Season’s Greetings: A Dancing Rabbit Update

To maintain the Common House water system, Thomas minds the gutters in this unseasonal December rain. Photo by Nik.
To maintain the Common House water system, Thomas minds the gutters in this unseasonal December rain. Photo by Nik.

Howdy everybody, and season’s greetings as well. Ben here, bringing you a weekly update from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, where we have just passed the zenith of atmospheric darkness, along with the rest of our particular hemisphere.

Yes, we have entered winter officially, as I understand it. Now, nobody knows when winter ends, as that determination is left to a wise groundhog out east somewheres, but I have been reminded by many of my friends and colleagues that winter did not start until Sunday.

Frankly, I don’t know what to believe, because I’m accustomed to trusting my own experience. Call this time of year what you may, my observation is that winter started at some point in November, when the pond froze, and since then we folks here in Northeast Missouri have essentially relived the same gloomy March day over and over again for a coupla few weeks now. It’s as if these doldrum days of December were designed by some other force to teach those of us who don’t drink what a hangover feels like. Over and over.

There’s some terminology thrown around to describe the effect of these short, overcast days on people. They call it Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Now I ain’t about to disparage folks who feel SADness. After all, I’m one of them.

And as a person relying on off-grid solar energy, I can tell you that not only humans, but batteries experience symptoms of illness related to the lack of sunshine. I can even report that the goats and donkeys exhibit a certain amount of despair related to the current conditions. (Ducks don’t care near as much.)

But I get stuck on the disorder label. It seems perfectly ordinary and reasonable, at least to me, to be affected by seasons. And I am not only struck with SADness during the despairing gloom of winter. I reckon six months from now that I’ll undoubtedly be overexerting myself, in direct relation to the brightness and duration of sunlight around the summer solstice. I’m pretty much seasonally affected all the time.

My own psychiatric analysis aside, there seem to be plenty of examples, pan-culturally, that the holidays spring up when they do for a reason, and that is to offer folks the opportunity to gather and consume sugar communally, to keep a candle of human connection lit against the banner of descending seasonal darkness. In communities of all types, we have the ability to share in the warmth, light, and friendship throughout the year.

Some Rabbits will undoubtedly venture off to other realms for the holidays to spend time with their families of origin, and others of us will remain to tend to the necessities of building and maintaining a sustainable village. My partner and daughter are this very day preparing to depart to modern, metropolitan Omaha, Nebraska, that hotspot of running water, chain restaurants, and strip malls.

Me, I’ve got livestock duty here, as well as some much desired time for quietness and solitude. Still, I sense I may be only days away from becoming bored and lonely, the proper conditions in which to get some much needed work done.

As for the holidays, we at Dancing Rabbit are similar to everyone else. (Or maybe not, but close enough.) In the past week we’ve had a Hanukkah potluck, a Christmas-carols-and-cookie-munching extravaganza, and a Winter Solstice ritual and vigil. Kyle even decorated a cedar tree out on his warren with lights and handmade ornaments.

It seems that most folks here, despite their individual spiritual tendencies, cannot resist the opportunity to brighten the season with song and treats and togetherness. Not me, necessarily, as I’m more of a religious person than a spiritual one. I’m mostly in it for the latke and fruitcake.

As a parent of a young child, I am required by mass culture to endorse and celebrate the arrival of Saint Nick, the Hanukkah bunny, and Kwanzaa elves, but in our household Santa doesn’t bring anything but a load of kindling and good will for all. Much more practical than the manufactured onslaught of plastic, battery impregnated toys and doodads which sweeten the lives of children across the continent for a few days before leading to a cycle of boredom and materialism.

But it is the holidays, and if I can’t cheer up, I reckon I’ll at least get off the high horse, or trade it in for a miniature donkey and offer some small solutions to the ecological impacts of the holidays. Granted, it may be too late for readers to implement these nifty notions into this year’s festivities, but nonetheless I have for y’all some humble offerings on how to simplify the holidays.

