- Mountains And Waters
Past the longest night, moving into the full moon and toward the new year, I wonder how to greet you, what blessing to offer. I found this poem by Ganga White:
“What if our religion was each other,
if our practice was our life,
if prayer, our words.
what if the temple was the earth,
if forests were our church,
if holy water—the rivers, lakes, and oceans.
what if meditation was our relationships,
if the teacher was life,
if wisdom was self-knowledge,
if love was the center of our being.”
What if, indeed. There is no agenda in this poem, just a way of life beyond success or failure, right or wrong. I offer it to you as my new year’s blessing.
Last month I wrote about difficult things in the so-called world. There are also some good news items, fragments: A judge says young people do have the right to sue the government about destroying their future. Congress does not ban Muslims from entering the country (imagine that it was even conceivable!). I’ve noted and forgotten other court decisions in favor of people protecting the land. Then there is the climate summit, hopeful words and no firm commitments. Meanwhile I imagine (just imagine) that this is the last normal winter. I want to be encouraged by the small changes and by the words and by all the people I now see engaging in spirit-based activism.
At the farm: life is much easier now, with Roy here and no farming to do. We now heat with wood all the time (except for right now while we are both away). The culvert is repaired and more than an acre of buckthorn removal is done. We do have to check the root cellar regularly, keep the fire going, and remember to eat from the freezer and the pantry.
My next practical task is to tile a floor space in the kitchen, where the wood cookstove will go. Other tasks are getting a real website, finding people, doing the accounting, and keeping in touch with you.
In addition to donations, we’ve been offered private loans enough to go forward with the solar panel installation. This will turn our electric bill into a small income, and move away from fossil fuels. If you would like to make a donation before the end of the year (or after), look here. $2500 would enable us to repay or redirect the loans.
Personal: I’m getting a little more time with grandchildren and children, and am visiting my long-distance family for a while. It’s time to finish editing my teacher’s book, and I expect to complete that before returning home. I’m sleeping better, but my body misses the vigorous exercise of the farm work. (Snow shoveling should make up for that.)
I’ve gone into practice as a “mindfulness coach,” with office space in Northfield and a phone or Skype option. It’s pretty new, and I haven’t said much except making this listing. I liked counseling in the past and expect to like this, but apparently I’ll have to actually do some marketing. (Alas.)
After sitting zazen every morning at the farm, and a 3-5 day retreat every month, I chose to attend a week-long sesshin (retreat) at Clouds in Water Zen Center, with my old friends and Dharma sisters and brothers. I feel like I’ve rejoined my first Zen family. I’ll be joining a group of priests for regular Dharma study, a very welcome connection.
Mountains and Waters Alliance: A vow came to me spontaneously, and defines the Alliance. It doesn’t really say what the Alliance does or is; it just positions us within the universe of life. Sometimes I wonder how it might take form. I imagine a gathering next spring, a beginning, partially described here, in which we come together to quiet down, listen, and open to creation. (April-May 2016) Currently, I’m asking which plants and animals to add to the woodlands, and walking the land to listen. This is a large temple.
The vow is both about spiritual practice and about protecting the earth in a way beyond what industrial civilization allows us to think. We need to become very quiet and open and find out who we are.
A thousand blessings to you all in the new year.
Mountains and Waters
The fundraising appeal has brought us to a total of $2016 in donations toward the solar panels. People I don’t know gave money. People I never would have asked gave money. People who have little gave more than I would have thought. The outpouring of generosity, and encouraging words, was inspiring. Still haven’t reached the $6700. Thinking about who to ask. Here is the link to the fundraiser.
And now I still have to look for the people with lots of money, and ask them directly. Some of you can imagine how hard this is. I’ll start after I get a phone.
My phone died. I bought a cheap phone to get me through, but it seems that I actually am going to have to upgrade. The cheap phone doesn’t connect with the wi-fi that makes it possible to use a phone in the house – an excuse to continue with a smart phone. All my phone numbers are in the dead phone – something I once swore I’d never do – I’ll get them back. Meanwhile, my number is 507-339-0152. It’s pay-per-minute, and will be my backup phone in the future.
