- The Farm
- The Alliance
Two nights ago I was lying under the moon, casually talking with Lynn about a question close to us both. What can be done, what can a person do, about the death-wish of our culture? Is there any way to stop the rushing toward the cliff of climate change – or the killings of innocent people, the revenge killings, the deaths of refugees, the escalating hate and blame and violence.
It was good to have that conversation under the sky, not in a room or over the internet.
I’m two days away from the news, and about to spend another ten days on retreat, in company with people of shared values and with mountains, earth, grasses, butterflies, sky.
Two weeks ago I came back from checking the woods after a storm (fallen trees, no serious damage) to find people talking strangely on facebook – and finally checked the news and learned about the Dallas shootings. There have been more since. Death is in the air. I have not known what to say.
In the past, when I could, I paid respect to those killed as well as to ordinary deaths by placing names on the altar and chanting for them. I stopped. There are too many.
This appeared on Facebook:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” J.R.R. Tolkein
There have also been beautiful stories of reaching across barriers of race and politics. Heartfelt stories of what it’s like to be Black in America; I recommend this one: http://lithub.com/walking-while-black/
Perhaps I should be ready for violence in my own neighborhood – at the farm. (Last night Conor thought someone might have broken in to the basement. I don’t think so, but can’t know for sure. A flurry of calls and texts, and I simply have to let it go. If I don’t hear from him, things are okay.) Perhaps the mind of separation and violence will win in my own mind.
“Hatred never ceases with hatred. By non-hate alone does it cease.” Buddha, The Dhammapada.
And I continue learning to listen to plants, rocks, valleys, clouds, asking them to help that flourishing of Life. As I walk or hike in these different landscapes (Colorado now), their voices are increasingly warm and strong. I make commitments to teach, hoping others will welcome what I am beginning to learn, replacing human hubris by equal companionship with other beings. As Buddhism has always taught.
Farm and Volunteer News
On our last volunteer day, we put up a raptor perch in the orchard.
Volunteers are very welcome. In addition to farm and woodland volunteers, carpentry or chainsaw volunteers, there could be help with social networking, grantwriting, or other organizational matters.
Residence – the goal is 5-6 long-term residents living as a community, in accord with what’s been written here. Shorter stays of a week to several months are possible. Call or write me with any inquiries. I look forward to needing to create more sleeping spaces because we have people to live in them. We’ve got the plans already. We’re in conversation with a few people, but there’s still room.)
I’m looking for a farm manager – see above.
If you can make a donation, here are specific requests totalling $2080:
For doing the work – teaching or networking – these are bare-bones expenses:
Also, if you are willing, think about an ongoing pledge, which would support:
Currently I just borrow from my savings when money gets tight. There’s not yet a plan to repay that borrowing, but obviously it can’t continue too long.
You can use this button to Donate , or see other options on the Contact page. Please feel free to designate your contribution for one of the above. Let me know whether you want it to be tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor. Special thanks to the woman who has pledged $400/year, unasked, and to all the other past donors.
May our hearts be whole and joyful.
Yesterday Conor and I spent the afternoon in the strawberry patch. We dug up plants and moved them to an open space (that Paul had weeded) in the next row. We dug up diseased plants (mites, I believe) and moved them to the sun garden – quarantined. We weeded, and we gathered pine needles to use as mulch. We stopped after doing one section fully; lots more to do next week.
What I noticed is that you can’t do these things in a hurry. You have to slow down and be gentle with the plants. When I let go of my hurry, it was easy and pleasant.
Well, here is the rest of the year, almost. As well as I know. December is not clear.
May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you know the joy of your own true nature.
Warmth and love,
A few notes, just before going into sesshin:
I’m reading the financial report from my friend Beth Goldring, about her project working with AIDS and TB patients in Cambodia. She is retiring, and the question is whether the project can continue without her. Staff are doing wonderfully, she says, but they still need someone to replace her in raising funds. So probably the project will close.
Reading her reports always breaks my heart. I visited and volunteered with them for a month in 2014. Now she writes, about her year away in 2015, “I returned to find decisions skillfully made, accurate and honest reporting, and emotional strength. At the level of the staff’s actual work with patients, commitment, integrity and resilience, I could not have been more pleased.”
