- The Farm
- The Alliance
I noticed, suddenly, that I am at war with the way things are.
Last summer, I noticed being at war with buckthorn, grasses, and pocket gophers – beings of nature that act like civilized humans, taking all the space, destroying what gets in their way – and interfering with my food supply. This was a disturbing realization, and I’ve been studying it.
Now it’s clear that my war is bigger. I’m at war with the whole way things are, particularly the human world. I’ve made a noble cause of it, called “healing the mind of separation,” and “releasing human arrogance,” but truth is I really really want the civilization around me to change or perhaps self-destruct before it destroys life on earth.
Suddenly I saw my own war, saw how I am just like the system that shaped me – not free – and still part of the problem.
Actually, it’s a relief. As I wrote beautiful words about what the problem is and how we need to change, there was a little uneasiness. Now I know why. Something inside me had to move. I had to fall down, had to lose my hubris. So I’m glad to be present with this uncomfortable awareness.
So I write today from the middle of uncertainty and unraveling. If I waited for the answers to become clear, that would be waiting to return to hubris. But I can meet you here in the empty space; we’ll see what offers itself. Meanwhile, life continues.
Requests and practical things
Housesitter wanted June 11-July 1, while I’m at the Sakyadhita Conference. A little work, a wonderful space, and garden vegies or foraging. Otherwise, someone to do a little work (house plants and mowing) during that time – volunteer, barter, or paid.
Donations: If you would like to support my travel to Sakyadhita, anything will help. Seriously – from a $20 donation we get $19.12; from $5 we get $4.55. Here’s the link for donating, and much more information.
A ride to the plane (for Sakyadhita) June 11 morning, and back July 1 about 9 pm.
Residents and/or farm managers – Possibilities are still open. Please contact me if tempted.
Strawberry plants, raspberry plants, and various other things are available for purchase – or freely given to volunteers. Just ask.
Farming and volunteering.
These are dates for group volunteering. You can arrange to come at other times. PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.
May 27-28 Planting garden, pulling buckthorn, maybe weeding. Take home healthy berry plants for your own garden.
June 10 A short day, 9-2 or so. More of the same.
July 8-9 We’ll start at 10 am with a 2-hour presentation on permaculture. Then get to work – after lunch.
July 17 & 26 A student group will be working here 9-5. Your company is welcome.
August 5-6 Early harvest? Stockade fence? More orchard work?
Sept 9-10 same as August.
Oct 14-15 Definitely harvest.
Nov 11-12 Late harvest and closing down for the season.
How it works:
The projects named may change. If you have a particular skill or crave a particular kind of work (chain saw, building, digging, planting….) let me know. Ask if you need carpool help. There’s a serious possibility you might go home with berry starts, herbs, or something else, if you want. AND LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.
Retreats and teaching activities
June: No retreats because I’m traveling.
July: retreat at the farm July 15-19 (ends at noon). Please note: when alone, I just sit zazen all day. When people join me, I can offer zazen instruction, introduction to Zen, dialogue, and mindful work opportunities.
August: retreat at the farm August 19-23.
September: retreat at the farm September 16-20
October: retreat at the farm, October 21-26.
November-December: to be arranged.
June 7, July 5 & 19, August 2, 16, & 30: The Northfield group will meet less formally during the summer, open to questions, discussion, and topics. We’ll still meet 6:25-8:30, with sitting meditation at beginning and end. Please bring your questions. Located at Northfield Buddhist Center, 313½ Division St, Northfield (park in rear).
June 24 or 25: At Sakyadhita International Conference of Buddhist Women, I’ll be offering a workshop. It’s in Hong Kong, so you probably don’t want to come.
Sept 1-4: I will offer at least one workshop at Gathering of the Guilds, a Midwest permaculture gathering held just three miles from here.
January 13, 2018: One-day retreat with Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta, Georgia.
January 14, 2018: Dharma talk, Red Clay Sangha.
I’ll post other scheduled talks on the calendar here. If your group would like to arrange a talk, workshop, or retreat, please get in touch.
As the world changes, as despair threatens, the vision of Mountains and Waters Alliance is being deeply tested and clarified.
