- The Farm
- The Alliance
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 email@example.com 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.
“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.
You are invited to come here this spring for earth-based Zen practice – see the poster below and then ask questions. You don’t have to already be a Zen person. People are starting to come, and there’s room for more.
Last year we did maple sugaring in mid-March; this year we start late February. I read the news on climate change, and watch the responses to refugees – and ache. I can only throw my lot in with the earth – Gaia herself, plants and animals, waters, minerals and winds, and humans. There will be no fence around this land to keep out refugees, if it happens that we have food and warmth longer than others. And if we don’t manage to make the house passive solar, or build the water collection system and the greenhouse, still we have hand saws and water barrels and it will work. We’re just here.
Cold weather has finally arrived here; our long perfect summer is over. But there’s another shift that I’m feeling more deeply.
Last weekend I was ready to post photos of the work from our volunteer day: wide open woods no longer clogged with buckthorn; a new bedroom in an open space downstairs; the first fires in the masonry heater.
I couldn’t do it.
I came out of that beautiful day to learn of the Paris bombing, then the Beirut bombing. Then I heard about the police killing of Jamar Clark, and went down with friends to join protests Sunday evening at the Minneapolis 4th district police station.
That wasn’t the worst. Nor was even the bombing of Nigeria the worst. No, the hardest thing is watching my country turn into the scariest place I’ve ever been. Maybe it’s always been like that: polls from early 1900’s show majority of Americans didn’t want to accept German or Jewish refugees after the wars. State governors and some cities are refusing refugees; Donald Trump proposes name tags for Muslims and is still leading in polls.) I feel like I’ve been transported to some science fiction dystopia. Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here keeps coming up in my mind. Anger and hate are going in all directions, on two fronts: police/Black lives, and Muslim refugees. I understand that if a terrorist wants to enter this country, they would probably pretend to be a refugee. I just think that it’s more important to stop creating terrorists, stop making people hate us.
All week my friends have been going back and forth to the Minneapolis protest; some were there on Wednesday when police maced protesters. A Unitarian minister who took food on Wednesday says it was very peaceful with just a few people agitating – that was before the mace and rubber bullets. I’ll go for the NAACP march today. (Update: 800 people, very peaceful. Lots of food, a dozen campfires and several tents, very clean, and apparently a few agitators trying to make things look bad.)
A little information, by the way, for those who might be receiving reports of any kind. Yes, Jamar had a history of domestic violence, had even been in jail for it, was trying to turn his life around (says his father). One of the police officers involved had been sued for violence and false arrest. (I updated this based on most recent reports.) The rest of the information offered is not reliable, as far as I can tell. Probably he was in handcuffs as 12 witnesses say, but it’s conceivable he was grabbing the officer’s gun and the witnesses lied. When the video tapes are released, we may have more information. Regardless, it’s customary to give a person a trial, not shoot them on the street.
The situation of racism in this country is now officially in our faces. What is an appropriate response?
Any answer would be incomplete. My words here barely touch the surface of what I’m thinking; others have written well already. Maybe later I’ll have something to offer.
And, although my heart is aching, I’ll share some photos.
Fall colors are bright now, days are sunny, nights clear, and still above freezing. If there is a climate change lottery, Minnesota won it this year. And I do my best not to think about what comes next – just be ready. Soon I’ll go out in today’s brilliant sunlight. I’d send a photo but I’m operating with a primitive phone. At 507-384-8541, my old number, fortunately. When I have time I’ll get a smartphone, but meanwhile I’m getting by.
Here are some of the things my donors have said:
The efforts are indeed great, and I have been discouraged more often than I have said. The reminder that there are benefits – that other people are hearing, seeing, supporting – that the vow is shared – it matters a great deal. I only find out when they tell me, and that is happening now. And the money – this week I was simply blown away. The fundraiser is now at almost $4000. Another three such checks and I can proceed with the loan; another 25 and the solar panels are paid for (becoming an income stream). How many people do I know who believe in me that much? It will be people who both deeply understand the vow, and who trust me to carry it through. And, of course, have financial ability themselves. One Zen teacher, having little, sent me all the dana from her recent retreat. With every gift, my heart keeps opening. The message is “yes, do it.”
The only foundation I’ve asked directly is interested – after a couple more years of stability. I can now believe that will happen. It seems as though the hardest time is over. Most of the orchard trees are alive, the berries eaten with great appreciation, The garden harvest is in (potatoes drying on the basement floor, under sheets), and the temporary root cellar is in place. The siding is almost finished, over the insulation which will seriously cut heating costs. The chimney is almost done, to be followed by the wood cook stove (both projects headed by a friend who is for all effects a volunteer – is going to use my land for his hazelnut plantings, which only enriches me).