With minimal photos, then, I offer news from the past week.
On Friday we put the garden to bed. TR, Leo, and Justin, with a little help from me, dug up about a wheelbarrow full of potatoes, harvested tomatoes and some beets, dill and coriander seeds, catnip for tea, squash, broccoli, whatever. They tore down old plants and covered bare dirt. Ready to go.
Saturday volunteers – Roy, Paul, Greg, Fran, and I – pulled up buckthorn in the section north of the driveway. We spent hours at it, and Roy continued on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and there’s a lot more to go. We’ll do more October 24, and I’m imagining a marathon in the spring. I planted a few ferns in the bare spots, but we’ll need a lot more shrubs or the buckthorn will grow back.
On Sunday I went for a hike in the woods, along with TR’s school. We looked over the river from the bluff, and then walked down and actually put our feet in the river. I had not known that was possible. Coming back, we walked through a magnificent stand of sugar maples on the north side of the hill. I long to buy that piece of land – 25 acres bordering the river – but can’t even think of it. (Still trying to recruit friends to buy the 75 acres across the road as well.)
The siding has been going up over the insulation, and though not finished it’s looking pretty good. Tonight we expect that Chris and Justin will take the chimney through the roof. Or is that tomorrow? Anyway it’s happening, and we’ll start using that pile of wood. (Currently yes, we are running the heat.)
Outdoors is magnificent. I took a few photos and will rush back to spend a little time with the buckthorn. Let me mention – the photo doesn’t explain that, where we had thickets of buckthorn, crowding out and poisoning out the understory, now we have space under the large trees. We will bring back native plants next spring.
Love you always.
If you are willing and able to donate any money to Mountains and Waters, I ask you to do it now. Small amounts are fine. Large amounts, from those who can, help us get out of fundraising mode faster.
If the vow speaks to you, you are already part of it. How would it feel to make that more real – to put a little of your actual life energy into protecting the planet for your children/grandchildren/all beings? Does your personal spending include $5 a month (or a day) that you would like to switch to supporting this large vision? (You can skip reading and jump down to donating if you like – the next heading. Even $5 helps.)
Here’s what’s happening, why I’m asking right now. There’s an intention to get the farm completely off-grid – fossil fuels and electricity – as well as to grow food to share, supporting local food security against climate change effects.
We have completed half the house insulation, installed a very efficient masonry heater, its chimney almost finished, and have a wood cookstove ready to install. The orchard and berry patch are started, and the vegetable garden is producing like mad. We’re connected with others in the local food system. I’m leading a small Zen group in Northfield, occasional retreats at the farm, and other Zen activities. The second resident, Roy Guisinger, an Advaita teacher, has arrived. He will be both working on the farm and offering teaching.
The blog now has a list of volunteer opportunities including several that you can do from where you are. If you want to do a working visit to the farm, or to come to a retreat, let me know – here.
We applied for Minnesota’s help for installing photovoltaic panels, and won their lottery system. This means that we pay to install the panels, and then they pay us for every watt of electricity we produce in addition to buying back our surplus. We’re approved for a 9.840 kW system which will cost about $27,500 to install.
Plans are to do the installation next spring. To get approved for that delay, we have to purchase the panels now. So I need to decide whether to proceed or not – within the next two weeks. If I put down $6700, I can get a 4.25% loan for the rest; if not, the interest rate is higher. I’m taking that $6700 as the minimum for going forward with the solar panels.
HERE’S WHAT HELP CAN LOOK LIKE:
Donations to https://www.youcaring.com/mountains-and-waters-alliance-362647 are tax deductible. So far we’ve raised $1051 there from 12 people, mostly people who saw it online, including Facebook friends I’ve never met in person.
Loans at no interest would be very helpful. Call or email me.