And “As always, the report is intended as an expression of my gratitude for the support that has enabled us to work over the past sixteen years. It is my devout hope that support will continue without me and that my wonderful staff can continue, in our small way, to be a compassionate presence in the face of our patients’ suffering.”
Beth writes, “the time when AIDS patients received comprehensive medical and social care seems to have passed. Brahmavihara Cambodia is not in a position to compensate for what has been lost.” Seven staff (most part-time, many with AIDS themselves) provide chaplaincy and other services. Operational expenses in 2015: $34,802 for both salaries and direct services.
I don’t know how to write about what is actually happening. People being evicted from the hospital when they can’t pay the daily fees. Poor people who can’t get a poor card which would pay. Caregivers (usually family) living in the hospital with the patient, sleeping on concrete floors. Doctors and nurses seeing TB patients with inadequate masks. (Our staff always had the proper masks.) People’s homes: I remember three people in one room with a beautiful Buddha statue, one hot plate, one light bulb, and somewhere outside must have been water and toilets. The mother dying there. A father and three children on an open tent platform, recovering there, the children playing and laughing. Of course we only see the poor people, but in the hospitals there are four beds in an open room with fans and wide windows, and sometimes another ten people all seeming to me like a kind of family, together facing illness and death. (We would sometimes do Reiki on the caregivers as well as the patients.)
This is a place of practicing with life and death – imminent, always present – and the work is to be present with people otherwise forgotten or ignored. It leaves me humble. Which is why I write about it. But then I cannot tell you, without also offering an opportunity if you wish to support. www.brahmaviharacambodia.org has Paypal for tax-deductible contributions. You can ask me for other ways of donating.
And here on the land, I am listening to birds, as the sun comes in the windows, and planning to plant some tomatoes before we begin sesshin. Imagining that working with the forests and the plants, I’m doing something about causes, about planetary healing. Actually only knowing that each of us must do what calls us.
So I announce that the Flower Essence Workshop has been rescheduled to Sunday, June 12, and this time we have four committed members so it will actually happen. And the whole point is returning to the earth, learning to listen and sit with the plants, in the way of zazen, receiving and giving life.
And there will be three of us at sesshin, where usually there is one. Some of our zazen will be walking or sitting outdoors – an experiment for me. I’ll write again later.
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.
Winter has blended into early spring, warming and cooling unpredictably. Tapping maple trees started a month early, but the repeated cool spells mean the sap is still flowing, still requiring attention. Activities are tapping maple trees and boiling sap, checking for new growth in woods, orchard, and garden, and harvesting the first nettles and dandelions.
Living with the Earth: 40 days
The point of Mountains and Waters Alliance is to learn to live with the earth, together with all beings including rocks, trees, rivers, meadows. This is real, not a metaphor. The 40 days this spring have the intention to make it real for us. We will be doing what we do not know how to do, and inviting teachers who may help us – while the real teachers are the hills and meadows themselves. Zazen is the backbone, and the home place, for this experimentation.
In the first day, an opening retreat, some of the meditation time will be walking outdoors in receptive mode, just as we sit zazen in receptive mode, or listen to each other in receptive mode. There will be chanting practice, first with each other and then as an offering to sacred places outdoors. There will be a day of learning to work with plant devas to make flower essences, and many days of land restoration under the guidance of the nature spirits – which means learning to receive their messages.
I hope some of you will come, for some or all of this time, to help ground Mountains and Waters in right relationship. It’s the most beautiful time here.
First I called it “Earth-based Zen Practice,” then I changed the words and tried to make it a little more clear, here.
Notes from the Farm:
Sugaring has been the big activity here. We have over a pint of black walnut syrup, nearly a gallon of box elder and half a gallon of maple – with an equal amount to be made from sap that’s waiting to be boiled.
Stinging nettles are up – they’re tender when tiny, but require a lot of washing. I’ve had one meal with nettles, and made a pint of nettle pesto with too much garlic. They will be a primary food source shortly. I’ve been studying Sam Thayer’s foraging books, experimenting sometimes. I really liked dandelion roots and crowns. Instead of burning the fields to clear my way to the nettles, I decided it’s better to whack down the old plants and use them for straw; we need straw. My two-hour experiment with the scythe went better than expected.