Climate change becomes increasingly obvious; violence, wars, and the war on the environment continue to escalate, and the incoming government is not a cause for encouragement. Refugees, wars, refusal of refugees, pictures of hurt and hungry children – these are our daily news. The human capacity to cause suffering is unavoidable. The arctic is sixty degrees above normal now; the summer saw unprecedented wildfires and droughts, and I was grateful to be in a place where climate change meant only fierce storms, fallen trees, raging rivers and floods, and ruined crops. The conflict between corporate greed and a culture based in the earth is playing itself out at Standing Rock, and still unfinished. In a small way I participated in that, first organizing prayer vigil support at home, then spending five days at the Standing Rock camps, joining in prayers and also sitting with other Buddhists. I expect to return when needed, and I do expect we will be needed again.
The plan of offering an example of community based in practice with the earth seems like it belongs to a gentler time, with slower change. The other side of the vision – allying with trees, mountains, and forces larger than human – becomes essential, and that is where most of my time has gone this year. In July, a wilderness retreat with David Loy and Johann Robinson led to profoundly deepened understanding of communicating and allying with the nonhumans – especially mountains and alpine flowers. My following visit to the Black Hills was more of the same, and forging a conscious alliance. This is the work difficult to discuss, that gives Mountains and Waters Alliance its name. If there is any hope in this time, it lies in giving up the illusion that humans are separate, better, or in control, and in casting our lot with all sentient beings.
A brief report on activities:
The primary work has been learning and unlearning. Pulling out invasive plants, I see the mind of war inside myself. I’ve apprenticed myself to the land, to learn in body that which I’m called to teach about becoming part of the family of life. I seek another mind – parental mind or collegial mind – in my relationship with these difficult plants. In this, the land becomes a learning laboratory. This is what I intend to teach to others, but at this time I can only express it through Zen language.
In addition to this learning, daily sitting and retreats at the land, and the wilderness retreat mentioned above, I participated in a Bearing Witness retreat this fall with local Dakota leaders. My December retreat time went to Standing Rock, and was followed by lying in bed waiting for body and heart-mind to recover. It’s been a time of working underground, enriching the soil to be fruitful later. That deep work is still in process, changing me into someone who will be actually able to offer it fully.
On the farm, we’ve protected the orchard from deer and rodents, tended and harvested berries, continued woodland restoration, and repaired storm damage. The farm house now has wood heat and cooking, solar panels, additional space, and a year’s supply of firewood. The Advisory Council meets monthly, volunteers and other supporters have helped with many projects. Office organizing and accounting is improved, and appliction for tax status is on the to-do list. I’m looking for farmers to lease part of the land, and there are a couple of conversations in process.
I’ve taught and led retreats at the farm, had guest teachers, welcomed volunteers, and networked with other farmers as well as activists and Buddhists. I’ve also taught at Buddhist and other groups, and at the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. The sitting and study group in nearby Northfield has doubled in size. My essay “Right Action: The world is my body” was published in The Eightfold Path (ed. Jikyo Wolfer, Temple Ground Press 2016) And as mentioned, I’ve been involved in peaceful activism on environmental and indigenous issues.
I think a time will come when this farm is needed as a place of refuge and sanctuary. This, in addition to being a source of deep nourishment for the inner work, and a place for teaching, is a reason to keep it and cultivate it in spite of the expense.
The most important work has been nearly invisible. Thus I haven’t asked for money. Yet $1400 has come in unsolicited, much appreciated. For those who want to be quiet partners in this work, you are welcome to support it here. If you want to join in this practice, whether here, at your home or anywhere, please contact me.
Much warmth to you, as the dark of the year turns toward light again.
Love, Shodo – for Mountains and Waters Alliance
Here are two of the many writings that sustain me these days of difficulty. My own voice is still.
The Descent, by Thanissara. https://thanissaradharma.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/the-descent/
and this, from 1968:
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”
Our work is to heal the mind of separation, the cause of our time’s unthinkable violence, and to ally with forces of nature to protect and restore the wholeness of life. Releasing human arrogance, with love and beyond conventional wisdom, we seek and follow guidance from those forces: land care, growing food, teaching, writing, retreats, and whatever is required. This is our intervention on climate catastrophe, while we prepare to offer hospice if needed.
