Part of the core of the masonry heater at SubHub. Photo by Liz.

Closing Up 2021 at Dancing Rabbit

I can’t ignore the fact that this DR update comes at the close of 2021, so my writing will have some wrap-up reflections that hit me at this time of the year. But first, this is Liz, bringing you the latest from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

As I write this, I am sitting snug and warm in my one-room cottage, with all of my preparations done for a heavy snowstorm that has already started. I have extra water, stacked logs, and boxes of kindling. I have a week’s worth of food, both for me and my little terror, uh, I mean terrier.

Yesterday I walked over to SubHub, a straw bale building project that I have been working on for several years now, and made sure it was closed up and ready for the storm as well. 

Several weeks ago, we had an open house for SubHub’s masonry heater that we began building a month ago. Allister and Graham did a fine job of hosting. We have been following design plans created by Firespeaking, a company that designs masonry heaters and sells some of the harder-to-obtain pieces for them, like the firebox and oven doors and damper parts. The company also manufactures some of the core parts for each build. Masonry heaters are large wood burning stoves that direct smoke and heat from the firebox through air chambers that continue to burn remaining wood particles. The result is very low emissions, which is a measurement of pollution released to the outside. The bricks of the stove absorb heat, radiating it long after the fire has burned itself out. The result is only needing to fire the stove every other day or so, thereby using less wood.

Building the core for this heater has been an exacting job. We used high heat tolerant fire bricks and mortar (for temps up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit). Everything had to be level and tightly fitted and we had to follow the design plans exactly. I found that having to focus on that exactness was pretty trying for me after spending the fall manifesting free flowing cob walls.

Partly in response to the fire that demolished the Critter Kitchen in November, we decided on a stone mantel for the heater instead of a wood one, for added fire safety. Large slabs of the right dimensions were hard to find, but Allister managed to locate some in Quincy, about an hour’s drive from here. 

This year’s holiday festivities at DR were in stark contrast to last year’s limited group gatherings and for a brief moment, life felt normal again. Rabbits packed themselves into Thistledown for the holiday dessert potluck on Christmas Eve. The nosy neighbor in me delights in seeing what people bring and I love sampling different desserts, like chocolate chip cookies, chocolate-covered orange peel, pineapple upside down cake, and mulled cider. 

Several weeks ago, I was reminded of being a newbie in the Midwest when a tornado watch went out for the region, part of a giant storm that stretched from Wisconsin to Oklahoma. Unlike the matter-of-fact response to earthquakes that I have from a lifetime of living in California, I really had to think through my response to a tornado watch in my county. But one of the wonderful things about living in community is that there is always at least one person to check in with who knows more about something than I do. And then there’s my neighbor across the road, Cat, another transplant from California, to share the confusion with. She shared a livestream link to the storm, with a dedicated young man who sat for hours interpreting the weather map for thousands of followers in different parts of the country. He watched for the combined colors on the moving map that predicted a tornado touching down. My neighbor, Allister, pointed out the difference between a watch (tornado somewhat likely) and a warning (tornado likely and time to head to a shelter), which did a lot to bring my anxiety down. He offered me the Gnome Dome, a tiny abode he built set into a rocky hill, for a shelter just in case – which was ideal, since my dog tends to bark when she’s confined and I didn’t relish the thought of her barking for hours while I sheltered with my neighbors in one of the group storm shelters here at DR.

It was worrisome how warm the weather was for the brunch potluck on Christmas morning. But lugging a casserole dish along with my own plate, fork and mug was certainly easier without ice and snow to slog through. I helped Alline arrange tables and chairs for the event and set up the tables with water jugs and tablecloths while Christmas music played. Again, a familiar feeling swept over me, a reminder of the years I cooked breakfast for guests and workshops for the Mercantile before the pandemic, and how satisfying it was to welcome people and feed them. Again, Rabbits packed themselves into the Mercantile, loading plates from all sorts of dishes. I never know who I’m going to sit next to at these occasions, but they are all familiar, like a large family gathering.

With my son, Graham, in California for the holidays, I drove with my dog, Roxie, that afternoon to spend the rest of the day with my daughter, Talia, sitting down to yet another feast. The day ended with me back at DR and attending several Zoom calls to extended family and my sisters. Zoom calls have become a new tradition for my family on Christmas day and Thanksgiving, since we are scattered in different parts of the world.

Since the holidays there is definitely a feeling in the village of bracing for another COVID surge and people are gearing down their travels and our village communal activities. Our New Year’s Eve celebrations were postponed, although several smaller parties sprang up in its place that night.

After yesterday’s storm dumped about eight inches of snow everywhere, I awoke this morning to a brilliantly sunny winter wonderland, my favorite backdrop for this time of year. I could do without the -16 wind chill factor, but I take it in stride.

And now I leave you with a quote from the infamous Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book, The Art of Living: “Even in our most difficult moments, everything that is good, true and beautiful is already there, within us and around us. We just have to live in such a way that allows it to be revealed.” Indeed.

Liz Hackney is the editor of the Dancing Rabbit Update. She practices qigong (movement meditation) and sitting meditation. She fervently believes that there is joy to be cultivated by resting during this time of year.