The Beauty of Conflict: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Whenever it’s my turn to write this column, I always try to think of a theme for the previous week; some kind of uniting idea or concept always makes it easier for me to decide what to write about, and I imagine that it also makes it easier for readers to follow the random events of my life and life in the village. Well, I’ve looked back on the week, and there is one clear theme that unites the past seven days: conflict.

Christina’s son, Max, playing with homemade slime.

Christina here, writing about disagreements, hurt feelings, and why I think conflict is so great. I am currently on two different committees that deal with conflict, and I spent a total of almost eight hours last week in meetings either talking about conflict, planning to talk about conflict, or directly listening to and talking to people in conflict.  

I also spent many many hours dealing with conflict in my own life — from the appropriate number of spaghetti squash seeds to start for our garden, to whether or not math flashcards are necessary, to how much I want to think about worst case scenarios for the future of the village.

There is plenty of conflict at home, and of course I am perpetually and peripherally aware of conflicts that are happening all around me right now. But something that I am learning is that it has been a great week, not in spite of all that conflict, but perhaps even because of it.

I mean, sure, a life without conflict sounds awesome, and I have to admit that the times that I’m not in conflict with someone I care about are much nicer and easier than the times when I am. A life without conflict would mean that everyone always does whatever I want all the time. It sounds wonderful, right? But given how much I still have to learn about life, and how clueless I can be at times about what’s the right course of action, it’s actually a pretty terrible idea. A life without conflict would also mean that things always go the way that I want them to go, and given this random universe that we inhabit, that’s not exactly a realistic expectation either.

In my last column, I wrote about learning that sharing my needs with friends and neighbors has brought me closer to them. Since we all have the same needs — for trust, or respect, or to be heard, or to contribute — when we express those needs to one another, we realize that we have more in common than we thought.

I am also learning how conflict can bring us closer. I am very much a beginner when it comes to this kind of thing; forty years spent avoiding differences of opinion, angry voices, and hurt feelings means that I have a lot to unlearn, but here’s a bit about what I am working on understanding and living in my own life: I’m learning that conflict happens when people have clashing strategies for getting their needs met.

For example, I might have a need for order and calm, and the strategy that I use for getting that need met is asking everyone to get their dirty dishes off the table right this instant. However, this strategy might clash with my kids’ need for creativity and artistic expression, as well as their strategy for getting that need met, which is to create recycled styrofoam boats, green-dyed homemade slime, and popsicle stick catapults on the kitchen table. We both have needs, and we both have strategies for getting our needs met, but until we recognize those needs in one another and figure out a plan that works for everyone, we won’t get anyone’s needs met. I might have a need — security in my home, or acceptance from my neighbors, for example — and my strategy for getting those needs met might clash with your strategy for meeting those exact same needs. Until we get together in person to talk things out, we will likely continue to struggle without success.

Another lesson that I work to teach myself every day is that seeing the other person, or myself, as bad or wrong for having a conflicting strategy doesn’t do me any good, even though that might be what I have been taught to believe for my whole life. Conflict will be there no matter what; blaming, or accusing, or somehow trying to make things the other person’s fault, really just makes me feel worse.

At the beginning of this column, I said that I would talk about why I think conflict is great, and I guess if you’ve read this far, you’re eagerly awaiting my wisdom on the topic. I have to admit that conflict is still really hard, and stressful, and exhausting for me, so I also need a reminder of how it might actually make my life better, but here are all the ways that conflict has improved my life this week:

  • I spent a pleasant hour connecting with a friend, who I haven’t talked to much in the past few months.
  • I got to know fellow committee members on a deeper level.
  • I strengthened my listening and patience skills, and spent more time on the phone talking to family than I usually do.
  • I got a better understanding of what I value, what’s important to me, and why.
  • I learned to appreciate my kids’ creativity and inventiveness a little more.
  • I got a clean(er) house, eventually.

Living in community has given me so many opportunities to grow and learn, whether I wanted to or not. Sometimes I get tired of learning and wish that things could just be easy for a while, but in the end, I always appreciate my home here and all the ways that living at Dancing Rabbit has challenged me to become a better person.

If you’re eager to challenge yourself to become a better person, visiting our village could be a great way to learn some new strategies that can enhance your life in a wide variety of ways. Over the course of your two-week stay, you will have a chance to see how we at Dancing Rabbit adjust our lives in order to live more sustainably, as well as how you can take some of those practices home with you. You will also get a glimpse at what some of us call inner sustainability: striving to live in social harmony with our neighbors by resolving conflict, adopting language for communicating nonviolently, and learning how to see each of the threads in a complex tapestry of needs and the strategies people use for meeting those needs. There will be plenty of delicious homemade food along the way, as well as time for fun, relaxing in nature, and so much more. Register today, and take another step on your journey to becoming a better person.


A Chorus of Many Voices: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Howdy y’all. Ben here, bringing you my recent observations from the sodden hollows and misty hills of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeast Missouri.

Arthur, outside and on the roof.

Humans are not generally the first thing I interact with in the morning, and that’s been working out for me pretty nicely so far, as well as for the humans. Every morning I am greeted by an ever-insatiable horde of chickens walking up the footpath from their cold season range, traipsing through the fog and mire for snackies. I emerge from my fitful sleep, and before mixing feed, or even pulling on boots I dash to the outhouse and do what people typically do in an outhouse, except that I chirp out in my chicken-voice, “OK chickens, I’ll get your snackies real soon, babies. I’ll get you your snackies.”