I planted elderberry sticks along the outside of the orchard – they’re supposed to discourage deer, and of course they’re edible if I can get there before the birds. I’ve got some Asian greens and some arugula, peas, and potatoes outside, and blue flags in hopes of flowers at the pond by the house. Indoors the tomatoes are tiny, two peppers and a few onions and I really ought to get methodical about putting in more seeds. But finally the
energy is there; even though I’ve had the flu for a week the land is now calling me to it, and there is gladness.
Both writing projects are finally finished. There is still accounting, taxes, and organizing the office – but all those are part of this work, right here. The big outside distraction is an election campaign. Once again I’m allowing myself to hope that a certain candidate is what he appears to be. Zen reminds me: “Don’t believe what you think.” And don’t expect happiness from external things.
But I’m a delegate to the county caucus, and am spending too much time following the whole thing. In the same way I follow climate change but try to ignore what I learn, and follow the murders (five this month) of indigenous environmental activists. I place their names on my altar, along with an old friend and a person in “The Jungle” in France who committed suicide. All this news comes through Facebook, as does news from environmental and other movements here in North America, from people I have met or feel like I know. The courage and determination of people who are giving everything, and the sorrow and cruelty in the news, breaks my heart in so many different way.
Living comfortably in this beautiful place instead of being on the road, on the front lines of protests or hunger strikes, all I can do is include them somehow.
Others practicing with the earth
Suddenly, everywhere I look, Zen people and spiritual people are addressing climate change, our relationship with the earth, and colonization, injustice, and the like. In particular, the very traditional Zen Mountain Monastery is devoting its spring practice period to “our one home, this great earth.” This letter describes it, and the talks are well worth hearing.
Thank you all for your support. Please know you are welcome here.
Shodo Spring for Mountains and Waters Alliance
“The entire world of the ten directions is nothing but the true human body.” These words by Dogen were the entry to my talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, St. Paul, Minnesota. The talk is here: http://cloudsinwater.org/dharma-talks-audio-files/ Here I express my earth-based practice from a. basis in Zen practice and teaching. (About 30 minutes talk, 20 minutes Q&A.) I would love to hear what you think. Some new things came up; when I have time, I’ll try to put something on paper.
I was interviewed by Minnesota Women’s Press, and the article is here. It’s brief and focused on my activist life. My only wish is to replace the phrase “changing the consciousness of the earth” to “learning to be part of the earth,” focused on human consciousness. (I think the writer understood me but not how the words might be read.)
At the farm, the 2016 calendar here and spring events in more detail here:
March 12, 11 am to ?? – Continue with maple sugaring – boiling, hopefully some new tapping.
March 19-20, 9 am to ?? with overnight option – Garden work: starting plants indoors, outdoor prep, whatever is weather-appropriate. Continue sugaring if appropriate. The weather is literally a month off, warm, and I hesitate to make predictions.
I’ve already written about the April-May convocation, and would like to specifically mention the April 17 chanting workshop with Myo-O Habermas-Scher. Other dates will be announced as they are set.
Here’s the wish list, for people. Intended for people who might try out living here, but local commuters are also welcome.
Farm manager: take charge of orchards, berries, produce, possibly wild foods, possibly animals. Ideal person has farm managing experience including money and sales, and a permaculture background. Advantages: lots of creative opportunities. Stipend. Spiritual community.
Farm workers: Work here, live here. Stipend maybe.
Office manager: Ideal person has office management experience and likes doing it. Stipend.
Just resident: People with a job in town (paying rent) are also welcome.
Volunteers: work on farm or otherwise. Everything is needed – see the volunteer page, especially “other volunteering” at the bottom.
All residents: Ideal person has experience living in community, supports the intentions described here, wants to be part of a residential Zen community.
It is my intention that this is the year the farm makes money instead of costing it. This means marketing – the nettles, other wild plants, and then produce from the gardens. It’s the strawberries that I expect to actually provide, if weather supports it. I need to do a lot of accounting, a modest amount of housecleaning, and get started on indoor seeds for the garden. And reach out to potential volunteers, residents, and supporters.
The photovoltaic panels, after spending the winter in the garage, should be installed next week. I expect this should yield a small profit, but it goes first to repaying the loan.
Visitors have come, and there will be more. Some come for Zen practice, some for “personal retreat,” some to volunteer. Some make donations, all do some work, most join me sitting in the zendo. It makes me glad; it’s feeling more like the community space it is meant to be.