Keep your Christmas tree alive by not cutting it down. If you wanna cut it down, fine, but explore your disposal options. A composted tree can feed the soil carbon bank. An old brush pile out on the back forty provides cover for wildlife. Or you can tether it to a stream bank to slow erosion.

Get the kiddies some stocking stuffers from the dump. Metaphorically. A person needn’t spend green to be green, and it’s amazing how equally eager children are to use half crayons as full crayons.

Or you can be like me, and not get anybody anything, then just apologize. Don’t worry, they already know that you’re the crazy cousin.

My granny used to enforce a careful unwrapping policy, then neatly fold the paper for next year. She was recycling before recycling was called recycling.

Consider your travel alternatives. Trains and buses are a more efficient model for transport than personal motor vehicles, and have the added bonus of forging new friendships between total strangers. I think it’s fun. Besides, it doesn’t matter if gas costs two or twenty dollars a gallon, it emits the same amount of carbon dioxide.

You might consider asking for certain family heirlooms rather than new gifts. The older folks in our family were surprised and delighted to learn that we actually had more need of their canning equipment than whatever they could find on sale at the mega-store.

If you get a good feeling giving things to people, consider donating to a non-profit organization that fits your values, or purchasing from local, ethical crafters or growers.

Go sledding. Unless there’s no snow. Then you can just roll in the mud like I do. Make mud angels.

Admittedly, on an increasingly hot and agitated planet that provides more mud than snow on Christmas, offering mini-donkey sized solutions to Clydesdale problems can feel futile. I can blame that feeling on the pervasive, miserable grayness of the skies, or the fact that I got too many plastic toys as a child, but the truth is I need to merely readjust my perspective.

I recognize that me riding my bike everywhere out of principle doesn’t do much on its own. But when I have the opportunity to connect with others outside our quaint community here, I realize small things can be surprisingly dense. (If you don’t believe me, I suggest you attempt to coax a three-foot-tall donkey into doing something he doesn’t want to do.)

We’re all coming together in the darkness for a reason. Our individual behaviors do have an impact and a consequence. The world we’ve created as a species is big and scary, not to mention muddy. And it probably won’t help to broach political or theological subjects with your grumpy uncle this holiday season.

But even the curmudgeonliest among us cannot refuse an offer of friendship in these dark days. No matter who we vote for or pray to, the same challenges face us all. And who knows, cranky uncle Al might be stubborn enough to hang his clothes on a line, or keep the thermostat at sixty-five, not because of his concerns about fossil fuels, but just because he’s bullheaded enough to be that way. Half the reason I live at Dancing Rabbit is to be stubborn.

Winter is a time of scarcity. Among traditional agrarian people, that meant an opportunity to share what they did have. People needed, and still need, to feel as though they have plenty when heading into the lean times ahead. So they gifted when they had little to give. But those small things are the ones that provide the most motivation, peace, and tranquility in the face of winter’s looming gloom.

I’m not traditional agrarian people. I’m un-traditional agrarian people. I don’t have a tangible gift to share with y’all, and advice is one of the worst gifts to receive. So my gift to you is that I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, and hope that others come here and give it a try sometime. I may be scarce of electricity, or leafy greens, but by golly it’s more fun than the alternative. And as little as I might seem to have to give, I do, at the very least, have my whole life to offer towards solving the big problems.

I’ll stop soon, rather than risk going on, and on and on and on, like the inexorable atmospheric gloom inundating us here. Even though winter has begun, it will end as surely as this newsletter, except there’s no groundhog responsible for ceasing its existence. Just me, another ecological nut scattered in the leaf litter and debris of our healing heartland forests and prairies. But it’s nuts like me that become the progenitors for the majestic oaks that our great-grandchildren will walk in wonder beneath, and I think that’s as good of a gift as I can possibly give.

•                  •                 •

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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