Sunday, January 6, 2013

Creating a Life: Art at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

Baby Robins Photo: Rachel Katz
Blog Post Spoiler: At the bottom of the page is info on the Milkweed Mercantile's Artist in Residence Program. Read and share with your artist friends!

Update February 2014 - Info on the second Milkweed Mercantile Artist in Residence Program (for 2014)

And now, the real post.

I've lived here at Dancing Rabbit longer than anywhere else in my adult life. While this is only 13 1/2 years, it feels significant. With the exception of 4 years in Utah, I have lived my entire life in San Francisco Bay Area cities that struck my fancy - Berkeley, the Oakland, Alameda, Kensington and San Francisco.While the specifics were different, the stage was the same - liberal politics, fabulous weather, proximity to amazing natural resources, myriad cultural events, hotbed of new thinking and ideas, and activities that I adored, like book groups, hiking, foreign cinema, author readings, open studios, bike-friendly streets, ethnic restaurants and quilting guilds.

I had never pictured myself living in the Midwest, let alone rural Missouri. Heck, when Kurt first found Dancing Rabbit online I didn't even know where Missouri was. [Some of our friends didn't either, evidenced by the mail we received addressed to Rutledge, MS (Mississippi), and Rutledge, MI (Michigan).] If it weren't for Dancing Rabbit and the beautiful house that Kurt has built for us here, I would be long gone. While the prairie is lovely my heart remains stuck somewhere in the Sierra Nevada foothills; while the people in the wider community (outside of Dancing Rabbit) are nice many don't have a clue what we're doing here and are skeptical and uncomfortable around us; the summer weather makes me want to wither up and die, or at least lie on the cool floor and pant with the dogs, and my social circle has shrunken to a mere shadow of its former self.

However, in stark contrast with the (or rather, my perceived) negatives are the stunning positives about life at Dancing Rabbit. My favorite is the absolute quiet and stillness - living in a strawbale house in a rural area is so very different than living anywhere in the SF Bay Area. In the Bay Area, no matter where I lived, I could always hear a freeway. I tried to pretend that the constant whoosh whoosh was the sound of the ocean, but once the traffic helicopters came in that fantasy was shot all to hell. Here, I really do get to experience quiet. Even better, in the summer, I awaken when the silence is broken by a cacophony of birdsong - the randy robins wake up first and start strutting their stuff: "hey ladies! I'm totally hot! Come check me out!" They are followed by everyone from Bobwhite quails to chickadees to sparrows. They all have something to say. We also get the occasional woodpecker exploring the wood on our house, and are often scolded by house wrens nesting in the old shoes we've nailed to trees in our yard.

At night, the stars are amazing. It's kind of like living in a planetarium, only without those cool reclining chairs. There seem to have been lots of meteor showers lately, and we are fortunate to have total darkness here from which to observe them. This is in stark contrast from trying to see Haley's comet from our balcony in Berkeley. "Hey! There it is!" "Um, no, Alline, I think that's a street light..."

In the spring and summer the frogs start in at dusk, and make a wonderful racket. We seem to have a number of different varieties - hilarious blurping, peeping and squeaking comes to us from the ponds. Crickets join in, and in the heat of the summer the buzz of cicadas adds another component to the insect symphony. And then there are the fireflies, providing a moving light show which never fails to dazzle me.

However, even with all of that natural beauty and entertainment, I find myself wanting more. I keep my eyes and ears peeled for kindred spirits; writers, artists, and other creative and intelligent folk who wander into our village and into our lives. I love that the Milkweed Mercantile is serving as a lure, a siren call to bring positive aspects of the "outside" world to Dancing Rabbit. In the last year or so we've had a number of writers and artists visit, and we're hoping to host many more.

Danae's "Library"
We persuaded Danae to transform our downstairs toilet room into a library.

Our new friend, landscape artist Billyo O'Donnell came and visited several times. I was delighted to be able to trade a room for prints of his swoon-worthy work.

Kurt, Alline and Billyo
Guest-turned-friend Jim McGowin, bohemian poet and painter from St. Louis, created four incredible portraits of the environmentalists for whom the Mercantile's guest rooms are named. We're waiting until we reopen this coming spring to mount them on the doors of the rooms, but here is a sneak peek:

Rachel Carson by Jim McGowin  "If a child is to keep alive his sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

Wallace Stegner by Jim McGowin “Something will have gone out of us as a people if we let the remaining wilderness be destroyed... We need that wild country, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.”
Aldo Leopold by Jim McGowin

David Brower by Jim McGowin

In keeping with a long-standing DR tradition of creating our own entertainment (since cities and "real" entertainment are so far away), our latest invention is the Artist in Residence Program here at the Milkweed Mercantile. Designed for visual artists, we are also open to hosting writers and poets. The basic idea is that we provide artists with a room in the Mercantile, a place to work, delicious food and the inspiration of 280 acres of Dancing Rabbit and its inhabitants. In return selected artists will create art, and spend at least eight hours sharing his/her artistic skills with members of the community by holding classes/seminars.  We hope to fill all five ten-day sessions with different artists. More info on the Milkweed Mercantile Artist in Residence Program can be found by clicking here. Please share this with your friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers and anyone else who is an artist, knows artists, has seen artists, or has played an artist on TV...

Here's to a juicy, full, art-filled life!

Thanks for reading.