The first cock has begun crowing as I run back to the house, and I wander around until I find the appropriate footwear and handwear for morning chores. The morning song and drone has changed in the past week or two. In my anti-meridian slogging I can hear the bark and chirp of robins, redwing blackbirds, and the staccato whine of fidgety sparrows; perhaps even the chittering of a squirrel that has moved into Caleb’s treehouse. I call it Squirrel Caleb.

On sunnier days, bluebirds alight on the portable electric netting containing the goatherd, the youngest of which cry and frolic, similar to my own human herdlings. Having loaded a cart with dogbones, organic layer mash, water, and communal food scraps, I roll downhill. Muscovy ducks nip along or briefly soar as the guardogs dance and pace along the barnyard fence line, sometimes sprinting off to ward away eagles, hawks, whitetail deer, blue herons, or the schoolbus. Chickens and ducks peck the verdant spires of grass while the hogs push their maws deep into the barn mire for a ball of earthworms, or a cache of crabgrass rhizomes. A nanny goat and wether slip out of the barn to call as the pigs and their babies bellow in breast deep mud. It is 6:57 AM and the agricultural zone of Dancing Rabbit has become a cacophony, if not a symphony — more Yoko Ono in tone and timbre than Mozart.

On some days the sun breaks through the veil of cloud, illuminating the maple buds, increasingly verdant grass, tiny patches of henbit, dandelion, and chickweed awakening from their slumber and contraction. Here we are, just passing through the keyhole of our season of hunger, emerging from a time of austerity. My being feels a deep want for green food again, so I grab at a clump of wintercress and snap off the tip of a walking onion, stuffing the whole emerald chunk of dirty, gritty nutrition into my face-hole. After transferring feed to various dishes, the squeal and moan subsides, and I trek my way back to the promise of coffee and waking children.

My day progresses. Sometimes it regresses. I feed my kids, or at least offer suggestions for breakfast, like eggs, since we are literally sitting on 44 dozen of them. Okay, I haven’t literally sat on all 44 dozen of them, but living in a 400 square-foot earthen hovel with hundreds of eggs resting within a dozen baskets causes me to eventually step on one, or smash a few in my hat or pocket.

When possible, I begin a project, like making paper pots for seedlings, adjusting fence, hauling water, haying goats, picking up mulch, fixing carts, hoeing up beds, sharpening tools, fixing things that broke (this week it was the charge controller for our off-grid electrical system), processing firewood, interacting with neighbors, compiling, soaking, washing, rinsing, wringing, or hanging laundry, sorting and cleaning eggs, butchering ducks and old hens, sprouting fodder oats, germinating seeds, fixing gates, picking up debris, tapping maple trees, starting bread, gathering sticks, showing rudimentary care and affection for my family and friends, supporting my math-averse child in her homeschool homework, looking for matching socks, foraging for nutrition, hauling compost, garden planning, posting to Instagram, making transactions on the phone with other farmers, pulling splinters out of my palm, looking for matching gloves, looking for the duct tape, processing my feelings, writing for the village, figuring out how much money I actually have, trying to get my three-year-old to go outside and then subsequently trying to get him off the roof, kneading the dough, making a new a handle for my hatchet, making a new snath for my scythe, peening and sharpening my scythe blade, sweeping, doing the dishes, paying debts associated with our simple lifestyle, apologizing (just kidding), or, perhaps, getting somebody else to do the dishes. (Because I’m a chef, not a cook, and apparently, I’m a bad communist to boot.) In the evening time, after having accomplished, on average, a half dozen of these tasks, I get sleepy, put on some music, and pass out, unless I can’t convince anyone else on the homestead to feed the dogs.

On the still spring nights, walking back through the twilight, I hear the shouts and barks of coyote packs and the song of spring peepers, perhaps interrupted by the passing of an evening train on the tracks two miles away, hooting into the night with its payload of coal. The owls screech and the tallgrass thatch rustles. I hear the electric pop of goat fence shorting out in the damp weeds, and the creak of the tool shed door hinges in the breeze. A woodcock calls its distinct interjection and a coon dog bays.

Is there coming a time in my life when I will feel lonely? Not likely when I’m living here. One of the things I’ve always appreciated, in theory, about this community is that no one lacks a voice who seeks it. It can be difficult to hone my focus through all the squawks, hisses, grunts, shouts, caterwauls, and chirps, but still, as a rule more than an exception, we tend to let folks make their favorite noises here. It serves the entire organism as a whole, and disregards the tastes and preferences of the individual. Me, I personally vacillate between whimpering and yelling, though I prefer to crow, and generally hope to avoid proselytizing.

My voice can only do so much in this context, and it is so important, in a day where social media provides an ear and an eye to so many voices — some of them full of hope, others full of hate — that I use my voice carefully, distinctly. While I truly benefit from writing my thoughts out once a month or so, it now feels better for me to to mute myself and let the whispers and shrieks speak for themselves.

I don’t know if humanity as a whole, as a global species/culture, will rise above its desire for consumption. There is this mytho-poetic image of the snake eating its own tail. Now I’ve met a lot of snakes, and I only ate one of them, but they don’t do that, just like lemmings don’t actually commit suicide. We’re the only species on this planet that actively consumes itself. Is the type of simple living that I promote here the solution? Naw, just a part of it. I have my flaws, and some of them, despite my dedication, lead toward a road to ruin. Y’all do important work too; and yet you’re probably as flawed as me. If we don’t have all the answers, we can still ask all the questions, and maybe asking questions is the biggest way we can care for this planet, and each other. Thanks for asking questions, and listening to the answers provided, within ourselves, and out there in the real world, or what’s left of it. I’m out, for now. Gotta plant these beets.

