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Community Leadership in an Ecovillage: A Dancing Rabbit Update

My musings of the last two weeks include questions about what is a leader, how does one lead, and can I make a difference in the world by stepping into more leadership roles.

Hi folks! Prairie here with another update from the northeast corner of Missouri.

Each morning, as I step outside of my little cabin half-nestled in the woods near the Ironweed garden, I am greeted with spritely birdsong and frogs leading their raucous and gravelly melodies at nearby Duckweed Pond. The sun greets the treetops on the east side of Dancing Rabbit’s land, bathing the village in soft ochre light. Ah, spring has finally arrived!

The last two weeks have brought bundles of joy as well as overwhelm. You may have noticed that my location at Dancing Rabbit has shifted; I moved into what is known as Tamar’s Cabin, on the southern edge of Ironweed neighborhood, right next to my fickle friend the garden.

As you may have guessed, the garden has emerged from its dry and brown slumber. It blossoms with duckweed and henbit, as well as poison hemlock and… are those rabbit droppings? Uh-oh. Time to open all the gates and comb the perimeter of the garden to flush out those bunnies.

Ted and I planted rows and rows of peas and spring radishes at the beginning of March, but most of them did not survive the cold wet spell that recently swept through the area. I mourned the loss of those veggies this morning and Ted looked at me calmly and knowingly, and firmly said, “We took a risk planting early. Sometimes those risks pay off and sometimes they do not. It is part of life.”

Indeed. I include Ted in the collage of leaders I look up to and learn from. He has weathered over a decade of gardening seasons, witnessed the ebb and flow of success, the textures of failure and drought, and he is burgeoned with strength and wisdom, and a steady patience that I frequently cannot muster. I am slowly learning that effort of any kind sometimes bears fruit and sometimes does not. The act of moving forward after a loss is the next and often difficult step.

Another incredible leader in my life is my friend and kitchen mate, Idan. Her foray into the tri-communities began with a work exchange at Sandhill Farm and transitioned into a guest stay at Dancing Rabbit last fall. She was raised in a kibbutz in Israel, income-sharing communities historically centered on agriculture. Saturday, March 25th was Passover, the Jewish holiday celebrating the liberation of the Jewish people and honoring the difficult journey toward freedom. Idan facilitated a simplified Seder, a meal that honors Moses and Miriam for their leadership along the journey to liberation.

All of this was very new to me. I had never even heard of Seder. Everyone at Ironweed was delighted to explore the holiday with Idan as our leader. She wove together a beautiful evening that began with an introduction to Passover and a song while we washed our hands. We then consumed a delicious and enormous meal prepared by Grace, Matt and Idan, which included matzo, which is the traditional bread and crackers for Passover. We managed to pull together a variety of matzo crackers, some of which were gluten free, which meant I could indulge as well.

After dinner, we continued the story of Moses and Miriam, shared what we were grateful for, grieved aspects of the previous year, and offered appreciation for one another. It was one of the most beautiful and connecting experiences I have ever had. We wrapped it up with a song and praised Idan for her efforts and commitment to her culture and religion, and for bringing us the gift of sacred ritual.

That experience of connection and growth was kindled by Idan. She was willing to lead us into what was, for most of us, a mysterious unknown. I think the world needs more leaders who are willing to guide people into uncharted territory with courage and compassion. Idan had never led Seder for non-Jews; it took courage from all of us that night.

Bolstered by Idan’s leadership, I doubled down on finalizing the schedule for an open mic event the following Monday, in addition to memorizing the two poems that I would perform. This would be the first time I shared my poetry live in front of more than a handful of people; and I was juggling the logistics of the open mic itself as the coordinator for the event. Was I nervous? Yes.

After several text messages to friends in which I basically said I did not know what the heck I was doing, staring helplessly at the speaker that failed to turn on, learning that the outlet the speaker was plugged into was not, in fact, working, and surrendering to what was, Paula picked up the mic and introduced our first performance: Farmer John with two poems.

I was elated. Suddenly, it was just the crowd and those performing. The sun was warm on my face; my friends were seated around me. The wind was wild and loud, but we weren’t deterred. I tried to settle into the moment and focus on the music, the poetry, and the stand-up comedy. The sun was blazing now and my heart was racing. When Paula called my name, I stood and reached for the microphone. My palms were sweaty. I felt shaky. What if I don’t remember my lines? Those words had been echoing through my mind for the past 36 hours.

I faced the audience, who were my friends, from Dancing Rabbit and Red Earth Farms. I took a breath. And I began.

It was like swimming the freestyle or the backstroke. It was effortless, even when I froze toward the end of my first poem, my mind completely blank. Later, Ted told me it was only five seconds of silence, but it felt like an eternity to me. And then I caught the words again and sank back into the flow. It was like arms slicing through water, legs crisply propelling me forward. I was in an ocean of words and images. Swiftly, I moved through my lines and gestures, breathing life into my words and memories. I loved every second of it, even though my voice and body trembled slightly.

Previously, when I heard the word “leader,” I pictured a CEO, a middle school teacher, a pilot, a yoga instructor, or a business manager of some sort. When I began reading about leadership last summer, my initial conclusion was that I was not, in any way, a leader. I thought, “I don’t lead people. I don’t teach people, train people, provide wisdom…” I’m smiling as I write this. Throughout the last six months, I have done all of the above in myriad ways, from educating new kitchen members on Ironweed norms, to writing articles like this.

Being a leader is a role we all step into, whether we acknowledge it or not. Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach writes, “Leadership is taking care of yourself and empowering others to do the same.

We are all leaders. Who breathes life into our bodies? Who controls which foods we consume? Who chooses to get out of bed—or decides to stay in bed? We are ultimately responsible for leading ourselves, first and foremost, and some of us may also lead others.

I can see now that leading is challenging and vulnerable and requires an armload of courage. But we do it all the time.

I watch for leadership in my community now, and find it everywhere, especially among women in my life: Liz, my ambitious boss and the mastermind of SubHub, Danielle, the brilliant director of our local nonprofit, and Idan, a creative, grounded presence in ritual and connection.

Happy birthday to Taylor, Lauren and Kurt! I’m so grateful that you all have chosen to live your lives at Dancing Rabbit.

Being human can be daunting, overwhelming, and downright terrifying sometimes. I’d like to extend my gratitude to you, wherever you are, whoever you may be, for leading your life alongside the billions of human beings doing the same. Sometimes it takes courage to roll out of bed. Whatever growth edge you are pushing these days, you are not alone. In one way or another, we are all daring to lead.

Prairie Johnson helps with so many projects at Dancing Rabbit! Her energy fuels the DR furnace. We are so grateful to have her on the crew at SubHub, a strawbale community building project.

Special reminder from CSCC: Dancing Rabbit’s mission continues, in large part through donations from those connected to us, like you. Give STL is on May 6th and is your first opportunity to donate, furthering our mission. We appreciate your connection to our village and its continued success!

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