Working on a grant application, some things clarified themselves. The first paragraph is above.
A key clarification is that the alliance with all beings is in fact the center. The land is a learning center, a place to begin that relationship, and a place to take in climate refugees if and when that happens. But the most important thing is changing our relationship with the rest of the planet – collectively. Thus, when asked “what if you don’t get the funding you need?” I answered that the shape of the work will change, but it will continue.
Please look here, for better language. Reading the first few paragraphs will be plenty for most people.
Since I last wrote,
There’s some traveling coming up in my life:
A Zen student arrives in June for a few months; I expect another shortly after he leaves in the fall – good news, not to be alone here. This is meant to be a place of community.
Teachings: I’ve updated the calendar, will just mention a few:
And I don’t even know what’s happening in today’s election.
Here are some pictures.
We’re offering a workshop on making flower essences, followed by a four-day gentle meditation retreat, Sunday to Wednesday, as our closing for the 40-day intensive practice time called “Living with the Earth.”
For us, the point of the flower essence workshop is deepening our ability to connect with the land and nonhuman beings. For Martin, the teacher, flower essences are about deep and subtle healing. The meditation retreat, starting Sunday, will follow on that, including short meditative work periods with gardens and woods, earth-based outdoor meditation, and sitting meditation indoors.
We will continue to practice with the earth through summer, fall, and winter. Visitors and interns are still welcome.
Day-long workshop on making flower essences.
Saturday May 21, 9:30-3:30, at Mountains and Waters Farm
As part of our commitment to connect more deeply with the natural world, we invite you to join us in this work which connects flowers and humans in a healing way.
Flower essences are highly effective and subtle remedies made from medicinal flowers for working with psycho-emotional problems in people’s lives. This beginning workshop, taught by flower essence consultant and maker Martin Bulgerin, is an opportunity to get acquainted with these powerful remedies, and to actually make an essence from a flower blooming here on the land.
The 6-hour workshop includes Martin’s two-session introduction to flower essences, plus actually making a remedy together.
Martin has been active in the area of natural healing for 26 years. He is locally recognized as a skilled expert in flower essence therapy, and has created his own line of essences. For more information see the website, www.BioPscInst.com/bpi/FERoot.html, or contact Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time: 9:30-3:30 (bring a lunch)
Location: near Faribault, about an hour south of Minneapolis, in a beautiful natural setting of meadows, bluffs, and woods, by the Cannon River. Directions will be given, including carpooling assistance.
Fee: $50, plus optional $5 materials fee if you would like a bottle of the essence we make. (If you need a scholarship, please ask.) Checks will be made out to Martin Bulgerin, and all money goes directly to him.
Class size is limited and registration is essential.
Please register through Mountains and Waters Alliance, email@example.com, or 507-384-8541.
The meditation retreat, Sunday-Wednesday, will include short meditative work periods with gardens and woods, earth-based outdoor meditation, and sitting meditation indoors.
Come for all or part. To cover food and lodging expenses, we ask for $20/day or in-kind donations.
You’re encouraged to make a donation to the teacher as well.
Pre-registration is essential. For information or registration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 507-384-8541.
Last night I took a walk and scattered seeds in the forest. To walk through the woods is a blessing. Every time, I see more new plants, and want to know their names. I see where tiny buckthorn have come back, or larger ones were missed last time.
It seems like I hear them singing to me, and if I would slow down more I could really join in. There will be a note from a single wild plum tree, or a fern, or a chorus from a whole group of ferns. Sometimes I reply – but the reply is always a little off, I still carry too much noise. Perhaps, as I work in the woods every day, my voice will become clearer. Perhaps trying to imitate is not the point.
This way of being began after Myo-O’s voice workshop, where we spent time with the trees at the end. We’ll be doing it again, probably this fall, probably a whole retreat. But the other guest teacher, Martin Bulgerin, will teach us a different way of listening to plants, by making flower essences. That will be near the end of the 40-day intensive, and followed by a sesshin (meditation retreat). Some of my sesshin time will be in the woods. And that is my healing.
A few months ago I said that this “Living with the Earth” time (also known as “Earth-based Zen Practice”) would set the course for the Mountains and Waters Alliance – defined as “we ally ourselves with mountains, waters, and everything that lives” – getting it into our bodies and hearts. I hoped a core group would participate in this learning with me.