Would you like to visit Dancing Rabbit and hear from villagers one-on-one? Would you like to spend some time listening to nature’s symphony? Would you like to sneak out to the Fox Hole in the wee hours of the morning and hear Ben’s chicken-voice for yourself? You have a chance coming up soon! Our first visitor session of 2019 starts on April 14th, and we still have a few spots left — you could still have one of them, if you hurry. Click here to start on your application right now. During your visit you’ll get to sit in on a wide variety of workshops covering all kinds of interesting subjects, ranging from communication skills to natural building and renewable energy. Towards the end of the session it might be warm enough to take a dip in our swimming pond before heading in for a delicious homemade dinner, possibly in the company of a new life-long friend. The cost to come for two weeks is only about $50 a day, and that’s an excellent deal, once you factor in the costs of three squares a day, maintenance for tent platforms, and all the time and energy that workshop leaders, cooks, and non-profit staff put in to making everything possible. If you’ve been reading our weekly column for a while you probably know a thing or two about our village, and recognize many of the names, but there’s no substitute for visiting in person. Send in your application now, while you still have time to call in your vacation time at work, and make your travel arrangements. We can’t wait to meet you.

One of Dancing Rabbit's newest inhabitants, delighted by the end of a baaaad winter.

Mud, Muskrats and Merrymaking: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Wow, a lot happened this week, and I think I’m experiencing a bit of whiplash, though that could be from one of the many slips I have taken in the copious mud created by the recent thaw. Ted here, to share the week’s update from Dancing Rabbit as we run up to the spring equinox.

One of Dancing Rabbit’s newest inhabitants, delighted by the end of a baaaad winter.

The nightmare of a cold winter, determined to thoroughly outstay its welcome, turned on a dime to the inevitability of spring. The spring birds all showed up at once. Unlike the past several years, when woodcocks started their “peent!” calls at dusk around my birthday in late February, this year I heard them on nearly the same day that killdeer and robins arrived. Meanwhile, the trio of bald eagles that have graced our local skies all winter are turning their grand circles on decidedly warmer updrafts. Our domesticated birds produced their first baker’s dozen of eggs this week as well — the daily count creeps steadily upward.

I don’t love the extreme mud of the first thaw, especially when combined with heavy rains such as we have had lately. Among other inconveniences, this can mean that some sections of our road, which is nominally graveled, can turn into the most perilous pit of despair for all but our four-wheel-drive truck. I was called to rescue one of our cars, which got stuck in deeply rutted mud on an uphill section of Smith Road while attempting to reach blacktop. Some of our cars don’t have a good point to hitch a tow strap, even if you can get at the undercarriage, and in this case the vehicle was up to its axles, so the only way forward was to nudge it directly from behind, bumper to bumper. I doubted that even the truck could move forward, uphill in the mud against that impediment, but we succeeded in the end.

Ben and Kim have been shuffling buckets full of maple sap back and forth on the path over the past few days. Ever since Alyson gave me a quart as a present during our first winter here in 2003-4, it has been a cherished birthday tradition of mine to drink some maple sap, but that too has been delayed as this has been one of the later years for the sap run. Ben was kind enough to let me steal a glass from one of his buckets (I’m not on the maple team this year), and it was the best thing I have ever tasted, all over again.

Firewood stocking is now fully underway in the village. Kyle led some wood foraging forays to restock supplies for the boiler in the common building, and I pitched in a bit to help with the splitting and stacking efforts, though I am trying to figure out resupply for our home and kitchen as well — we just squeaked by on what I put up last year, along with some older stores. The knot in my neck after that first splitting effort reminded me that I have to work up to the splitting labor, even though I’m tempted to swing for hours right off the bat, it being one of the homesteading tasks I really enjoy.

Troy had a tree service out to bring down a large elm that had long been a fixture over by the Timberframe (so named when it was the first and only such home on farm, in the previous millennium). The tree had been trimmed once before, but was growing ever larger, as trees are wont to do, and blocking solar access for the building as well as reaching a long arm out over Bella Ciao and its solar panels. I was sad to see it go, though it is gratifying to look around and see how much more woodsy the village has become, compared to when I first arrived in 2001. Elm doesn’t split easily, but it is decent firewood, so the more pliant parts of the tree will be put to good use, and Javi took on a lot of the brush for building hügelkultur beds out by the Gil family’s new garden area on Skunk Ridge. Hügelkultur beds, also known as hügelbeets, are raised, untilled planting beds made by burying wood in soil. The wood provides nutrients over time as it breaks down, while also becoming spongy and holding water for many summers to come, for the benefit of cultivated plants.

Thomas has been steadily pruning all the fruit trees around his warren, and also spent some time in the common orchard with Freddi, one of the new recruits to the tree team, which looks after trees in public spaces. That lit a fire under my feet… I have managed to prune my biggest apple tree, but still have to get to the others this coming week. I did at last manage to get our first two trays of seeds planted in the greenhouse, and soon enough we’ll be digging in the garden; it is about time to put in onion starts even though the ground was hard frozen just a week ago.

Dorothy departed midweek for some family time and knee surgery, so I’m coordinating forward progress on her house during her absence. I have also been at work full time building out the porch and starting on the finish floor upstairs, with electrical installations soon to follow. Good’s Construction of Rutledge began in earnest, busily installing the windows, doors and soffits, as well as the fiber cement siding and trim. Ryan, who earlier helped with framing and roofing, also pitched in on the flooring, and Prairie is lined up to help soon.

