Archive | July, 2014

The Goats Are Here! and thoughts

28 Jul

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.

Goats after 3 days eating brush

Goats after 3 days eating brush

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 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.



Summer at the farm and in life

20 Jul

house from pines 5-26-14

Personal thoughts:

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:

  • Saturday, July 26
  • Sunday, August 17
  • Saturday, September 20
  • Saturday, October 18
  • (one day in November)
  • December 1-8, Rohatsu sesshin commemorating Buddha’s enlightenment.

(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.


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