A Salute to Some Rabbits…

This post is part of Sustainablog’s Pedal Powered Blogathon in support of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in the great state of Missouri.

Dancing Rabbit Sign

About 14 years ago…WOW, I was dating a guy in Silicon Valley named Brian Skinner. We were an odd pair. I was well, a street fighting lefty activist, proud to claim a few nights in Santa Rita State Prison (with a thousand others) after the Rodney King verdict riots and former art school dropout and he was an extremely bright libertarian nerd who generally confounded everything I believed every time he opened his mouth.  He had many great features but, one of his best was to disagree deeply without being a jerk. Something I honestly still struggle with everyday, smart-ass that I am.

He is a pretty extraordinary guy. A couple years before I met him his aunt had passed away and willed him a substantial sum. He was of the opinion though that it was unearned and therefore not really his. So he set about looking at how to  “alleviate world problems and prevent some suffering.” But, he was all about the hard data. After a few years of analysis, he wrote something called The Gumption Memo and gave the majority of the money to organizations providing reproductive health services. I was deeply impressed. I met him as he was just wrapping up this process.

Brian opens the Gumption Memo with this:

“The World Game: To make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”
— Buckminster Fuller

Besides Buckminster Fuller, Brian introduced me to a circle of people, mostly Stanford grads, who cared about the world as deeply as Fuller. They were also super smart and unfailingly grounded in the practical, the way he seemed not to be during his time, or so it was said. Many of us met for a book club which often focused on “sustainability.” This was a new word for me. I had been, in my head at least, “an environmentalist.” I had parted ways with the left in some ways over it. Up until then though I was primarily concerned with social justice, understanding how we had arrived at such a dismal place with regard to race, the planet, and women’s rights.
For Brian and many of these people these issues has been subsumed into a planetary resource crisis of epic scale. Everything that was bad now was going to get much worse, they argued, if we didn’t tackle climate, energy, soil and water depletion – fast.

I was used to going to root causes and they proceeded to take me much deeper than I had previously been. They were materialists who made a great deal of sense to me. It was hard to argue with the relentless amount of data they presented. I had tried to connect it all up before but, this did it.

Tony Sirna and Rachel Katz, two of the most interesting people in the group, were leaving the Bay Area. Strange idea…here we were nestled between two great Universities Stanford and UC Berkeley (my Alma Mater) in a place that had sea air, perfect weather, mountains, valleys, meadows, world-class parks…a great music scene. Why would anyone want to leave this?
Though growing up there I had never considered leaving permanently. Unthinkable…really.

It seemed a strange choice for these folks, enjoying all the options they did. Again, impressive. This was at the height of the dot-com boom. It was possible to make a lot of money even if, like me, you had only a freshly minted English degree and moxie, so long as you knew more about computers than the guy interviewing you.

But leaving they were, for Rutledge, Missouri, land of the Mennonites, to live in the middle of “nowhere” to start building something called an “eco-village.” They were going to create a demonstration project, an entire village built using mostly hand tools, solar energy, straw bale, cob, bio-diesel and other “appropriate tech,” another phrase I learned from the Rabbits.  Brian and I were very sad to see them go but promised to visit when we took a road trip someday soon.

A year later, Brian and I took that road trip. While packing we had a spat about what we had each packed for the trip in my tiny Honda hatchback. Somewhere I have it on High 8mm, Brian’s demonstration of our comparative “necessities” lined up on the floor. We were neck and neck until he put my box of cassette tapes on my side to demonstrate that it was I who had packed too much.

Brian was fantastic at helping me grasp the difference between need and want. He single-handedly cured me of Affluenza. But my box of cassette tapes to him qualified as a “nice to have” for the trip rather than an essential. Some of you will get this, actually, most of you will get this. For me 70% of the pleasure of the road trip was going to come from the soundtrack I was planning! For me anyway. Brian was not “into music.”

We were already becoming less of a couple but, this was the moment I accepted we probably weren’t going to work out in the long run. This music thing was the moment where I looked into him and realized that, as intimate as we had been, as good as the times we had were, there was an unfathomable aspect to Brian that was unmistakably “other.”