Donations without the tax deduction save us 5%. You can mail a check here, saving another 2.9% on the WePay fees. (No complaint about the fees. Sending 5% to Alliance for Sustainability is a small amount in exchange for all they give us and do for the community.)
The iGive campaign is still going on, with the special deal ending October 9. Costs nothing – click and see.
Shouldn’t we be getting grants? I’ve been looking. There is a foundation that is likely to fund Mountains and Waters Alliance in a few years – after we’ve shown some stability. A volunteer will be helping with fundraising in a few months, if all goes as planned. The USDA grants for farms are mostly not working now (maybe later) but we have a small conservation grant, if we pull up a lot of buckthorn (invasive shrub).
Get a job? I’ve been in conversation about it and plan to be working about one day a week, which should take care of my personal expenses but won’t support the Farm or the Alliance. The Alliance, by definition, involves many people: Until those people are here, I work elsewhere.
IT MIGHT SEEM STRANGE for this organization with lofty purposes to be raising money for something so mundane. The reality is: We need to eat. We need to stay warm in the winter. And if we are to participate in this society, to organize, to communicate widely, we need electricity. The panels change electricity from an expense to an income source. Although I love when I can be away from Internet and phone and machines, loved living without a car, at this time those things are needed to do the work.
The last blog post raised the question of whether I should be here at the farm. That question isn’t coming up now.
Fall is here. There have been light frosts, and we’re going to take down the garden soon. It’s still outrageously beautiful outside, and colors are barely beginning. I gave a tour yesterday to Roy (showing progress since his last visit) and to Toby, an intern with Savannah Institute (which encourages and promotes the kind of mixed farming that we’re doing here). Both dug, Toby sharpened the scythe and cut some grass, and left this morning. The sun is shining and workers are coming today.
People tell me the orchard and berry patch look great. I’m pleased and surprised. Leo has mushrooms getting ready in a trash can, Chris is getting ready to plant hazelnuts here for his vision of protein for all, and Andrea brought rescued honeybees that we hope will survive the winter. Andrea also cleaned the chicken house, but the chickens are going to wait until spring. Saturday’s volunteers will pull up buckthorn and plant ostrich ferns that Jayne gave me yesterday at the Zen group. (Most of my plants have come from Jenny…not mentioned here I think. Also mention Allison has given food, produce and canned food, and cooked a lunch for us. I’m trying to keep track of the gifts, but it’s hard.)
I think we’re going to make it. All summer I wondered. There’s still the question of how much damage the pocket gophers will do (or how we can stop them – raptor perches haven’t yet worked, snakes are not interested) and whether the deer will get past the tree tubes or the field mice girdle the trees. And how much watering we’ll need to do if next summer is dry. Still plenty of work to do, and I have promised an article for a Soto Zen women’s anthology, have my teacher’s book to edit, have writing of my own that doesn’t happen. But the hardest is past.
Next year we’ll be selling strawberry plants, raspberry plants, strawberries. Later, mushrooms, Chris’s hazelnut seedlings, lots of nursery trees of various kinds. And we got $40 at the farmers’ market a couple weeks ago. Probably will get a little more, when we have time to go. It’s a way to take care of the produce we don’t have time to put up for winter. And I get to take a walk in the woods. Soon. Maybe tomorrow.
Nothing today about news of the world. Another time.
Love and blessings.
Well, first, we have a Facebook page.
Second, I added a volunteer page which includes both dates of workdays (Oct 10, Nov 14) but lots of other options. I was asked to do that.
To simplify, I consolidated the other pages into categories. They should work. Contact info, past event information, and upcoming events (the October 3 intro to Zen retreat day), plus Mission, Vision, Goals, Vow with all my words about what this is about.
Here’s a picture of the chimney construction as it is today. Tonight there should be a few more layers added – every day until they have to go through the roof. Fortunately the weather is being mild.
Soon the siding will go up, covering the insulation before cold weather arrives. The food dehydrator is almost done, and usable once the sun comes back.
