The Secret Is in the Crust: A Dancing Rabbit Update

Gentle Readers, it is my glad duty to report on recent (and some near-future) happenings at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

Cob here, musing on my personal relationship with the weather. I’m feeling a heightened blend of anxiety and gleeful anticipation for the ice storm, which as I write is encroaching on northeast Missouri. Anxiety because much of my weekly work and responsibilities are computer-based, mixed with a child-like anticipation of widespread and long-lasting power outages, as such things usually result in an unexpected break from responsibility, school, work, and so on. So much of nature’s beauty is shared with the awesome power of wind, snow, rain, or ice. So I’m hedging my bets, looking forward to some cozy extra time off with my kids, but writing this column a bit early so it can be transmitted while the electrons are still flowing freely.

As I’m sitting trying to weave the events of the past week into a coherent (or at least readable) narrative, I keep coming back to the notion of destruction and beauty as two sides of the same coin, as that dichotomy seems to flow through much of what has been going on lately, at least for me.

First up is the culmination of nearly a year of meetings relating to the membership of a long-time Rabbit. Fortunately such questions don’t come up very often, because they are always extremely hard, emotionally, legally, and logistically. After an extensive community process, we acted to revoke the membership of an individual for whom many of us still hold strong feelings of care and concern. This is the destructive side of the coin for me, making a decision with significant negative impact, not only for that individual but for a portion of our community as well. The challenge this presents to ongoing relationships, perspectives, and emotions is not minor.

So what’s on the beauty side? Well, I’d like to think that we have learned some lessons and gained insight on how to act earlier, allowing for better outcomes. I also saw a lot of care and concern for folks who were totally burned out on the subject, and were literally unable to continue if action wasn’t taken. Letting go of my attachment to everyone getting what they need, even after it was clearly impossible, was super challenging, and yet I feel that I’ve learned to see the beauty in both exhausting all possibilities AND in acting more quickly, so that folks can move on in whatever ways they need.

And in another example, after years of nursing the Milkweed Mercantile as an LLC, Alline and Kurt have joyfully participated in the re-birthing of the Milkweed Mercantile as a worker-owned cooperative business. The collective energy of this cooperative cannot be denied. The Mercantile is now open daily, from 8am for coffee, to 6pm for last call at the bar, and has a robust series of workshops and events scheduled for 2017, which you can find out more about here.

Just one of the many fine pies up for auction at the Black Mesa support fundraising event. Photo by Alline.

One of the joys of bartending on Pizza Night (every Thursday from 5-9pm), is visiting with folks from the surrounding area. A number of people from Memphis and beyond were in this week, and it was a delight to catch up on the news of whose kids were where, doing what, and what their plans were following college graduation, to say nothing of wedding plans and party favors.

The Mercantile staff was also treated to many creative ideas for other ways to bring in business (raise your hands for Taco Tuesday!) or broaden our pizza specials (Jambalaya anyone?). If you have opinions, we’d certainly love to hear them. (And yes, I am a member of the Mercantile Co-op, so you must pardon this shameless plug… But wait, there’s more!) The Mercantile also now has the capability for professional-grade karaoke, so if you’re in the mood give us a call and we’ll see what we can schedule.

OK, that was the bright side of the coin; now for the darker side. Much like the membership issue I talked about earlier, CAFOs are a complex beast of a topic to discuss. There are so many different values wrapped up in such a small acronym. Everything from supporting family farms and maintaining a way of life, to climate change and environmental impact, to ethical treatment of other sentient beings: nothing about CAFOs is easy. To talk about, to build and run, to constrain or regulate, you name it, it ain’t easy.

Scotland County’s current health ordinance governing CAFOs was fraught with conflict and high emotion when it was instituted several years ago (replacing an older, repealed ordinance). I know there are differing opinions about whether a proposed CAFO just outside of Rutledge is in conflict with this ordinance, both in terms of the spirit and the letter of the law. It has been illuminating for me to hear differing opinions even at Dancing Rabbit, as different folks hold different aspects of this complexity more strongly. I am hoping to see the beautiful side of this coin, in bridging conversations and attempts to really understand seemingly-contrary viewpoints. We are neighbors, many are friends, and we all have to live together in proximity. We can’t thrive in an environment of invective and mistrust. So what to do? The Mercantile will be scheduling a conversation in the coming months, and I hope that we can set our personal fears aside sufficiently to shift the conversation from one of “you or me” to “us”. Stay tuned.