Our mutually agreed upon nerdgasmic itinerary: We went to the Very Large Array near White Sands, NM. We went to Carhenge. We saw the Experimental HTRE reactors for nuclear aircraft, on display at Idaho National Laboratory and some amazing lava caves. We went to see Amelia Earhardt’s house in Nebraska, as she is one of my heroes. We stopped to smell tractors throughout the Midwest which gave Brian instant recall of time he spent on a farm as a boy. I saw my first fireflies at his mom’s place in Marysville, Kansas and my first tornadoes! We stopped at every historical plaque between San Fransciso and that small town and read it. We saw Moab, and the breathtaking Arches National Park. We visited a friend getting her PhD at UNM in Albuquerque and we stayed at the Earthships in Taos. I feel in love with New Mexico and would move there a few months after that.

We arrived at Dancing Rabbit with a plan to stay the week. It was July or August. We set up our tent and looked around. A single wide where about 8 people lived, a shop building, a garden patch and a makeshift out-door kitchen and a hole to skinny dip in on land surrounded by Mennonites. It was not much back then.

They were just starting out but, in my mind they had given up so much for this neglected weedy patch of land. As interested as I was in their thinking, I’ll be honest, it seemed a little out there. They had computers. They weren’t going to give that up. Many of them make their living via the internet still. So they weren’t entirely cracked in my estimation. They had to make their own fun so, many played instruments but, it was rough, really, really rough back then. Brian and I had toyed with the idea of moving out there on the way to Rutledge. But actually being there settled it. The reality was quite different from the fantasy. Maybe someday…when they had real toilets.

We spent a great week with them and I was impressed by that they spoke about all of these earth issues without a hint of the woo-woo. This was not a bunch of new age hippies in some tie dye idyll trying to reclaim a time past. Sorry, to my hippie friends but, that has little appeal to me. It was an intentional community with a completely secular underpinning. Most intentional communities at the time had some sort of religious thread that held them together. Not the Rabbits. This I liked. There was no possibility of cult here.

We left. Brian and I parted ways and moved on in our lives. But *everything* that I learned from Brian and that group of whip smart and practical rabbits has stayed with me. Meeting them is one of the seeds of hyperlocavore.com, or maybe it’s the healthy soil the idea was planted in. I was changed forever by meeting them and revel in the compendium of real world know-how Dancing Rabbit has become just as they had envisioned nearly 15 years ago.

Also because of Dancing Rabbit, I eventually learned to play the bodhran and moved to NYC to live a car free Irish music filled life.

The main thing I learned from the Rabbits is this…

Stop talking. Do.
And while you do, Dance.

And this priceless lesson will never leave me.

With great fondness to the all Rabbits and immense gratitude to Brian,

Liz

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The Neighborhood

I grew up in a suburban neighborhood about 20 minutes from San Francisco. It was one of those picture perfect communities with many group amenities tennis courts a swimming pool even a meeting house. The meeting house was rarely used. Maybe the Homeowner’s Association met there to compose their demands upon the people who lived near them. I don’t know.

When we were younger the neighborhood kids traveled in packs. It was a safe place. Idyllic even as it could only have been through a child’s eyes. We roamed and battled. We built a half pipe out of ply wood and spend 3 summers wrecking ourselves on it. But, as we got older it changed. Families seemed to move inside. The personal computer came along. We stopped hanging out all day. Concerns about going to college took over … and most of us got a hand me down car. We were Californians after all. Driving was our birthright and we were all keen to hit the open road.

My memories of the neighborhood later were of letters of complaint from the HOA or a neighbor over this violation or that kvetch. Home prices in CA at that time were going nowhere but up and people had their minds on their money. It seemed to be piling up – if only everyone could keep their homes perfect we’d all be rich!

Money changes everything. Or maybe cars change everything. Either way – when our happy band of little savages grew up all the magic of that place disappeared.

It wasn’t until I moved to a predominately Caribbean American neighborhood in Brooklyn, thirty years later that I felt what a real neighborhood felt like again. Maybe younger families are key and families that stay close to grandparents… This neighborhood was coming up and being gentrified. This dynamic pissed some people off but others saw it as an opportunity to finally sell and move to a sunny place. I hoped they wouldn’t. That sunny place was empty and cold in spite of all the sun.

In that neighborhood there are folks that have live in the same apartment for generations. If you have a good rent situation in New York, you find a way to keep it in the family. So on that block people had known each other for a very long time. Just like a small town if you were not careful about it everyone on the block knew what was up with you.

