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When I first came to Dancing Rabbit twenty years ago as an intern, I spent some of my free time building rustic furniture to spruce up my outdoor abode. Skyhouse was in the process of being framed, so there was a goodly pile of lumber scraps and off-cuts not far from my tent platform with which to work. Though I cut a few of the seat pieces to length, I otherwise worked with the existing shapes and angles of the wood. It was extremely satisfying after work each day to be held by the product of my labor, and even to invite others to join me while appreciating the waving prairie grasses covering the mostly unbuilt village area beyond.
Ted here with the latest from Dancing Rabbit.
Fast-forward two decades, and a stone’s throw from where I sat in my simple chairs now stand Thomas’s house and shop. There is some remote kinship between the simplicity of my chairs and Thomas’s house, known as Mirth Lodge, in terms of appearances, and in working with the original spirit of each piece that went into the building. I don’t mean to impugn Thomas’s work in any way by the superficial comparison; I have long admired the subtle but deep artistry that he employs in discovering and displaying the beauty to be found in wood. He knows the species at a glance, and more often than not he knows where and how it grew, thus adding another layer of meaning to whatever purpose it ends up serving.
This past week I had the pleasure of sitting on some rustic furniture of his making, in the upstairs of his workshop, which is itself a product of many years’ study of Japanese and other framing styles and displays the same simple beauty of a thing well conceived and built to last.
Each bench or stool is entirely of wood, with traditional joinery and none of the fasteners I had used to construct mine years ago. Each bears evidence of its origins, with a walnut burl left here and the original curve of a pear branch there in the bench legs. A bit of oil rubbed into the smoothed surfaces makes each carved facet shine. Every bowl, spoon, and chair is a unique work of art. I’ve known Thomas nearly 18 years now, and I hope for many more.
These days I also see Thomas most days on the job site that is Connie’s house, known as Duckweed. He and Scout, a neighbor from Sandhill Farm, have been building it this past year, and I’ve lately been installing the electrical system there. Clad in live-edged oak siding milled by Baigz, another Sandhill neighbor, its earth-sheltered foundation and major attached greenhouse combine to make it t-shirt temperature inside on sunny days this January, even though it is only partially insulated pending the completion of my wiring work. I’m almost there, just a few more circuits to run. Connie stops in most days to observe the progress with her dog Coda, so I’ve been able to fine-tune the placement of most elements to her liking. Within a few months she’ll be moving in, the newest resident on Skunk Ridge.
This past week brought enough of a thaw to get Christina’s social organizing urge in gear with a s’mores and mulled wine happy hour in the park next to Milkweed Cottage– socially distanced of course, but no less congenial for it (is this starting to feel normal?). That event was bracketed by two others, the first being the making of Validation Day cards, one collaged for each villager, and later to be written in by most others before being distributed to their recipients in mid-February.
The second event was the first art showing I’ve been to in a mask, where new Ironweeder Grace displayed some of her paintings in the Common House along with a miniature, a truly tiny house with a minute woodland scene assembled within, well lit. Her art has been selling at a brisk pace this past month despite being a new venture, and I enjoyed the brief tenure of a portrait of a cat in Ironweed before it was sent along to its new owner by mail. We have been blessed here over the years with artists of all stripes, and to know them personally, not just through their work, makes it all the more pleasurable.
I’m behind on seed ordering, and have lately discovered that may mean I have to search beyond my normal suppliers to get the seed I need for the coming season. Apparently one effect of the pandemic is a major uptick in self-reliance efforts in the general population, so that my preferred supplier (Fedco, a cooperative seed house in Maine, where I first worked on a farm in 1996) is only accepting limited orders once a week. I’m trying now to inventory my seeds so I’m ready for the next order window… fingers crossed. It will be time for the first starts in a matter of weeks!
Cheese making is comparatively slow this time of year, as the goats are not in milk and most of Sugar’s milk is consumed fresh, so I fulfill some of my dairy co-op duties by distributing hay and hauling water to the animals every afternoon. Each day I do I also get to appreciate the shelter provided to the cows by the new shed roof addition Mae and I built onto the barn this past summer with some help from our friends and neighbors. Sugar, Bessie, and Frankie all seem to be well satisfied in the space as well.
Back at the kitchen, I get to reveal some of the products of last season every week or two, most recently cracking open two goat cheddars, one with caraway seed, and one with hot peppers. So good!
With both cows recently bred, we can look forward to even more tasty local food later this year, and meanwhile I’ve also been savoring the amazing variety of cured artisanal meats produced by Ben. Most recently he proffered some goat salami, fermented with aid of some whey from cheese making some months ago and hung to age in a cool space since.
As we’ve watched the drama of national politics and governance over the past few weeks, here at home the Village Council and our nonprofit have been wrestling with refinements to our Covid-related practices and the question of how best to re-open the village to visitors. Dancing Rabbit’s visitor program has been the primary focus of our educational mission, and also serves as the entry point for a major portion of new residents, so the absence of visitors this past year will likely mean a dip in population growth this year and beyond if we don’t figure out how to open up again.
One central question is whether we’ll ask that visitors be tested or vaccinated before arrival; given the range of opinions out there on vaccinations, that could significantly limit the applicant pool, but two weeks of quarantine upon arrival for a two week visitor session doesn’t work well either. It remains to be seen how rapidly the wider public will gain access to, and choose to receive, the vaccination. At least two villagers received their first dose of vaccine this week as our region starts its rollout.
As we settle into 2021 and bid a not-so-fond farewell to the lingering impacts of 2020, we miss our friends and supporters and the energy they bring to our village. We hope to figure out soon enough how to see you again! Meanwhile we hope you are finding resilience, hope, and new ways to thrive in these wild times, wherever you may be. Good luck with your own seed starting and artistic adventures in the coming weeks, and keep in touch!
Ted Sterling is a long time member of our community. His cheeses are legendary and much appreciated! He holds our current COVID-related concerns in a long term context for the village. For more exposure to our way of life, head over to our website: www.dancingrabbit.org.