Older and Colder: A Dancing Rabbit Update

"Land ho!" Thomas leading an ecology-focused land walk during an Open Space retreat session. Photo by Dennis.

“Land ho!” Thomas leading an ecology-focused land walk during an Open Space retreat session. Photo by Dennis.

Happy March from Dancing Rabbit! Whatever the weather says, the first of March always gives me a boost of hope that I may actually survive winter. Ted here to report on the village, after the week in which I reached the age of 40.

It isn’t that the cold is all that oppressive, really. Last winter’s multiple lows of -18 re-set the bar for me, and by comparison, this winter has been more of a coyote than a bear.

On the other hand, my firewood supply is different than last year’s. I waited to process wood till fall. Despite being well-aged, it hadn’t been cut and split long enough to cure. If you’re unfamiliar with wood heating: uncured wood burns sluggishly and produces both less effective heat and dirtier wood smoke.

The first means I have to burn more wood to achieve the same heat, which means more labor, expense and ecological impact. The second also means lower quality of life in a village where we spend a lot of time outside working, playing, and commuting between buildings, even in winter.

In the end, it also means my toes are colder. There is no push-button or dial-in convenience in wood heating such as has become the standard in mainstream culture. I have chosen to participate in all the stages of wood heat, from sourcing to cutting, splitting, moving, stacking, restocking house supplies periodically from outdoor sources in frigid weather, and building and maintaining fires for hours daily. I want to know the real cost of my comfort.

There is only so much time in the day. Sometimes we can’t manage to keep a fire going steadily in our house, owing to travel or commitments or just winter lassitude. We have accumulated lots of throw blankets over the years. We wear wool long underwear under varying warm layers for most of five months, and I wear a scarf and hat inside and out much of the time.

We are pleased to wake up in the 50s most winter mornings. We usually let the fire taper off when/if we reach 65 or so, but as we’ve gotten down to the less cured firewood amidst February’s cold, there have been a few days we’ve settled for a high of 57. That’s about 20 degrees below what my parents consider normal in their push-button house. My warmth-loving mother would not be happy.

Humans are adaptable, though. I read this week about refugees of political, ideological, and military struggles, especially those escaping violence in Syria in the past several years, and the marginal, alienated existence most of them are experiencing in Turkey, Lebanon, and other landing points. Shivering a little when I wake up in the morning in my safe, rooted home and village, with enough food to eat, is a First World Problem.

To offer a disclaimer, though: there are varying standards of warmth in the village, reflecting the numerous choices we’ve each made in construction. Some are about building materials (green vs. natural building), some about design strategies (size, earth contact, passive solar heating, grid-tied vs. off-grid, kitchen included vs. in a separate building, and the varying cost per square foot that these choices add up to), and some are about state of completion (the temperature-regulating earthen berm around our house is incomplete, for example). The overall impact of these choices remains a live debate at Dancing Rabbit, particularly in reference to the ecological impact of building and of maintaining our structures over their lifetimes.

Villager and Dancing Rabbit, Inc. Executive Director Ma’ikwe left this week for the first leg of a national speaking tour, intent on sharing Dancing Rabbit’s work and experience with a still larger audience as she travels along Amtrak’s various routes across the country. I happen to have friends and family with good connections in two tour stops on opposite sides of the country, and so have been able to help find places for Ma’ikwe to stay, and seen just a little of the organizational web forming around this effort. The spring schedule is packed, and we’re excited for updates on how it’s progressing. Safe travels!

As Nik wrote last week, we were in the middle of our annual retreat, and the remaining days, organized in the Open Space Technology style, were varied and thought-provoking. Sara and I have back-to-back birthdays at the end of February that overlap retreat more often than not, so I took advantage of the loose planning to organize a 15-minute fun run in summer attire (plus birthday cape!) to celebrate my 40 years, and to spite the wind, cold, and snow. About 10 of us went out jogging for 15 minutes or so, and were cheered by some of our more appropriately-attired friends both going and coming. I was pleased to have built up a bit of a sweat upon our return.

Post-retreat, we’re now left to find homes for the numerous thoughts and initiatives arising from our many retreat discussions. We also head now into spring, when mental work must share time with ever more physical and outdoor work. I have some seed stratifying in the fridge, and it is time to mix up potting soil and get our first garden seeds sprouting. I also need to wrap up tree pruning and figure out where to plant shrubs and trees soon to arrive in the mail. Bulbs are peeking up outside and maple tapping crews are heading out to collect sap.

Many of us who host work-exchangers in the warmer season are actively communicating with applicants and interviewing to establish our summer crews. I’m talking with folks from California and Newfoundland and various points between. Their enthusiasm matches my own, and the warmth and energy of spring are seeping into my bones slowly but surely as I share with them the variety of work and learning opportunities we’ll be getting into. If you’re interested, please check out the work exchange opportunities available on our website and send us an application!

Now’s also a good time to consider Dancing Rabbit’s visitor program. If you’ve been thinking about a visit, to gain knowledge and perhaps consider making this your home, it’s not too soon to contact our correspondent and apply for a spot in one of our five 2015 visitor sessions. The first spring session is nearly full already.

Here’s hoping for swelling buds and growing warmth to all our readers, wherever you may be. We’ve almost all seen some colder weather, but we’re nearly through the worst of it. Hope to see you at Dancing Rabbit soon!

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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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