Thursday, July 8, 2010

Social Proximity, Shared Responsibility, and Limited Privacy

I’m finding that life in an ecovillage more closely resembles summer camp and fraternity life than I’d have ever anticipated. Admittedly, comparing an eight-week all-boys summer camp and/or a group of sixty college-aged man-friends to an ecologically-friendly village of full-time residents of all ages is a bit like comparing a tropical fruit with a sub-tropical fruit. Nevertheless, summer camps and fraternities are institutions with which I am personally very familiar, and life at Dancing Rabbit reminds me of them in several ways. Many of the similarities, I imagine, are simple consequences of close-proximity living.

Dancing Rabbit inhabitants share aspects of daily life that conventional urban dwellers access to the exclusion of their neighbors. I’ve discussed shared kitchens and gardens in prior postings, but sharing extends much further. There are relatively few toilets in the community. A “toilet” here is colloquially called “the pooper” or “the humey”, which is short for humanuer. It’s a 5-gallon bucket with a toilet seat. When enclosed and properly decorated, it doesn’t look terribly different from a conventional toilet. Each person, however, is responsible for covering his or her “contribution” with saw dust or dirt to cover the smell, and the contents of the bucket are emptied into the bed of some unfortunate resident.

Not really. They’re emptied into a compost bin. I’ll cover the intricacies of the sanitary process on a later date.

So, not only does everyone share the relatively few number of poopers, but we all share the responsibility of muting the smell of our poop, emptying the buckets when they’re full, and like anywhere else, washing our hands when we’re finished. Hand washing is especially important because of the manifold shared kitchen appliances, doorknobs, garden tools, construction tools, books, and musical instruments in the community.

Community social life centers around the common house, which is cleaned each Sunday morning—a duty I executed last week. My fraternity would take time (almost every) Sunday morning to clean common areas of our house. Similarly, at camp, we’d take time to clean the cabin each day and other parts of the camp on other occasion. While most urban areas today uphold littering laws and enforce nuisance laws, but common areas like streets and parks aren’t necessarily cleaned by residents (the mess makers), but rather by municipal employees or outsourced cleaning companies.

Finding privacy in the community isn’t always a simple endeavor. Indeed, I enjoy the privacy of my tent, but the instant I leave my 6’ x 4’ containment unit, I encounter a construction site and a couple working hard to build their house. The few Skype conversations I’ve arranged (my phone has no signal here) have all been interrupted by someone peeking into the small office at the common house where I can pick up an internet signal. This morning I sought a quiet moment before beginning work and sat down on the porch of what I thought was an uninhabited cottage, when someone—a new renter!—surprisingly emerged from the door. While I’m sure I could easily find time to myself if I worked hard, most space in this village is shared and visible. Privacy is the exception, not the rule. I just left a dinner conversation at which someone explained, “One week at Dancing Rabbit feels like one month.” I agree. I feel like I’ve known some people here for much longer than 2 ½ weeks. This isn’t to say that I’ve sparked deep, spiritual relationships with everyone here, but it’s easy to learn a lot about a person when working and eating with them all day long. Even those with whom I don’t work all day or eat every meal, I see most nights night or at least at weekly activities. The intensity of relationships given the relatively truncated time reminds me of the very meaningful relationships I established cabin mates and fraternity brothers in similar living scenarios.


  1. Robby, I just came across your blog. I really really dig it.

    John Russell

  2. Thanks, John! Miss you. Hope you're well.