This post is part of Sustainablog’s Pedal Powered Blogathon in support of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Rutledge, Missouri.
About 14 years ago I was dating a guy in Silicon Valley named Brian Skinner. We were an odd pair. I was 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 of years before we met his aunt had passed away and left him a substantial sum. He believed the money was unearned and therefore not really his. So, he set about looking at how to “alleviate world problems and prevent some suffering.” Brian was all about the hard data. After a few years of analysis, he wrote something called The Gumption Memo, where he explains his reasoning for giving 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 aspects of living lightly. Many of us met for a book club which 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 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 group helped me get to a holistic view of crises I had seen as not completely connected.
Tony Sirna and Rachel Katz, two of the most interesting people in the group, were leaving the Bay Area. Strange idea to me, 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, meadows, world-class parks, and a vibrant creative scene full of makers, musicians and magicians. Why would anyone want to leave this? Growing up there I had never considered leaving permanently. Unthinkable.
It seemed a strange choice for these folks, enjoying all the options they did being at the center of the tech boom gainfully employed. Again, I was impressed. It was possible to make a lot of money even if, like me, you had only a freshly minted English degree and moxie.
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.
At Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (DR), we understand how difficult it can be to live sustainably and responsibly within modern US culture. We believe that we can work to build a healthy alternative: a social structure that is both non-exploitative and vibrant. As our village grows, we see this ideal take shape more clearly every day: a diverse range of people living ecologically sound lives in a community that truly serves as an example of positive human action within the natural world.
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 deeply pleasurable nostaglia and 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 tornados. Big yes to the fireflies and huge NOPE to the tornados! We stopped at every historical plaque between San Francisco 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 an 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. 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. I was used to outliers and artists and strange people but, as interested as I was in their thinking, I’ll be honest, the whole project 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. They had to make their own fun so, many played instruments. Brian and I had toyed with the idea of moving out there on the way to Rutledge. But actually being in Rutledge 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 patchouli scented 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.
Because of Dancing Rabbit, I eventually learned to play the bodhran, an Irish frame drum 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.
With great fondness to the all Rabbits and immense gratitude to Brian,
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