St. Patrick’s Day, locally known as Bob’s birthday, brought lots of familiar faces to the Mercantile for a tasty supper of corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes, followed by Alline’s extremely decadent chocolate-covered cheesecake. With Guinness and Killian’s in the house, I wasn’t missing anything, and we even managed to get Sara to our sit-down between two all-night midwifery jobs. Thankfully she is now sleeping at home. The Mercantile is one of our favorite places to spend time and enjoy a treat, and if you live within a reasonable distance, you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to come visit us because pizza is served every Thursday from 4PM to 8PM. The desserts alone are worth the drive — last Thursday was March 14th, pi day, so we celebrated π with a variety of pies, including lemon meringue, blueberry custard, chocolate cream and classic pecan.

Curly Sue rounded out the last of this year’s additions to the goat herd with two cute doelings, and Mae pulled the final names out of the hat to complete the baby goat-naming raffle. Sparky christened the blue roan Plevna (which will be accompanied by a number of other honorifics, including Chadwick, in honor of our late Red Earth neighbor Chad’s birthday; we lost Chad this past year). Tereza, down in sunny Texas with Nathan, consulted with Aurelia and came up with Dapple for the thoroughly-spotted babe — that too came with some alternate names, including Jelly-leg in acknowledgement of its woozy first attempts to stand.

Some of the wee goats have not been completely welcomed by their moms, so we have started a rotation of daily visits to the barn to bring some of the moms with surplus milk to the stand to let those little ones get in some nursing time. Aurelia has joined in the effort in my stead. Amazingly, when you rear a child for 12 years, she starts to give back, very capably! She has been doing more and more the past couple years and I’m grateful for her contributions to our family chores.

Frisbee finally appeared on the schedule this week, though the field is recently thawed and will probably be too wet for full play. I can’t remember when I last threw a disc, and I know my legs are out of shape after dusting off my bike to ride over to Sandhill for a pruning session the other day. But I’m extremely excited at the prospect of regular Ultimate games returning to our lives in the near future.

There are a few things (very few) I’m sad to say goodbye to at the end of winter, and the clearest is that with the thaw of the cattail pond, our neighborhood muskrat will likely move out of its temporary home in the culvert under the road in front of my house. It seems to have reached a detente with the cats, as I have seen Wallace and Gromit very near the spot where the muskrat slipped out of sight, entirely unperturbed, as though they had just been playing cards.

I hope the arrival of spring brings you out of winter’s doldrums and into the warm sun, that your seeds germinate and grow happily in the coming weeks, and that the mud doesn’t stick to your feet — unless you like that sort of thing.

The first session in our 2019 visitor program is coming up on April 14th, and you still have a chance to join in. You’ll learn lots of interesting information about our village, how we adjust our lives in many ways to live more sustainably, as well as how we govern our community. There will also be tons of fun, projects to participate in, delicious organic food, opportunities for personal growth and possibilities for new connections with wonderful people. Don’t wait too long to sign up, because slots can fill up fast, and you don’t want to miss out.

Uncle Kurt, with his friends Jennifer and Cynder.

Service for the Soul: A Dancing Rabbit Update

On Thursday mornings I run errands with Uncle Kurt. He’s been doing the Thursday morning errands for quite a while now. (“I’ve been doing it quite a while,” he said, when asked how long he’s been doing it.) “It’s one of my contributions to the community,” he added. “I also like to get to know the locals.” After 18 years living at Dancing Rabbit, Kurt is a local himself, and a trip into town with him proves to me he is a fixture in Rutledge and Memphis.

T here, with an update about life at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Why all the errands? Well, we Rabbits try to reduce our use of cars in order to lessen the amount of fossil fuel pollution we send up in the air. Instead of 31 people running into town on 31 different trips, which would be about 700 miles of driving, Kurt does all these errands in one trip of about 35 miles. (31 errands is the current record.)

Uncle Kurt, with his friends Jennifer and Cynder.

We Rabbits share cars too, instead of everyone having their own. Right now the vehicle co-op has three cars and a truck. One of the vehicles is electric, and we charge it up using solar energy from our panels when we can. I’m happy to report Mel’s Auto in Rutledge just put new winter tires on one car and our truck, so we should have better traction in the upcoming mud season. (With all the snow, ice and rain this winter, I can imagine the roads will be something else.) West of DR is a very steep hill that will challenge the new tires and Uncle Kurt’s driving abilities. East isn’t much better, but a little bit flatter. Whenever I’ve asked Uncle Kurt about the road conditions before our trips into town on Thursdays, his answer is the same: “Good winter driving conditions.”  (He spent many years in Minnesota so take this assessment with a grain of ice-encrusted salt.)

Now more about all those errands: the dogs at DR are spoiled with bones and meat, so our first stop is the meat market in Rutledge. (Can’t beat the price at $1.00 for a bag of bones.) I’m sure Virgil thinks they are worth a million dollars, judging from the way he chews them. Then we double back to Zimmerman’s grocery store, or Zim’s as we like to call it around here. Uncle Kurt has several lists of items from different folks, which he rounds up while strolling the aisles. He knows many of the employees by name. I find that appealing. I did not know anyone at my grocery store in Kansas City, even though it was only a block away and I went there several times a week. Zim’s amazes me with the variety of items they have stocked. Lately, I’ve been getting a nice 5lb bag of apples for less than $4.00. What a bargain! Kurt is the personal shopper for his own household, his kitchen co-op, and Thursday pizza night at The Milkweed Mercantile. I’m not sure I could get the job done as efficiently as he does.

