Prairie with freshly harvested radishes in Ironweed Garden.

Socially Distanced Socialization: A Dancing Rabbit Update

I know there are dictation devices out there, and it might even be that the smartphone I have begun using in the past few months would already do this for me, but I often long for a way to record my thoughts as I’m at work. In the days leading up to my turn to write this column, I can’t help but think of what I want to tell you, what is worth sharing from Dancing Rabbit from these past couple weeks. Ted here, trying to remember all the wonderful things I’ve thought to tell you recently that have skittered away into the margins just when I’ve set down to write.

The country seems to be moving steadily toward opening up again these days, COVID-19-wise. I have been farther than Rutledge only once lately, but if I didn’t know from the news that the world was in the grip of a virus scare, I certainly would not have learned about it from casual observation of my local environs. Aside from a handful of villagers here who feel they are more at risk, I have seen very few masks or other precautions in place in the wider community. Opinions vary widely among members of our local community, but I have certainly witnessed a degree of relaxation from the height of carefulness a month or so ago. 

I feel it too. While it is possible to isolate here, we are also a population somewhat removed, with one person doing weekly errands for everybody else and only occasionally other individual trips being made by others, so I feel comparatively safe among others here. We keep our distance, we use hand sanitizer and sanitize surfaces most days, but the degree of separation feels less palpable than before. Maybe I’ve just adapted already. Yet I’ve been contemplating visiting family in the East in the coming months, and crossing our streams of exposure still seems too risky at this moment. It is hard indeed to feel I must avoid seeing my mother and brothers and their families for our mutual safety. For how long will all this be our reality?

We have had a few live gatherings lately in the village, and they have been most welcome experiences for me. All have been outdoors, where it is more possible to keep distance from each other. Christina organized a version of our community supper tradition last week, inviting everybody to bring their own food to eat while we enjoyed the talents of various local musicians for an hour or two. Some performed rehearsed numbers, and afterward there was a general jam session. A frisbee was thrown about at the margin of the picnic area, and we were all thrilled to enjoy a mild, still Friday evening together, in something closer to the social dynamic most of us came here for.

Christina also hosted the first instance of Song Circle in several months, in widely spread chairs and blankets on her lawn. Javi painted a plywood sheet white and with a projector and speakers played a couple different movies on different nights on that same lawn. Socially distanced happy hour still happens many afternoons, sprawled across Main Street from the Mercantile porch. Life is still good, and my daily work has not been much influenced by recent events.

Prairie has been hard at work bringing the last straggling elements of Ironweed Garden into readiness and production, and it is just gorgeous, the best in years. I also get out some days when I’m not in the kitchen making cheese or otherwise engaged, and Rusty has been offering his help once a week as well. This past week the last pieces came into focus, so that all our starts are in the ground, more are coming up from seed, and we’re starting to regularly bring in produce. 

Salad and mixed braising greens are in abundance, asparagus is tapering to a finish, peas and garlic scapes are just beginning, and tomatoes, corn, and beans are rapidly gaining height and size. Potatoes are enormous and flowering. Herbs, strawberries and raspberries will soon be bountiful. Up through the beginning of hotter weather last week, we’d had weekly harvests of shiitakes on our logs. Garlic will be ready for harvest at the end of the month. Have you read the study lately that found gardening, and in particular growing vegetables, to be statistically very good for your health? Add to that the abundance of dairy products issuing from our animals and in more processed forms from our kitchen, and the abundance is truly gratifying. 

I came to Dancing Rabbit in part to participate directly in providing for my own needs, whether in food, shelter, entertainment, or other arenas. With this cheese-making adventure I’ve been on with my friends these past six years or so coming to fruition, I feel like the dream has really come into focus. Scaling up to the point of being able to sell commercially is exciting, but I’m well satisfied with this degree of self reliance in the food production realm.

In a similar vein, Javi and I have finished the initial campaign of beer brewing we embarked on six weeks ago, to make one carboy of beer (about five gallons) each week for six weeks. Four of those are bottled already and housed in our root cellar, and the remaining two await the arrival of the next order of malt extract so we can continue the pattern of pitching each subsequent batch of beer onto the still-active yeast of a previous batch. One of these days we’ll move more toward all-grain brewing, but meanwhile we are plenty happy having a selection of our own beers available to quench the thirst at the ends of these hot days. It feels good to flex that brewing muscle again.

One of the hardest parts of this COVID-19 interlude is that it has eliminated our normal stream of visitors from the village. Living rurally in Missouri, we have always relied heavily on the power of the internet to connect with others around the country and the world. Those who actually make the trip to visit in person are those most motivated to try out the possibility of living here, and many choose to visit again or apply for residency. With that conduit shut down for the moment, our ability to maintain or grow our population is limited, though thankfully we’ve still had folks who visited last year arriving and becoming residents, and even a few work exchangers willing to go through two weeks of quarantine after arrival in order to join us for a season.

Various of our programs are still possible for later this year, depending on how things go, and from what I hear there is still plenty of interest coming in daily as people are stuck at home surfing the internet and thinking about different ways of living. While we wait to see what programs may be possible to run later in the season, we are still working toward getting some of our offerings digitized and available online to those who cannot visit in person.

If you are one of those people thinking about visiting and trying this out, please do get in touch! While the village is not yet re-opened to tours or visits, we are very happy to engage and start getting to know you, and there is plenty to learn ahead of a future visit. A good start is to check out our website, www.dancingrabbit.org. What strange times we live in.

In closing I must mention the dismay among villagers this past week as our country has erupted in protest and social upheaval following the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police. That it has crashed into the social upheaval of COVID-19 only increases the sense of living through historic moments in our collective experience. It has been a particularly strange time to be living rurally, feeling so distant from these coursing streams of social movement taking place here and around the world. 

I cannot help but contrast my setting, where I may go months at a time without seeing any of our local constabulary (especially these days, when I’m not leaving home much), with that of so many Americans for whom daily contact with, and potentially fear of, local police is a fundamental influence on the choices one makes in an average day. I contemplate again the privilege of being white and male in the United States. I am interested to see what comes of proposed national legislation to change the role and practices of police in our society, broadly speaking. I do not understand those who contribute to division and conflict when we need healing, taking time to pause and think. I want steady movement in our culture toward more harmony, trust, and common purpose, and away from fear and unequal treatment. 

May we all find the connection and understanding with our fellow humans today and every day! And may you have both human contact and a bit of garden to tend, whether it be a window box or a patch of ground outdoors. Keep up your good work, wherever you are, and please keep in touch.

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