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Coming Together for Another Year


Retreat!! Dancing Rabbit engaged in its annual retreat this past week. It is always a little different, but always a wonderful coming-together of most parts of our community to look at ourselves as a group. Are we where we want to be? If not, what do we want to do to get us there? What can we tweak or change fundamentally to improve our lives and make our work more effective? Ted here, to relay some of the big questions we asked ourselves this week.

There are a lot of moving parts to our village, including our educational non-profit, the Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture (CSCC), and the Dancing Rabbit Land Trust (DRLT), which holds our land in common and from whom many of us lease land for our individual homes and other purposes. Then there are other formal entities that most of us belong to but are distinct from the village itself, like Better Energy for Dancing Rabbit (BEDR), our power cooperative; the Dancing Rabbit Vehicle Cooperative (DRVC); and Cattail, the entity that manages all our shared infrastructure and resources. These and other acronyms abound during Retreat, when we examine how each of these is serving us and get reports from the leadership of each as to how they’re doing and what’s on the horizon.

The backdrop to all of this is a week in which we share much more closely than usual (in a village where we already share a lot more than average), with most people taking part in collective meals cooked by friends, neighbors and members good at juggling different roles in a busy week. We take a group photo. There are the in-between meeting times when we might play games, continue threads of conversation from the meetings, or slip out on our own to keep our home fronts going during a week when our focus is largely elsewhere. There are snacks each day, keeping our brains fueled for all the gyrations they’re asked to perform as we jump from one topic to the next. Jason started each day of retreat this year with music or group percussion for 15 minutes before we began, helping us get the wiggles out before settling down to talk. Several new residents attended all week and plunged deep into wrapping their minds around all the moving parts of this collective endeavor.

Half of our Retreat comes in the form of Open Space Technology (OST), which is a self-organizing meeting mode that invites each member of the group to define a topic of interest or activity and to convene for an hour or so of discussion and planning. (The Milkweed Mercantile Cooperative was born out of such a session several years ago.) Multiple sessions take place simultaneously, and one is totally at choice to join one and stick with it, or flit back and forth between topics, or take a break entirely.

This year I hosted one session on land management possibilities for the year, and another to see who might be interested in cooperative agriculture endeavors this coming growing season (we’ve tried various styles of garden work party clubs in recent years). I attended another on adding a ceramics studio to the local maker movement, and others on making more casual connection activities happen throughout the year, as well as one about our vehicle covenant and how we might consider re-framing it to better communicate our vehicle-sharing goals. In the weeks to come various proposals and other discussions that follow up on work begun at Retreat will bubble up and carry us on into spring.

We wrapped up the week together with our annual Validation Day card reading, followed by a dance party. Throughout the week we’d all been writing appreciations in cards personalized for each community member and kept in a basket in the Great Room. On the designated day, one or more people read excerpts from the cards after dinner and the rest of the room tries to guess whose card it is based on the snippets read, distributing them to their owners as each gets successfully guessed. Afterward we each quietly read and take in the kindnesses offered. Despite our low population at the moment, it seemed that each card was full to overflowing, and some needed extra leaves. I’ve gone back to read some of the messages today, still absorbing and feeling loved. Ben’s DJ-ing at La Casa Friday night was just the thing to unwind bottoms flat from lots of hours sitting and talking.

One tends to emerge from Retreat with a very full mind and also a buoyed spirit primed for seeking the very best in self, friends, neighbors, and community for another year to come. That’s my experience, anyway, and similar to what I hear from others. Today, the first day after, I passed through the Common House several times and kept feeling disoriented, that there ought to be a lot more people around. Withdrawal. I like that concentrated time with my community mates.

What I fall back on is the routine of my normal daily life. I managed to avoid having to make cheese during Retreat, but I got back to stirring curd today. I did manage to keep up my daily chore of fetching water for the goats and cows each afternoon during our meetings, but relaxed back into taking some time to greet the animals while I’m there, instead of filling their water and running back to catch the next meeting. Snow fell during the week, so I got to rely on Ben’s sled to fetch water in jugs from the hydrant up the road, which is a lot easier than trying to use a wheelbarrow on snow. Goats will start kidding in a month, so Mae led a work party to re-configure the barn and yard fences so we can keep all the animals in their right places to get their needs met when that time comes.

Javi is keeping me updated on the sap flow from the maples he tapped a week or two ago. It seemed early to me, but he’s been pulling in several gallons many days, and at this time of year when many of us run wood cookstoves for heat and sustenance, it is easy enough to keep a pot of sap evaporating on the stove as it runs through the day. I’m wanting to get some taps in myself, but will be on the road for a few weeks soon, so I’ll have to skip it for this year. The Gils also brought home a rescued puppy from a nearby shelter today, a husky-border collie mix named Tango who is very small, extremely adorable, has one blue and one brown eye, and is also very chill so far. Best antidote ever to the post-retreat blues!

I hope your mid-winter moment is as good as it can be. May your kindling be ample and your firewood dry, and may you have as much more sledding and skating as you want before warmer temps return and those first garlic shoots start peeking up through the garden mulch. I’ll be finishing my seed orders in the coming week and getting back to work, gearing up for the year ahead. Our public tours will be picking up again in April, and the Milkweed Mercantile is gearing up for their grand reopening next month, so look forward to coming down for a visit soon. We can’t wait to see you here at Dancing Rabbit!

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Some of the Rabbits who took part in Retreat 2020.