Working in the woods, I notice my preferences for plum over buckthorn, maple over box elder, hazelnut over honeysuckle, and anything over prickly ash. I say those preferences are about whether the plant cooperates with its neighbors, but have to admit that really there is a lot about human convenience. Do they scratch me? Do they give berries in return? I am still human-centered.
Patience is beginning to arise. Zen is full of stories of monks or nuns who spent 60 years living alone in the forest, and eventually students started to seek them out. Suddenly the question occurred: “Did any of them wonder why nobody noticed them? Maybe they were not noble and perfect, maybe they had their miserable days too.” Mostly, thus, I’m able to accept that my own learning and practice is the core. Others may come, or not, but I am finding my core teaching.
And because I have not taken the role of teacher here, I don’t know what others are thinking. I coordinate, solicit, publicize, and do heavy labor – and wonderful conversations happen, and the result is completely unknown. But sometimes a voice comes up in me, and it seems I have words worth saying.
I came back from that walk to learn that Trump had already been declared winner in Indiana. Soon I realized that Cruz had dropped out; it took longer to find that Sanders had won. Imagining Trump as president, I notice fear. Already people who speak a foreign language or can be mistaken for Muslims are being thrown off airplanes, refused entry to things, and sometimes beaten on the streets. Those of us working for change will, I think, be obligated to spend much more time interrupting such things, attending to the basic necessities in our own towns, keeping people alive.
And then I learned of the fire in Fort MacMurray, the evacuation of that whole town, and saw pictures of the place where I had been, 2012 and 2013, to walk with First Nations people in the Healing Walk. Climate change, yes, but how is it? And people are talking about karma, absurdly and cruelly, as if it were the individuals living and working there who were causing the devastation.
What will we become, when we have lost everything? Syrian refugees, Palestinian ordinary people – go back in time to Vietnamese boat people, further back to Tibetan people, whether they fled or stayed – now 70,000 people burned out in North America – what do you become when everything is gone except life and maybe family? Will we finally wake up? You see me searching for meaning. But as always, the people injured are not particularly the people who did the damage, no more than you or me.
There’s a phrase from a Zen story, “Just this, from birth to death.” It’s burned into my mind, but I can never find the story when I actually want to discuss it. Today it is in hiding, but in my mind. Not to do anything special, just be here. Like Daniel Berrigan: “Presente.”
Now – a few photos from last weekend, and some upcoming events briefly.
the plan was to replace pulled-out buckthorn with native trees, 100 of them, and later to add small plants to keep the forest floor healthy. It was amazing to see all the many plants. Maybe they were hidden by buckthorn, honeysuckle, and grasses; maybe they actually multiplied in just one winter.
The Saturday groups (total 4 people plus me, in 2 shifts) pulled up buckthorn in a new area. I cut down tops of plants we will remove, which makes it easier to see what’s happening. We never got to planting the serviceberry, which were donated. Later.
On Sunday I was determined to have a day off. Two of us worked most of the day on the “island” next to the swamp. Nick moved stepping stones for crossing the creek, and half-built a walkway across the swamp to the island, so now it’s easier to get around. The place almost looks like a park now. I left tools and work projects to finish.
Monday I went alone to the island and planted a lot more trees – and found a lot more buckthorn to remove. (For the non-local: if you have buckthorn, you only have buckthorn.) Likewise, if you have bush honeysuckle, or reed canary grass, you have only them – and you either submit or fight. I refuse to use chemical poisons, but watching my mind in its preferences is a challenge. Anyway, its shape is beginning to show itself.
Tuesday I planted a few hundred seeds. Hope they survive. The bare ground under the trees is vulnerable to anything – and we don’t need more take-over plants. And, on the farm, Justin and I looked at the gardens and orchards, pulled a lot of weeds, and planted a lot of potatoes. Thursday we get a load of compost, and get ready for this weekend’s orchard/garden work.
