Sunday, December 16, 2012

Almost Full Circle

It's that time again, rose pruning!  If you have been following this blog since it started you may remember one of the very first things I did in the garden when I got here last February was prune roses.  I had never done a lick of gardening, much less the ever-revered rose pruning.  I was nervous every day that I would do something that would kill these needy but hardy bushes.  This year I started pruning with the same bush I first pruned last year and guess what? it is still alive and thriving and we met again  under more relaxed conditions.  I have a confidence that I know a little bit about what I am doing, that roses can handle a lot and that ultimately, if I killed it with too hard a prune it would be okay.  This is a teaching farm and garden after all.  I was able to tackle this bush in one day and the quality of my prune was visible.  A balanced overall branch structure with buds heading in good directions.

It's a funny thing about rose pruning out here in the gulch.  Because of our temperate climate the roses would bloom all year if we'd let them.  But they do actually benefit from a break.  So at some point in the year we just decide it's time to prune or that a certain bush is as close to dormant as it's going to get an we will help it go the last mile.  Generally you wait until there are no more blooms and the leaves have all fallen off.  We just wait 'til they're close.  The year has been amazing.  Some of the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen in my life.

In other news, winter gardening is in full swing.  We have done some asexual propagation (rather that pollination for growth -sexual- we take cuttings and plant them in special soil mix until they send out a bunch of roots then we replant in pots.  Some plants have special cells just in case they need to reroot and when they are cut they kick it into high gear.  We also plant a little cutting from a willow tree with the cuttings because it has a very high level of growth hormone that encourages our cuttings to root!!).  We just planted three beds of tulips, they should be blooming in February/March.  We went on a daffodil planting frenzy.  The narcissus have started blooming.  The narcissus family is also called  daffodil but these are smaller and smell amazing.  We have planted cover crop on several beds that were not cover cropped last year.  This helps to add nutrients to the bed like nitrogen and keeps the soil in it's place rather than getting washed or blown away if we didn't plant anything.  We have stopped making compost for now and maybe for a long time because of our symphylan (tiny centipedes that eat roots and other organic matter and have INFESTED the entire garden) problem.  Winter fruit tree pruning coming soon to a blog near you!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Vow to Cultivate a Big Strong Heart

With the sound of a stone hitting, yesterday the 60th Practice Period of Green Dragon Temple officially closed.  Two months of dedicated practice, spending most of our waking hours with the same 35 people, little free time, no leaving the valley, and looking at all the deepest (and sometimes darkest) sides of ourselves.  The period ended with a 7 day silent sesshin (meditation retreat).  It wasn't one of those retreats that's soft and relaxing.  This was a little more...raw?  Basically you sit still in one seat from 5am-9pm with an hour break after each meal and each meal eaten at our seat in special ceremonial  fashion of serving and receiving.  It was intense and wonderful and will never happen again exactly as it did.  It is rather inconceivable, all that happened, all that I felt, learned, and thought.  But I think it will move around my mind, body and heart slowly over time and trickle out in surprising ways.

What the end of something often means is that people leave.  Today I had to say goodbye to two of my favorite people and over the next few weeks I will say goodbye to some people I have gotten very close to.  I had this flash, as tears welled, that I would be here at Green Gulch for a long time and I would have to say many goodbyes to people I love.  At dinner, in the dining room, I heard someone saying that they felt like they'd kind of hardened to the whole people leaving thing and that they maybe don't get so close to people because they will leave.  So I vow to cultivate a big strong heart so that I can love people with an open heart that is strong enough to say goodbye.  And then do it again. And again.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Let the Games Begin

"The 60th practice period at Green Gulch Temple has now begun."  That's what we heard this morning!  My first practice period.  It always starts with Tangaryo, a ancient tradition of entering the temple, which also means sit all day long, otherwise known as 14 hours with 3 half hour breaks.  I didn't think I could do it but here I am.  This morning we had a wonderful ceremony bowing with all of the staff that will support us and guide us through our study.  In the early light of dawn, stars still out, and a delicious warm breeze we all walked to the temples of Green Gulch to say hello.  Kitchen, maintenance, office, farm, garden, temple.  So beautiful.

What is a practice period?  The short answer is that this is a time, 55 days, dedicated to practicing and studying zen Buddhism.  During the growing season the farm is our center, during practice period, the zendo (meditation hall) is our center of life.  We will not "leave the valley" as they say for these 55 days.  We can hike, go to the beach but essentially we are minimizing outside distraction to "study the self."  All 33 of us, young and older, will live in the main residence hall, Cloud Hall.  We will sit 5-6 periods of zazen every day except on our one personal day, we will work about four hours each day, attend study hall, have a half day sit once a week and finish out this retreat time with a 6 day silent retreat in which we sit pretty much all day.

