- The Farm
- The Alliance
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.