I didn’t know much about ecovillage life before coming to Dancing Rabbit — just the assumptions of some of my friends (like it is some kind of a hippie commune, with one of my friends expecting to see me bald by the end of the summer). Despite these unfounded stereotypes, everything else I heard sounded encouraging, but I needed to experience it myself before drawing any conclusions. I didn’t have many expectations, except that I would spend some time gardening; interact with some chickens, dogs and cats; and get to enjoy fresh produce and fresh air. It turned out to be way more than that…
A short background story on how I ended up going to an ecovillage in Missouri: I was in the process of getting a graduate degree in Design for Sustainability from Savannah College of Art and Design when I decided to complete it with an internship in order to continue exploring complex systems and sustainable living. With the help of an internship grant, and support from the Muskie Program, I received an offer from Global Ecovillage Network of North America (GENNA) Alliance to work with them and The Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture (CSCC) based at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (DR).
After years of graduate school I was drained. I needed to get my energy back, and spend time away from my laptop. I couldn’t ditch my laptop entirely; I still needed to do my work as an intern related to graphic design and research, but beyond that there were so many things at Dancing Rabbit that helped to bring ME back.
DIRT: Working with dirt; it’s like meditation. I could feel plants breathe more freely when the grass around them was weeded. Caution: some people at DR don’t call grass or weeds grass or weeds, because not every grass is a weed and not every weed is a grass. I learned that some of the things I thought were weeds are intentionally kept to help the garden in one way or another. Much of this is based on permaculture principles. Being in the village you get to see and learn about a lot of permaculture practices that are in place.
AIR: DR air is VERY different from the stuff in the city: it’s actually fresh! This village has more trees than people. The sky is breathtaking too. Walking to and from meals, gardening, or my room, I would constantly stop to stare at clouds, sunsets, and especially the stars.
FOOD: For the most part, the food that I ate at DR was healthy: full of veggies, proteins and vitamins. However, pizza night happened every Thursday. (Even though I promised myself not to eat beef, I did add it onto my pizza; only because I knew that the cow had been raised on a neighboring farm where cows walk freely and eat grass.) The taste of grass fed beef is sooo delicious, and I couldn’t have imagined ahead of time how many dishes can be made without meat, or how delicious they are every — this is one of my favorite lessons from my time at Dancing Rabbit.
SPORT: I was so happy to find out that there is an ultimate frisbee team at DR. This is the only team sport that I play because of team spirit. One of the highlights was the Show Me Tournament that the Red Hill Rabbits (the tri-community ultimate frisbee team, which includes people from the neighboring communities of Sandhill and Red Earth Farms) traveled to participate in during July. This tournament was nothing like tournaments I have gone to before. Our overall positive and supportive team spirit stayed strong throughout the weekend, despite our losses. As a team we talked about how every team member is open to receiving and giving feedback, which was taken into consideration in later games; it helped us to understand each other more and to score more points. After each game, we did a circle of appreciation with our opponents, which would be unheard of in many mainstream competitive sports games! The tournament was full of positive energy.
PEOPLE: People at DR are diverse, each with a different perspective that they communicate honestly. Most of the Rabbits are very good listeners, and they care about introverts, while valuing people’s differences of opinion. One of the residents mentioned at a meeting that he has made good friends at DR in two weeks (by friends I mean real friendship: people you can talk to honestly, people you can trust and share your experiences with). At that moment I doubted him and thought it must be nonsense, and yet it happened to me! I have built stronger connections with some people at Dancing Rabbit in a month that I did in ten months of graduate school.
NVC: One of the important pieces of DR I valued is a non-violent communication style (NVC, or sometimes called compassionate communication). I was part of the NVC group, which met weekly. We practiced NVC tools from Marshall Rosenberg’s book and reflected on our experiences. It helped me to better understand myself and the people around me, how to communicate with them, how to be heard and be open to different perspectives with no judgement or blaming, to listen to ideas with which I disagree, and way more than that. This was a powerful lesson that I will carry with me far into the future.
CHECK-INS: Check-ins involve sharing how you feel, with people you are about to have a meeting or a casual talk with, sometimes based on PIES, referring to physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. I am a reserved person, and at first didn’t feel comfortable enough to fully share, so, I would mostly rush through and say something brief. In the long run, I understood that check-ins help to connect more with a person; to understand their inner state, so you all can have a more meaningful conversation.
Finally, some little things that I was glad to see at DR that might seem unusual for other people:
- I didn’t expect to encounter people who wash plastic bags and reuse them, like I usually do. At Thistledown, one of the village houses where residents have formed a co-op to share a kitchen, there is a specific drying rack for them.
- They dry their clothes outside, not in drying machine, (there are no drying machines at DR) – I am glad I am not the only one in the USA to do that.
- Fermented and pickled vegetables from their gardens are delicious stuff.
Of course, there are many, many other fascinating things for people to see and experience, but you’ll have to visit and find them out for yourself. As I mentioned before, DR is pretty diverse.
In the words of Theodor Fontane: “The magic is in the detail.” Whatever was shocking, surprising, or different for me at first, it doesn’t matter now, because it is nothing compared to how peaceful and happy I felt during my few months at Dancing Rabbit — especially after enjoying a few glasses of beer at the Milkweed Mercantile. I felt so calm at DR because I learned so many things about inner and inter-sustainability: acupuncture, body talk, NVC, co-counseling, meditation, eating healthy food, experiencing nature, journaling, etc. There are so many wonderful things happening in this busy little community every day that I didn’t have enough space in my journal to reflect on them all. I still consider myself a medium-sized-city-dweller, but Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage has become my home away from home; it’s a place I learned to love and one that I will miss dearly (my Rabbit friends most of all), and I hope I have the chance to come back and visit again.
My name is Natalya, but friends call me Natasha. Originally, I am from Turkmenistan. My background is in business, information systems, and graphic design. With the help of the Fulbright Scholarship, I obtained my master’s degree from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, GA, majoring in Design for Sustainability. Responsible, conscious design and living is my passion and professional interest. I discovered my passion at SCAD, expanded it at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, and I will continue learning throughout my personal and professional endeavors in the future. In my free time, you can find me playing ultimate frisbee, riding a bike, or traveling.