I know that this type of thing may not make sense to many people but I feel so lucky to have space in my life to take a two month retreat.  A time to get know my innermost self or at least get a little closer.  In the mean time I will not use the internet too often (just the occasional email check for important things) or phone (other than to check in with the parents of course) and do what I can to minimize the distractions and escapes that we all use to avoid being bored in order to realize that every moment is full and unique.  We'll see.  Wish me luck!

End of Season Highlights

Ok so before I take a semi-hiatus from internet I want to give you some of the highlights from the end of the farm/garden season.

  1.  Greens Dinner - So San Francisco Zen Center opened a restaurant back in the day when "California" cooking was just taking off.  A vegetarian restaurant called Greens out at Fort Mason in the Marina district of San Francisco.  When running several businesses as well as a Zen training center became too much to manage SFZC "sold" Greens.  The nature of the relationship is a little unclear.  They still give us some money, we give them produce and every year the farm and garden apprentices go there for a big end of season dinner.  Open everything and so much fun!  One other tradition is that all the apprentices picked a name out of a hat and wrote a haiku about the person they got.  Then we read them all and guessed who they were about.  They we so sweet, some funny, so much love.
  2. Amanda Keith and Anthony Verrastro's Wedding: (you can see a pic of me and Austin and his cousins Chris and Krista and her husband)  The wedding was in Pennsylvania, in the mountains. It was October 6 and the fall colors were seriously amazing.  The landscape of rolling hills and, his parents live on a little lake called Moosic Lakes, was absolutely peaceful and breathtaking.  So intoxicating I thought maybe I could live there some day.  Oh wait, they have winter.  But I met so much family, got to hang out with all Amanda's girl friends, got to see Jimmy and Sarah and baby brother Charlie.  It was wonderful.  There was even a photo booth at the wedding but I won't be posting any of those photos.  I'll just quote someone who said "what is it about photo booths that makes you want to take your clothes off?!"

  1. Cazadero, CA: Austin and I took a little vacation before practice period began.  In some ways it can be hard to relax here because there's always fun people around and things happening.  So we snuck off to my great grandma's cabin.  It was AMAZING!  Once you get off N-101 onto River Rd. you drive through beautiful wine country and you see California actually has fall colors too.  You drive through Guerneville (home of the Rainbow Cattle Co. a must stop for all visitors) and Monte Rio, where they were having MermaidFest (?).  We spent three days doing nothing and whatever we wanted.  It was cool enough in the mornings that we could build a fire in the stove.  We would sleep in, drink strong coffee, and lay around reading.  Then we'd make lunch and sit out on the porch in the sun drinking a beer or two (three?) while asking each other Trivial Pursuit questions (and use salami bits to lure a local cat for a snuggle).  Then it was nap time and there is a bed on the deck under the covered area so we could just lounge.  Then we'd listen to music, read more, walk down to the creek (hella cold!).  Then we'd prepare dinner, drink wine and lounge more!  One morning we went to Raymond's Bakery for delish pastries and coffee.  Total local spot for the community of 350 people.
So all in all life as a Green Gulch Garden Apprentice was pretty amazing.  (Life as a Green Gulch practice period participant ain't too shabby either :-)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Things I Have Seen

We had our closing ceremony this morning.  Ten apprentices started (one left a few days early to go back to his other life, his wife and new job), three managers, and one elder.  Six months together.  Living, working, eating meals, tackling the great existential questions of being human.  Sometimes you're afraid to ask the questions and sometimes you're afraid of the lack of answers. Other times you're overwhelmed by the only answer, that all you have is here right now and whether or not you know it it is full of love.  If you look at the picture above you may see what I see, a family.  Our leaders said words of love, like parents, they watched their children grow like the sprouts we tended all season.  Tears came to my eyes.   Tears of appreciation that people cared enough about 10 perfect strangers to create a space for us to come and study Buddhism and farming.

I learned and saw so much!

  • How to harvest apples and pears (apples are ripe if you twist them 180 degrees and they come off easily, pears are ready if you lift them 45 degrees and they pop off, pears have to ripen off the tree); 
  • I watched a momma duck with ten fluffy babies end up with only two; 
  • I learned how to sharpen garden clippers and that they will be sharp enough to clip off the tip of your finger; 
  • I learned to tell the difference between five types of lavender, and which are harvested for their brilliant purple color (munstead and hidcote) and which are harvested for their amazing fragrance (english, grosso, provence) and that their fragrance is strongest right before they flower;  
  • I learned that bees each make a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime; 
  • I learned that raccoons like to poop on articles of clothing left in the garden; 
  • I helped a group of sincere and loving people honor the death of a beloved black cat name Jack as we all faced loss and how it made us feel
I learned that as much as I crave excitement and change, when I ask myself where I'd rather be the answer is here.  If there is something else I think I need and I cannot get it then I don't really need it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Not So Sexy

Sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, call it what you want but they are all related though not quite the same.  Austin and I spent the weekend in Pennsylvania to celebrate his sister's wedding.  We had a wonderful time and were not ready to leave.  At one point we're driving to one of the many parties and playing DJ in someone's technologically savvy car looking for some good hip-hop to dance to.  We found a variety of stuff: some pop, some more hardcore rap, some reminiscent of our dirty south favorites and every single one ripe with men shit-talking about bitches and hos and all the nasty things they do to them.  Side note* I don't think it is a coincidence that these songs also include manic rantings about money, cars, drugs and violence.  Somehow they are all correlated with patriarchy.  I know this topic is not new.  Really, it's as old as patriarchy, which as most know, is just about as old as time.  Or since men were able to whip it out from under their loin cloth and pee anywhere.  So we ask ourselves two questions.  First, where is the feminist hip hop?  Some suggest such female musicians as Lil Kim, MIA, Eve, Queen Latitfah, etc.  Now I am not any sort of expert on hip hop at all so please excuse my ignorance or at least share any of your insight about these mainstream artists.   But most of the time it seems that female music artists are joining the damn club and talking about the same shit men talk about, sounding just as violent, shallow, and hateful. That is NOT feminism.  Feminists don't want to be like men, especially the men who abuse them.  People have said that there is feminist hip hop, so the question is why doesn't it get promoted or played on the radio?  The next question we ask ourselves then is what do you do about the music available to you?  No doubt some of these artists are talented!  They can mix amazing beats and they can sometimes spit the most creative lyrics and rhymes off the top of their heads.  And they might even have an amazing voice behind all that synth.  Sure there are some great artists that rap about political and social issues but very often it seems these fall more into the spoken word category rather than club tunes.  So what do you do when you want to shake your ass (or pop it) at a club or with friends?  Do you decide that filling your head with garbage is not a price you're willing to pay for this particular activity?  Do you turn it off when you're at parties and stand up to expound on its evil?  Do you only listen to it with people you think are aware of its problematic nature?  Is it even possible to know the far reaching impact of hearing words like this (even for those of us who fancy ourselves aware of the potential)?

On a related note.  We are all sitting around after the day after the wedding, mildly exhausted, full of love for family and friends, and there's a lot of chit chatting going on.  Many of these folks have known each other since the early days of elementary, middle or high school so there's a level of comfort and acceptance that is nice to see.  But it also allows for moments that are somewhat regrettable.  One kid is recounting a story about a past party and a very drunk girl.  I'll spare you the details, but say that the worst part of the story is not the outcome but actually the way the guy is telling it. Everyone is clearly getting uncomfortable and one person even tries to gently say maybe the story should come to an end.  But as usual the type of person who says these things isn't one to pick up on subtlety.  The problem was two-fold, good guy but he's just plain being mean.  (Preamble* I have this memory problem that when moments are emotionally intense my brain is so busy analyzing the situation that I can't remember many details, like exactly what the guy said about this girl)  But I had this distinct feeling of disgust in response to what I perceived as misogynistic, like he had brought this element of sexuality to the story.  What do you do in this situation?!?!?  You're at someone's parents house.  You're around all these people you barely know.  This guy is not speaking for the group.  Someone just got married, it's their special weekend.  Say nothing?

Just to bring it into perspective and get off what may look like a high horse.  Today back at the farm, I'm eating lunch with some of my female friends, asking for an update from the weekend including the event at Full Belly Farms called "Hoes Down."  I ask one of them if they laid any hoes down or something like that.  Funny?  To some.  PC? Nope.  Right speech?  Doubt it.  It's embarrassing that my super feminist friend had to remind me that women are not ho(e)s.

Three different layers.  Many feelings.  You can only imagine the fear I have to be part of a study group about discrimination when at any moment I can say something highly embarrassing.  Goes to show I still have a long way to go.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Red Sky at Night

Tonight, Friday night, has a beautiful evening soft blue sky with pink wispy clouds, a crescent moon and a warm feel in the community.  Maybe because it's Friday, maybe because last night we had the annual harvest square dance or maybe it is always like that but I showed up for it this time.  Just like one of my teachers said, my negative mood has passed.  Like she also said, it will surely come again so just look at it, maybe find some humor in the silliness that is human life, or at least some curiosity.  Like another teacher said, (yes, I talked to many people about my nasty mood this week) in regards to my negative feelings toward a few particular people, which were so strong I could barely be in their presence, I don't have to think too deeply about it.  In other words, I don't have to analyze the situation to figure out "am I projecting some part of myself onto them? am I hiding some part of myself that I don't like and see in them? are they insane or am I? etc."  I don't really have to make it so complicated.  I can trust my intuition about people but not turn away from whatever discomfort comes up and just keep trying to meet them.  Questions are good but thinking you'll figure out the "answer" is futile.

