Archive | August, 2014

September 1-2 work opportunity

26 Aug

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

The land bridge to the woods, threatened by erosion.

The land bridge to the woods, threatened by erosion.

22 Aug

The rains have come. What was dry has become green, and as an extra blessing the mosquitoes have not returned. For over a week, every day it would promise to storm and then quit, returning to sunny blue skies. So it’s no surprise that I left my laundry out and it got soaked.

The goats have escaped twice; it was not a disaster, and yesterday I took them for a walk. They nibbled here and there, leaving my lawn looking much better. I did pruning; they disappeared a few minutes after I turned my back. Repeatedly. But it’s a joy to watch them going wherever they want, jumping and climbing and so forth. Because of them, I found the place in the creek that can easily be dammed for a pond – sand beach and all.

As I put up the fence while they watched, I imagined they saying “Hands up Don’t shoot.” Not quite right, of course, I am merely imprisoning them. But Ferguson is on my mind.

The amount of work to do is overwhelming. All the time: freeze another quart of beans, save seeds, make vinegars and pickles (exciting new learning), look for tomatoes and zucchini. Forget about housecleaning; I barely keep food and semi-clean clothing going. Before winter: get wood stove in house. Cold frames or something to protect my late vegetables. Cut firewood. Varnish the deck and seal a couple potential leaks.

Before the next torrential rains: erosion prevention in two places (protecting the driveway and the land bridge to the north half of the land). Yesterday we started working on the driveway part: me, Joe (farm manager with many more skills), and two 13-year-old girls who were very impressive. The piles of rocks in the picture need to be enhanced with a LOT more work.

And I wanted to remove buckthorn, use the money from the grant. The goats will eat it, but it’s not going that fast. I want bunny fences on the main garden, and sheet mulch, and there are still trees to plant that have been waiting since spring. (Most are alive and healthy.) I want more time walking in the woods – especially now that the mosquitoes have gone.

If anyone would like to come here and do heavy physical labor for a week or two, I’m happy to house and pay you. Even medium-heavy labor would be helpful. There is a guest room. You might make it possible for me to actually go to Ferguson for a week in September, as I would like to do.


September 20, one-day sesshin (Zen retreat). Actually this may be canceled if I actually go to Ferguson.

September 26, sheet mulch workshop. We’ll sheet mulch much of the main garden, including making some keyhole beds. Orientation: How to do this in your home garden. Without buying materials. No charge, but there will be a parking fee if you drive alone in a car. To discourage fossil fuel use, and also we don’t have that much parking space here.


Yesterday a friend and mentor came over, we talked, and we went for a walk in the dark. Only starlight, except a little glow from the two closest towns. She talked with me about listening to the land, about the feel of it (which she finds more like Anishinaabeg than like Dakota, and she has connections with both), about trusting, about how it would help me.

The day before Beth called from Cambodia to tell me to stop imagining that I was not practicing Zen or not doing enough. She said – “Stop thinking you should be doing something else.” I am finding a way to live that will last; this is worth while. It’s okay that I’ve always wanted to live like this. And – “This time will never come again; be here for it.”

Because I’m living in paradise. Yet occasionally, reading posts from Doug Grandt with Moccasins on the Ground or wherever he is, I remember living on the road and walking under the sky, day after day, and being part of that community. Here, mostly alone, I am in a way underground, growing into the earth here, being led by the frogs and snakes and sounds of eagles and water and wind. It is a miracle. A little lonely, but that’s how it is sometimes. I think this is my retreat time, though it looks like work and busyness, and when it’s finished then people will begin to come and live here.

My friend told me to take four years to listen, to learn what the land has in mind. It’s hard to imagine that level of patience, when I’m thinking things could collapse at any moment and I want the food growing now. I need to be told again, again, and again.

Wendell Berry:

If we will have the wisdom to survive,

to stand like slow growing trees in a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,

If we will make our seasons welcome here, asking not too much of earth or heaven,

then a long time after we are dead, the lives our lives prepare will live here,

houses strongly placed upon the valley sides, fields and meadows rich in the windows. The river will run clear, as we will never know it, and over it bird song like a canopy. ……

This is no mere paradisal dream. Its hardship is its possibility.

