Life on the Ark: A Dancing Rabbit Update

In a rare moment in which it is not actually raining, Ben scythes a path to a tent platform. Photo by Katherine.
In a rare moment in which it is not actually raining, Ben scythes a path to a tent platform. Photo by Katherine.

Here I sit, clicky clacking away at this infernal alphabet machine, my child, slowly but assuredly growing to become a six-year-old, ensconced in our family sleeping bag. The three of us lie on the floor, Althea, myself (Howdy, I’m Ben), and what seems to be my other child: a quickly developing orphaned Muscovy duck, named Martha. Or is it Banana bread? I just call it Duck Duck.

Well, the three of us are just sitting here relaxing on the half-built floor of our too dog-gone tiny strawbale home. I only call it that because it’s too small to eat dinner in, unless the dog’s gone. She’s not a tall dog, just a wide dog.

I’d like to think that it isn’t too uncommon for folks to live in a home built of straw, sand and earth, or have a pet duck, or have many multiple ducks, or all three. In fact, I predict that sort of thing will become a lot more popular in the future. Y’know, like sharing vehiclesrenewable energysunchokes, and Google spreadsheets.

Here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, we’ve basically got a bunch of creative, skilled, and dedicated people who are living and experimenting on the edge of some new sustainable frontier. We are doers, makers, builders, growers, parents, superheroes, bakers, nurses, midwives, and accountants. Me, I’m on the very sustainable frontier of edible pets and compostable chicken houses.

Well, if I’m here to describe the week to you, I may as well start off with the weather. Weather’s been rough.  I may as well paraphrase the postcard I sent home from Scout camp, twenty years ago:

“Dear Mom,

My patrol mates left the zipper of our tent opened, then it rained 5 and 5/8 inches, and it flooded a little, and my socks got wet and now it’s sixty degrees on the eighth of July, so I have cold feet and mosquitoes at the same time. I’m okay. Troop leader Bill says we’re out of baloney sandwiches and we have to eat oats from now on. He says if we want baloney for the full two weeks, we gotta sell more popcorn. And the foxes are eating our livestock.

Love, Ben”

That’s pretty much what happened. Except that my tent is bigger, and more compostable, and has batteries in it. And there is no troop leader Bill.

Weather can be especially hard on eco-villagers. We are actively building and growing our lives. Weeks of heavy rains can ruin a crop of potatoes, flood a foundation, spit a cistern ten feet out of the ground, drain batteries, prolong construction, wash away cars and rust bike chains. Some of us, mostly the goats, get the mush foot. That’s when your feet make a mushy sound, even on dry earth, ‘cuz they’re caked in Northeast Missouri clay. I’ve got it chronic.

I’ve got a puddle between the door to my house and the door to my outhouse. It gets powerful deep on a stormy night. And then you’ve got to jump two foot over some very vigorous squash vine. We have no immediate solution for keeping firewood dry in 35 mph horizontal rains, and we rely on it for every cloudy day meal, which is a lot, these days. I heard the governor is going to ask the president for some flood money. Can I get some potatoes?

I live at Dancing Rabbit because I’m living my dreams. Sometimes, it means that I’ve got to live my bad dreams, too. I don’t know of anywhere else where that isn’t the case. But I never had any jobs where I got to hold ducks all day, or build super cool forts with my friends, or teach my own child. Perhaps some folks would rather be audited than have to wear a sweater indoors on a winter’s day, let alone forage greens for dinner, or use an outhouse. Don’t worry, you can get audited here, I’m pretty sure. But I’ve got great neighbors. I can get advice on pruning a fruit tree, laying a wood floor, delivering a baby, harvesting soybeans, or installing a wind turbine, all within a walkable distance. It’s like the internet, but healthier, and probably more accurate.

This morning I mowed a path around a chin high paddock of bee balm and partridge pea, seemingly blossoming in the morning heat. It didn’t get a degree below 77 last night. I have heard my first cicada buzz. Dewberries abound, while the blackberries groggily darken. The blue heron that hangs out down in our bottoms has found a mate. The fields are so serene I almost forget that I have gnats buzzing in my chigger bites, third degree sunburn, one trench to fill, two to dig, and we’re out of oats.

Still, this is the simple life, perplexing as it can be. I see no sense in lying about sustainability being easy. It is at times an exceedingly difficult undertaking, especially when the climate we are trying so hard to keep stable winds up and tosses a curveball at us. Still, it isn’t as futile as, say, keeping your lawn green in Malibu, or extracting tar sands. For the last month or so of my life, my quest to remain sustainable, stable, and sane has more or less paralleled Noah and his troubles. A lot of walking animals, often two by two, out of the torrents, and a little bit of people thinking that I’m crazy. Like a fox.

When the waters recede, I hope to stick my head out of this here ark and probably look across a soggy vista of gleeful, worm devouring ducks and mud streaked children, carrying sheaves of lambsquarter and and feral mustard across the dawn meadows, beneath puttering windmills in a global village of our making.

This ark’s a bit tight for seven billion and one of us humans (not to mention everyone else) and it ain’t no pleasure liner. But when I look at the alternatives to the alternative, I think it’ll have to do. By golly, we may all have to learn to get along if we wanna make this thing work.

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By the time you read this, a new group of visitors will be exploring Dancing Rabbit, learning about community and ecological living, and finding out if DR might be home. If you want to be part of either of the two remaining visitor sessions in 2015, apply soon, as spots are filling quickly!

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Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is an intentional community and nonprofit outside Rutledge, in northeast Missouri, focused on demonstrating sustainable living possibilities. Find out more about us by visiting our website, reading our blog, or emailing us.

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