Like the one above, I keep running into the same walls lately.  I have this doubt sometimes whether this community is the place to be.  Then I read over what I just wrote above and think how great it is that I have such wise people to talk to in the times of challenge.  Could I find that anywhere?  MAYBE!  Maybe not.  That is not the point.  The wall is this:  if I think life will be better somewhere else I am simply mistaken.  My life is my own little universe that I take with me.  I see the people around me, the landscape, etc with the same eyes, the same karma.  So can I accept the doubt?   Sometimes. Last night we had this amazing event called the Harvest Dinner and Dance.  It is coming to the end of the farm and garden season and all of us apprentices harvest and cook a meal for the community with as much local produce as possible.  (Beet burgers, potato fries, coleshaw, apple pie) We also decorate the dining room, changing it all around, and set up the pool-deck for a square dance with a band and a caller!  It was great fun.  People got dressed up, people laughed and hollered, held hands, circled left, circled right, and do-si-doed.  It brought out a very special side in everyone.  And I saw people differently, even the next day.  It made me wonder why we only do this once a year?!  Like I almost forgot for a second that we have this side of ourselves.  Good to know it's still alive and well.  But I wonder if we are cultivating it enough in this community.  One might say in response to this question that we all go out and do things and see friends and family and go out on the town but I don't think it is the same thing.  I read this article once in Vanity Fair and it was talking about the Kennedy administration and how Jackie O. sort of revolutionized the White House by throwing these large social/political/cultural events bringing people together from all these different spheres and providing a space to connect and share and have a good time.  She believed it was really beneficial for political relations to be able to see others as more than their jobs or at least outside of the usual realm of interaction.  I think the same thing could be said for Green Gulch.  That having these social events together would allow us to see each other in many different lights and subsequently foster more honesty and compassion.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

How do You Shut-up the Inner Critic?

Kuan Yin, bodhisattva of
You don't.  Like my mom and dad used to say, "we don't say shut-up, it's not nice."  I'm not good enough and you're not good enough.  Lately, this has been the cycle.  The annoying part is that the criticism of other people is much more conscious than the self-criticism.  So I'm trying to explore this road to its source but I can only see like a foot in front of me at a time.  In other words, I see the thoughts start (it's making my zazen miserable), I think a few not nice things, like "he's so full of himself" or "she's so fake" and then I feel bad for thinking that but don't know what to do with it and can't see the next step or even the road behind me.

Later I start asking myself, why am I so critical of others?  People often say that you see flaws in others that you don't want to see in yourself but are probably in there somewhere.  People also say that you are critical of yourself but would rather redirect it towards others because it doesn't hurt as much.  Finally, people say this pattern of thinking is Ancient. Twisted. Karma. ie. it started a hella long time ago.  One of my teachers recently cautioned me against asking the question "why" too much.  She said it won't get you very far or it gets you too far but with no end.  So I am not sure if or when it is helpful in this case to ask why I am this way.  I supposed it is more helpful to address what's going on right now, considering I cannot change the past.  My husband, the sweet wise man he is suggests rather than telling the inner voice to shut up, what that voice really needs is some mothering, some gentleness, and some patience.  He says that you really can't love everyone (hey, it doesn't mean you like everyone either) unless you can love yourself.  It sounds so cheesy and obvious but we all know it's true.  The question is how.  How do you accept your flaws, the stupid things that come out of your mouth, the fear of failure, the people pleasing, the eye rolls, the hurt you cause others, etc.  If you don't learn to accept these you will spend your life trying to only do things you know you're good at and you'll have to avoid every single person who is not perfect.  Hmmm...

I can barely wrap my head around this stuff.  Dealing with the subconscious feels like something I am unequipped for but I think maybe I signed up for it when I decided to study the self.  It's just so confusing trying to see the relationship between what happens in my life, what happens in my head during my life and what happens in zazen.  The connections are just not so clear!  In the meantime I just want to hideout in my room so I don't have to see anyone.  Then you can't think mean things about them.  And you can escape into some book or some other comforting thing.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Potato Dig!

