Archive | July, 2015


28 Jul

We’re on vacation from the Internet. This is because, after being stung by 20+ bees and taking a baking soda bath to soothe the bites, I slipped on a wet floor and dropped the laptop. It was still under warranty. The vacation has been about 10 days, and might be a while more. I notice that I was spending really a lot of time on the computer. No writing, no email, no library movies – this is the way I lived for maybe 40 years, why is it so hard now? The loss of easy distraction is forcing me to be more present.

So if I haven’t answered you, that’s why. Email by cell phone is just harder and slower.

The stings are gone, and I have a functioning body again – the hurt wrist and the tendonitis are both minimal, and it is a joy to pick up a bale of straw or a shovel, to swing a scythe. There have been little things – repairs on the truck, broken belt on tractor so the mowing is behind, a million mosquitoes. And the peas and beans now have to be picked every day.

There’s a core of people working on the farm, mostly paid but not all, and the feeling of teamwork is strong. And people I met last year or before are appearing again. I’m trying to remember the name of an absolutely wonderful woman who visited overnight, sat zazen with me, had lovely conversation, and made several very high quality bug hats. (How could she have disappeared from all my emails?)  Eight people came to last Saturday’s workday – three of them surprises. And people contact me about future visits or possible internships. I’m trying to keep the center: it’s about practice, about settling into the nature of reality, about living with the whole world in harmony – and letting go of thoughts.

Okay – I can’t upload the photos!

If you sign up for iGive right now (see Contact page, at top) we will get $5. Through July 31. Just saying.

Please be well and happy. I will write again when I can.




Mid Summer

17 Jul

First the begging (an old monastic tradition), second the photos and farm stuff, and last some thoughts.

I sent out an update on the fundraiser, And it includes a recipe. Hint: some people send their tax-exempt donation without me bugging them. That’s really nice, it allows me to take care of the orchard and even have some time for teaching Zen. I do understand I have to get past my terror and call. Oh well. First let me tell you about the free way to support Mountains and Waters Alliance. If you click here you can get the information. Please do that if you like what I’m doing. Next week I’ll start hounding people.

And – to sign up for blog posts, you go to the page (you’re here) and go down the right side to “Entries RSS.” Click and there’s a place to sign up.

IMG_2731[1]It’s finally summer, hot and buggy, and I’m grateful that the house is naturally cool. We work, groups of 2 or 3 of us, sometimes volunteers and sometimes “casual labor” which means friends who work for a lot less than they’re worth. So the orchard trees are staying alive, and we’ll have the rabbit fence up protecting berries, well before winter.

The garden is producing vigorously; Asian greens have gone to seed, lettuce is IMG_2706[1]abundant, rhubarb might still have another harvest. The rabbits are eating the strawberries. There are wild raspberries, dandelions, daylilies, hostas, and just today sumac tea. I probably could still harvest a few nettles, but the season is pretty well past and I haven’t had time to go out. I wonder when the first tomatoes will turn red and when to dig potatoes – and what I will do with them all. I’m learning to grow food, preserve it, and give it away. Selling produce? Another thing to learn.

IMG_2712[1]And we are mulching the trees, pulling weeds out of the tree tubes, taking care of the perimeter trees – and, occasionally, pulling out buckthorn.

Yesterday a volunteer made two high-quality bug hats, and left pattern and cut pieces for four more. If you are laughing, you clearly don’t understand what it’s like to walk into the Minnesota woods. Bug hats can change your outdoor life.

Today I learned that Rick knows tool sharpening, and he taught Dan, and then I taught both of them to scythe, and then we worked like mad in the hot sun.

A friend showed up from the past, a Zen priest who became a Theravadan monk. His life is completely reorganized. In particular, if nobody gives him food he doesn’t eat that day. If he wants to go somewhere, a lay person has to drive him. All his time is available for study, meditation, and service. I really like that, even though I’m not drawn to the lifestyle. In Zen, we study, sit zazen, and do service, but if there are no donations we go get a job or something.

I’ve been reading lately. The Lankavatara Sutra – a core text of Zen, known for being hard to understand. This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. And remembering A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit.

The Lankavatara points to the basic fact, which most Buddhists can tell you about, that we are not separate from each other and everything we think is going on is an illusion created by the mind. (I’m still in the first chapter, this is definitely not a full summary.)