I’m gradually bringing my life more into the realm of practicing and teaching Zen. Last Saturday I led an all-day retreat for a women’s group that’s been meeting for years – convened by Nita Wolf, a kind host and excellent facilitator. I was moved by the depth of questions and comments, honored to be invited there, looking forward to the introductory retreat in just over a week.
May your fall be wonderful and your heart be open.
With warmth and respect,
The world is changing, we’re on the edge of fall now, and after 6 weeks of silence it’s hard to know what to say. I’ll be brief, and come again soon.
While Minnesota has had one of its best summers everywhere, it’s been disturbed just a little by smoke from the fires in Saskatchewan – and I know people who’ve spent the summer watching their woods burn. I don’t know the people who’ve had floods, typhoons, and the rest. Syrian refugees are flooding into Europe, and the responses are a frightening vision of possible futures – kindness and welcome mixed with hostility and rejection – and deaths, many deaths. Although there was political turmoil, there was also a 5 year drought, and when people have no food they move – thus the possible future. That future is one of the reasons I am here growing food, but there need to be millions such.
So every morning I offer up the merit of the chanting, and include every part of this world, all humans, particular humans and groups, and ask for help from the ancestors, the earth spirits, and more. Buddhists don’t quite pray, but this is very much like praying and it goes well with working. I do this work at the farm, and little more. In August I gave up the sesshin and spent that time with Love Water Not Oil, going upstream on the proposed pipeline route through Northern Minnesota’s lakes, rice fields, and indigenous-owned, treaty-protected land that is being given away by our state government for profit. This morning I did not attend the court hearing on the Alberta Clipper, because I am needed here.
I don’t know any solutions, I just keep going and invite people to share this life however they may.
Farm stuff first: Saturdays, September 12, October 10, November 14, 9-5 – Volunteer days.
Zen practice events – by donation. Advance registrations are really appreciated
Wednesdays 6:30-8:30 pm, September 16, Oct 7 & 21, Nov 4 & 18 – Zen group meets in Northfield
Sunday evening through Wednesday, Sept 20-23, and October 20-23 – silent sesshin (retreat) at the land
Saturday, October 3, 9-5 – “Introduction to Zen” retreat at the farm
Saturday, November 21, 9-5 – Closing retreat for the Zen fall intensive
Alliance – forming a local group connected with this online program supporting wisdom, courage, and compassion in dealing with climate disruption. Starting soon, dates to be arranged with the group.
The farm is all about abundance now. I probably spend 2 hours a day freezing, canning, and pickling, and don’t even have time to forage nettles or check out the ground nuts. The berries and orchard trees are growing well, mostly. (So are the weeds.) The summer from heaven has been good to all the plants as well as the humans.
I’ve signed up with a direct-to-restaurant sales program, but my quantities are perhaps too small for them. We’ll see. The squash has not yet begun.
People are here a lot, and supportive. Most of the labor is still paid, to people who are friends and who seriously earn their wages. But increasingly, people are coming around who are invested in the vision, who give their labor, pay their teenagers to work here, donate food and supplies, and generally do a lot. The newest of these, Andrea, has blitzed the chicken house (and will bring chickens), spent a solid weekend with me in the berry patch, and planted a rescued beehive near the garden.
There are some conversations about possibly moving in, or moving next door. Right now the only definite is Roy, who will arrive at the beginning of October and spend the winter.
After the summer off, the Zen group resumed meeting, with a sense of cohesion about combining Wednesday night meetings, retreats at the farm, and more into a “practice intensive” described here.
I continue to sit zazen in the morning, and have added a short chanting service as well. When people see the names on the altar, they often ask me to include someone – often recently deceased – and I’m happy to do it. It’s one of the things we do in community: pray for each other, remember each other.
