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.

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