Finally there is a second resident. There are others likely to come around in the next few years. Roy Dopson works every summer as a firefighter in Canada. Previously he wintered at an ashram. He’s an Advaita teacher, promoting enlightenment (very un-Zen in words, completely compatible in most ways). Last fall he visited and cut a lot of firewood. This fall he is doing heavy work, pulling up buckthorn, mowing with scythe and other, and today is repairing the culvert which I must have mentioned. I’d been fearful of the costs and of the possibility of the driveway caving in under somebody’s vehicle. He has some masonry experience, and believes he can fix it to last 20 years. And he has made a video encouraging people to come here and practice. His intention is to teach, as is mine. His website is http://www.onesteppath.com/. I had wanted to live with peers. So here we are. It’s going well. We merely want to find a way to deal with immigration so he can keep coming back.
Of course there are others. Two people have expressed willingness to help with fundraising, which is my worst skill other than perhaps accounting. Various people have worked at modest pay, which is why the orchard and garden are doing well.
This month we were able to focus our volunteer days on pulling buckthorn – returning the woods to a healthy state – having taken care of the orchard and garden emergencies. I hope that this winter we’ll find time to do some carpentry, carving out another one or two bedrooms with real walls and doors. Spring – more buckthorn, plant replacements, and collect on the NRCS grant.
This fall I offered an “intensive” in Zen practice. The numbers are still small in the Wednesday evening group, but the group is increasingly stable. Nine people came to an introductory day at the farm. I’m clear now that for the next while I’ll teach Genjo Koan – a long love of mine, and one I’ve studied enough to be able to teach. I’m committing time to preparation, and it’s a joy. The first and most important thing I have to offer is the Dharma; everything else is means.
There are just a few zafus here, but now we also have several sitting benches, made by a casual laborer with carpentry skills (following my model, with recycled wood).
There will be another 3-month practice period in winter, probably starting mid-January. Silent sesshins continue at the farm once a month, and probably some more one-day or weekend retreats.
Speaking and teaching
I’ll be speaking at the Northfield Buddhist Center on November 8. If you want me to speak or teach, feel free to contact me – especially: Twin Cities area; Atlanta, GA area (mid-Dec to mid-Jan); Cleveland, OH (now and then); New Mexico (July 2016), and for other places you can always ask.
Last. weekend I went to my 50th high school reunion, in Cleveland, OH. I was a little nervous because I went to a parochial high school, and because that was a difficult time for me. I found friends – some of whom had been strangers then – and felt welcome. I feel healed in a deep way from the isolation I’d lived with them. I’m not feeling so articulate, but taking that time from work, and the trouble (40 hours on Greyhound!) was one of the good choices of my life. I’m back home now, and the universe feels just a little better aligned, things just a little easier.
Warmth and appreciation,
As I do every year, I joined the annual commemoration of Buddha’s enlightenment, Rohatsu sesshin, by sitting seven days of zazen December 1-8. Unlike most years, I sat alone in the zendo at the farm.
Although my tradition does not include work periods, many do – usually a couple hours. Mine ranged from two hours to maybe eight. I did not choose the timing of any of these events. I did accept it, with the thought that delay would be unworkable.
During that time, three masons (Eric M, Patrick, Jacob) built a masonry heater that will become primary heat for the house.
An excavator (Eric B) and two others (Joe, the general contractor, and Justin) used giant machinery and small shovels to expose the foundation for massive insulation.
Eric started piling rock in the eroded land bridge area at the creek.
It should be finished tomorrow. I had given up, imagined the land would wash away and then the bridge. But now it looks like this (way below), utterly secure:
For a few days my job was to get fires going to soften up the frozen crust for digging. Then I’d go back inside and sit. Later, I had to watch what was happening at the creek, even though he didn’t need help.
Sunday was the last day. After all the workers left, I finished sesshin by sitting late into the night. With gratitude. On the 8th – Buddha’s enlightenment day – I offered a nontraditional service: a memorial for people killed by police and in other ways, then blessings to those needing healing and those doing various kinds of good. I was disturbed by the fact that at least five names were added in the seven days of retreat. Fully engaged in the scenery of life, I guess, in spite of my commitment to waking up.
With three hours of sleep, I then attempted to function all day, went early to bed and slept in today, and here I am catching up.
Still to come: the insulation gets installed. And a lot more work, heading for a passive solar house in which wood is the backup. There will be fundraising. my next task, to be done while traveling to see my teacher and my family.
There will be some writing that comes out of the retreat part of this time, probably in a few days. Until then, joy and blessings to you.
This photo is of the east field, along the road, that will become an orchard with apples, pears, and chestnuts plus berries and shrubs, a roadside privacy buffer that also keeps out GMOs and supports pollinators, with poplar, black locust, lilac, rugosa rose, dogwood, and two kinds of willow. I took the photo with my back to the maple-basswood section of the woods.