I said I couldn’t afford to hire people this year, but not hiring them was worse. A bunch of fabulous people have turned up. We have Juli, office manager, 15-16 hours a week, helping me get organized and also find volunteers and sell produce. (Besides the farmer’s market of course.) Justin, farm, 15-20 hours a week, and a natural. Paul, high school student, farm. Carpenters for a couple of projects. My money is worth more here than in the bank – though I can’t cut too close. Mentally I’m writing grant proposals, but don’t have time to really write them. Maybe another YouCaring, some time.
In July I am traveling for two things: first, a “thinktank” about environmental activism that actually supports the environment rather than becoming part of the corporate structure. Second, a long retreat in the mountains, for activists and meditators, for which I received a full scholarship. I need it. In June I return to my teacher’s temple in Indiana, Sanshinji, for ceremonies and to help welcome his successor.
For local people, Facebook page is now the best place to find up-to-date information. But I will keep the event page updated here too.
May 6-7: “Tending the Gardens” – mostly, we’ll work with moving supportive plants into the orchard, from the berry patch and elsewhere, and weed and tend both of them. The annual gardens take second place. For people who would like to stay overnight, you can make this a retreat and join us for morning meditation. Just working is fine too
Saturday, May 21: Flower essence workshop – about 5 hours, including a class on making flower essences, a talk and demonstration of prescribing an essence for someone, and – what’s special – actually making a remedy from one flower, which includes meditative time outside. There will be a fee, and there will be scholarships.
Martin Bulgerin, the teacher, has been practicing natural healing for decades, and is locally recognized for his work with flower essences. His website is here. More information later.
Saturday -Wednesday, May 21-25: closing retreat – Concluding our 40 days of living close to the earth, we will create a closing retreat that includes meditation (zazen), land care, celebration, and simple ceremony. You’re encouraged to start with the flower essence workshop.
There’s still volunteer work available most of the time, and we’re still looking for carpool connections from Twin Cities.
Dates are not set.
May or June: Luca Valentino, a Zen person with decades of experience teaching and doing cabinetmaking, will offer some kind of teaching.
Fall (?): Myo-O Habermas-Scher, Minneapolis Zen teacher and voice teacher, will offer a retreat involving work with voice, chanting with trees, and meditation.
Fall (?): Lee Lewis, a Minneapolis Zen teacher, will offer a 5-day sesshin (meditation retreat) here, with teaching relating to the environment and with some outdoor work, nature walks, or other connection with the land.
And that is all for now. Blessings to all of you. Please continue to support us and the whole earth with your prayers, meditations, and everything.
Living With the Earth spring 2016 events
(Our first event, the chanting workshop with Myo-O Habermas-Scher, was a lovely time with 9 guests. We’re planning a longer one for this fall. People have been doing things in the woods, which are starting to bloom.)
The heart of each retreat is walking, listening, and opening to the land, a meditative practice which will guide every part of our work.
May Day Weekend – Playing in the Woods
We’ll take care of a small wooded area (in the picture), replacing problem plants with Sugar Maple, Plum, Serviceberry and Hazelnut.
Mother’s Day Weekend – Tending the Gardens
In the orchard, berry patch, and vegetable gardens – pruning, planting, transplanting, mulching, even weeding. Friday and Saturday
May 21 – Flower Essences
The deep work of intimately engaging with a flower spirit, through the meditative practice of making a flower essence remedy. Guided by Martin Bulgerin.
May 22-25: Zen Meditation Retreat
The retreat will include silent meditation periods, walking meditation indoors and out, teaching, council time, and a little community work.
These retreats combine teaching and meditative time with conscious work, and also play and celebration. Donations are welcome but your labor is the primary donation. Registration is essential.
May Day Weekend – April 29-May 1 – Friday 6:30 pm – Sunday 6 pm
Focus is on helping to return balance to the land – carefully attending to what it requests. We will be digging, cutting, and pulling up buckthorn and honeysuckle; no poisons. If conditions are favorable, we might do a controlled burn. We add plants that will fit in well. We move about the land in a way that creates a harmonious space.
Mother’s Day Weekend – May 6-7 – Friday 6:30 pm – Saturday 6 pm
Focus: Last year we planted an orchard and a berry patch; this year it’s time to take care of them. We’ll be checking on their health, pruning and transplanting some of the berries, adding companion plants to the orchard trees (apple, pear, plum, elderberry, hazelnut), and mulching/weeding/mowing as time allows.