This ice-storm naturally has me thinking about climate change, and how unusual such an event is for a normal January deep-winter. I’d expect 40-below-zero windchill with blowing snow and sub-zero temperatures, at least overnight. But not rain, for heaven’s sake! This is a March threat, not January. The recent pipeline protests come to mind, and the need to keep fracked gas from the Baaken formations underground, rather than in the atmosphere. But that’s only the most recent development in the energy sector. It has been upsetting for me to learn about the 40-plus year callous and dehumanizing efforts of Peabody Energy in the coal fields out west, specifically on the Native American lands of the Hopi and Navajo. Destruction of habitat. Destruction of a way of life. Destruction of an ancient indigenous culture. For coal, one of the dirtiest power sources there is, and which must be kept in the ground if we are to survive the next seven generations. And yet, here I am writing this column after dark while my solar panels are dead. Augh! It’s so hard to balance between wants and needs!

The bright side of this particular coin are the many actions folks are taking to block and halt destructive projects, and bring these issues into the light of public awareness. I strongly believe that no one actively wishes harm on another, and once the realities of our collective actions are known, we have the power to make different choices. This is not to say that everyone gets what they want, or that a path can be found to meet all needs, but that, to the extent that we can make decisions with full awareness, we will make better choices.

Therefore I have deep gratitude for the work of some of our friends and neighbors at Sandhill Farm, who are working to support the elders of the Diné (Navajo) community at Black Mesa, where Peabody Energy has been actively working to dismantle and relocate the community in order to access the coal beneath ancestral lands. And gratitude for pie, because… pie. The Sandhillians held a pie tasting/auction fundraiser this week to help fund their annual trip to Black Mesa to support the elders of that community who are resisting relocation.

Who among you would voluntarily surrender your land, or move away from the only way of life you have known for generations, so that some faceless corporate entity could strip-mine your hills and valleys, destroying all trace of your ancestry, and poisoning the very land so that even your great-grandchildren could never return? This is not small stuff. We can talk about energy policy or domestic energy security until we’re blue in the face, and not overcome these underlying fundamental facts. Well, that got dark. And fast. Hmmm… back to pie.

There was key lime, blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, bourbon pecan, and even grape pie available for bidding. (Grape pie? I hear you ask. As a native of the upstate New York Finger Lakes region, I can answer that grape pie is a highly-anticipated annual delicacy there. Generally made from Concord grapes, although Catawba is also a frequent contender, there are innumerable contests for the best of the best, much like barbecue seems to be around these parts.) To my great good fortune, nobody bid on my grape pie offering, so I brought it back home where it was happily consumed for breakfast. (Hey, it was fruit! Don’t judge.) Overall, sufficient funds were raised to cover the expenses of this year’s service trip to Black Mesa: such is the power of pie. For those of you who didn’t already get the clue from the headline: the secret is in the crust.

If you have the curiosity (and bandwidth), take a look at this link to learn more about the seriousness of this conflict, and the incredible beauty of this land and culture that is under severe threat of extinction. Consider how you would feel, how you would react, how you would survive, if you were deemed to be of lesser value than the resources you sit upon. How would you balance these wants and needs?

Speaking of balancing wants and needs, there are fewer stark reminders of the differences we hold as Americans than the recent presidential election. Again, a situation fraught with complexity upon complexity, with too many competing needs and wants to grasp in their entirety. I know that I grasp at the things I CAN understand as an anchor, or as a point of reference. I welcome alternative viewpoints, but can’t truly bridge to others unless there is enough commonality for me to feel like I am seen and understood, even if there isn’t agreement. I suspect that is common among most humans. So the bright side of that coin is that we CAN bridge. We CAN understand one another. We CAN find some sliver of common ground from which we can work together for the benefit of all humanity.

Here’s the secret in the crust: oil and water, un-mixable ingredients, combine to create the delicious flaky goodness that makes the pie. There are other aspects to be sure: salt, maybe a touch of lemon or cinnamon, amendments that complement or draw out the essence of the filling. But it is the crust that makes the pie. Pasty and soggy, or dry and burnt, are no good, no matter what it’s filled with.

I’ll be blunt. I have issues with Donald Trump, and what I anticipate from his administration. I totally understand others’ frustrations with the status quo and feelings of being left behind or left out, and I’m not pretending that things have been perfect. But here’s the thing: dark side/bright side. Language of division and blame vs. language of inclusiveness, forgiveness, and love. And I suspect we each ascribe the positive aspects to ourselves, and the negative to others. So how do we meet? How do we reach out to each other? How do we heal these artificial divides, when we all want to be seen and heard and understood?

I don’t have a glib answer. But I do have an offering. I am hosting an inauguration day celebration that will focus on the things that uplift us and bring us together. No, it will not be focused on the president-elect, the individual. Rather it will be about acceptance, love, and redemption. Please join me if you are able. I will be hosting a “Concert for America” watch party at the Milkweed Mercantile, on Friday, January 20th from 2-5pm. The bar will be open, snacks will be available, and lively conversation will be present. Help me see you, as I hope you will see me.

And remember, the secret is in the crust.

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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