**The following is a sample of my evolving dissertation. All the individuals are real individuals, but names have been changed unless they've requested to be called by their own names. Comments are very much appreciated. Thanks-Robby.**
“Contributing in some kind of tangible way to creating an example, and living by example, is kind of the way I've chosen to do my activism. I'm not into lobbying and protesting, but I am into just being a certain way so that people can say ‘that's do-able.’” –Sam, Dancing Rabbit Member
It’s 7AM and still early enough to enjoy the sun’s light before its heat arrives. Over the past month, I have made a morning ritual of appreciating this time window by sitting on the porch of the Milkweed Mercantile and watching the steam roll off the edge of my coffee mug. I can hear the birds already hard at work, and I imagine they’re well aware of how hot their universe is about to become. In several hours, I will once again find that I’ve drenched my t-shirt with sweat. I’ll curse my genetics for the sweat and blame two hundred years of climate-altering urban development for the brain boiling heat. At some point in the mid-afternoon, I’ll make a facetious comment about how “global warming” is a myth. I’ll wonder why the data collection portion of my dissertation couldn’t involve pouring over excel spreadsheets in an air-conditioned office. I’ll escape to the pond to cool off, only to find that consecutive days of heat and sun have transformed a once refreshingly cool swimming hole into a receding mud broth. When I emerge from the pond, I won’t waste my time drying off with a towel because I’ll sweat for the next four hours regardless of how hard I work.
And so, it is with pleasant irony that I’m inhaling scalding coffee just before breakfast and another day of dishwashing, wood-piling, and ethnographic interviews.
My perch, the ‘Mercantile’ porch, forms the eastern wall of a small courtyard near the entrance of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. During the short life of this coffee I’ll watch a half dozen ‘Rabbits’ penetrate the courtyard’s edges. I’ll see Matthew emerge from Skyhouse—the two-story straw bale building opposite the courtyard from me—to deposit breakfast scraps in his compost pile around back. I’ll see Rusty, a lanky, sixty-something Texan, beginning his daily two-mile walk to the small town of Rutledge, where’ll he chat up the locals. I’ll see Bethany and several others wander into the Common House, a salmon colored building on the north side of the courtyard and the nerve center of the village. Two hundred feet north of the courtyard (to my left), I can hear Ramona and her crew chipping away at a concrete floor that was poured mistakenly by one of her crew members the day before. They’ve been working for hours.
If this morning were like most mornings, I would sneak a look at my e-mail on my laptop before heading inside to help prepare breakfast. But today is different, and my morning trance is interrupted by a distant barreling scream: “Wall raising!” The scream is a reminder that Big John needs help raising the walls of the dance hall that another Dancing Rabbit member has contracted him to build. After one final sip of my coffee, I take a short walk toward the building site where I’m joined by an ad hoc team of Dancing Rabbit members, residents, and work-exchangers. Within five minutes, the building site is flooded with more help than can safely fit on the raised foundation, and so the late-comers sit on the adjacent gravel path and watch the process alongside some of the community’s children. This wall raising is the culmination of several weeks of detailed work by Big John and his crew. By every Dancing Rabbit standard, this construction project has progressed impressively fast, and in a moment I will join a small group of volunteers in raising the building’s western and eastern walls. The whole process will take ten minutes. It will barely interrupt my day, and yet, as the construction process continues I’ll walk past the building feeling a small sense of ownership and pride. I’ll feel the same sense of ownership strolling past a roof I helped assemble, a cob plaster wall I ornamented with recycled wine bottles, a 12’ x 12’ tent platform I nailed together, and garden beds I helped weed over a year ago. None of these items are—nor have they ever been—my property, but these otherwise inanimate items take on a strong symbolic meaning for me, as if a part of me is left in them. I can only imagine how a similar stroll around Dancing Rabbit feels to individuals that have spent years or decades building a village.
Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (DR) is a community of individuals devoted to ecologically sustainable living in rural Scotland County, Missouri. During the summers of 2010 and 2011, I lived and “wexed” at Dancing Rabbit, and have visited intermittently during the Falls, Winters, and Springs. At the time of this writing, DR is home to a growing population of about 60 adult and 10 children. During the “building season” which lasts from mid-Spring to mid-Fall the community will be inundated with dozens of work-exchangers (wexers), short-term visitors, and assorted guests, some of whom will stay and become members themselves.