I deadheaded big beautiful wilting, tilting, fading dahlias.  I threw them into the wheelbarrow and put the occasional one in a can with water.  These were destined for the student flower table to live on a few more days under the loving eyes of a resident.  Bees, drunk on pollen, moving slowly in the yellow center of red "arabian nights" flowers, had to get a move on as I reluctantly cut down their source of food and pleasure.  They moved on.  I looked for tiny buds, future flowers, to leave behind in the wake, the flourish of purple, pink, yellow, and white.
I look at my watch, 1:56, time to go! Danny, Christina, and I walk lightly with a little pep toward the farm.  There's a mystery ahead with this "potato dig."  As announced at work circle by Sara Tashker, there will be drumming and fun.  It gets warmer and sunnier with each step we take.  It seems we are the first to arrive.  A table is set out to illustrate the three "classes" of potato, each sign with a few potatoes to give a visual.  There's the "1st" potatoes, as in, "1st" rate?  No disease, no damage, no green, not huge.  There's "GGF" potatoes. No disease, damage ok - if healed, less than 1/4 green.  There's compost potatoes, which is pretty much everything else.  Oh yeah, and small is good.  Fancy. Premium.  Everything is better if it's tiny, right?  Cute.  Finally there is a table for the oddities.  Strange shapes, likenesses of famous people, and of course the classic cock and balls.  One example looked like a manatee.  That was cool.
The sun is getting hotter.  Feels good.  Rows and rows of dirt upturned by the tractor.  Potatoes exposed.  More people trickle down.  Mary and I will work together.  We take our "fingerling 1st" and "fingerling GGF" boxes and find a row.  Sara Davis tells us they will be sorted again as they are washed so we can go fast.  And fast we go!  The sun is hot, I take of my long sleeve and tie it over my shaved head.
Where's the drumming I wonder.  I see Mick the baker walking down the road with his usual t-shirt with the sleeves cutoff and baggy pants.  He's carrying large bongo drums in a black bag.  Someone has setup a flatbed truck in the middle of the field.  With the first hit of his hand on the skin my heart swelled, my head bobbed and my pace quickened. I laughed.  I howled!  With his sunglasses on, he looked like a blind man.   Seeing the sound with his hands.  Up and down the rows, boxes and people and potatoes, of all kinds.  I don't even like potatoes that much but today they were beautiful.  My eyes quickly learned to see the hidden dirt covered root vegetables that blend in with the clods of rich crumbly earth.  Sometimes I'd squat with open hips, sometimes I'd bend over with my arm resting on one thigh, sometimes I'd kneel on the ground sucking in my belly, aware of my back.
I looked at my watch, 2:57, time to go back to my other work.  Sad to go.  The drumming and howling continued.
Happy Food Awareness Month!

What I Remember, Sept. 11

Last night Steve Stucky, abbot of San Francisco Zen Center, gave a dharma talk at Green Gulch Farm. Mostly it was related to our self-proclaimed Food Awareness Month but he did start out by calling on us to take a moment to recognize the anniversary of the September 11 attack in New York.  He recognized the trauma that happened and the impact it had on many people.  What he also said that really resonated with me is that it was a significant event AND insignificant.  I'm not sure, some people may find that to be hurtful or blasphemous even but I feel it rings true.  I find it is true for many reasons but one of the reasons, and this comes up for me every year, is in what we often forget or don't say when we invoke the tragedy.  We forget or choose not to acknowledge that things of this nature happen in other countries every day.  Many people live in fear and trauma every day.  And sometimes the United States and its military are direct contributors to this fear.  We know this fear, maybe because we have felt it ourselves or at least because we have seen other people express it.  We call the people that hijacked the planes terrorists I guess because they are trying to invoke terror but to people outside the United States we may be considered the terrorists.  And they would not be wrong.  Part of our military offense/defense is to invoke terror into the governments and people of other countries so they do not even consider retaliating or attacking our soil.  What scares me is that many people see no coincidence between the attacks in New York and our actions abroad.  Do unto others as you'd have done to you.  Note, that it isn't the same as "eye for an eye," but "do to or for others what you would want done to you."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

36 Leaves

That's how many leaves are required to work for one apple.  36 leaves photosynthesizing and creating the skin and sweetness for one apple.  Did you hear that they have finally created a genetically modified apple?  The most stubborn and difficult of all fruits has finally been conquered by that it won't brown!  Welcome to September, Food Awareness Month!

By way of Wendy Johnson, by way of the Buddhist Global Relief website, Wendell Berry offers some helpful suggestions for us to consider when it comes to our food:

  1. Be aware of what is involved in eating by “reclaiming responsibility for one’s own part in the food economy.” See how eating takes place “inescapably in the world” and “is inescapably an agricultural act.”
  2. If possible, “Participate in food production to the extent you can” by growing and preparing some of your own food.
  3. “Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home.” When possible, “deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist.”
  4. “Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production.”
  5. “Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience, if possible, of the life histories of the food species” and “what is involved in the best farming and gardening.”

In other news, Stanford just published a study, I think a meta-analysis where they analyze a large group of studies looking at roughly the same subject, and produce a statement about what the studies found in total.  The final word that was relayed to me last night is that they say organic food and conventional foods are no different when it comes to essential nutrition.  All I can say is in my heart of hearts I do not think that is wholly true AND it misses the big picture.  It may put some people's minds at ease or allow others to say "I told you so" but it shouldn't.  Using pesticides is still bad for the planet and bad for the health of all living creatures.  Not everyone believes the scientists who largely agree on this but they probably will someday.  The fact that using genetically modified foods as a main part of our diet is primarily a United States thing is concerning.  The fact that LARGE corporations like Monsanto and ConAgra are huge opposers to the California initiative to require labeling of GMO foods is also concerning.  What is the message that it sends when they don't want us to know what's in our food?  

