideas does to change our lives.

Speaking of cross pollination, I am currently reading David Fleming’s Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival, and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy. What I instantly loved about this book were the predictions of what might take place in a market economy of the future. These descriptions involve a lot of things already commonplace at Dancing Rabbit: barter, community singing, potlucks, and creating traditions. When communities have fun together and weave favors so thick that no one can keep track anymore and so they don’t, the result is benevolence and trust. I also like Fleming’s concept of the “slack economy,” where there is a return to spaciousness in people’s lives because full employment is not possible. This harkens back to the Middle Ages when communities were bound by work guilds and festivals and merrymaking; creating enough community cohesion to survive at a local level.

Saturday was Land Day at Dancing Rabbit. On Land Day, we celebrated the twenty-first anniversary of our founders’ purchase of the 280 acres where our village is located. As often happens when something is being celebrated at DR, a meal was shared. This time, the Critters Co-op hosted a pancake breakfast with partakers bringing their own pancake toppings. People brought apple slices fried in butter and cinnamon, pressure-canned strawberries, chocolate chips, and yes, maple syrup. Later that day, the rain let up just in time for a land walk.

There was also the squash competition, with prizes for the largest, the best looking, and the so-called “squashiest” squash. (A squash from Cob’s garden won that award!) There was a Land Day potluck (of course) and I have to say, I never get tired of seeing all the smiling faces when we circle up, hold hands, sing a song, and share what dishes we’ve brought.

We sang DR’s version of happy birthday twice during that meal. Here are the lyrics: “Happy birthday to you/We’re so glad you’re alive/You’re a gift from the earth/Bless the day of your birth.” Who wouldn’t want those words sung to them by a crowd of friends and neighbors?

After potluck, there was a Memory Lane gathering. Alline led the group through DR history and others shared stories of the early days. Then, we danced, with Ben as disc jockey.

This week, the village will host the last Visitor Session of the season. We had a nice, long break since the last one and I found myself looking forward to seeing new people come to the village. I cooked their first breakfast and chatted with most of them. People come from all over to live with us for a few weeks and learn the many aspects of our model for sustainable living. I am still struck by how many wonderful people we get to meet.

Inspired by discussions about the goals of the planned sub-community, I began to address my growing dissatisfaction with the amount of garbage I create. I compost food scraps and recycle cans, glass, and paper, but even the number of recyclables I produce is annoying me. As I learned in my permaculture course, there is no “away” with garbage and recyclables; they just move further downstream in the waste cycle. With fewer countries willing to manage US waste and recycling, it seems more important than ever to not produce it in the first place. Elementary, I know. So, I bought wax cloths that are made to act like plastic wrap. They arrived in the mail and sat on the counter for several weeks. In the busyness of life, it is often hard to strategize and then change behavior. I’ll keep you posted, dear reader, on how my new habits manifest.

The subject of enneagram types has been coming up lately in conversations and I found myself hauling out my enneagram textbook, Don Riso and Russ Hudson’s The Wisdom of the Enneagram. Like the true “four” that I am, I eventually ended up re-reading the chapter on type four (individualist, identity-seekers). Every time I pick up this book I learn something new, and this time the section on personal growth stood out for me, particularly the advice that read, “Put yourself in the way of good.” With the tumultuous times we live in, I’m grateful that I live in a place that is good and good for me.

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.

Alannah's birthday cake, made by Liz and her daughter, Talia. Happy birthday, Alannah!

Living As My Authentic Self: A Dancing Rabbit Update

What does it mean to live an authentic life? Liz here, observing the effects of passing the one year mark of living in alignment with my values, intentions, and purpose.

What I remember of my former, urban life (as it fades into the mists of time), is that I experienced considerable tension when thinking about the state of the world and my opportunities to do anything active or meaningful to improve it. What I have noticed since moving to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is that I have relaxed internally, with greater joy and happiness, now that these two things line up. Letting go of the tremendous responsibilities and energy-draining aspects of maintaining a nuclear, family structure has created a much more dynamic relationship with my adult children and allowed me to express my individual purpose in life to a greater degree.

Alannah's birthday cake, made by Liz and her daughter, Talia. Happy birthday, Alannah!

Alannah’s birthday cake, made by Liz and her daughter, Talia. Happy birthday, Alannah!

There have been many ways this has manifested and some of those ways have been very unexpected. I describe this aspect of my life, not to be compared with anyone else’s, but to encourage anyone who might need encouragement to live their own authentic life. So, here are some stories from this week that are meant to do just that.

This week, I began learning how to plaster a straw bale house. Dancing Rabbit just finished hosting a natural building workshop. The participants worked on Angela’s straw bale house, the latest natural building project at DR. I have joined the project as a volunteer so that I can develop my skills for setting straw bales in place to form walls, plastering exterior and interior walls, and whatever else I can learn in the coming weeks. At my former home in Berkeley, I found my home improvement niche as a painter. I found that I loved working with color and texture and had enough patience for repairing plaster on old walls and then repainting them. Stuffing plaster between the fibers of a straw bale has some similarities in that it can be learned pretty quickly, and the results can be seen almost immediately.