Projects and needs
The plan to get off grid and to grow a lot of food is moving along slowly. Last winter we put in a masonry heater and started insulating the first floor. Right now the kitchen is torn up for installation of the chimney for that heater, and for installing a wood cook stove. Next spring we are supposed to put in photovoltaic panels. Before winter the insulation should be covered with siding – and estimates are running near $10,000, which I had completely not anticipated and am simply unable to face. I’ll deal with it after the chimney and stove are done. We can always just wrap plastic over it, postponing it to next year. Or borrow, take out a mortgage on the farm, which is not advised. Running the savings down to zero is also not recommended.
People are making donations, and the energy of it is encouraging and nourishing. The fundraiser for the solar panels has passed $1000 even with my inability to ask. I did send one letter to one foundation asking to submit a grant for seed money – website development and professional fundraising – and am waiting. My plans to work off the farm are stalled, and perhaps will be reinvented later this fall after the harvest is in. Meanwhile – the world is still beautiful and generous. I am learning, more and more, to let go as it makes its own way.
We’re on vacation from the Internet. This is because, after being stung by 20+ bees and taking a baking soda bath to soothe the bites, I slipped on a wet floor and dropped the laptop. It was still under warranty. The vacation has been about 10 days, and might be a while more. I notice that I was spending really a lot of time on the computer. No writing, no email, no library movies – this is the way I lived for maybe 40 years, why is it so hard now? The loss of easy distraction is forcing me to be more present.
So if I haven’t answered you, that’s why. Email by cell phone is just harder and slower.
The stings are gone, and I have a functioning body again – the hurt wrist and the tendonitis are both minimal, and it is a joy to pick up a bale of straw or a shovel, to swing a scythe. There have been little things – repairs on the truck, broken belt on tractor so the mowing is behind, a million mosquitoes. And the peas and beans now have to be picked every day.
There’s a core of people working on the farm, mostly paid but not all, and the feeling of teamwork is strong. And people I met last year or before are appearing again. I’m trying to remember the name of an absolutely wonderful woman who visited overnight, sat zazen with me, had lovely conversation, and made several very high quality bug hats. (How could she have disappeared from all my emails?) Eight people came to last Saturday’s workday – three of them surprises. And people contact me about future visits or possible internships. I’m trying to keep the center: it’s about practice, about settling into the nature of reality, about living with the whole world in harmony – and letting go of thoughts.
Okay – I can’t upload the photos!
If you sign up for iGive right now (see Contact page, at top) we will get $5. Through July 31. Just saying.
Please be well and happy. I will write again when I can.
Dear Friends of Vairochana Farm:
Things are happening here. I’ve talked about the plantings and all – but inspiration has been moving. The name is changing to Mountains and Waters. It is clarified into the Alliance, described here, and the actual practice of farming. The words below are sufficient explanation.
Mountains and Waters Alliance begins with a vow:
We accept our place in the community of life;
we ally ourselves with mountains, waters, and everything that lives,
for the protection and restoration of the whole earth and all beings,
human or nonhuman, known or unknown, near or far, born or to be born.
We make this request
of animals, plants, waters, mountains, valleys, clouds, rocks,
individually and collectively: to accept our vow of support
and join with us in this protection, restoration, renewal and regeneration.
There is a fundraiser for solar panels. You can donate here http://www.youcaring.com/fundraiser-widget.aspx?frid=362647
The donation page has plenty of explanation about why the solar panels and not something else. It would really help us a lot if you would make a donation (any size; literally we make money with anything over 32 cents) and share this with friends who might like to support the work we’re doing.
I’ll post again when there’s more news – the change in name and language (but not intention), and of course when we actually get a website with the new name. Right now most of my time and volunteer time is going to protecting the new trees and berries, planting food for this year, and a little bit of land care, the most urgent. We’ll have two summer residents soon. And the world is beautiful.
I came home after 2 weeks in a Zen priest training, and today is my first day. It’s hot, the garden, weeds, and grass are flourishing along with most of the baby trees, and tomorrow I get eleven baby goats to take care of for the summer. Meanwhile, needing one day off and time for reflection, instead I went out on the tractor to mow. And I enjoyed it. The world is out of control: Gaza is a nightmare, climate change is out of control, and the conversation on Facebook is full of extremes (to mention just three). My life is out of control: flood damage to prevent before the next rains, keeping relationships and handling the gardens, and the book to edit. And what if that mysterious thing in my lungs actually is cancerous? Once again I don’t have health insurance. I’m acting as though I have decades more to live and work.