You can come for the weekend, or come and go. (Sleeping space on floor or outside) You can enter at any of the walking/listening orientation times, which will be followed by a work period. It would help to know your plans!
Meditation and Spiritual Practice
This will be a day-long teaching workshop. The practice of making a flower remedy is an intense and intimate meditative process, an opportunity to learn a new language and find a way of being with the plant world.
Schedules and fees are not yet set. (Regular volunteers please request a scholarship.) Limited space, please inquire early.
About the teacher: Martin Bulgerin has been making, teaching, and prescribing flower essences for many years. He considers this class as an introduction to working with subtle energies.
Zen Meditation Retreat – May 22-25 – Sunday 6 am – Wed 6 pm
(orientation Saturday evening. Partial participation is an option.)
Zazen, Zen sitting meditation, is a way of realizing our life together with all beings. This can be a time to allow our meetings with the trees and land to settle into our bodies. Or it can simply be a gentle time to sit together with all beings. Mostly silent, with a few talks and a closing circle.
About the teacher: Shodo Spring is a local Zen teacher, founder of Mountains and Waters Alliance, and a Dharma heir of Rev. Shohaku Okumura. She led the 2013 Compassionate Earth Walk.
These offerings are part of our 40-day intensive period of living with the earth as spiritual practice, seeking to learn and listen to the voices of nonhuman beings, joining them in finding appropriate response to the present crisis.
For all events:
Let us know:
Internships, personal retreats, and additional volunteer times are available; please feel free to ask.
with Rev. Myo-O Habermas-Scher, a voice teacher for decades – more info here. If you would like to come, please register now – or ask questions now.
Saturday, April 23 (Earth Day): A workshop on subtle energies
with Martin Bulgerin. After attending a class with him I knew I wanted him to share his work as part of the spring intensive.He may teach flower essences, or something else. His website is here. If this sounds intriguing, you’re encouraged to contact us now. Details later.
You’re invited to join us for single events or a day, or ask about residential options for a weekend, a week, or longer. For residents, most days include morning and evening meditation, work, meals, and sharing of living tasks. There is space for a farm apprentice for this season.
On work days, meals are offered. For non-work events, we ask a donation.
Friday, April 15: Land care half day
Saturday, April 16: A one-day retreat
opening the intensive with sitting and walking meditation, walking outdoors, council time, and private time.
Sunday, April 17
before and after the chanting workshop will be quiet times, a little work, not formal retreat
Monday-Wed, April 18-20: retreat
with sitting and walking meditation, shared meals, gentleness.
Saturday-Wednesday, May 21-25: closing retreat
Concluding our 40 days of living close to the earth, we will create a closing retreat that includes meditation (zazen), land care, celebration, and simple ceremony.
Community work (land care and/or garden/orchard; backup carpentry work for rainy days)
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays from April 21 to May 20
Email to get on the volunteer mailing list
Spring weather is coming and going. Volunteers keep turning up, not in crowds but delightful small groups.
Last Friday three college students came. We cooked sap from box elders, gathered sap from all the trees, and took out the taps to end the season. Today and tomorrow I’m still cooking sap. It’s an extravagant use of time, when I could be starting seeds indoors or prepping garden beds, but something in me needs to forage. And – yes! – we are now eating nettle soup and nettle pesto. I’ve been clearing the nettle spaces so I’ll be able to harvest more. If interested in buying nettles (with recipes) or nettle products, let me know.I can’t tell you how much energy they give!
Yesterday Martin and three friends came to walk the land and get acquainted with the energies. I learned, interestingly, that they think more like engineers than mystics. That way of thinking is in my background but it’s been a very long time.
Meanwhile, I’m committing myself to be a student of those energies, to let them teach me how to restore the land. It begins where we pulled up buckthorn, and what to plant there. Of course that oversimplifies the task. I’ve studied what I can, and look forward to getting directly involved – and learning to listen.
I was sick for two weeks – never sick enough to stay in bed (just one day) but mostly sick enough to be doing just the minimum. It’s good to finally be back to full functioning.
And the photovoltaic panels are halfway installed on the roof of the house. Pictures later.