Another little ecological thing we do to reduce trash is we bring our own bags to pack the groceries up in after we’re done shopping. Kurt hasn’t forgotten his bags yet. (I do believe some of them have been making grocery runs for the entire 18 years Kurt has lived here.) I have reusable bags, and I want to use them, but I must admit, I forget them about half the time. I won’t give up, though. I’ll keep trying. It may seem like a small thing, but I think it’s a good thing to do.

Sometimes we have mail or packages to drop off at the post office. Everyone in the village knows Kurt goes to town on Thursdays so they leave things on the counter for him in The Milkweed Mercantile, or drop by about 8AM before we leave to ask him to do something for them. (If you’re interested in meeting Uncle Kurt, his friendly dog Virgil, and perhaps some other folks in the village, swing by for pizza night any Thursday between 4PM and 8PM. Last week, Alline’s desserts were a homemade blackberry jelly roll with whipped cream, and decadent chocolate brownies with cappuccino cream cheese frosting. Get directions from Google Maps and swing on down!)

Back to errands. Next, we hit the road and head to Memphis. (Have you seen the bald eagles along Highway M lately? Some in the village have seen as many as eight, scattered around the treeline.) We’ve seen at least one every time we’ve driven to Memphis for a couple months now. What a sight! The eagles are huge. This week, one was perched in a tree near the road, but usually they are flying. I’m told the one without the white head and tail feathers is a youngster. At first I thought it was just a hawk, but it was obviously bigger; and we do see hawks as well. On our last trip, Kurt pointed out a sparrow hawk, which was pretty small. I enjoy seeing the wildlife on our trips into town.

I also enjoy seeing the livestock. Our neighbors have Angus cattle. A little farther down the road are Herefords. The Herefords remind me of my Grandpa Matthews’ farm near Alma, Missouri. Grandpa always had about 30 Hereford cows, plus calves. (He really loved the little, white-faced calves.) I have good memories of Grandpa when I see the cattle as we drive into town. I also enjoy seeing the sheep and goats along the way. We have goats here at Dancing Rabbit, and guess what: we have nine new kids on the farm, with a couple more on the way. Guess what else: I have entered a raffle to win naming rights to the kids as they are born. I have already alerted my family members that I hope to be naming a baby goat in their honor in the upcoming weeks. (They were not nearly as happy about receiving such an honor as I am happy about bestowing it.)

Before leaving DR, Kurt and I fill up the trunk of the car with boxes and plastic to drop off at the recycling center in Memphis. We have lots of recycling. Folks can load it up and bring it to town and get credited on their monthly bill for car mileage (because we work within a vehicle co-op, everyone records their mileage and pays for it at the end of the month, and it’s all based on the honor system) as an incentive to bring the recycling to town. The system works pretty well. As far as trash goes, our 60 plus people at DR fill one dumpster a week full of trash.

I did an experiment for the month of February to see how much trash I generated myself. I filled up a newspaper bag about 2/3rds full over the month. My February trash weighed 4 ounces. A bag from Amazon, which my new boots were delivered in, takes up much of the room, plus a lot of foil paper tea bag wrappers. (The used tea bags themselves get composted.) I’ll be looking for a tea brand that does not individually wrap the teabags to cut down on my future trash. It may not seem like much, but it seems like the right thing to do for me.

After dropping off the recycling, our first stop is usually the bank in Memphis. Just like the grocery store, Kurt has a pocketful of deposits from various people at DR, so this adds to the total errand count. The tellers at the bank all chime in with, “Hi Kurt,” as soon as we walk in the door. I opened a new account there as well, and I think my money is going to be happier in a small town bank than it was in the city, just like I am. Casey’s is right next to the bank, and we often stop in for coffee or a sandwich. I bought a plastic mug that I can bring back to refill, so I save a little trash from going to the dump, and I also save a buck. I was happy to learn that Casey’s has free air, for when I need to fill up my truck tires. I can’t believe some places get away with charging for it. Thank you Casey’s, for free air!

Kurt got a haircut this week, and I decided to get my beard trimmed up by a professional. My beard was longer than it has ever been in my life, and I’m sure it was past due. We had barely started a conversation, the barber and I, about college basketball and the trimming was all done. Maybe next time I’ll get a haircut too? (That still won’t be a very long conversation as I don’t have much going on in the way of hair.)

I usually call Mom and Dad while I’m in town because I get better phone reception there. I’m enjoying using my electronics, phone, and laptop computer much less since I moved to DR. I still use them and enjoy them, but I’ve become less attached to them. Dad just had cataract surgery which went fine. He said, “Mom says ‘Hi’,” so I didn’t talk to her this week.

As garden season approaches, I’m getting ready, along with my three other food co-op companions, to grow some of our own food. We’ve been laying down cardboard to keep the grass and weeds from coming up, but we have more garden than we have cardboard, so I stopped into The Memphis Mercantile, the appliance side, and inquired about some boxes. They were very nice, and I was able to get several large boxes that will go a long way toward getting our garden covered and ready for spring. (I have been promised by reliable sources that spring will indeed come, even though it seems we have had an endless winter.)

After picking up a prescription at the hospital, we went to Shopko and Jay’s, which is where Kurt and I usually round out our trip into town. We got some dry-erase markers at Shopko to use at The Milkweed Mercantile. At Jay’s, there were three more separate orders of things, which we could not get at Zim’s. I made chili for my co-op earlier in the week, about 4 gallons worth, and I got some tomato paste to add a little more depth of flavor when I upgrade the chili for my cookshift on Saturday. (I heard a rumour that cocoa in small amounts also adds a nice extra layer of flavor to chili, so I may try that. That’s about as fancy as I’ll ever get with my cooking.) By the way, we are very lucky to have a member who owns a farm in Ecuador, where they grow cacao. She often brings home cacao balls for our culinary enjoyment.