Finally, I had a dream the other night that I was an X-woman (like the comic book where people mutate and have superpowers).  But I was only 70% X-woman, they tested my blood to find out how much power I had.  The problem was, because I was only 70% X-woman I was not accepted by those who were full X-(wo)men but I was enough X-woman to be hunted by the government.  Probably a big reflection of my thoughts these days: farming and institutions.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Dreams of New Orleans

Well another hurricane has passed and a city survived.  New Orleans has been on my mind a lot lately.

Last night I dreamed about it.  I went back to look for an apartment and I was checking out this place on Esplanade Ave.  It was beautiful with high ceilings and big bright windows.  Two stories.  Maybe a few units in big ol' house, a very New Orleans thing.  For some reason I decided, I think without the landlord knowing, I would stay overnight just to check it out.  It still had some furniture.  The next day some family came to look at it and we were all sitting around a table outside talking about money and we had very different ideas about it, namely this guy wanted to make lots of it and he felt like it was cool to get it however you can.  I didn't want him to get this house/apartment.  I was also hanging out with my friend Brooke who was really happy about me maybe moving back.  Then Austin showed up out of nowhere; apparently he didn't really know I was doing this and he didn't think it was a good idea or not the right time, too soon, to go back.

But it was one of those dreams where I woke up feeling really nice about the whole thing.  Like I really liked the idea of going back and looking for a place.  I am just so curious to know what my future holds.  Things keep coming up that make me think my future is not here at Green Gulch.  I know that someone has to stay here to keep it going and that this place is so important to so many people but how do you know if you are meant to carry this torch?  On the other hand, I could go back to New Orleans, maybe work with IWES again in some capacity, teach yoga in some capacity, open a yoga/meditation studio, run after school progs with Austin, have foster kids, have a dog or 5, garden & farm.  Or I could stay here in the glorious mountain and ocean air of California.  Who knows?!  It's all about intuition.  How will I know when I am just restless because humans always want excitement or I'm restless because it is time to move on?

P.S. I think I was projecting my thoughts onto Austin in my dream because he supports any path I want even if it means going somewhere without him for a while.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Color is Zen?

The concept of diversity, especially in today's era of political correctness and false sense of triumph, is so vast and so complex.

There is a lot of buzz around San Francisco Zen Center and in the Zen world at large about a blog post talking about some of Zen Center's 50th Anniversary celebrations.  Sistah Vegan's, Breeze Harper, shares some of her feelings and observations as a black woman attending an event attended by mostly white people (make sure to read the comments after, extremely thoughtful and pointed).  Nathan and Dangerous Harvest also had some thoughts about class and race discrimination in Zen sanghas.  Finally, since hearing the dharma talk by Tova Green in which Harper's blog was mentioned, many of us Zen students are feeling a little more courageous to talk about diversity and institutional discrimination.

For me, the first question is not how do we make a sangha diverse but why don't people feel welcome? And we have to really be honest, really want to answer the question even if it is something we have been complicit in, even if it challenges our ideas of how good we are, how much we know, etc.  It means we have to go way back, all the way back, to how Zen first started (and what happens when traditions jump country borders) and how people of different races and ethnicities got to the US, were they here first? get here by force? come looking for a better life? And then make our way all the way to the present and see how structures have been built by forces of coercion, hate, and exploitation and the longer they go unfixed the more compact the layers get.  Like the roots of plants that can't get through nutrient depleted compact soil, the roots that connect us all cannot get through layers of compacted ignorance.

I don't know what will happen in our discussion group here at Green Gulch, I can already see the challenges.  Everything from people to dominating conversation with ideas that are confused or off topic to ancient twisted anger and karma coming up in reaction to the term "white privilege."  I like what Breeze said in one of her comments after meeting with Zen Center abbot Steve Stucky and recommending a book that talks about what it, "means to build a Buddhism practice/site/sangha ontop of structural whiteness... I was also suggesting that “white privilege” as a word and to train the sangha about may not be as useful as using terms such as structural whiteness/structural racism. I Feel like “white privilege” is still focused on ‘individuals’ and not on structures, institutions, and systems. Not saying it’s a ‘bad’ term to use, but I think it doesn’t always get to the root of the issue."  

The answer will always be in the roots.  The roots underneath the constructions of ourselves that we create and show to the world falsely thinking they are real.  The roots are in the place you can "hear the utterance of the soul."

New Orleans, LA, Tree of Life

Friday, August 24, 2012

Farm & (Versus?) Garden

The crew at John Jeavons' Ecology Action in Willits, CA
Green Gulch's Farm & Garden Apprenticeship Program started in 1994.  At some point around 2004 the apprenticeship was split into two distinct programs.  I don't know much about what initiated the split but I can guess that it may have had something to do with the challenges of rotating people between the two areas when continuity and efficiency go hand in hand.  The farm in particular needs to maximize efficiency as they harvest incredible loads for sale.