I don’t want to idealize the situation because a lot of folks there were poor. But people had networks of mutual trust and help. Folks knew who was good and who was not to be trusted with anything. The streets in the summer were full of kids playing, people BBQing on the steps of their apartment buildings, people asking after each other’s mothers. There were sometimes gunshots, but I felt safer there in a way than I had ever felt in my life, even though I was mostly, an outsider looking in. I was treated as a neighbor, once folks got to know me and I miss it every day.

I now live in a tiny town in the wild west of Eastern Oregon. We go back generations here…I just heard a story of my great great grandpa who had a pet bear that road around with him on the runner boards of his Model T Ford at a funeral for a cousin. We are less than 300 here. Mutuality thrives through informal networks of assistance that also go back generations. My mother has been here 10 years and has so many stories of people just doing for her without request. People here too,  know how to take care of each other. It is what makes life worth living. It gives me buoyancy. It dulls all fears. I am learning every day what it means to be a neighbor.

As we all walk towards the future I think we need to understand that there is no way to thrive under a peak everything scenario without building communities and real neighborhoods. There is no escape to the hills, no thriving without mutuality. Look to your left and look to your right. These are the people who will make you or break you. There is no escape from that. And who would want to?

The fantasy of the solo hero is just that. It is based on ideology not reality. It’s based on a psychological need of the person who engages in it. To me it screams a need for therapy to address some deep parental drama that is unresolved. Your mileage may vary. And I do not intend to insult the rugged individualists among you. I am one and I am learning that it is an internally impoverished way of being.

We are primates, and therefore social creatures. Our gene line is not the baboon but the bonobo. That fact alone should give you some hope. It’s our nature to soothe and to cooperate. But even baboon culture, which was thought to be permanently hierarchical, alpha male dominated and warlike has been shown to develop new communal behaviors which profit and protect all in the band. The key is getting the alpha males to calm down and it’s possible.

For a little more on this – take a look at Standford neurobiologist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky’s work.

A Primate’s Memoir – Robert M. Sapolsky

New Normal – A Radio Lab podcast with Prof. Sapolsky on his experience with the changing nature of his troop of baboons.

We cannot separate easily into tiny roving bands. It would be disastrous for us and for the planet if we did. There are simply too many of us. Our thinking has the potential to evolve. We are rapidly waking up to our nature as a primate with an ability to fly out into space and look back at our home, the pale blue dot. Us monkeys have gone to space. Think about that. Just sit with it for a while.

These changes may be a gift if seen as such.
Our task is to look up the block and down the block and see only us.
More of us.
Our ability to thrive depends on it.
The future is a choice.

What choices are you making to make where you live a neighborhood?
Are you focused on your ability to aide others or only to profit in the future?
Do you plan to evolve your thinking or play out an atavistic scenario?
Do you feel responsibility to grow or simply to survive?
Are you thinking ideologically or practically?

Do you have good memories of where you grew up?
Examples of neighborly behavior?

Some sharing resources:
swapmamas.com
sharable.net

and hyperlocavore.com – a yard sharing community.

We are currently crowd funding our next phase of growth. We are happy to report that this model is working very well. We have just three days to cover the last 25% of our pledge drive but we are happy to report mutuality works! (Deadline March 28th at precisely 4:05 PM PDT)

To help with the last 3 days of the crowd funding project click here.

For more about Liz McLellan and Hyperlocavore.com:

Cooking up a Story
Greenopolis
More Minimal

Previous Campfire post:
On Choosing: How a Hyperlocavore Responds to Catastrophe

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. As a woman in tech since I got my first computer in 1981 celebration is mandatory. This post is about my site and community building through technology and low tech combined. I am of the opinion that balance between the virtual and the real is important to our survival. I hope hyperlocavore.com helps you make those connections real.

This is cross posted at TheOilDrum – Please participate in the conversation! We need all voices.

We are so close to our goal. You can send us over! Deadline is March 28th, 2010

We need to let you guys know, it’s 5 days away and only have $2,279.00!

That seems a long way away suddenly.

We are so so grateful for the pledges people have made so far but, we are only at 51% of our goal of $6200.00.

If we don’t hit that goal, we don’t even get the

money pledged so far!

At this point a shot in the arm would make all the difference in our ability to make the site self supporting. Right now we are running out of pocket! We have over 1300 members and we’re growing every day. If each of you went online now and pledged just four bucks we could breathe a sigh of relief and get to work. For now we are waiting to exhale!