I do like to give my dishes fancy names, though, even if it isn’t fancy food. The other day I sauteed some beets, onions, sweet potatoes and regular potatoes. There was a brilliant sunset that night, and with the help of the beets my sauteed veggies took on many of the sunset colors. The fancy name I gave that dish was: Root Veggie Sunset Saute Medley. (I told you it was fancy.)

With the car full and all the errands complete, Kurt and I returned to Dancing Rabbit. (We saw the eagles again on the return trip along with the sparrow hawks.) We unloaded at The Milkweed Mercantile when we got back to the village after another successful errand run. We didn’t set any records this time, but we did have a nice productive trip. It may not seem like much, but a nice, normal, productive trip into town is sometimes a quiet act of heroic service that is good for the soul.

Visitor season is coming up soon! We still have a few spots available for the first session, which started on April 14th. Spring is a great time to come and learn all about how our community does things differently to live more sustainably, as well in harmony with one another. Spots can sell out quickly, so don’t delay – confirm your spot today!

03.05.2019 Prairie

The Rhythms of Life: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Sunday morning stillness; a fresh common space (thanks to our Sunday morning clean team that swept, scrubbed, sorted, shined and all sorts of s-words to make our common house a lovely place); our WIP (Week In Preview): these are the forms in which the week seems to say hello, here at Dancing Rabbit. The steady repetition of familiar activities is one of the critical components that propels this village forward into new beginnings and endings. As the winter season leans toward its end (I wistfully say as we receive yet another few inches of snow), new things begin to emerge into and fall out of the streams of our routines.

Summer reflections on one of our ponds, which everyone here is longing for after months of ice and snow.

Prairie here, with the latest update on life at Dancing Rabbit. The last Sunday of February was the start of weekly samba drumming sessions, led by one of our newest residents: Jason. I had never heard of samba before, but I found within minutes that the rhythms drew me in and moved through my whole body. Jason drummed a call rhythm, and we (the attendees, with musical experience levels ranging from none to vast) played a response rhythm. Then we all played together. The tempo rose and rose … until it all came crashing down in a humorously chaotic finale. Then we started again!

Like my first samba drumming experience, my week was one of rhythmic motion growing in speed until it eventually fell apart, only to rev up again. It all started with getting roped into a “tough mudder”, a 5 kilometer race through an obstacle course, coming in May. Our muddy dream team consists of: Ted, Aurelia, Andrea, Hassan, Alannah, Apple, Ezra, Arlo and I. Since the confirmation of our team Andrea has reserved space three times a week for physical exercise in the afternoons, and because I decided that less than half a week wasn’t enough for me, I hosted an hour and a half of movement practices every morning as well. Now, a week after making that decision, I can say that I am surprised my body hasn’t collapsed from all the physical exertion (though there have been some close calls) — and this is only the first week! In the next two and a half months leading up to the epic day of mud, our team will probably expand our training.

The conveyance of my intentions for the event, and the moments leading up to it, may seem competitive in nature. Truthfully, I could feel my body steeling itself for a rigorous future of cold feelings and sheer determination. It has taken me some time to get to the more profound and humbling truth of the matter: fun. It’s not about winning or losing for my friends. I will be riding one of my growth edges trying to keep this concept in mind; I would give anything to feel more connected to supportive friendship and fun, which I deem to be two of the essential pieces of a harmonious life.

One of the most memorable of the team meet-ups was when we went for a run to Red Earth Farms, an intentional community right next door to us, to help move water for livestock. We ran through nature-made obstacles in the woods on the way back. It was exhilarating! Our feet flew with strength across the frozen ground in time to the rhythms of our pumping hearts. We looked the limits of our physical strength in the eye as we took in the expanding possibilities. Yay for team building!

On another note, here’s a little flashback to February: instead of Valentines Day, at Dancing Rabbit we have an annual Validation Day. The holiday (native to an intentional community in Virginia called Twin Oaks) started with the making of individualized cards for everyone in the village, which Alline collaged this year. (Alline also often makes the desserts offered on Thursday pizza nights at the Milkweed Mercantile. Last week she made a decadent chocolate caramel walnut pie, and a coconut custard pie that was gone within the first half hour after opening. Pizza is served from 4:00 – 8:00 P.M. every Thursday. If you live within a reasonable distance of northeast Missouri, we invite you to swing by and have a beer and a chat with us.) Anyway, after the Validation Day cards are made, folks then have the opportunity to write in anyone’s cards: appreciations, acknowledgments, fond memories, or what have you. Finally, a bunch of folks gathered to receive their cards in a sort of ceremony where everyone gets to play a kind of guessing game. My sister and I facilitated this year’s gathering. We took turns carefully choosing a card made for one of the people present, ensuring no one could see the name on it, and read some of the validations that people had written. Based on that information, everyone tries to guess who the card belongs to. Whenever a correct guess is made, the person in question receives their card. It was a blast, and yet another experience of stepping into leadership for my sister and I — we get a surprising amount of those here at Dancing Rabbit.

And here’s to the two baby goats born this week! The male and female twins, named Goaty-Goat and Happy, are the first of the season. There are going to be at least eight more babies very soon.
The veins of the village are flowing faster. Its heart is beating more and more quickly. The gradual mending and moving of many things, the earlier dawning of the sun, the small streams running cautiously, tides of music rising and falling, and my own body challenged with the task of cleansing itself as muscles break down and form again; I know the rhythms of life will glide in a new direction on its own time.