The pace is slow, now. If I were certain what to do, it might be faster. Abandoning ideas of being master of the earth requires listening, which requires slowing down. I think that illness probably was about slowing down, something hard for me to do. I continue to be amazed at being able to live in this beautiful space, after a lifetime in cities. I am trusting the land to call in the people who belong here, in all the many ways of belonging. (And I’m as involved in the current political scene as anyone, but don’t want to bring that here.
I hope your spring is going well.
It’s been hard to write.
There’s an idea that I must put on my public persona in order to write these blog posts. Be cheerful, newsy, upbeat. I haven’t been able to do that.
Today my friend James McGinley made a comment – after a lifetime in the marketing industry (which I hadn’t known) trying to figure out how to say things so that people can listen, he’s quit, to just live an honest life. Today I will listen to that. Today I will take the chance that you want to go deeper, and that I might have something worthwhile to share.
Big things in the so-called outside world
One thing is that I’m watching more and more news about climate change, and other environmental problems, and feeling less and less optimistic about our chances of stopping the disaster. By that I don’t mean saving civilization, I mean preventing the end of the natural world as we know it, including human life.
The Mountains and Waters Alliance is based on a premise that civilization is mortally flawed in this way: we think we are separate from all the other beings (often from other humans too) and that the rest of the world is a resource for us to use. We approach as masters, not members. This is the flaw that leads to the situation we are in now, with dangerous environmental situations, politics of rage, extreme racism, and a desperate search for simple solutions.
My proposal is that we completely give up that point of view, unlearn everything we’ve been taught, and learn to listen to the trees, rocks, rivers, microbes, fungi, birds, predators, even mosquitoes. That we allow them to lead, and we follow with our whole being. That we listen more to indigenous peoples and less to civilized ones, because the indigenous have fewer layers to remove, but really to allow ourselves to not know what to do.
I imagine that there might yet be a way to change what’s happening, if we get out of the way. I also imagine that, if it’s actually the end, we might go there more human. But I’m still seeking salvation and am embarrassed about that. I’m particularly embarrassed because I’m trying to lead something. There are others with the same voice, all ahead of me: Charles Eisenstein writes eloquently, and I still love Daniel Quinn’s “living in the hands of the gods.” I want to learn this, living in the hands of the gods. Maybe that’s the thing that undermines all my efforts to be sensible and practical.
It’s time for me to go back to the zendo and back into the woods, at the same time as I continue to reach out to people. Opposite directions. Meanwhile I need to make money this summer. And it’s almost time for maple sugaring, followed by all the farm and land work – which I love.
So this is the plan, as well as I can say:
There was a fundraiser for solar panels, and it ended with about $600 short. I decided to make one last appeal – but am just getting around to it now. Meanwhile a homeless, activist friend sent $50. I’m thinking that this amount could easily be raised by $10 and $20 donations. The link is here: Donate. And just so you know, if you don’t tell me whether you want to take the tax deduction, I’ll do it at $50 and up. With gratitude for any amount. (Break-even point is about 35 cents.)
For four months this winter, Roy Dopson lived here. He repaired the culvert under the driveway, which had looked like a big expense and possibly an emergency. He dug up a lot of buckthorn. He has left me with probably next year’s firewood as well as this year’s. He did some weatherization on the house, and practically ended the mouse situation.
Two days ago Roy left to be teacher in residence at Mountain Valley Retreat in Southern California. He was going to leave a month later, for his firefighting job, but he’s gone now.
So I build my own fires again, shovel my own snow – and rebuild my body. I think about finding people, and try to be patient. I put up notices in some appropriate places. Some guests are coming for parts of the spring, and there is support and encouragement. Most recently a carpenter offered to do work for an incredibly low price, because he likes what I’m doing, so the wood cook stove will be going in soon. Maybe I can afford to have him do some other work too, making more space for guests and eventual residents.
Here is the link to the 2016 calendar.
Here is a link to the spring convocation, April 15-May 25. (I’m having trouble with words: convergence, coming together, or convocation, calling together? I think there’s a word I haven’t found yet.)
I’ll close with some of the words I wrote, trying to express this work for possible fundraisers; I don’t know if they’ll like it, but the words look good to me, as a prose version of the vow:
Blessings and peace to you all, whatever you are doing, wherever you are.
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.