If you have already pledged you have our deepest thanks! If you have not please take a moment now. Your pledge now will make a huge difference in our ability to improve and grow the site and services we offer. Yard sharing is breaking out all over and we want to be there to help build resilience and real community block by block.

Make a pledge, it’s easy peasy!

Please also share our kickstarter page with everyone you know! Word of mouth is how we grow.

Your encouragement and endorsement is where we get the energy to keep doing the work! Everything you do counts!

With gratitude,
LizM

Garden Journal

Spring is here! There are so many cliches about Spring but for me, this was my first one with a big garden to build around the corner. Living in NYC, there wasn’t much access so, for ten years I suppressed my urge to dig. Things are changing fast there. All kinds of growing efforts are popping up working to get more access to more land for folks there. The community gardens have such long wait list and interest in gardening exploded last year. Hopefully, the trend gurus are right and yard sharing will be the biggest garden trend of 2010!

We’re in Halfway a little town in Eastern Oregon, hardiness zone 5a, near the old family ranch in Keating. Hundreds of people grow beautiful gardens here. I am the new kid on the block. The terrain looks like all the old western movies you’ve seen, a high mountain valley. Cornucopia is still covered with snow and though, some wise women here have told me that planting outside should wait til the snow is gone from the foot hills of the valley, I have not been able to hold myself back. People have been saying it’s an El Nino year and it’s warming up fast. It was warm enough to turn the compost piles today. Having sat on my butt in front a computer for the last four months was not the ideal training regime for moving huge the semi broke down pile.

So we’ve had two days of 50 degrees or better so I’ve set my makeshift green house out. It’s running 80 degrees during the day inside. It’s not exactly a thing of beauty. Martha would barf I am sure. It’s just a shelf system wrapped in 3mm plastic. Also, lined the shelves with black plastic to protect the shelves but, also to absorb a bit more heat. I am thinking about painting a 5 gallon bucket black and filling it with water for a bit more radiant heat. For a lot of things in there that’s probably not needed. All in all it’s quite serviceable. I’ve decided not to use my LEDs this year, they were a big disappointment last year, and the wood shop where I kept it is always cool.

I may sell some plant starts at the farmers market if things go well!

So indoor starts so far:

Tomatoes
Brandywines
San Marzano’s (for drying and sauce)
Matt’s Wild Cherry
Sweet 100’s
Black Krim

Peppers
California Wonder
Chinese Giant
Anahiem

Herbs
Basil Genovese
Basil Thai
Culinary Sage
Munstead Lavendar
Greek Oregano
Sweet Margoram

Other
Japanese Eggplant

Outdoors (Mar 3rd)

Alliums planted last fall:
Globemaster (big pom poms that look like Dr. Suess plants
Egyptian Walking Onions
White Bunching Onions

Greens
Red Ruben Romain
Spinach

In the greenhouse
Sugar snap peas
Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli
Chinese Bok Choi
Collard Greens
French Mesclun Mix

Around the yard
Poppies
Lavender Elegance
Sunflowers

I’ve been thinking about hops mainly because I love the smell of them. Apparently, hop workers used to get so drawsy from the hops they would nap at work.

The grapes, trimmed back in early February kind of scare me but, folks tell me if you don’t think you’ve pruned too much with grapes you’re doing it wrong!

The plum and apple trees are starting to bud and, of course, we all worry that a frost will come a long and kill all the blooms. I realize now, I’ve never been here to see the apple blossoms! In this valley at least I’ve been told a good apple year means you have two so so years of apples after that. We have two trees. I am not sure what the one in front of the house is, but the other one, the Cortland produces the most fragrant crisp tart and sweet apples I have ever had. I actually didn’t like apples much before I met this tree…or maybe I just never had a fresh apple!

I know that the people in the valley have a cider pressing party sometime in the fall so I am already looking forward to that.

We have amazing blackberries on the land and down near the pond some raspberries showed up last summer but there were only three or four berries. There’s a couple wild cherry trees and I’ve heard apricots will and do grow in the area. I’d like to plant almonds and a walnut tree but, a few of the volunteer Cottonwoods or the random Catalpa that popped up will have to go.

I’m finding there is a reason it’s called Cornucopia Highway….

[Write Your Own Planting Journal]