Howdy y’all. Ben here, writing to you in the predawn hour from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. That predawn hour is coming later and later these days, leaving precious few moments of actual daylight in which to work, slightly less than twelve hours, to be exact. By eight o’clock in the evening, I am generally exhausted by the day’s tasks, which generally involve the manipulation of goats, squirreling around, stashing firewood, saving seeds, and harvesting food before winter.
Before the sun rises, the roosters perform a cacophony of crows and calls, heralding a new day, perhaps their last. I slump out of bed and uncrinkle my weary bones. This is usually the hour of my finest physical condition, but it’s dark, so I can’t do anything with it besides start a fire for the kettle by the dim light of a hand crank radio.
By seven, seven-fifteen, daylight is barely breaking still, not yet burning off the vestiges of chilly night air. I don’t know about everybody else at Dancing Rabbit, but between the limited daylight hours for foraging, the lack of rainfall, and the lack of vegetative growth, the goats and ducks and chickens have been quite busy nibbling and munching all they can in preparation for winter. The donkey seems nonplussed, per usual, if only slightly shaggier.
As a child, I recall my elders bemoaning the ever quickening pace of time. Here I am, in the middle of October of aught fifteen, wondering what just happened to my year. Autumn winds have been coming on strong, whipping around miniature cyclones of poplar leaves. The grasses and forbs become tougher and more brittle on a daily basis. Naked forms of honey locust stand festooned with blood-hued creeper vines. The soggy sod of spring is transformed into hard, sparse, dry earth.
Chicken coops, outhouses, and tool sheds become home to caterpillars, box elder bugs, cluster flies, and those fake little brownish lady bugs. The night is home to hooting owls, yelping coyotes, and scurrying rodentia. Bear reports seeing bobcat nearby. Perhaps the house cats around here have become complacent in their predatory duties. More likely, the arrival of new predators harkens the slow, steady return of healthy habitat out here.
It’s a visitor week again, the last one this year. Though I acknowledge that hosting visitors is just a part of what we do here, and an important part too, I admit that I’ll be a bit relieved when “the season” is over, and I look forward to being able to move heavy things around in a donkey cart without being asked what I’m doing.
Some of us Rabbits live for the social interaction and pollination that occurs during the span of visitor season. Visiting folk often bring us new songs, different skills, diverse knowledge, and wide experience, which can be refreshing here in landlocked rural northeast Missouri. We really get an assortment, and variety is the spice of life, they say. Me, I really only require a handful of seasonings.
A lot of folks come through Dancing Rabbit, and I think we have a lot of expectations for each other. Sometimes these expectations are met. Sometimes they aren’t. There’s the prepper/survivalist types, who bemoan how unprepared we are for the end times. I figure that I’m better off not having anything that anyone wants, should the global social order unravel. Besides, the global social order probably ought to unravel a bit. Try telling the folks over in Syria that the end times are coming soon.
Then, in a similar vein, is the self-sufficient set, who are aghast over our lack of food security, or the lack of a village blacksmith. These people have probably read some books on the subject, with easy to understand diagrams of how to plant a considerable crop of grain with a team of draft horses and just know they could do it too, and wonder why we don’t with our oodles of time. Look, folks, nobody has ever been self-sufficient. And if you really think about what that would require, nobody would want to be. People need each other. I don’t need everybody, but I do need somebody.
We also have folks of every dietary stripe come through. The raw foodists get disappointed at our lack of mangoes and macadamia nuts here in northeast Missouri, while the paleos are disappointed by our lack of caves or cavepersons. I try to sell them a duck, but they won’t eat it because it’s not a wooly mammoth, and then they slink off to town to get a cheeseburger. Then there’s the metaphysicists, who can’t believe we haven’t gotten the whole levitation thing worked out. Maybe after we figure out how to keep the bio-diesel from clotting up in winter, we’ll all work on our hopping skills.
Occasionally, people get the idea that Dancing Rabbit is some type of cult. If it were, we’d probably spend a lot less time in meetings, and have a higher population. Sometimes folks get the sense that this is a nudist community. If that were true, don’t you think we’d locate ourselves somewhere that doesn’t get so cold? Maybe the nudists and raw food people can form a satellite community in the tropics, where that stuff makes more sense.
On the whole, the folks who come through here are reasonable, like-minded people who are welcome to share in our food, work, and space. When I got interviewed for my residency here at Dancing Rabbit, someone asked me how I felt about being part of a demonstration village. I figured they meant it like an historic re-enactment village, or a renaissance fair. Fine, I said. I’ll sell apple cider out of a donkey cart, if that’s going to save the planet from ecological peril. I’m happy to demonstrate how to chop wood, make hay, or keep my outhouse from blowing over.
But that wasn’t what they meant. What they meant was, how much scrutiny can you handle? The truth is, it kind of depends. The past week or so has been filled with student groups, professional photographers, and a couple of dudes with a drone. Really, a drone. You know, like the kind used to drop bombs, or snoop on people. Except this one is used for aerial photography.
I get it, I know, drones are just tools, like hammers, putty knives, or cellular telephones, which can all do good things and bad things, depending on who’s wielding them. It still just dings my paranoia bone in the wrong way. Besides, I don’t need aerial footage of my vast collection of buckets and tarps. I know where most of them are, thank you very much. Take it from an ecovillager, it ain’t littering if it’s there on purpose, and you don’t forget about it.
This is why I like to hide in the bushes. There are people here who can deal with drones, college students, and the general public. I am not one of them. I’m better off gathering hazelnuts and walnuts with my kid, creating new paddocks for the livestock, and transplanting tree seedlings. The view here is pretty nice, with the wild cherry trees awash in gold, the massive cottonwoods half bare, moaning in the breeze. Osage trees drop their fruit to be nibbled by squirrels and other critters, while a small tribe of blue jays stalk the tops of acorn bearing oaks, breaking the quiet with their calls and shrieks. Grasshoppers laze about, chilly in the morning, probably unaware that they’ll soon become some chicken’s breakfast.
The days have been pleasant, almost too much so, a sure sign that winter is pawing at our door, which I have finally fixed for the last time, I hope. In town, folks are planting garlic, saving seed, even putting their gardens to bed for the winter. The gauntlet of visitor season is nearly run, and soon begins the time in which we Rabbits can draw inward, reflect, connect, or just read a book or two.
If’n you wanna stop by, shoot for April. But please leave your drones at home. I might be willing to step out of the bushes by then. As for right now, the sun has risen, and I have less than twelve hours to do what needs done, whatever that looks like today.
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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 (dancingrabbiticorg) .