While working together in Cob’s garden each morning, my son Graham and I began talking about what type of housing we thought would be inspiring to build at Dancing Rabbit. Between my wanting to help provide much-needed housing at DR and Graham’s interests in natural building design and cooperative living, we hatched a plan to start by building a simple 20-foot diameter straw bale roundhouse with a reciprocal roof to gain skills for eventually building a cluster of buildings forming a cooperative sub-community within the ecovillage. It is a grand adventure; it is a way to serve DR’s mission of growing the village and it is a way to share experiences with my adult children.

Cob’s garden will be almost on auto-pilot if it continues to rain like it did this week. We pull weeds and harvest what ripens: basil, green and red tomatoes, potatoes, pole beans and bush beans, parsley, summer squash, butternut squash, pumpkins, and yet another crop of radishes. We also watch over the little seedlings of fall crops starting to peek out from the soil: Brussels sprouts, several types of beets, arugula, daikon radish, kale, and garlic. Within the next few weeks, we will sow a winter cover crop of legumes, clover, and buckwheat to enrich the soil for next year and to crowd out unwanted weeds. The rainbow of beautiful perennial flowers (borage, nasturtium, daisies, marigolds, cosmos, and more) are going to seed, hopefully re-appearing next year without our assistance and without the need for much watering.

The garden at Sparrows Nest has had an abundant crop of Concord grapes this year. I continue to harvest the grapes as they ripen and take the dark purple, sweet-tasting nuggets to Alline, who makes them into jelly and juice. It’s a beautiful partnership!

We had three people from the last Visitor Session stay on or return after the program ended. One of them, Charlotte, flew in from Florida and I picked her up from the airport several days ago. She will be hosted by Angela and me and will work for us in exchange for room and board. Her first night, she got rained out of her tent and spent the night in the Common House drying out. We hung her things in the greenhouse at Morel (my house), so they could dry even as it continued to rain the next day, and Hassan helped her string a tarp over her tent to keep the rain out. She has remained cheerful and resilient through it all, a good sign she will do well in the next few months she plans to live here.

The Milkweed Mercantile has had ongoing inn guests this week, all of them family members of Rabbits. I have been training Graham to take on some breakfast shifts and over the weekend we served two family-style breakfasts for nine people. We gathered everyone around one big table loaded with mile-high biscuits and homemade jams, zucchini fritters, and blueberry muffins along with the standard Critter eggs, Sandhill farm produce, and of course, plentiful cups of coffee. I’m not sure exactly why feeding people tasty food is so satisfying, but it keeps me coming back to work every week. It’s also interesting to get acquainted with the parents of some of my community members.

Birthdays are very important at Dancing Rabbit and much hoopla is made over them. This weekend, Alannah asked for a chocolate birthday cake with peanut butter frosting and my daughter Talia and I decided to collaborate and make her one. It was an interesting balance for me of helping Talia find the ingredients and supplies in the Mercantile kitchen and stepping out of the kitchen for moments to let her put the cake together. Talia is a veteran dessert-maker from way back (even though she’s only 20!) and I knew I could leave this dessert project in her capable hands. The finished product looked professional and delicious.

In preparation for Singing Rabbit this weekend and Dancing Rabbit’s annual Open House on September 8, residents and members gathered together for Land Clean Day on Saturday. Each of us chose some aspect of the village to beautify or repair in a three-hour work party. The advantage of numbers worked in our favor in getting these tasks done and the place looks great.

And what of my purpose in life? For me it boils down to this, as expressed by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk: “We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness. We are all the leaves of one tree, we are all the waves of one sea.” Whatever I can do that moves me in this direction feels enriching and authentic.


Want to see what living cooperatively is really like? Come visit us this year to get a glimpse into how we live and how you can incorporate these practices into your own life. There is only one Sustainable Living Visitor Program session left and a couple of events and workshops, like Singing Rabbit and the Permaculture Design Course happening between now and October. How will you choose to get involved?


Facing Life Head-On: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Graham and I have tried to implement as many permaculture concepts in Cob’s vegetable garden this year as time has allowed. One concept that really caught my fancy was to plant perennial flowers and certain veggies in amongst the veggie beds to attract pollinator insects (e.g., cosmos, nasturtiums, zinnias, daisies, borage, and dandelions) and to discourage pest insects (e.g., onion, garlic, leeks, basil, radishes, and marigolds). Liz here, in awe of the beauty of a permaculture garden in the fullness of summer.

The summer bounty is beginning to come in at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. It’s been a dry summer and my thoughts often turn to how we can maximize catching rainwater for the garden. Right now, we catch rainwater from a shed roof and use county water when we run out of rainwater. A new weather pattern that old-timers have begun noticing is that instead of frequent rain showers throughout the summer, we now often get less frequent, fast deluges of rain. So, having the capacity to catch more rainwater with each storm would really help the water supply for the garden. The list for what we want to implement in the garden next year is growing quickly. While I am content with what I’ve learned and accomplished in the garden this year, I’m looking forward to trying more ideas next year.

Football, biscuits, and gravy for all. Photo by Carolyn Bunge.