Want to see the rhythms of life here at Dancing Rabbit first hand? Come to a Sustainable Living Visitor Program and see for yourself what living here is like.

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.

Christina 02.18.2019

Mending a Village: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Everything is different; and likely some things will never be the same around here again. This column is generally about what’s hard and what’s wonderful about living here, and I guess this week is no exception, but there are also many many moments of normalcy throughout the day — along with moments of extreme emotions and beautifully tender care.  

Some of the people of Dancing Rabbit, gathered together to support one another.

Christina here. We have finished the first week of our annual retreat and are about to embark on the second. Normally, this is a time when we come together to make some decisions, to talk about big questions, and to have fun together. As a member of the retreat planning committee, I have spent many hours over the past few months planning these weeks by arranging meals, childcare, meeting topics, and fun events.

Two weeks ago, we realized that we weren’t going to have retreat as planned. We made the decision to drop all of the potentially divisive topics and added multiple sessions for sharing feelings and needs around what is going on, and for talking about some potential strategies for getting those needs met.

I know that it is a hippie stereotype that we sit around and talk about feelings for hours, but I see the work that we have done thus far as a way of laying a foundation for the likely much harder work that is to come in the future.  

What I have experienced is that when I sit in a room with other people and talk about what I am feeling and what I need, and when I listen to others share as well, I realize that people are the same. I might be feeling sad and angry and scared for very different reasons than you, but the fact that we share those same feelings brings us together. You might have completely different life experiences than I do, and you might think that we see the world in completely different ways, but we all share the same needs. We both need security and compassion. We both need to feel seen, heard, and understood. We both need connection and love. When we hear that from each other we come together, instead of splitting apart.

As hard as it can be to witness another’s suffering, I really consider it a gift when a friend or neighbor shares their pain with me. It means that they trust me enough to be vulnerable. I also like to think that maybe it reduces the burden for them — at least a tiny bit. I am grateful that I have time and space in my life for this kind of sharing, and I am very grateful to live with people who value that kind of “meeting.”

During one go-around recently, T commented on how amazed he is to see people actually fixing their ripped clothes. As I have sat next to Sara and Ted throughout many hours over the last week, I have had the privilege of observing them sew through a year’s worth of ripped pants, shirts, and sweaters. What has been the most entertaining, though, is watching Sara repair a damaged sweater by adding swirls of brightly colored wool.  Over the course of many sittings, she is slowly transforming a simple gray sweater into a work of art.

There is something beautiful and symbolic about repairing those damaged clothes. Rather than throw them away, assume they aren’t useful, or give up on them altogether, they work on them. It’s not that the sweaters will ever be the same again. In fact, they might have weak spots that will continue to rip and tear. But the new version, the one with the colorful patches, can be more beautiful than the original.

Right now I can see the tears and rips in the community fabric, and I know that we have barely begun to think about how we might repair those holes. I maintain hope that we are able to mend ourselves and each other in a way that will result in a damaged, but more beautiful, village.

I know that if there is a group of people anywhere who can come together, support one another in these extremely hard times, and figure out a way to get through this stronger and more connected than before, I am sharing a community with those people right now. Of course, we will continue to rip and tear that fabric in many more ways in the years to come. Working together, we will add patches, sew up the holes and figure out ways to keep things together.


Monsters and Ice: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Howdy y’all. You know, whenever I have a hard time talking about what’s really going on — or worse, no idea what the other party could possibly be thinking — I like to discuss the weather instead. So I think I’ll start there.

Ben’s chickens scrabbling for oats in the snow.

Ben here, writing to y’all from the icy physical and emotional purgatory that is Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, tucked away in the impassibly slippery rolling hills of Northeast Missouri. This has been the hardest winter I’ve ever experienced, maybe. Then again, I’ve been through some pretty hard ones. Everything outside is glazed over in a thick layer of perilous, unstable ice. As of this morning there is just a dash of snow on top. Making it to the barn, the outhouse, or the nearest “frost free” hydrant is like traversing a glassy stream of discarded banana peels beneath a veneer of deceptively fluffy little beads of ice. I’ve had hay carts fishtail about. I’ve seen bloody chins, and made unintentional snow angels upon the cold gravel. I’ve found it nearly impossible most days to make it off farm to stock up on necessities, like hay, dog food and other vittles.

Not only am I physically marooned here for the time being, but I’m emotionally and intellectually trapped; forced to confront daily the horrific news here. It is not lost on me that I have to be very conscious about my words, as do we all. Being careful with my words isn’t something I ever seem to do when speaking, (I also use a few more expletives than when I’m writing) and I don’t particularly enjoy writing, at least not about child sexual abuse. But somehow, for no understandable reason, that is what my week has been about. That and I think I want to take up bobsledding.

Knowing what to say to my children, my family, my friends, and neighbors is difficult. I hardly have words; hardly know what or how to think, and I know very little about where others are at. I’ve said it before, but this place is too disagreeable to form a cult around. There is no groupthink, no status quo statement that can speak for all of us. Our whole system of governance is based on taking into account nearly every present viewpoint on an issue and melding it all into something that isn’t particularly thrilling to anyone. (It’s called consensus, you should check it out.)