So, instead of sitting zazen or sitting with my journal, I went out and had the pleasure of watching the long grasses fall, making neat borders between tame and wild, enjoying the power of how fossil fuels are so much faster than one body with a scythe. (And wondered how fast I can convert lots of this lawn to better things. All steep lawn places WILL become gardens.) Watching the frogs jump, and noting gladly that they always move before the blades arrive.
And then the mower quit mowing. Is it expressing me? I suspect it’s a certain bushing, and the question of whether I can get it up onto blocks and look underneath – safely – or haul it into town (which requires getting it up onto the truck) – I have postponed until tomorrow.
Vairochana Farm – farming things:
We have planted a couple dozen fruit trees and bushes, most of which look alive and healthy. There are several small gardens and a lot of vegetables that look well; some are overgrown, some going to seed, and when the time comes I will have lots of squash, melons, cucumbers, and more. I remember little, but the plants seem forgiving. Some of the perennials (rhubarb, scorzonera) are thriving while others (asparagus) are faltering. It’s all learning for me; I’d just started gardening after my first permaculture course, then forgot most of what I’d learned. The rabbit fences are not up, and a search for “rabbits” and “green beans” tells me not that they probably ate my beans, but that I shouldn’t give my pet rabbits too many. I’ll take that as a yes.
For most of spring I foraged; I love wood nettles and they are so healthful! There are still young ones out there to gather, and it’s on my “list” to fill the freezer. But yesterday I froze radish greens instead, and today probably lamb’s-quarter and Asian greens. Have to look up how to save seed from the Asian greens, and whether to plant some more. The poison ivy is doing really well, even where I tore it out. As is the wild cucumber. Wild grapes are an unexpected menace, but some seem to actually have grapes; excitement!
There are tentative plans for public programs, still without dates: building a solar oven, building a solar food dehydrator – large!!! Buckthorn removal, for which some government agency will pay us – but are there really volunteers for that?
Primary thoughts for income are selling off black walnut trees (there are so many they need thinning for the health of the forest), and maple syrup in the spring. Other possibilities include mushrooms, black walnuts. Long term plans include chestnuts and hazelnuts, other nuts and fruit, maybe sunflower oil, a plant nursery. All require investment, tools, and learning.
Tomorrow I borrow 11 kid goats for the summer; their job is weed removal, and my job is to find out whether I can do the goat thing – and get my own goats next year. Chickens, the same question. And there are things to do before cold weather, primarily finding another way to heat the house. (Update: five goats. Less scary.)
Vairochana Farm – community and practice
I’m alone here, though many people have visited and the “we” means me and Joe, the part time farm manager. The work wants more people to live here. But I am encouraged by the words of Red Pine (Bill Porter): “My conversations with hermits in China led me to conclude that [for them] seclusion was like going to graduate school. Afterwards they can teach….Persons who could “break the mold” and become teachers almost always required a period of seclusion for maturation.” So there is no hurry. Eventually, I hope there will be six long-term residents (the legal limit), peers, along with teaching that includes residential group practice.
We had a dedication ceremony in June, about 20 of us, in addition to some private blessings with individuals from different traditions.
I am resolved to begin holding sesshin here, alone or with others, a gentle invitation. Here are some dates:
(Schedule will be the basic Antaiji 4 am – 9 pm “just sitting,” modified for practical matters such as need to cook, possible animal care, beginners’ support, self-care, etc. Call for more information.)
Also the Northfield sitting group (formerly a class) will resume in September, alternate Wednesday evenings.
I strongly hope to offer the Dharma freely, as I received it, and support teaching and practice through farm activities. And I hope that there will be donors. When it’s time to build, there will be a fundraising campaign.
I’ll try to write more often.