Ni hao-dy, Y’all: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Gyoza, cooked for community dinner by our visiting group from China. Photo by SunGee.
Gyoza (Chinese dumplings) cooked for community dinner by our visiting group from China. Photo by SunGee.

Ni hao-dy y’all. That’s a Missourian Mandarin greeting for just regular, plain, old howdy.

This is Ben, with a special global edition of my irregular missives from Dancing Rabbit. No, I am not writing to you from anywhere other than Northeast Missouri, where I sure enough ought to stay. You see, an ecovillage attracts lots of different sorts of human beings. Some of these people are travelers. They like to go to places that must seem fascinating.

Being a half-hour (tops) bike ride to the Rutledge Dog and Gun Exchange is a fascinating enough cultural immersion for me, but there are others who choose to experience a wider view of the planet than I tend to experience down here in the hollers of NEMO. Now I will not attempt to discourage any potential readers from global travel, but that’s mostly because I believe folks will do what they do.

But, y’know friends, for most of human history, people didn’t just go around here and there like it was nothing. In fact, we aren’t too many generations off from a time when folks didn’t hardly leave the county, let alone the country.

I have ecological reasons for not going anywhere, as well as personal ones. The personal ones are namely that I do not do well with airports, foreign or domestic governments, or money. I don’t even think the new U.S. currency looks real, let alone something with some fake-sounding monarch emblazoned across it. I’ll take ELMS (our community currency) over that.

Anyhow, between the goats, sheep, donkey, and a hundred and a half odd birds, I don’t reckon I’ll be going anywhere at all for a long while. Northeast Missouri is perfectly splendid enough for me in these days of lingering dew, bergamot blossoms, and cicadas. Perfectly splendid, and oddly un-August like.

Most of this past week we’ve been having some funny weather, more Pacific Northwest than Heartland. What in tarnation is going on with the climate these days? Oh wait, I think I know.

In the morning our barnyard is fogbound, punctuated by the ghostly silhouettes of chickens and ducks in the mist. When the sun shows up, if it ever does, dewdrops linger along the cornsilk and drip from the flowering grasses and forbs.

Bobolinks sometimes decide to grace the drooping heads of our sunflowers, but more often than not it’s sparrows. Mice of the sky, I call them, another flourishing species successful if only because of our own human habits. Good for nothing but biomass and cat food, I say.

The nights are often quite cool, as illustrated by numerous tomato plants that seem to be lurching towards ripeness, as opposed to their typical profusion of fruits this time of year. On the plus side, it isn’t a hundred five degrees and dry, like the last coupla three years.

So the unseasonably mild weather has been strange enough, but this past week, in my experience at least, has grown more and more surreal with each passing day. Not choosing to travel much due to my carbon diet and general state of overstimulation, I’ve still been honored by the presence of folks from other parts of the world. Most of them are here at Dancing Rabbit this week.

First there were Laura and Kasper, two friends of Stephen. They’re from Denmark, which sounds sort of like Dancing Rabbit if it had about six million people and a queen. Apparently, the bicycle infrastructure there is solid, with segregated bike lanes and great swaths of the city totally car-free, and the nation as a whole is attempting to significantly cut its carbon emissions. Though these steps are still small, it ought to serve as an example about how a new, environmentally aware cultural political paradigm can exist without having to look like the apocalypse.

Then there’s China: a huge nation, growing rapidly, which means burning lots of lots of petroleum. I might not get out much, but if the issues of National Geographic in my outhouse are to be trusted, it seems like things are really picking up speed over there. No, I don’t think it’s good.

Like a lot of the world, the population of China is urbanizing, disconnecting from its land, as it were. Sometimes I reckon human beings think the planet’s resources and ability to heal itself grows with the economy. I might be over here, down in the hollers, unable to see much more than these hills and fields, but a lot of the world’s population is increasingly unable to see much more than concrete tenements, power lines, and the eerie flicker of a proxy planet on screens.

The idea of places like Chicago, or Kansas City, freaks me out enough, with their respective masses of humanity and sprawling asphalt anacondas suffocating the land, let alone a city like Chengdu, which has something like 19 million people. So yes, when a large group of folks came to Dancing Rabbit all the way from Chengdu this week, it was a little surreal to me.