This division may be helpful in some ways but it has also led to some tensions that may be inevitable but could be more deeply explored.  I will do my best to present my observations objectively while acknowledging that I am a gardener and wouldn't trade it.  There's the usual banter of shit talking between the two apprentice groups just to give each other a hard time but sometimes it hits a little too close to heart.  Some of it is simply fact.  The ratio of land to apprentice is lower (higher?) in the farm than the garden so each farmer has more ground to cover.  The farm grows almost all annuals so they have higher turnover of crops.  They sell more product so their harvests are much larger, time consuming, and time sensitive.  Because they sell more they make more money.  They use tractors.  So in the end much s*** is thrown around about one group working more or harder than the other.  Is that the point?

Another level of examination needs to mention that organic farming is very sexy right now.  Which is great!  Farming, small farming, needs to happen.  As conventional farms poison the earth and ALL its inhabitants somebody needs to be preparing and learning techniques to feed people when conventional food becomes too expensive for most.  The side effect of this sexiness is that the farm gets a lot of attention.  When journalists write about Green Gulch or photographers/directors want to shoot film they all spend most of their attention on the farm.  The garden is like the quiet child in a large family who is well behaved and gets all As.

Finally, there is beauty and function.  On the surface it is easy to say "oh yeah the garden is pretty but it's not much use for anything."  As the Zen saying goes, "everything has its merit according to function and place."  Sure we can all recognize the function of the farm, it provides food and we need food to survive!   But it's not that simple.  Much of what the farm grows is lettuce, which, while delish is not so nutrient or calorie rich.  Also due to financial decisions most of our produce leaves Green Gulch where it can fetch a better price at market than here from our own kitchen.  On the other hand, the garden is beautiful and, I would argue, contains some of most dynamic art "installations" in the world.  Art has served some human function since...the beginning of time.  I wouldn't want a world without it.  So in the end I say we need both beauty and function and you don't have one without the other.  And at Zen Center farm and garden serve as containers (environments or structures) for practice and examining the self.  One might say they foster different types of practice or skills or we might just say different people need different containers.  (We could probably also try a little harder to bring the farm and garden worlds closer together)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

La Famiglia Dito

I think it's been a few weeks since my last post!  Life has been busy and full of fun.

When my youngest brother was little he seemed to want nothing more than to be out of the house and on his own in this big wide world.  Now he has been out of the house for some time and he's grown sentimental in his old age (25yrs).  He planned the first Dito family trip to Lake Tahoe in...gosh, maybe since sometime when I was in college.  Growing up we went to Tahoe for two weeks every summer and usually one week in the winter.  A few years back my parents decided, now that they don't have to pay for college, they can finally get a cabin in Tahoe where they can enjoy their newly found free time post-retirement.  Little brother decided it was about time we all get together.  So in we little birds flocked.  Vince and his fiance from SoCal, Austin and I from the farm, and Brian and his new special lady from D.C.  August in Tahoe is prime time.  The air is hot, the sand is hot, and the water is cool and blue.  We had ambitious plans to do things like a ropes course and raft down the river, rent a boat, etc.  We ended up doing almost none of those things.  Mostly floated on the lake, drank beers on the beach, swam, napped, snacked, read books, enjoyed each others company.  Oh yeah, we did rent a boat.  The boys got pulled above (and below) the water on wake boards and skis.  I am too old for those shennanigans and preferred being dragged on a tube.  What weird things we do for entertainment.

It is amazing to observe this family of mine.  We are all so different and yet all came from the same two loving parents.  When you look closely you can see that we each seem to reflect different characteristics of the parents.  Vince is practical and has a mind for building things.  Brian has a love of traveling and language.  I am an appreciater of the arts, an avid reader and a fiery feminista.  And each of us kids has a very well-matched partner.  Underneath all these difference there is a deep love that I appreciate every day.  Family is the greatest place to practice unconditional love.  You love these people without any regard for whether you agree with them and you have no desire to change them, just hug them and laugh.

Oh yes and coffee and pastries every morning at our very favorite place in Tahoma, "Where We Met."  Amazingly sweet little spot.  Local fave.  A dog named Polpetta and a sweet barista, the owner, Liz.

Monday, August 6, 2012

She Wore What?!?!?

This weekend I went to the deYoung Museum to see the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit.  In some ways it's funny that I even know who he is considering I'm not very fashionable.  But on the other hand I have always been into fashion.  Fashion as art.  And no one does it like Gaultier.  His stuff is known to be totally outrageous, creative, and never predictable.  He is best known for Madonna's cone shaped bras and also introducing the man-skirt as an option.  This is one of the things I love most about him.  You may say I fall into the category of "gender queer."  (Working at a women's social justice organization I learned more lingo in regards to gender, sex and sexuality than you could ever imagine.)  Gender queer has less to do with sexuality and more to do with my perspective on gender roles.  Everything from how one dresses to what activities are socially acceptable for someone to engage in.  Ffor example, that girls can have short hair, boys can have long hair, girls can work construction and boys can knit.  I think it is so important to continue moving in a direction that allows people to exist on the natural spectrum.  And really it's not a linear spectrum of masculine - feminine but more…circular? Layered?  Let's just say complex and worthy of love.