My seasonal hunger for summer squash is waning, which means we’ve stepped-up processing the 5 to 8 squashes we get on a daily basis and we freeze, can, or dehydrate many for use by our kitchen co-op later in the year. We have started pickling and have established a system for picking cucumbers each day, accumulating them for a week, and then pickling them in batches before they start to decay.

I quick-pickled radishes and red onions with garlic, lemon slices, fresh oregano, and peppercorns along with coriander, mustard, and fenugreek seeds. Yum! These quick-pickled veggies are ready to eat after a day and last several weeks in the refrigerator. We harvested the first of our basil to make pesto for pasta with, you guessed it, summer squash. New parsley, nestled in the shady understory of flowers and towering tomato plants to keep it from bolting in the heat, went into a marinated, mushroom salad along with the first of the garlic harvest.

Just when it seemed that Graham and I were settled in our early morning schedule, tasks were slowing down somewhat with plants beginning to produce, and flowers and clover in the veggie beds had begun to crowd out the weeds we needed to pull, we realized it was time to start seeds for our fall garden. I sowed kale, arugula, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, several kinds of beets, and garlic seeds. I was so happy to learn there are several ways to grow garlic and that we had accumulated a box of garlic seeds from our recent harvest. You really can’t ever have too much garlic.

It has been my intention since I moved to Dancing Rabbit over a year ago for my kids to feel at home here, even if they don’t end up living here. Although Dancing Rabbit is now their home base, it can’t be easy to settle into a new home that comes with a whole community. Both of my kids are currently living here and seem to be adjusting well. Several days ago, we welcomed Isabelle, half-sibling to my kids, for a visit. I feel joy watching the ease with which my daughter Talia shows Isabelle around, advising her on how to navigate life here, from composting toilets to kitchen co-ops.

Talia and I have resurrected the Kirksville bunny-hop, a weekly rideshare into town in a car from our vehicle co-op. We share the expenses of the ride and get to know some fellow Rabbits a bit more.

My kids have a routine coffee gathering at the Milkweed Mercantile in the mornings and we have a new family tradition attending the Mercantile’s pizza night each Thursday.

One wonderful aspect of living in community is that if you have an idea for an activity or event, there are plenty of people to help you with it and to attend. Bear’s milestone-birthday plans included building a water-slide into the pond and hosting an Appreciation Circle the following day.

The Milkweed Mercantile recently hosted a viewing of the World Cup Final. Alline and Cob served biscuits and gravy with mimosas. I’m not a sports fan by any stretch, but I have the good sense to show up for Alline’s biscuits and gravy.

The village recently said goodbye to participants in the third session of the Dancing Rabbit Visitor Program and the Mercantile staff have begun preparing for the arrival of ten students and two teachers for a five-day stay. My part in this will be to cook their breakfast each day and this begins with baking our House granola and some quick breads, such as zucchini or banana bread.

My dear friend Tereza just returned from a month in Italy and I’m looking forward to continuing our routine of prairie walks, sitting together for Sci-Fi Movie Night, raising an occasional glass of port, and sharing the latest news.

The sale of my house in California is final and I feel the achy-sadness of cutting another tie with California, yet I feel relief from carrying the burden of that connection. I no longer need to monitor California wildfires and earthquakes. I am now free to live my best life. I am looking forward to having more time to ponder the meaning of that.

There is a metaphor in Buddhism that has been helpful at many times in my life. Ken McLeod tells his version of this metaphor in “Reflections on Silver River”:

You are standing on a wooden dock. It is old and falling apart. In front of you, the open expanse of the ocean extends to the horizon. Below your feet is a boat, well stocked and fully equipped. You know it is, because you took care in preparing it.

It is the only boat at the dock. The other moorings are empty, forgotten.

You are not exactly sure how you came to be here, but you do know you cannot turn your back on the ocean. Yet you hesitate to step into the boat. What stops you?

You know that your friends, your colleagues, and your relatives are all busy–providing for their families, moving ahead in their lives, making their mark in the world. You are here looking at the ocean, the boat gently bobbing at your feet as waves lap against the dock.

The world behind you seems simultaneously full and empty.There are many enjoyments and rewards. You have tasted them. But you cannot escape a sense of futility and a gnawing insistence that wonders, “Is this all there is?” Your friends sometimes touch the same feelings, but they turn away from it quickly–a gap in the web of life that is never explored.

You cannot turn away. You wonder how they can. And you wonder what, if anything, you can do for them so that they do not turn away. You wonder because you are pretty sure that you are missing something, and that is why you prepared the boat. And you think they may be missing something, too. But you do not know what.

What will it take for you to step into the boat?

For me, there is something fundamentally human about belonging to a group. The longer I live in community, the more palpable is the relief in belonging. Belonging is part of getting into that figurative boat. Being of service to others makes the boat move. And love, kindness, and compassion sustain that movement forward.

Want to get a taste of living in community (and maybe Alline’s biscuits and gravy too!)? Come visit us this year to get a glimpse into how we live and how you can incorporate these practices into your own life. There are still two Sustainable Living Visitor Program sessions and several more workshops happening between now and October, how will you choose to get involved?