Tag Archives: mowing

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, https://www.youcaring.com/mountains-and-waters-alliance-362647/update/344245. 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,


Pictures from planting

17 May

2015-04-29 water truck and Ki Gillam2015-04-27 east field and Ki GillamApril 25-28 was prep for orchard planting

April 27 was the day of the big machines

On May 5 half the plants arrived, prompting a panic. They were found May 8 and delivered May 11, day 1 of the 2-day planting. May 9 was fencing and garden work.

feeding the crew

2015-04-28 east field tilled

East field strip tilled for orchard.


Garden area, early in process.

IMG_2554Current tasks are adding more tree tubes to protect all the orchard and native plant barrier trees – from deer, rabbits, and gophers. (We must have killed some gophers, which sadly was the plan, using dry ice. Since planting I’ve only seen one gopher hole, in the lawn.)

IMG_2607Yesterday, on my day off, all I wanted to do was play in the “Elders Circle” which is defined by two massive cottonwoods. So I made paths, figured out where to plant the willows, pulled up some cow parsnips and wild cucumber, and reminded myself to come back for the wood nettles, now ready to harvest.

IMG_2606And in Thursday’s rain we bought a truck and a bigger trailer.

The people: Federico has been gone a month, Ki left this past week after assembling the water wagon and then fixing it, mad digging and planting in the garden, and a lot more. TR moved to Faribault in the middle of all this, and has been working with me almost daily. A new group of college volunteers will show up tomorrow to finish mulch and tree tubes. People are just drawn here. I try to stay organized and provide good food – new batch of nettle soup to make, still have homemade bread.

See you some time.



Reflections on process

2 Mar

It’s a little warmer today. Sunny. The days seem very long – light by 6 am and still very light at 6 pm.

old chicken house

old chicken house

I just spent three days at the MOSES conference – Midwest Organic and Sustainable Educational Services – and four days before that in sitting meditation.

Something very restless has settled down. What’s strange is that I felt the settling after getting home from a very busy, interactive, noisy conference with over 3000 people. After the meditation retreat, I was still irritable. And I was starting to question the reality of my thoughts, to want to stop believing them. (Of course I know my thoughts are just thoughts, but I am often caught believing them anyway.) There was a little opening – and then I was thrown into the maelstrom of the conference, exciting and exhausting. Somehow, by the end of the conference I was at peace.

Several people are coming this spring, some thinking about living here now or later. This raises so many hopes – and hope is so powerful. I will do my best to maintain equanimity as we test each other out. It’s so much easier to join a community than to join one person and imagine what the community will be like. Yet that’s what we’re doing at this stage.

And there are little things. Research and decision-making about the water heater, and on photovoltaics, and on maple syrup equipment. Continuing to seek apprentices and a possible farm manager. Fundraising, brochures, and website just get to wait for a while. Now we have an appointment for the water heater, likelihood of some skilled farm help, and a barter for maple syrup equipment. I brought the seed-starting things into the house. It moves slowly, yet it moves. Soon we will actually be doing maple syrup, then planting the orchard, deer fences, foraging, living outdoors again.

The basic task is staying calm, allowing energy to come together at its own pace – while taking care of the day to day stuff. One of these days I will get that grassroots appeal out; one of these days I will contact the foundations that have been suggested. Of course you can always join iGive and let your purchases come here – they’ll give me $5 for everybody who joins and actually shops by March 31, and you can send a few dollars through Paypal – use VairochanaFarm@riseup.net to get to the right place. (Klutzy, I know. A few people have just up and sent me money for the farm, without being asked. I fantasize about asking on Facebook and having thousands of dollars show up. But I will do a real campaign, just as soon as all the fires are out. Probably before – that might be too long. The water heater will be $1354.

The photos are from mid-February but it still looks the same. I can’t imagine spring. But the movements of spring are here – people, energy, even possible markets for our nettles and mushrooms and syrup. And inside me spring is starting; I’m able to work again.

Thank you all!


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

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 http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/ 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

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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