Happy Sun Return: A Dancing Rabbit Update

As long as we have kept chickens — which our oldest Speckled Sussex hen, Rose, tells me is something like nine years now — I have noticed that within a few days of the winter solstice, egg production starts to rebound. Laying is influenced by light exposure, and it only takes a few minutes shift in day length for the hens to respond. Ted here to bring you the final column of 2018 from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, as our days have started to grow longer again.

The smiling faces of some who gathered to greet the returning sun on the morning after winter solstice, from left to right: Danielle, Alyssa, Sara, Alyson and Ted. 

I recently returned from three weeks away in Virginia with family, and could not help noticing a familiar sense of relief; mostly it comes in the form of knowing a lot more about the food I’m eating, and being able to adhere to different, more familiar social standards. (Dark secret: I am a plate-licker, because it makes the washing easier; and if the food was good, why waste any of it?). Home is here as I work on my 16th year in Northeast Missouri.

My return also landed in the few days running up to the winter solstice, which some of us, my family included, tend to celebrate instead of Christmas. Solstice morning we opened presents together. My natal family learned years ago that that is our way, and sent presents home with me. They also know I’m a foodie, so among other gifts I had some tasty snacks to keep me going on the road as well as a new slate cheese board, complete with slate cheese signs to label in chalk, to stick in different cheeses when I offer them at a potlucks or other gatherings. Thanks for your generosity, friends!

Among other events this week, Danielle offered a day-long workshop on breathwork during the shortest day of the year, with more than a dozen in attendance. All of the participants I saw afterward certainly seemed bright and well-oxygenated. Some shared the artwork inspired by their experience.

On the evening of the solstice there was a gathering in la Casa, one of our shared village spaces used for business meetings and social events, where lots of us came together for rhythm, art, lounging, laughter, singing, and a sleepover. My partner Sara opened things with a reading of a book called The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer and Jesse Reisch, describing the history of solstice celebrations in various cultures around the world, which we read each year to our daughter Aurelia when she was a wee child, and which still helps to broaden understanding for those who didn’t grow up knowing the significance of the winter solstice.

Jason, one of our newer residents, brought his drum kit — complete with a 50s-era hard suitcase to use as a bass drum. Baigz from Sandhill, one of our neighboring intentional communities, rounded up all the available hand drums from our common building and brought them over as well. Jason built up a sweat while he kept up a steady, ever-shifting rhythm without cease for two hours or more as various folks dropped in and out along the way with other percussion. Some danced along, and toward the end a group of folks added some amazing vocal improvisation. The silence after that sound meditation was stunning! Sleeping bags were brought out and wrapped around those staying for the sleepover, while the rest of us bundled up and trickled out toward home under a lovely, haloed full moon.

Next morning a handful of us gathered again at dawn out near the playing field, which is the highest point of land in the village area, to witness and welcome the sun’s return above the horizon after the longest night of the year. Hoar frost had coated every possible surface in the night, and the sun lit up a sparkling galaxy of living light as it arose over our gentle eastern slope. Rosy, smiling cheeks and some brief singing and ululation ensued before we each wandered off to our respective days, now lengthening again.

None of this is to suggest I’m closed to Christmas or other holiday celebrations — who can pass up Thistledown’s annual Christmas Eve cookies-and-cider soiree, or the Christmas morning potluck brunch at the Mercantile? Kyle also announced a Boxing Day bash at his home, the Gnestle, along with dancing at the Casa for the night after Christmas. We even have more presents to open at our house thanks to Sara’s parents, who visited to share their joy of the holiday with us before heading off to celebrate with other family members elsewhere. The more holidays, the better, I say!

Most of the spare time in these short but comparatively mild days since my return has gone into work on the goat barn, where Mae had been doggedly toiling at putting up siding and adding some windows in my absence. We worked together for a few days as I got back on the task of attaching purlins to the rafters, moving closer and closer to adding the roofing itself, which had arrived shortly after I departed for my trip. If the weather holds up, and we get enough low-wind days to allow it, we ought to have the goats under better shelter within a week or two.

Now from the many-hands-make-light-work department: despite having called a work party for Monday morning to get new plastic sheeting on his newly-erected hoop house down in the lower barn yard, Ben ended up getting it done Sunday evening, and so cancelled for the following morning. But those seeking a group work event won’t be disappointed — I’m shortly heading out to the latest wall-raising event out at Dorothy’s house on Skunk Ridge, where Bear is leading a late-season charge to frame up Dancing Rabbit’s newest home. Update: the latest wall was successfully raised. The space takes shape… It has been fun to hear two crews at construction work not far from each other, while at the barn lately.

One of 2018’s new residents, who goes by T in order to avoid being confused with the other Troy in our village, noted the value of a good rideshare, and how we conserve fuel and other resources here. (T is a regular contributor to our weekly column, and you can read lots of his hilarious work at his blog.) He rode with Kurt for the weekly Rutledge-and-Memphis trip he has done like clockwork, with rare exception, for many years now. He is always open to doing errands, drop-offs, and pickups for others while he’s out there, and this week T recorded that the trip included 21 discrete errands performed at 13 discrete stops in a little over three hours. Wow! Thanks for being one of the village anchors, Uncle Kurt.

Though it is several weeks past now, I want to share the result of a talk I gave out in Virginia in late November to the Fredericksburg Torch Club, which gathers monthly to sup together and hear a talk on one subject or another. I titled the talk “Climate Change and the Power of Community”, and covered a brief survey of the ecological state of things in the world as detailed by the latest UN and US climate reports, as well as what we’re doing here at Dancing Rabbit, and my belief that joining in various forms of community is one of the most powerful tools we have to face the challenge of climate change. The event went well, with an engaged audience that included some local high school students and questions that filled all the available time.

I had only barely made it to the talk in time, my train trip having been extended by an early-season Midwest blizzard. Unseasonal events do happen, but they are happening with ever greater frequency and intensity, impacting more and more people and places with each passing year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the hottest years on record have all happened in the past 20 years, with all but two in the past 10. I believe we must alter our collective behavior and learn how to live happily (and bountifully!) with less, especially here in the US where the average citizen has as much as 30 times the impact of someone living in the developing world. The future appears more dim the longer we wait to reduce our impacts.

Dancing Rabbit’s work in the world is to demonstrate one sustainable alternative to the current norm. As we head into the new year, we hope you’ll keep in touch and start thinking about visiting us in 2019 — now is a great time to apply for our Sustainable Living Visitor Program, before all of the available slots have been taken. You can check out the schedule and send in your application at our website. It’s also not too late to make a charitable donation to our educational nonprofit for 2018, if you feel moved by the holiday spirit to help support our efforts toward a more sustainable and cooperative culture.

Happy Sun Return to all our friends out there! And may all your celebrations be warm and in good company.

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