Archive | October, 2015

Buckthorn, Maple, and Land Care

25 Oct

2005-10-11 04.06.53Today’s volunteer day was about removing buckthorn, in the sunny 2005-10-11 04.14.35pleasant daylight following a heavy rain. A mass of shrubbery has now become a beautiful open space.  Looking at our feet, we find that there are a lot of sugar maples here – small, completely overwhelmed by the buckthorn, soon to grow in the open space. 2005-10-11 03.38.01

Donna and I joined Roy, who has been working on this during the past two weeks (since the last volunteer day) when he isn’t working on the culvert repair (photos 2005-10-11 04.05.21later).

We planted ferns (given by Jayne) to stabilize  the creek bank.2005-10-11 04.04.54

2005-10-11 04.04.40

Of course there are piles of buckthorn, which becomes wildlife habitat, erosion 2005-10-11 04.06.08protection, and possible source of wood for carving or fires.

This area is right near the bluffs at the big stream. We look forward to adding native plants and creating a pleasant sitting/walking outdoor area. It had literally been hidden under the buckthorn – a solid mass. There are still many similar areas to address, but probably it will be next spring when we have another buckthorn work day.

It feels good to be doing this land care, watching spaces open up, using our bodies in the last of the fall.  The strangeness of pulling up a species to let individual plants die – balanced with making space for others that were crowded out, restoring health and wholeness to the land, inviting myriads of species to live here instead of one. It does, sadly, remind one of human beings. Civilized humans are better in seeing the invasive behavior of others than seeing our own. Here, we aspire to stop being the one species that destroys all the rest, and to return to our place in the whole. Humans have lived this way in the past, for most of human history. Re-learning it is a key part of what Mountains and Waters means.

Blessings to you all. Visitors are welcome.

Shodo

Fall colors are bright now…

22 Oct

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:

  • “I am very moved by what you are working on.”2014-10-14 14.05.12
  • Thank you again for your visions – and your willingness to do what is necessary to carry them to fruition.”
  • …we must all get into this fight to save the earth.”
  • manifesting interconnected awareness within the work of daily life”
  • A monk once asked a Master, ‘What is Buddha?’ The Master replied, ‘Pass me the hoe.'”
  • I am deeply grateful that there are people like you, who reconnect us with nature and who are part of the healing.”
  • and quite a few of “I want to visit, to help, to sit with you, work with you, learn from you….”
  • And this last: “Please accept my donation as financial support, but also as moral support, faith and encouragement, and as an indication that the benefits of your great efforts are far reaching and unknown.”

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).

Community

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.

Zen

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.

Personal

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,

Shodo

Thanks and more

14 Oct

The fundraising appeal has brought us to a total of $2016 in donations toward the solar panels. People I don’t know gave money. People I never would have asked gave money. People who have little gave more than I would have thought. The outpouring of generosity, and encouraging words, was inspiring. Still haven’t reached the $6700. Thinking about who to ask. Here is the link to the fundraiser.

And now I still have to look for the people with lots of money, and ask them directly. Some of you can imagine how hard this is. I’ll start after I get a phone.

My phone died. I bought a cheap phone to get me through, but it seems that I actually am going to have to upgrade. The cheap phone doesn’t connect with the wi-fi that makes it possible to use a phone in the house – an excuse to continue with a smart phone. All my phone numbers are in the dead phone – something I once swore I’d never do – I’ll get them back. Meanwhile, my number is 507-339-0152. It’s pay-per-minute, and will be my backup phone in the future.

With minimal photos, then, I offer news from the past week.IMG_2159[1]

On Friday we put the garden to bed. TR, Leo, and Justin, with a little help from me, dug up about a wheelbarrow full of potatoes, harvested tomatoes and some beets, dill and coriander seeds, catnip for tea, squash, broccoli, whatever. They tore down old plants and covered bare dirt. Ready to go.

Saturday volunteers – Roy, Paul, Greg, Fran, and I – pulled up buckthorn in the section north of the driveway. We spent hours atIMG_2161[2] it, and Roy continued on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and there’s a lot more to go. We’ll do more October 24, and I’m imagining a marathon in the spring. I planted a few ferns in the bare spots, but we’ll need a lot more shrubs or the buckthorn will grow back.

On Sunday I went for a hike in the woods, along with TR’s school. We looked over the river from the bluff, and then walked down and actually put our feet in the river. I had not known that was possible. Coming back, we walked through a magnificent stand of sugar maples on the north side of the hill. I long to buy that piece of land – 25 acres bordering the river – but can’t even think of it. (Still trying to recruit friends to buy the 75 acres across the road as well.)IMG_2160[1]

The siding has been going up over the insulation, and though not finished it’s looking pretty good. Tonight we expect that Chris and Justin will take the chimney through the roof. Or is that tomorrow? Anyway it’s happening, and we’ll start using that pile of wood. (Currently yes, we are running the heat.)

Outdoors is magnificent. I took a few photos and will rush back to spend a little time with the buckthorn. Let me mention – the photo doesn’t explain that, where we had thickets of buckthorn, crowding out and poisoning out the understory, now we have space under the large trees. We will bring back native plants next spring.

Love you always.

Shodo

Can You Help Us Now?

8 Oct

Dear Friends,

If you are willing and able to donate any money to Mountains and Waters, I ask you to do it now. Small amounts are fine. Large amounts, from those who can, help us get out of fundraising mode faster.

If the vow speaks to you, you are already part of it. How would it feel to make that more real – to put a little of your actual life energy into protecting the planet for your children/grandchildren/all beings? Does your personal spending include $5 a month (or a day) that you would like to switch to supporting this large vision? (You can skip reading and jump down to donating if you like – the next heading. Even $5 helps.)

