Moving into Winter

21 Nov


November 13

November 13

Since my last writing, the birds have flocked. Now it’s all about cold and snow. We can see through the woods, see the shape of the land that had been hidden under the green. Farming is done for the year, except perhaps I’ll be able to dig up the last carrots (under an inadequate cover, not a real cold frame). I’m eating from the plants in pots by the windows – onion, celery, and a few herbs – brought in before the freeze. I was given lots of apples and have mostly been making applesauce. There’s a mouse – four about two weeks I’ve taken out one or two mice every day, in a catch-and-release trap, but the current mouse seems to be able to get the cheese without triggering the trap. There’s more I could do but there are other things to do as well.

Tuesday morning zazen is now open for guests to come and sit – which so far means often there are two of us on Tuesdays. I sit every day, but to be open requires snow removal, outside lights, and not scheduling early meetings – so it’s one day a week.

Two people have visited to consider living here; both have been wonderful. Roy is here now, outside happily cutting firewood while I get caught up on paperwork. He’s an Advaita teacher, and we’re having very interesting conversations. Soon I’ll go out and split wood, giving my body a break from sitting still.

Cabot Rd - Jan 2013 093Formal Zen practice: Mountains and Waters

The small Zen group in Northfield has a name now: Mountains and Waters Zen Community (Sansuiji in Japanese). This is a big step. Some people from the group have come out to the farm, once for our regular Wednesday evening gathering, twice for retreats.

Every month there is a one day silent retreat at the farm. In December it will be seven days, the traditional Rohatsu sesshin honoring Buddha’s enlightenment. I think I will have some company but not full time. It’s difficult to sit so long, but it also nourishes me and I’m looking forward to it. Last week at the November retreat I allowed one hour for silent walking outdoors, and I think I’ll do that again.

The shape of practice here at the farm is starting to emerge. Already we have zazen every morning, work, rest time, days off, and (sometimes) evening sitting. What it looks like as we move toward spring:

  • A 1-5 day retreat on the second weekend of every month, beginning February. Some of these will involve guest teachers, some will be community-oriented with work projects, some will be just sitting, and at least one will simply be introduction to Zen.
  • Three-month practice periods, less formal than at a monastery, but times for guests to come for focused practice in the context of living with the land.
  • Long-term residence: what that means is still being developed.


The plans to get off fossil fuels and have space for six residents are moving slowly. December 1 (yes, during Rohatsu) the mason will start building the masonry heater. Before and after, some carpenters will put in the stovepipe and set up the wood cook stove. Meanwhile I’m keeping the house at 50-60F, wearing sweaters and snow pants, sometimes running a space heater in one room. How much wood do we need? Maybe 4 cords – but less because the heater is efficient.

There is a farm plan, small enough to do successfully next spring, involving lots of fruit trees, berry bushes, and hazelnuts plus pollinator plants and anti-GMO screen plants.

Plans to fully insulate the house and get passive solar working are taking shape but require fundraising.

I’m working on the fundraising process, with help from some organizational consultants. It’s the major work this winter. By the end I intend to have a formal nonprofit organization with a Board, a workable structure, and money to work with. (The money left from my inheritance will not suffice, and it’s important that this is not just my project anyway.)

My farm manager has become a full time architect (and my architect), so I’m looking for a manager. Or two people: one to run the farm and another to get grants and do administrative things. Of course, to pay them – see fundraising above.

Ways to participate

From anywhere: Share the link to the page; offer long-distance skills; help network, help me find money. Somewhere may be a philanthropist for whom this is their dream project – do you know them? Invite me to speak – I’ll be traveling this winter and might be in your town. I talk about Zen, Zen activism, or can share the farm vision. Plan a visit or come for a retreat, workshop, practice period.

If you’re local: Come by, volunteer a few hours, come for a sitting. Bring food, especially during a retreat. Let me know if you have tools to lend or share.

I’ll be writing more often. The same things go on the wordpress blog and on the Wheedu page. Write on the Wheedu page – make it interactive!


Shodo Spring

for Vairochana Farm


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