I’m trying to wrap up the editing of my teacher’s book on Mountains and Rivers Sutra, almost finished. Then I rewrite my essay for an anthology on the eight-fold path, and work on some of the projects above. Two days ago I stopped building fires for house heat. Building fires didn’t take long, but the time to go out and gather kindling and split logs did. I miss the fires, but it’s okay for now.
I’m attending a biweekly study group in St. Paul, spending time with other Zen teachers, and enjoy sharing study as well as exploring the Lankavatara Sutra which I had not met before. I go to activist groups as well, some of them social, and I trade bodywork with an old friend, so I’m not really very alone. Now and then I drop in on my daughter and grandchildren, and look forward to occasional visits – but they’re becoming teenagers with lives more rooted in their friends.
Climate change and other scary things are constantly present in my mind. It will take 5 years for the apple trees to bear, once we’ve grafted them next year. Will that be too late? (If you’re not following climate matters, surely that sounds absurd. A helpful response would take too long.) I don’t know. That part of me – the one that thinks the end is coming soon – is contemplating appropriate response – how to settle in, join the earth, be ready to care for people – without yet giving up.
The fig tree is promising actual figs this year. May it be so.
It’s always okay to make a donation. Donate
Blessings. May life be good to you, as we move into spring.
It’s been warm here. The plan for February’s work weekend was to clean up the sugaring equipment, and do some indoor carpentry work. But a look at the weather forecast changed all that. And a crowd of people came – first four, and then a group of three arrived just after they left.
Here’s what we did: (group A)
Yesterday I checked the buckets. Three of the five maples, one walnut, and the box elder have some sap. I’ll check again on Saturday, when it’s supposed to be the perfect weather for the sap to run. (warm day, frozen night) When it starts really running, there will be a lot of work boiling.
What the mind does:
This is a month earlier than we ought to be tapping, amazing and wonderful but it’s climate change. Will the sap run the way it’s supposed to, or will something else interfere? What will happen next year? I’m planning to plant more sugar maples, but if we lose our cold winters they won’t grow, so should I still plant them? We’re in a frost pocket here, so maybe it’s okay and we should.
This year I won’t be hiring casual labor the way I did last year. I hope to find a manager and an office manager, for work that is just too much for me alone. Mostly this year will be about consolidating, protecting the orchard, propagating the berries, and taking care of a small part of the woods: taking a slower pace and listening more to the land.
The spring 40-day convocation (“calling together”) holds so much of my dreams. Learning to listen to the land, to really hear its voices instead of applying theories, even good ones like permaculture, to find what to do to care for, protect and nurture the land. An old friend who works with subtle energies of plants, crystals, and earth will be helping me. I hope some people will join me in learning. And I’m reaching out first to the Zen community, hoping that a shared language of spirituality will help us create the community of listening and caring. Not exclusively. https://vairochanafarm.wordpress.com/2016-events/mountains-and-waters-spring-convergence/ If you feel called, consider whether you can come for part or all of this time.
Though I am still the primary creator, a few people are getting more connected on the deep level. One person comes now and then to sit in the meditation space, and volunteers some time. Another is coming for a personal retreat, and will offer some work. Perhaps there will be more such. Those who find a spiritual home here are the ones who will be able to create with me, which is what I long for most. Meanwhile some friends and others are planning to come for a week, two weeks, a month, or to support the convergence by offering teachings. This needs to happen. As people come, we can do the minor carpentry that makes spaces for more to come, as well as the outdoor work that grows food and nourishes the land.
Climate change –
Even though there’s increasing reason to think it’s too late for human survival, I refuse to say it absolutely. I am certain that industrial civilization cannot be saved, nor do I want to save it. Somewhere in the space between those extremes is my life and work. I plant trees and hope they will have a chance to grow before the climate changes too much; I plan greenhouses to protect plants from extremes; I learn to forage, to save seeds and put up food. But most of all, I seek to release my life. Daniel Quinn speaks of peoples “living in the hands of the gods.” I wish to live in that way, and notice constantly how much I do not. My need to control and to figure things out is called colonization; my ancestors have been colonized for over a thousand years so I am not to blame for it, but as a result I participate in colonization, genocide, and land destruction. There I am responsible. I seek decolonization internally, and listen closely to the voices for literal decolonization of the continent.