You can find the whole poem online. It encourages me, even though he wrote it long before climate change was in our awareness and thus it may not be possible any more. Every action we take is a ceremony, an act that influences the future of ourselves and the world. There is no waste, no time off; our play matters as much as our so-called work and maybe more. Beth tells me, what I write is full of life. I am surrounded by life here, and doing my best to allow it to re-create me.

Next week I go to the North American Permaculture Convergence; in October at the Soto Zen Buddhist Association conference I offer a session talking about the Compassionate Earth Walk as ceremony, and co-lead a session on Buddhist response to environmental crisis. And by November I hope to finish the editing of my teacher’s major commentary on Dogen’s Mountains and Waters fascicle – the core teaching about our relationship with all that lives.

Please hold me in your hearts. Come when you can. Conversation happens at And there is a place there for “supporters,” which is actually a kind of classified ad which is still free, and which will eventually generate some income for the farm.

Love to all,



Here’s most of the work crew for erosion control step 1:

2014-08-20 15.07.50


6 Aug
The main garden, after whacking

The main garden, after whacking

I should mention first that this conversation is going to move from WordPress to Wheedu. The place you can find it will be You can join there, and get regular updates and have conversations. Once everybody has switched, I’ll discontinue the WordPress blog. It will be better on spam and several other matters. (If you have trouble, please message me here or somehow.)

Even though the goats sort of captured my attention, there’s lots else going on. The first harvest from the garden has had me freezing, cooking, and pickling, and I’d be drying but the drying rack isn’t built yet. Pulling and whacking down weeds is more fun than building and moving fences – and they have to be moved every few days. Fixing the mower myself felt good, though I’d rather have my hands in the dirt. There’s excitement in the first tomatoes, first zucchini, and so forth. (I started really late so I still have firsts – nobody else still has peas.)

There are so many things to do – each one exciting, each one leading to many hours more than I thought. There’s a hillside by the driveway, where we first pulled out invasives and planted mulberry, hazelnuts, aronia, and a few flowers. I went back and pulled out more invasives. I want to cut down some extra trees, use downed trees and manure to turn it into a hugelkultur terraced garden, and plant a full complement of edible, nitrogen-fixing, 7-layered plants. I did water, and will come back to see when the grapes are ready. But building the goat house comes before that, and so does helping the potatoes (I did something wrong) and harvesting more nettles for the freezer. And I’d rather not use the chainsaw alone, though I do. (A chainsaw may be the best use of fossil fuels ever invented.)

I met with the architects today. The plan (just for the house, not the greenhouse/work building) will cost twice what I have. But I can afford to switch to a wood masonry stove and create a couple of extra bedrooms so people can come here. This is tricky: on the one hand, I need to be patient and take time to create what this place is, so people know what they’re coming to and we can work on that together. On the other hand, I’m paying people to do things that would naturally be done by residents – and things like cleaning the shop (and erosion control, cutting firewood, canning, most garden work, the long term design, the grant for buckthorn removal, and, and…) are just not happening. And people who were paying rent somewhere else are likely to bring some money. So I balance the two, and intend to get the house ready for more people for when the time is right.

Meanwhile, out in the world – there’s Palestine, Israel, Gaza, bombings, anguish, and over here just people shouting at each other about who’s right and what to do. There are little news items like an Ontario blockade of a pipeline, another pipeline failing for loss of investors, people being arrested for this and that, the Climate March. If I weren’t here I could be out there with them, and that thought brings a rush of nostalgia for last year when I was out there with the Compassionate Earth Walk. But it feels like my job now is to establish this space, really get it going, and maybe later there will be something else to do. Or maybe later the task will be simply to take care of whoever comes our way. I do not have confidence that there will be propane next year to heat the house. So I plan not to need it, to be one of those not thrown into panic if things fall apart, one of those available to help.

That seems like a gloomy note. I want to add that living this close to the earth is incredibly joyful, and I expect that others will find it so too when/if the time comes. And I still have trouble finding words. The sun is down and it will wake me early; good night.



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