This Changes Everything connects the dots about what’s happening with the climate and how our whole economic system is set up so that ruining the earth is the only possible outcome – unless we change the economic system. For example, a state like Minnesota that sets up an energy program to encourage locally-built solar panels can be sued for setting up a trade barrier interfering with corporate profits. There have been many such lawsuits under the WTO (World Trade Organization) and they win. The TPP will be worse. Everything we do to protect the environment can be a target. (okay, not everything. Most things that local governments might do.)

The farm was accepted into Minnesota’s solar energy program this year. We want to actually use it: it might not be there later. And that’s why we’re having a fundraiser for the solar panels.

People are visiting. Sometimes they volunteer for a few hours, sometimes stay a night or two, sometimes leave a donation and always a gift of themselves. Sometimes we have a conversation about longer visits or even becoming residents. I am learning to be patient about this part, waiting for things to develop. I’ve learned that even people who haven’t been here feel connected. And that’s why I’ve posted the vow in the blog where you can print it and even sign it. I don’t quite know what this is yet. I’m listening for its movement, listening to it breathe. Sesshin starts again Sunday evening, settling down again on the ground of reality – as my teacher says.

With love,


Living with the Earth, Living with the News

2 Jul

IMG_2710[2]Strawberries started about a week ago, sweet and delicious. Rabbits found them a few days later. Yesterday we started to put up chicken wire, dug into the ground and along the bottom of the fence. Meanwhile the wild raspberries have started, and the peas.

In the past week, after 9 people were murdered by a young white man who pretended he was coming to pray with them, was it the 8th or the 9th southern Black church up into flames? Some of them were not found to be arson. How can this be? I ask. What world are we living in, where Black people are ready targets, where church burnings have resumed after a 50 year break, and – I will not list.

We’re still asking donations for the solar panels (which really means, for the whole endeavor), here: A tax-exempt option should arrive soon, and will be announced. I watch some of my friends organizing, traveling to the front lines wherever they are, and I think this venture is tame. But those friends are the ones who encourage me most. Mountains and Waters (the alliance, the farm, the Zen community) is a matter of building a space which is to be used – first for the opening of consciousness, aka the practice of Zen and all its relatives, second for learning and teaching a way to live in harmony with the planet, and finally for a refuge when refuge is needed. I have accepted responsibility for food and making shelter, hard as it is for me.

In the orchard, we had put up a roost for hawks and owls, inviting them to hunt the gophers – but so far only tiny birds have landed there. We have a couple years before the fruit trees are big enough to be interesting to the gophers. So mulching is the focus, protecting the baby trees from extremely vigorous weeds and grasses.

I’m reading Forever Free, a book on the Reconstruction era, during and after the U.S. Civil War. I’m struck by how lively and hopeful people were, by the sense of creativity and a new start, by Congress’s willingness to do things that would today be considered radical. That time it was President Andrew Johnson who stopped it. Last night, a film on Daniel Ellsberg, and I thought how today he would have been imprisoned – the illegal spying on him would be legal now, and he would be imprisoned or exiled like Manning or Snowden.

Nights are cold, days are warm and beautiful, and it rains often enough that the plants are vigorous. It’s a summer paradise.

Droughts are elsewhere, nearly the whole state of Alaska is burning as is much of Canada, California is running out of water while Texas floods, and island nations are preparing to relocate.

On last week’s volunteer day, two of us went into the woods and pulled out buckthorn (vastly satisfying to see the woods opening up) while one worked on mulching the orchard. But next time (July 25, and then August 15) we’ll need to focus on the tame areas – orchard, berries, garden – weeds, deer protection, rabbit fencing and ever more mulch. I handle it in two ways: T.R., working with me part time, has taken on more and more responsibility. And I just let go, again and again. The rain has been an incredible blessing.

This month’s retreat will be July 20-22. In place of the August retreat, I will spend some days on the Love Water Not Oil tour in northern Minnesota. I’m hoping some people will come with me, making this act of solidarity and prayer the first official event of Mountains and Waters Alliance.

In order to support the farm until more people come to live here, I’ll be going back to work – private practice – in a way that hopefully will support the larger goal.

I’ve added a poster of the vow, the text of the brochure, for those who might like.

Aspiring to shorter posts….

with love

Shodo Spring

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