What kind of heart will we carry forward with us? That is what matters, whether we survive or not. There will be difficulties here, as there already are elsewhere. There are official climate refugees in the United States, not only elsewhere, and there are hungry people as well. I am happy to see my Zen sisters and brothers meeting the issue, facing it directly. May we all find our way, in this time, with compassion.
I treasure your support. If you can, please come. Sending money, volunteering time (here or elsewhere), and other possibilities continue. Here is how to reach me: https://vairochanafarm.wordpress.com/contact/
Today’s volunteer day was about removing buckthorn, in the sunny pleasant daylight following a heavy rain. A mass of shrubbery has now become a beautiful open space. Looking at our feet, we find that there are a lot of sugar maples here – small, completely overwhelmed by the buckthorn, soon to grow in the open space.
This area is right near the bluffs at the big stream. We look forward to adding native plants and creating a pleasant sitting/walking outdoor area. It had literally been hidden under the buckthorn – a solid mass. There are still many similar areas to address, but probably it will be next spring when we have another buckthorn work day.
It feels good to be doing this land care, watching spaces open up, using our bodies in the last of the fall. The strangeness of pulling up a species to let individual plants die – balanced with making space for others that were crowded out, restoring health and wholeness to the land, inviting myriads of species to live here instead of one. It does, sadly, remind one of human beings. Civilized humans are better in seeing the invasive behavior of others than seeing our own. Here, we aspire to stop being the one species that destroys all the rest, and to return to our place in the whole. Humans have lived this way in the past, for most of human history. Re-learning it is a key part of what Mountains and Waters means.
Blessings to you all. Visitors are welcome.
Spring is finally here. Outside barefoot today – back to normal tomorrow, but the forecast is pleasant.
This is outdoor work time. I’ll be posting less often, probably once a month. There will be gardening, orchard planting, and
caring for the land. There will be volunteers, and visitors are still welcome. But organizing and fundraising can wait until fall, along with big projects like finishing the house renovation/solarization.
Volunteer dates include April 24-25 and May 9-10; activities include planting the orchard and berries, taking care of erosion in the woods (replacing invasives with natives), gardening, and whatever we may like at the time. Monthly 5-day retreats continue, and July 18-19 is scheduled for a joint teaching retreat with Justin Merritt (a Theravadin academic) and me co-teaching.
Sugaring season is almost over. Black walnut syrup is just about the best thing you ever tasted,
and next year I’ll tap more walnut trees. Foraging season is on; today I gathered and ate baby stinging nettles, and they’ll be feeding me well into the season of wood nettles, morel mushrooms, and the rest. Wandering in the woods season
is officially on; it’s a least a month until the mosquitoes appear.
Thank you all for your support.
Today it is warm outside, warm enough to just stand there and breathe and enjoy, and tonight it is still warm enough to stand outside and stare at the stars for a long time.
Everything is melting. Thus we have put up some barricades to prevent the mud from inundating the driveway and the neighbors. It will truly be a great thing when this insulation project is done and the earth back in its place.
Saturday I tapped some trees for sugaring. They were mostly box elder, a kind of maple, and a few black walnut. Today there is a little sap in the nearest bucket. I haven’t yet built the evaporator (from an old water heater tank) or set up any of that equipment, but there are still some days for that. The supplies are ordered, except I need to collect more buckets from bakeries.
I’m recovering from a car accident. This is the second time that I’ve been overwhelmingly busy and had an accident that, though primarily inconvenient, took time and made things even harder. The worst is over: I have a shop to fix the car, and a paid-for rental car; I’ve had an Ortho-Bionomy session which helped a lot, and am able to have more. And I’m cutting back on the amount of sugaring, to get my tasks within reason.
This evening I met with a Resilience group. We’ve shared learning about practical ways to deal with crisis, particularly focusing on possible climate events. Today one person mentioned Joanna Macy’s three responses to climate change: holding actions (also called direct action – trying to stop the destruction), creating alternative societies, and consciousness change. Everyone in the room is focused on one or both of the latter two; still there was much thoughtful discussion. While we talked, I thought about just how completely this is what the farm is about: offering an inspiring model of another way of life, AND deepening consciousness into the way we are simply part of all life. And I felt grateful to be part of a group that has such conversations.