Today I put two taps in a black walnut tree, picked up another 5 gallons of walnuts, and emailed a farm networker about access to a nut cracker. I also made a batch more applesauce (lots to go still), ate some of the green winter squash, and planted another green plant in the indoor garden – where the celery is vigorous, onions, parsley, and basil quite healthy, and everything surviving in spite of my poor watering habits.
Energy has been going to winterizing – mostly, getting ready for the masonry stove which is to heat the house with minimal firewood (plus insulation and solar gain), and the antique wood cook stove. I never imagined the number of decisions, measurements, small details – and the amount of trust in both my architect and the stone mason. I postponed insulating the foundation because I still have questions about exactly what to do. And because I want to get help paying for it.
There are also conversations about installing a photovoltaic system next year. It is to be paid for with the income generated by selling energy to the electric company.
The other use of my energy is in organizing, writing, focusing, making plans. At the same time I am teaching a little, writing a little, and planning to do more – because it is my teaching that will make everything possible here, make this different from the average permaculture farm.
The second serious visitor will be coming soon: 11 days in late November. May it go as well as the first. It’s time to find residents, who can support both finances and work and create community. There are sleeping spaces for two; two more real bedrooms can be made without much trouble, which means with the level of skills that I have. (But I’m lying: one of them needs windows added, on second-floor level – which makes me a helper not a leader. Of course 20 people could easily spend the night. There are beds for 7.) If I had raised money last year, the interior remodeling could happen this winter while I’m visiting family – but I didn’t.
I’m written a lot about erosion and culverts. Here is a picture of the magnificent work the neighbors did on the driveway culvert – the first side. And I’ll let you know what happens with the land bridge, that magnificent place.
I had oral surgery last Friday, and was disappointed that the whole week was impacted. I enjoyed the rest time, and did not enjoy the pain. Now, making my way back to normalcy, I feel well rested but short on the deep rest that comes from zazen. It was a joy to walk outside today in the sun. And I’m trying to catch up on non-physical work such as writing to you.
I would have chosen to spend this evening in community, in ritual. Next year, I think it will be so.
Blessings as we go into the dark time of the year.
The summer on the land has been amazing – living with the smell of trees and plants constantly, being able to see the stars at night, having my work require hands in the dirt…
The goats are going back tomorrow; they were wonderful but it just took too much time to take care of them the way I wanted. (I loved taking them for walks; I didn’t love trying to get them back into the fence.) Hopefully in the future of more residents, there will be goats again, and chickens and other animals as well. Here is a photo of “Brave” letting my granddaughter pet him.
Here we have three events on the calendar, two land-related and one Zen teaching.
Wednesday, September 10, 6:30-8:30 at the Northfield Buddhist Center on Division Street: Zen practice group, begins with a half hour of meditation, then presentation and discussion. RSVP greatly appreciated. (This group also meets 9/24, 10/8 and 10/22.)
Friday, September 12, 9-5 (or whatever) at Vairochana Farm, 16922 Cabot Ave, Faribault. Erosion Control Work Day – We’ll stabilize a hillside and do some stream diversion, to protect the bridge and access to our northern woods. Strong backs are helpful, but there are light tasks as well. RSVP for carpooling, lunch, and coordination. (It’s possible to get paid for working this day – let me know)
Saturday, September 27, 1-4 pm (or 9-4). at Vairochana Farm, 16922 Cabot Ave, Fblt. Sheet mulch workshop – learn the natural method of gardening without tilling. Suggested donation $5; or come at 9, help move materials into place, and no donation. RSVP for carpooling. Morning people, bring your lunch. There will be information and handouts.
Carpooling is more than recommended, it’s almost essential due to parking limits and climate change. RSVP is to help planning.
I’ll send some reflections when I can.
To get event reminders in your email, use the wheedu page: http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/
It’s starting to look like fall, and still unimaginably beautiful. How can a world be so precious?
In the middle of moving to the farm, I notice that I haven’t been updating. I’ll add a photo or two and brief information.
The farm is 17 acres near Faribault, MN, in the Cannon River Wild and Scenic District. The house is a converted barn, and one of the projects will be adding bedrooms.
During the first summer, things will be fairly informal, with focus on gardening, land care, and care of buildings. It will be possible to visit, and open events will be posted here. There will be opportunities for Zen practice, posted here, and here’s a description:
Vairochana Farm: summer practice
The land for Vairochana Farm has just been purchased. During summer and fall of 2014, you are invited to live, work and practice here. Practice style will be Antaiji/Uchiyama Roshi style.
Details: morning zazen plus additional retreats and study opportunities; approximately 30 hours of work per week; initial stay 1 week, with mutual agreement for longer stays; no charge, but refundable deposit is due on acceptance. We hope to be accessible to people with disabilities including chemical sensitivity.
Vairochana Farm is located near Faribault, Minnesota, on 17 acres with a converted barn and several outbuildings. The land is woods, hills, pasture, and creeks, walking distance to the Cannon River and about an hour from Minneapolis.
The mission statement is in the May 19 post.