A teen takes part in Visitor Week at Dancing Rabbit, an intentional community in Missouri, and brings home a new way of living.
Four days after finishing school for the summer, my mom dragged me to an intentional community. An intentional community, also known in the ‘60s as a commune, is a group of people who live together, share responsibilities and, in the case of Dancing Rabbit, try to use less of the earth’s resources.
It was my mom’s idea, because she’s interested in intentional communities. After visiting a few of them when I was 5 years old, she finally found one she liked in Colorado. At the time, they didn’t have enough room for us to live there, so she ended up buying a house in the city and living like the rest of mainstream America.
Dancing Rabbit, which hosts regular visitor weeks, is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The closest town is Rutledge, a tiny town in northeast Missouri that has more churches than stores. When Dancing Rabbit grows to its intended size (500 to 1,000 people), it will be five to 10 times bigger than Rutledge, population wise, and it’s already much bigger in area.
The cool thing about Dancing Rabbit is that it’s completely off the grid. That means all their electricity comes from solar panels and wind generators. It even gets its water from rain, which is collected on roofs before flowing through faucets and showers, eventually ending up in wetlands that have been created to handle the community’s gray water. The toilets—if you want to call them that—amount to buckets which have to be emptied when they get full, an alternative to flushing perfectly good water down the drain.
The ‘humanure’, as members of Dancing Rabbit call it, is then used as compost in the community’s many gardens. All of the buildings are made out of either reclaimed or sustainable materials, such as straw bales, cob or lumber from buildings that have been demolished.
My mom and I camped in a wooded area, heavily populated with ticks, called Revolution Grove. The other option was to stay in Skyhouse, a cooperative near the community building that rents out extra bedrooms. I would have preferred staying in Skyhouse, since sharing a half-deflated air mattress with my mom wasn’t exactly what I’d call fun. The only good sleep occurred after she got up in the morning, when I finally had the whole mattress to myself.
During the day, the Rabbits, as community inhabitants call themselves, offered workshops and tours, many of which I missed on account of my liking to sleep late (or in this case, liking to sleep at all). We learned (or my mom learned) about alternative energy, food co-ops, their vision for the community and green building.
My favorite workshop I did get up in time to attend was learning how to make a cob house. It was just like playing in the mud. Cob is a mixture of sand, clay and straw. First, you put the sand and clay on a tarp and stomp on it with your feet. Once it’s rolled and sticks together like a burrito, you know it’s properly mixed. The next step is to add straw. That was pretty simple—once again, you step on it until it’s mixed in, too. Last, the mixture is separated into loaves, applied to the wall and poked with this stick-like tool called a “cobber’s thumb.” It was really fun!
Other activities included moving an outhouse, taking a tour of the village and walking the 280 acres of community land (aka the tick walk), hearing about history of Dancing Rabbit and moving clay that would eventually become an earthen wall.
Visitor Week at Dancing Rabbit isn’t all work. There are lots of fun things to do as well—jump on one of two trampolines, swim in ponds, play outdoor ping pong or compete in the weekly Ultimate Frisbee match, held each Wednesday morning. One day, I didn’t feel like hauling clay, so I just sat on a rope swing and read.
After dinner, we always had something fun to do (not that the other stuff wasn’t fun). We either hung out, played interactive games or watched movies. My favorite game was Charadenary, a Dancing Rabbit specialty. It was a mix of Charades and Pictionary. One person would be in the back, behind a row of chairs, where nobody could see them, while another person would be in front of the row of chairs with a chalkboard. The person in the back would act out the charade, while the person in front, trying to guess what they were miming, would draw it.
We ate meals with one of Dancing Rabbit’s four food co-ops. Each visitor signed up to help cook at least one meal. Most of the Rabbits said they liked being in a food co-op because they only had to cook once a week. The food, lots of grains and beans, was, for the most part, good. Because they eat what they grow and buy locally, and because it was early in the season, we didn’t have any fruit. As much as I thought I’d never say this, I missed having fruit. At home, my mom insists that I eat at least four fruits every day (my mom is a tiny bit of a health freak).
Everyone at Dancing Rabbit was very nice and accepting. They didn’t give us a hard time for arriving 30 minutes late or for taking longer showers than they believed in. I may not be ready quite yet to move to Dancing Rabbit, but I really do love what they stand for, from being green to having a shared vision. And since I arrived home, I have been trying to live greener. I turn off the water in the middle of my shower, ride my bike instead of begging mom for a ride and try to eat less meat.
Dear Taz Grout ~ What an informative and entertaining article about Dancing Rabbit. I appreciated that you answered many of my own questions about the realities, sacrifices, education and fun! Your humor puts many of my own reservations at ease. Thanks for sharing your experience on travelmuse!