Blessings to you all as we enter another spring in this time of change.
It’s fall here; the colors are in full swing and you can see through the trees – all the way to the river. Time to gather firewood, install wood stoves (got a cook stove), and finish processing the food brought in due to frost. Collecting black walnuts with no idea when I will finish them. Get the mower running for one last mow. In spring we plant trees, and remove about half the lawn.
It’s a busy time; this will be brief. I’ll start with farm and practical notes, then move on to Zen and spiritual and community things. I’ve started a personal blog at www.CompassionateEarth.wordpress.com, which had been about the Walk. I’ll write there occasionally.
Land: there were two places with major erosion problems – the culvert under the driveway, and the “land bridge” that was pictured here before. This Sunday the neighbors who share the driveway will be getting together to do culvert maintenance with rock and landscaping fabric. I can stop worrying, and I hope it will be a time of building friendships. On the land bridge, there’s been some work using fallen trees and dirt-filled burlap bags, while we waited for a bid from a contractor who is also a permaculturist. He put in a bid, we talked, and it seems like we can get the work done for maybe $5000 if we also get a lot of volunteer labor. More on money later.
I’m working with the most experienced local permaculture designer, Paula Westmoreland, to design a practical woody polyculture farm. While she observes thousands of things to do – for example improving the health of the woods – she is helping me to take reasonable steps that I can actually complete. So we’ll plant some trees next spring (chestnut, mulberry, apple, pear, Korean nut pine) and some berry bushes, all with proper preparation and enough time to make sure they succeed. The following year will include hazelnuts, more pines, and I forget.
Buildings: Last week it was so cold I had to turn on the propane. And this is early fall. I bought a wood cookstove that was not all rust, and Joe is coming today to start prep for installing it. I’m actively talking with the masonry stove builder, who thinks that might be November or December. I paid the propane company to fill the tank, and am still concerned about running out while I’m away in January. The architect (Joe) may do some interior work while I’m away, which could give a few more bedrooms and other practical things. The vision for six bedrooms plus a zendo and plenty of other space is pretty clear though not in drawings yet. But we don’t have a plan for storing summer heat for winter, and I’m restless about that. I imagine myself cutting wood with axes and saws at age 100, and I’d rather not.
Meanwhile there’s a very small pile of firewood ready, but two good chain saws, and dry wood scattered around the property waiting to be picked up.
The dream of a separate greenhouse/farm work building is still a dream. In the long run, it’s essential. It waits for people and money, both.
Community: There have been several visitors. There have been volunteers, but not a lot. One friend and one lovely new woman came to the sheet mulch workshop; we got in two keyhole beds but I consider the relationships worth the advertising. I am trying to start a Faribault area permaculture guild or work league or whatever – so we can help each other at our farms. I’ve been too busy and distracted to send out a note about that, but there are 6-8 local groups I know about who seem like candidates. Last week Ben came for five days. We sat zazen morning and evening every day; I set the alarm and got out of bed on a schedule; it was lovely and I promised myself to continue. We worked morning and a couple hours in afternoon, took turns cooking, and got a lot done. We varnished the deck, cleaned a lot of things, moved furniture, did farm and yard work – all the unglamorous things that I avoid asking of volunteers. And we took a day off, as one needs to do.
So “community” sounds like “getting work done.” That’s not what it is, but the work situation is pretty serious, as everyone on a farm knows at this time of year.
I made brochures and took them to a Zen priests’ conference, where I also spoke on environmental activism and told the story of the Compassionate Earth Walk. A month before I’d taken brochures to the North American Permaculture Convergence. I’m trying not to hurry in recruiting residents, because the people I want are the people who want to sit zazen and work cooperatively and all that. Conversations are happening, one at a time, and I’m expecting that all will work out in its own time. Turning the house over to the carpenters while I’m away is totally appropriate; there will be space for more people at the time when people may be ready to come.
Money: Modifying and insulating the house will take twice as much money as I have personally, so there will be a fundraising campaign for that. The greenhouse building stays a dream until money comes in. Meanwhile I make decisions like: “Spend money and time on the land bridge, or let it go forever.” “Spend an extra $5000 for a stove made from soapstone instead of brick, which will result in 10% less wood cutting in perpetuity.” And there are future questions like “How will we actually collect and save drinking water from the roof?” (Right now there are two 30-gallon barrels sitting outside the front door, to be brought inside before they freeze. The well is on the neighbors’ electricity, and they don’t mind if I convert it to solar, but why waste good rain water?)