Here’s what’s happening, why I’m asking right now. There’s an intention to get the farm completely off-grid – fossil fuels and electricity – as well as to grow food to share, supporting local food security against climate change effects.2015-09-24 17.56.04Siding Sept 25 2015

We have completed half the house insulation, installed a very efficient masonry heater, its chimney almost finished, and have a wood cookstove ready to install. The orchard and berry patch are started, and the vegetable garden is producing like mad. We’re connected with others in the local food system. I’m leading a small Zen group in Northfield, occasional retreats at the farm, and other Zen activities. The second resident, Roy Guisinger, an Advaita teacher, has arrived. He will be both working on the farm and offering teaching.

The blog now has a list of volunteer opportunities including several that you can do from where you are. If you want to do a working visit to the farm, or to come to a retreat, let me know – here.2015-09-15 17.54.13

We applied for Minnesota’s help for installing photovoltaic panels, and won their lottery system. This means that we pay to install the panels, and then they pay us for every watt of electricity we produce in addition to buying back our surplus. We’re approved for a 9.840 kW system which will cost about $27,500 to install.

Plans are to do the installation next spring. To get approved for that delay, we have to purchase the panels now. So I need to decide whether to proceed or not – within the next two weeks. If I put down $6700, I can get a 4.25% loan for the rest; if not, the interest rate is higher. I’m taking that $6700 as the minimum for going forward with the solar panels.

HERE’S WHAT HELP CAN LOOK LIKE:

Donations to https://www.youcaring.com/mountains-and-waters-alliance-362647 are tax deductible. So far we’ve raised $1051 there from 12 people, mostly people who saw it online, including Facebook friends I’ve never met in person.

Loans at no interest would be very helpful. Call or email me.

Donations without the tax deduction save us 5%. You can mail a check here, saving another 2.9% on the WePay fees. (No complaint about the fees. Sending 5% to Alliance for Sustainability is a small amount in exchange for all they give us and do for the community.)

The iGive campaign is still going on, with the special deal ending October 9. Costs nothing – click and see.

Shouldn’t we be getting grants? I’ve been looking. There is a foundation that is likely to fund Mountains and Waters Alliance in a few years – after we’ve shown some stability. A volunteer will be helping with fundraising in a few months, if all goes as planned. The USDA grants for farms are mostly not working now (maybe later) but we have a small conservation grant, if we pull up a lot of buckthorn (invasive shrub).

Get a job? I’ve been in conversation about it and plan to be working about one day a week, which should take care of my personal expenses but won’t support the Farm or the Alliance. The Alliance, by definition, involves many people: Until those people are here, I work elsewhere.

IT MIGHT SEEM STRANGE for this organization with lofty purposes to be raising money for something so mundane. The reality is: We need to eat. We need to stay warm in the winter. And if we are to participate in this society, to organize, to communicate widely, we need electricity. The panels change electricity from an expense to an income source. Although I love when I can be away from Internet and phone and machines, loved living without a car, at this time those things are needed to do the work.

The last blog post raised the question of whether I should be here at the farm. That question isn’t coming up now.

Fall is here. There have been light frosts, and we’re going to take down the garden soon. It’s still outrageously beautiful outside, and colors are barely beginning. I gave a River Sept, 2015tour yesterday to Roy (showing progress since his last visit) and to Toby, an intern with Savannah Institute (which encourages and promotes the kind of mixed farming that we’re doing here). Both dug, Toby sharpened the scythe and cut some grass, and left this morning. The sun is shining and workers are coming today.

Mycelium - mushrooms

Mycelium – mushrooms

People tell me the orchard and berry patch look great. I’m pleased and surprised. Leo has mushrooms getting ready in a trash can, Chris is getting ready to plant hazelnuts here for his vision of protein for all, and Andrea brought rescued honeybees that we hope will survive the winter. Andrea also cleaned the chicken house, but the chickens are going to wait until spring. Saturday’s volunteers will pull up buckthorn and Berry patch Oct 2015plant ostrich ferns that Jayne gave me yesterday at the Zen group. (Most of my plants have come from Jenny…not mentioned here I think. Also mention Allison has given food, produce and canned food, and cooked a lunch for us. I’m trying to keep track of the gifts, but it’s hard.)

I think we’re going to make it. All summer I wondered. There’s still the question of how much damage the pocket gophers will do (or how we can stop them – raptor perches haven’t yet worked, snakes are not interested) and whether the deer will IMG_2847[1]get past the tree tubes or the field mice girdle the trees. And how much watering we’ll need to do if next summer is dry. Still plenty of work to do, and I have promised an article for a Soto Zen women’s anthology, have my teacher’s book to edit, have writing of my own that doesn’t happen. But the hardest is past.

Next year we’ll be selling strawberry plants, raspberry plants, strawberries. Later, mushrooms, Chris’s IMG_2636hazelnut seedlings, lots of nursery trees of various kinds. And we got $40 at the farmers’ market a couple weeks ago. Probably will get a little more, when we have time to go. It’s a way to take care of the produce we don’t have time to put up for winter. And I get to take a walk in the woods. Soon. Maybe tomorrow. Harvest Sept 15 2015

Nothing today about news of the world. Another time.

Love and blessings.

Shodo

The most useful thing

3 Oct

I woke up this morning with the thought: “Is this the most useful thing I can be doing?” I spend a lot of time on the farm – taking care of it, thinking about it, managing people who work with me on it, finding volunteers, looking for money – my whole life revolves around it now. That question often arises.

This morning, there was an answer. It was very clear. The answer was “No.” The most useful thing I could be doing is teaching Zen.

I’m not going to make a lot of words around that right now. The answer came as it is. I will say that for me teaching Zen is the way to point directly to what matters, to the liberation of the spirit.

The question remains whether this farm is the most useful setting for my teaching of Zen. That question will take care of itself.

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