I knew this was supposed to happen. Hosting a group from China was a known fact for about a year. I guess I forgot until I went down to the common house one day, and realized that there were a lot of new people, most of them speaking in their home tongue.

I reckon that the Chinese folk visiting here are in just as much a surreal place as I am, being as though we are one of the few parts of America where people share cars, compost their own manure, and live in strawbale homes. I don’t imagine they thought the United States would be quite like our quaint yet highly important experimental village.

On their second evening here, we were honored to attend a cultural exchange. Most of my knowledge of China comes third hand from magazines and books such as the classic Farmers of Forty Centuries by F.H. King, which seems to paint a different picture from what I saw that night at the exchange. Granted, I had to duck out early for the evening’s farm chores, but most of what I saw involved contemporary Chinese pop music, and associated dances.

Apparently, a stereotypically common sight in China’s cities is flocks of middle-aged women who congregate before the work day in public spaces to perform highly choreographed, aerobic dancing. It’s better than choking down Egg McMuffins and yelling obscenities at other drivers on the expressway. Still, during a time of the year when I am most often stomping cob, cutting hay by hand, and digging potatoes, suddenly being in a room with a lot of people from halfway around the world bringing us cultural gifts from a truly modern urban environment was a bit iconoclastic.

We were then treated to a slideshow of life in China. Most interesting to me were the photos of food vendors on the street. Of course, I don’t need a market outside my door to get my veggies, on account of having a garden. In fact, if I want to eat a duck or chicken, there is ample opportunity within 20 feet of my doorstep. Still, I felt mildly enticed to try eating a turtle or some fermented preserved duck eggs after the slideshow.

Urban folks sometimes find our simple country existence to be a world of ambling nightmares. I wonder if they have poison ivy, chiggers, or ticks in China, and how it’s working out for them here.

I admit that my perspective is often more local than global, and that I have not personally achieved the level of communication and sharing with our visitors as I’d like. Talk is a very imperfect form of communication, more so when we don’t share a common tongue. The native English speakers living with me seem to have a hard enough time understanding what it is I’m trying to say sometimes.

I’ve also been musing upon the odd parallels between my life and life in China. Omnivores in China eat a lot of parts of the animal that most Americans don’t. So do I. A lot of folks still get around by bike or foot. Me too. On the other hand, many Chinese have embraced a sort of capitalistic, western, popular culture within their mildly communistic economy, whereas I personally practice some form of backwoods, low-technology communism in a mildly capitalist economy. China, along with much of the developing world is modernizing, by which I mean consuming more resources, while I am attempting to power down my consumption and stabilize my impacts on the planet. Perhaps Dancing Rabbit will make more sense to our visitors in the context of our nation’s creaking urban infrastructure, halted economy, and depopulated rural areas. That’s why Dancing Rabbit makes sense to me, at least.

Rounding out this sort of funky week was yet another visit from folks far-away, some friends of Bagels who live in a community in Chile, and then a monthly reiteration of the Dog and Gun Exchange, where everything is for sale.

I once again endured the overstimulation of this enormous flea market/Midwestern cultural event, where even those of us most resolute in diminishing our ecological footprint might feel tempted to hop on a four-wheeler, eat some fried sugar pork, and buy a pack of hunting dogs. I looked around, but nobody had any meaty looking turtles. I felt glad to have made it back with my mental state relatively unscathed, and proceeded to hide down in the bushes for a while.
I’m not leaving here, not for a long while. Other peoples’ travels exhaust me enough. I’m thankful for all the stories you’ve shared, not to mention the dumplings. I will, in fact, eat anything if it’s greasy and tucked into dough. But I just ain’t cut out for the modern world sprawling outside these prairie hills.

I came from a city once. It may have been Chicago, but it might as well be Chengdu. We now have a worldwide urban culture that is quickly becoming similar in all these disparate places. I’m happy to eat your dumplings, and dance your dances. You’ll just have to find me over yonder in the hollers of Northeast Missouri. We don’t even need to share the same tongue to share this particular view of the world I get here.

•                    •                   •

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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