The broad concept was that farming would support us, once the construction and plantings are done. It will take at least a few years because we’re investing in trees, but there is income here that I’m not making because I don’t have enough time or knowledge. (That would be more foraging, harvesting all the black walnuts, tapping walnut trees now for sap and syrup, selling timber, and going through all the antique tools left here, for sale or use.) In spring I hope to be ready for sap, mushrooms, and much more.
All this is being funded for the moment by money inherited from my parents – which would normally become my children’s inheritance – and I’m doing my best to go forward prudently, spending what needs to be spent and not wasting. I have a little envelope with cash donations received for the farm; it’s always possible to mail a check; and after setting up temporary tax status I will do a major fundraising campaign this winter.
Zen: The small group meeting in Northfield is becoming a real group, and will soon have a name. The sesshin one day a month becomes 7 days in December and then 5 until the spring work period starts up again. Though I’ll be traveling – in December to work with my teacher on finishing the book editing, in January to visit my Atlanta family. Time and money have gone into training and travels, and will continue to do so; it will probably be quite some time before the dana received balances the expenses, but there is dana and it encourages me immensely.
The farm has a zendo, an altar, and people’s names on that altar who have asked for support: sickness or other life difficulties. There are people who have died, and soon I will do a memorial service both for those people in my life, and for a long list of people murdered in Ferguson, the Middle East, and elsewhere over the past few years. The increasing violence and hate in the world is, along with climate change, an integral part of my practice and of the life here.
At the conference there was a Jizo garden, a place of great warmth and comfort. Jizo is a Buddhist folk character who helps people, especially children. We will be making a Jizo garden here, with help from the wider Minnesota Zen community and of course open to all.
Having lived in Zen community gives me a vision of how this community may operate well, and I’m holding that as more important than getting bodies in here to help with work and costs. I’ve paid some people a modest wage for hard physical work, but that can’t go on forever.
New people are adding themselves to the websites. I don’t know where you are physically, but do know who some of you are. As we move into fall, I send warm wishes and blessings to you all.
I’m now actually writing in my personal blog at www.CompassionateEarth.wordpress.com
The bridge looks beautiful, but the area to the right of it is washing out more with every rain. I no longer use it to walk to the beautiful bluffs on the Cannon River, because it seems that fragile. Less than 4′ wide in sections, and washing out from underneath.
On Monday and Tuesday, September 1-2, I invite people to come and help solve this problem. Depending on what tools we have, we may move rocks and/or build a wall; we definitely will work on water management, including moving trees into place for diversion, and creating overflow spaces upstream.
Volunteers will receive work exchange credit for future farm events; otherwise $10/hour. Most of this is heavy work, but there are plenty of other options beginning with a cook. There is sleeping space indoors and outdoors.
I absolutely need to know if and when you are coming, and whatever you would like to tell me about skills.
(The next two events at the farm are an all day meditation retreat (sesshin) September 20, and a sheet mulch workshop September 27. If you want to get more involved, sign up at http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/
Seven goats arrived Thursday morning, to spend a few months eating brush and giving me a chance to figure out whether I want to live with goats. So far the only hard part is needing to move the fencing every few days. They still won’t let humans come near, even though I’m spending half an hour sitting quietly in their pasture every day. I think we’re doing a little better.
Also: we’re in harvest season. I went away for 2 1/2 weeks and returned to find weeds overgrown like crazy and a lot of food: peas, beans, greens, the first zucchini – and a lot of promises. I found the raspberries! I get unreasonably excited about these small things.
There are lots of things to do: get the house off propane heat before winter, the big one. Work on water management before the next flood season, probably fall, to avoid more erosion. And take care of the gardens, shrubs and trees already planted, plant more, harvest, mow the lawn…daily life.
My two weeks away were at a training institute for Soto Zen priests, on the topic of caring for the Zen community. I’ve also had helpful conversations with friends and supporters. Several people have told me “Just do your practice.” Some things are becoming clearer. This is not the time to invite students to live here – not until the place has actually become a monastery, whatever that means. It’s also too early to be doing a lot of outreach. I need to settle in.