While in the past I’ve occasionally wanted the work I do writing for the newspaper and website to be financially compensated, I feel very fortunate to be able to offer my perspective, whatever that is, as a volunteer and as someone independent of our non-profit organization. I’m not selling anything, at least not today. What I can say is that, from where I’m standing, nothing makes sense anymore. As I see my friends and neighbors pulled into this ongoing investigation, including my own child, what I want is for this to be just another nightmare; something erased and made null by the light of day. But no, it’s a slippery h*ll-hole; one where I must navigate my own feelings of fear and betrayal, and show up to have the hard conversations with my own children explaining to them that those times when I told them that monsters don’t exist were well-meaning lies, that the world does contain in it some form of evil. The whole time I have to spin through the facts, rumors, self-created innuendo and conspiracy theories in order to reckon with the fact that something so horrible can happen — does happen — in every community, and has happened for all time.

Unlike some others, I did not move to community because I have an innate trust in humanity. I came here because I was sick of seeing how people treat each other and completely desecrate their own surroundings. I wanted to try something different. As a young father, I came here because I wanted an environment where the greatest risk my offspring could encounter was something physical, like falling off a sled, getting snagged on a barbed wire fence, or falling face first into frozen creek mud; something where they might shed some blood, but where they could also hold onto their hearts. (Not like the environment I grew up in.) Personally, without kids, I’d have chosen to sleep in a hollow log rather than Dancing Rabbit. It better suits my winning combination of self-important and self-defeating tendencies.

My days are filled with bumps and bruises. My little boy is almost three. He falls down, pinches his fingers between magnets (I stash a lot of magnets), somehow manages to clock himself in the eye with a toy truck, and he seems to get stung by bees more than anyone else I know. This stuff happens every day. In fact, anytime we get our strawbale home above sixty degrees, hornets fall out of the cracks in the ceiling, so he’s almost been stung twice this week. I tend to his wounds, no matter how superficial they seem, and I tell him that he will be okay. Maybe I distract him with a snack. Now, when I pick him up from his bumps and bruises, I feel like a liar. Sometimes I can hear the murmuring of others, folks who I do or do not know. I feel their questioning: whether we are doing enough, whether we are doing the right thing, whether or not it’s anybody else’s fault, other than the abuser, when children are abused. Sometimes I’m the one, murmuring these things to myself.

Well, I’ve lived here a long time, y’all. I am not to blame. This community is not to blame. After learning there may be a monster is your midst, finger pointing does little. Words fail. Actions speak volumes. I didn’t come here to talk, I came to this place to act, and I believe in justice for all people. How those scales tip is up to the individual. Crimes against children are the worst injustice, and I have no doubt that they will continue to occur among our species, being the sick, mixed up, traumatized bottle of humans that we are. If my words don’t work, if they fail us, well then I have a quote; and I hate quotes.

This one is commonly attributed to Mark Twain, but it actually belongs to Friedrich Nietzsche. Frankly, I prefer Twain to Nietzsche. Mark Twain was a local boy to here, and a fairly clever one. Nietzsche was a proto-Nazi, and a philosopher to boot. If anybody ever proclaims themselves a philosopher to you, I highly suggest finding different company, and if they quote Nietzsche, then just run as quick as you can. It’s difficult to escape the pretense, but here I go. What Nietzsche said was, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Cool, Fred. I get what you’re saying. But here’s the deal. My own child is being interviewed by the state. Of course, like anyone, I hope this isn’t true. I hope it’s all a bad dream. But as my granddaddy said to me, and I quote, “Boy, you can hope in one hand and [expletive] into the other. Tell me which one fills up faster.”

I don’t know what’s happening here. Information comes in at a trickle. But don’t ever doubt that I — that we — aren’t doing enough. As you know, we are cooperating with this investigation, and that comes with challenges. I strongly suggest that if anybody doubts my effort, my struggle, or the bigness of my compassion, that they come here, carefully shuffle a mile in my frigid boots across this forsaken tundra, and say it to my face.

I believe in justice. That’s what ultimately motivates my existence here. And I’ve been thinking about predator/prey relationships a lot lately. Just a little bit ago, I went out into the still winter silence to get some air; get away from this screen full of words. My daughter was sitting still as the ice, her outstretched, ungloved hands full of grain, training the chickadees to come, trust her, and take oats from her hand. The chickadees know she’s big, scary, and dangerous. But with time, they gather at her feet, and next to her body, taking the offerings she’s scattered. Up in the gray sky a bald eagle is soaring, hunting. The lazing barnyard dogs take notice, pirouet and bark, scaring it off from the huddled groups of chickens and ducks. The chickadees can do nothing but trust. This is a harsh winter, and they must risk their own lives to take the oats, to see to it that they have a future in this place, that they can go on to rear their young in the springtime that must eventually burst forth. The eagle is not a monster. The eagle is the same as the chickadee. It takes great risks to tear forth and dislodge a piece of meat from the icy landscape. It only does what it does in order to survive, in order to provide for its unhatched offspring.

There aren’t any monsters in the natural world. Monsters are a human construct, and only humans can become monsters. But it is only we humans who can do battle with the monsters, ourselves. No chickadee, nor eagle, nor trained dog can balance out the scales of justice, only we can. And things aren’t going to get any better if we don’t. That’s why most of us are here. I don’t want to defend myself, or my family, or my friends and neighbors, no more than I want to offend any of them either. I’d rather live by deed than by word, and so I will stop offering any more words to y’all. What I can do is be honest and compassionate with myself and with my family. And I think I know how to do that. But I honestly do not know what’s going on, or how this is going to impact the community I’ve helped to nurture into being, and the not knowing, that’s what’s killing me.

Editor’s Note: This is one person’s valuable take on the most challenging situation Dancing Rabbit has ever faced. As always, other folks in the village have a range of different points of view.