Prairie next to her wood pile.

Gathering for Retreat: A Dancing Rabbit Update

What do winter preparations look like for folks at Dancing Rabbit? What happens to the garden? Do kitchen co-ops change? What’s Trick-or-Retreat?

Hi friends! Prairie here, with another update on Dancing Rabbit ecovillage, and some answers to those questions.

Each year the village gets together for a retreat, with activities that encourage us to reflect, inspire, and connect about the village as a whole. With COVID’s presence making it challenging to congregate indoors, we decided to split our usual winter retreat into two events: one at the end of October, where we could gather outside with milder weather, and another next year. Thus, our retreat became “Trick-or-Retreat,” as the end of it flowed into what we call Hallerween.

On the first day of retreat, Danielle and Katherine made the call for staying inside (and using Zoom) or gathering outside for sharing what the last year has been like for each of us. I then reviewed with the group about what we call Open Space Technology (OST), which is a process that helps groups create a structured, but fluid, agenda. Group members suggest topics on village issues that are important to them to discuss during the retreat, and the most popular topics are inserted into a schedule that then becomes the schedule of meetings for the retreat.

To encourage spontaneity and inject a sense of fun into the OST process, there are OST principles that guide the group. They are: whoever comes to each meeting are the right people, whatever happens at a meeting is the only thing that was meant to happen, whenever a meeting starts is the right time, and whenever the meeting ends is the right time for it to end.

OST principles also give us the Law of Two Feet, stating that if, during the course of a meeting, a person feels they are not learning or contributing, they can use their two feet to move somewhere more productive. Finally, there are categories of people called Butterflies and Bumblebees. Butterflies tend to commit to one place and dive in, sticking through the meeting until the end, while Bumblebees flit from place to place, bringing fresh perspective and ideas. Both types are welcome at the meetings.

After presenting the OST introduction, I remembered that my lungs required oxygen, and I took a breath. I had been feeling nervous before and during the short speech. But as Eric reminded me that morning, my anxiety is a sign that I care. I wanted people to understand how we do retreat, and for it to be fun and inclusive.

My favorite aspect of OST is watching my fellow community members step forward and announce what they are excited for, or curious or passionate about.
Because we allocated two days for meetings, and only three or four time slots per day, multiple sessions inevitably commenced simultaneously. This worked just fine because there were four locations set up for meetings.

As the schedule began to fill, I knew I wouldn’t be able to attend everything I wanted to. That is why we have meeting notes, and a review of the day. I may miss the in-person discussions, but at least I can get the gist later. There were meetings on pets, our ecological covenants, maintaining connections with COVID awareness, and what it might look like to have a local time bank, just to name a few.

Lunch and dinner retreat meals were served outside on the Mercantile porch. The cooks (from Red Earth Farms and DR) served us individually. Everyone was masked, and most ate outside.  I love retreat meals because it often gives me the opportunity to connect with people I don’t interact with on a regular basis, or in a deep way.

My favorite retreat activity is what we call deep check-ins, where we sit in a circle and take turns sharing, for a few minutes, personal snippets of how our year was for us. Often emotional, always intimate, and immensely connecting in my experience, deep check-ins nourish the part of me that yearns for more depth with the people around me. I am regularly surprised by what I hear from people. As it turns out, just because we live within a mile radius of each other doesn’t mean we know everything that is going on in one another’s lives. I respect and enjoy privacy, but it is wonderful to hear how someone is truly doing.

The end of October brought my work exchange with Ironweed garden to a close, and I sit now with a mixture of relief and wistful curiosity. I am more than ready for longer breaks from the garden and more time to tend to my other responsibilities. But I miss hours of sunshine on my skin and feeling a thick layer of dry soil make a home of the creases in my hands, fingers, and toes. I managed to once again forget to marvel at my own work, but I am slowly remembering to cherish the resulting harvest and wellspring of knowledge I am gaining from that tangled, frustrating, amusing, and wholesome experience. And honestly, I learn the best from my failures… as long as I fail over and over again.

I plan to spend a solid portion of the last of these beautiful warm days preparing beds for next year. This involves turning the soil with a broadfork, adding several wheel-barrow loads of manure, mixing the two, spreading out the soil evenly, and mulching with straw.

Every October Critter Kitchen, an outdoor kitchen that uses wood for cooking, closes for the winter. As a result, people who eat communally at that kitchen have to find other places to eat for the winter. Skyhouse kitchen is being utilized once again by half a dozen people. Eric and Paula are now eating with Ironweed kitchen. Idan, who just finished her internship at Sandhill Farm, is also eating at Ironweed. When I say it is cozy in there now, I mean it, especially now that we are using the wood stove to heat the space. 

Ted had the grace to tutor me on cleaning chimneys in order to prevent chimney fires that can occur when creosote builds up on the inside of the chimney and then condenses and stick to the sides.

Ted and I cleaned my chimney too, and now I can safely burn as much wood as I need. Most villagers purchase firewood locally and split and stack enough, ideally, for the entire cold season. This was the first year that I purchased and split the wood I will use this winter. It took many hours, frequent swings that met only the chopping block, and intense focus, so as not to dismember myself. I got through one load with all limbs intact, and I am waiting for the second to arrive. Wood really does warm the body twice!

On the last day of October we celebrate Hallerween with a village tradition called the Progressive Fiasco, where a group of costumed villagers stop off at different houses in the village where treats await them. I spotted Katherine dressed as a carrot, Lauren as Frida Kahlo, Taylor as Gandalf the Wizard, Cole as a gumball machine and Alyson as the Grim Reaper.

The Fiasco started at Skyhouse with a wood fire and hot cider. Next, we made our way to Moonlodge, Lauren and Taylor’s abode. There we found cookies and graham crackers topped with cream cheese and jam that were supposed to represent band aids, Althea’s idea for a spooky snack. On to the Gil’s patio where we were greeted by another blazing fire and more snacks. I caught glimpses of Nina as a ghost, Tom as a satyr, and Mae as Little Red Riding Hood. Our final destination lay outside of Arune’s house. I think this stop was the spookiest of all. I’ll leave that up to your imagination.

A dance party then ensued at the La Casa community building. That might have been my favorite event of the night. There is nothing quite like moving with dozens of people, some inside, some out on the porch, masked and unmasked, dancing like no one is watching.

Through varying levels of interaction and experience, we are all connected at Dancing Rabbit and in the tri-communities.  I am beginning to cherish every person in my life, every wave and smile. These are acknowledgements of our shared humanity, and all that that encompasses. We are frail, fallible, confused, reticent, and mercurial, as well as authentic, vulnerable, open, humble, and compassionate.

I love the land here, the animals and plants, the changing seasons, life and decay. Nature is my home, and so are the people I have found in it at Dancing Rabbit. I hope you find your home in yourself and the people you love, however near or distant they are to you.

Prairie Johnson is a resident of Dancing Rabbit ecovillage. She is the newest crew member of SubHub, a natural building project in the village. Prairie has tried her hand at pretty much every aspect of life at DR.

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