There was a discussion on hermit practice by Red Pine, which helped me immensely. “… in China the hermit has always been seeking the wisdom with which to guide society…. Persons who could “break the mold” and become teachers almost always required a period of seclusion for maturation.” This is my time to clarify what my practice is, hanging out with the plants and the stars and the land and finding my own rhythm of practice, more than any words, and only as isolated as I care to be.
Though I’m not offering much, zazen is different – just part of my practice. The first one-day sesshin here, last Saturday, felt like coming home. One person came for part of the day and requested instruction, and we sat together toward the end of the day. I’ve posted a sesshin schedule through December.
If you would like to get email announcements of events here, sign up at http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/. If you’re signed up here, you’ll just get the occasional post – which are also at the wheedu site.
All of this is in context with what’s happening in the world. Death and flames in Gaza. Drought and floods and climate change, many places, and both practical and legal dealings with all of it. “Life-and-death is the Great Matter; impermanence is swift. Do not let your mind slacken,” says Dogen, founder of Soto Zen, my home. We are called to attention.
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.
I’m looking for people of good will and strong energy to help me build Vairochana Farm, a small permaculture farm with flavors of Zen, activism, and a strong sense of community, near Northfield, MN.
You can come for a while, live and work here, or we can be finding out whether you will join the long-term community.
I’ve backed out of the original plan and am looking for beautiful land on a river. This might involve building from scratch.
Farm skill, garden skills, permaculture design, and construction skills are particularly welcome. But there’s plenty of simple labor too.
The intention is to live and farm in a way that supports the earth’s regeneration, grows food, and moves against climate change. The house will be made energy-independent; we will store rainwater for drinking and design a water-saving landscape. Our community will eventually include gardens, orchard, forest, wild plants, and animals.
This will be a residential community, with both long-term and short-term members, sharing social, spiritual and work life with friends from the broader community. We will find our own way of being together, using wisdom from many past groups. Children will be welcome.
We intend a strong and friendly presence in our local area, including hosting events from barn dances to community meetings, and participating as responsible citizens in building a strong and sustainable region.
I hope we will develop a shared spiritual life on some level. As a Zen priest, I practice daily sitting meditation and will be offering occasional retreats, workshops, and classes. Living here does not obligate you to participate, but you need to feel comfortable around it, particularly if you become a long-term resident. People who think spirituality is silly probably would not be happy here.
Human existence, and the continued existence of the planet as we know it, are endangered. It may already be too late. Thus the issue of life and death informs every action in a way never known in human history. Finding an appropriate response to this situation is part of the intention here. Exactly what that means will be discovered as we go forward.
We’ll be on land that should belong to the Dakota people. I’m looking into ways to address that – which at this point just means making some contacts.
The house will be smoke-free and scent-free, because of my allergies. It might be workable for a person with chemical sensitivities – check it out.
Food – ? No longer vegetarian, I eat mostly organic, whole, fresh foods. I love cooking and eating together.
Alcohol in moderation please, and no illegal drugs.
I am a single woman, 64, with children and grandchildren in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. I expect them to visit, and would expect you might also have visitors. Other things about me – I am a psychotherapist (retired) and an alternative healer (still play with it), spent the last 12 years of my life in Zen training and received dharma transmission from Shohaku Okumura. I have been gardening since the permaculture design course in 2006, and am in recovery from Western civilization.
This “to-do” list of farm projects was for a particular farm, but is still informative:
Rehabilitate the barn, animals below, possibly workshop space above, gathering water from the roof.
Chickens, goats, sheep, possibly cows that provide eggs and milk (and cheese etc) and mow the lawn, dig or weed the gardens, etc. As soon as we have a stable enough community to care for them.
Edible forest: expand and support the existing orchard, plant forest guilds near the road, learn to harvest the gifts of existing trees (oak, maple).
Build or modify the house, with insulation, enough bedrooms, large solar greenhouse, water collection, solar panels, partial green roof, and water collection. House is to be energy-producing.
Build at least 5-10,000 gallons of potable water collection we will not rely on well water.
Large root cellar.
Recycle/compost all wastes.
Sauna or steam room for luxurious bathing.
Pond, hopefully swimmable but unlikely, or river or creek.
Zendo and other public spaces.
Any existing outbuildings are salvaged, insulated and made functional.