For him? For her?
After seeing the exhibit at the deYoung, prompted by a poster we saw, mom and I decided to pop over to the Man Ray/Lee Miller Surrealist exhibit at the Legion of Honor.   It was a wonderful surprise.   The image at right is probably the only image I had ever seen by Man Ray but I got a good peep into the Surrealist movement and the friendship/romance/collaboration and work of both Man Ray and his one time muse and contemporary, Lee Miller.  They both did super cool things with photography using different light and development techniques.  Much of his art from a certain time period reflected his heartbreak when Lee left him.  He became a bit obsessed with her eyes and her lips.  It happens.  One thing he liked to do was cutout pictures of her eyes and glue them to things and then break them!  His most famous was her eye on a metronome.  He recommended this technique as helpful for getting over a lover.  She became an artist in her own right.  She was also one of the first female war correspondents of WWII.

I recommend both exhibits!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Kiss My A** Monsanto

This morning I spent some glorious hours pulling out dead growth and seed saving.  Something about seeing the entire lifecycle of a plant, from seed to sprout, to flower and back to seed, and participating in supporting this infinite cycle, feels really pure and ancient.  I was pulling poppies of all kinds, big purple opium poppies, small red, ruffly red, and also nigella (or love in the mist) and finally foxglove with seed so abundant as I cut the 10 feet tall stalks seeds were shaking all over my head.  With enough luck my head will start sprouting next spring, like a chia pet. 

Seed saving is super controversial these days.  It blows my mind that something so natural and clearly sustainable could be exploited and manipulated by big agricultural corporations, or "Big Ag" if you want to know the lingo.  The best example is Monsanto.  They are the biggest supplier of pesticide and genetically engineered seeds.  Now, like chickens and turkeys who have been genetically modified for so long that almost no breeds can naturally reproduce any longer (even the organic ones), Monsanto can make seeds that are only good for roughly one season.  They also have PATENTED their genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or certain cells/strains so that it is illegal to save the seeds and use them again.  You have to buy them each year from Monsanto. (It also kind of reminds me of Bikram patenting "his" sequence of ancient yoga postures, you can't own this stuff!)

Problem #1.  Monsanto claims that it is contributing to farm science and is contributing to sustainable practices so we can feed the world.  If you look at their website you would think they were angels sent by Christ himself.  But how can a practice in which you have to BUY their product every year be more sustainable than plants that will give you their seed every year for free?  Promoting and selling their product to the farmers of the world, especially the poorest most vulnerable ones, leads people to be dependent on always being able to purchase Monsanto products even when harvest is bad, and even if it is due to bad Monsanto products.  It's like how Nestle promoted their baby formula to the poorest women of the world.  When they were in the hospital and had access to clean water they used it just fine and their breast milk dried up.  Then they go home and have no clean drinking water to mix with the formula they now have to buy and their baby dies of diarrhea.  

Americans have welcomed GMOs into their lives with open arms.  Monsanto answered the call of "we want more for less, oh and bigger too, much bigger."  Problem #2.  When you selectively breed and cross-breed strains of vegetables and otherwise modify their genetic codes to yield more or be resistant to certain pests or the pesticide the Monsanto produces, then the strains are not hardy to other elements or adaptable to their natural regions.  It makes crops extremely vulnerable.  As we reduce biodiversity, we increase our vulnerability.  

In Europe the folks have not been so welcoming to Monsanto and its likes.  They employ strict labeling laws and other such measures to make sure the public knows where its food comes from (ie. not good for Monsanto because it makes them look sketchy).  Monsanto sees the U.S. as it's allies!  Not a good sign. "The documents obtained by Wikileaks included Monsanto asking the US government to maintain its strong pressure on the European Union legislation for the introduction of GMO foods.[130] After moves in France to ban a Monsanto GM corn variety, the US embassy recommended that 'we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU."  Do we really want to be on their side?

Products developed by Monsanto:
  1. Saccharin 
  2. Nuclear Weapons 
  3. DDT
  4. Agent Orange
  5. Celebrex 
  6. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) - used as an insulator, highly toxic and still involved in lawsuits as recently as 2002 in regards to Monsanto dumping hella tons of this toxic nasty and poisoning town water supplies
  7. Roundup - Pesticide, causes birth defects in lab animals; you spray it all over your land
  8. Terminator seeds - Seeds that self-destruct after one use
  9. rBGH - Recombinant bovine growth hormone; it turns cows into machines

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Case of the Uglies

I'm in a dark place.  Not the worrisome kind but the kind that naturally comes up when you allow yourself to look at the uglier sides of life.  And they are there for everyone; anyone who tells you different is lying.  

I almost put down the book I am reading, Eating Animals, because I didn't want to be preached at.  I still don't but I allowed myself to open up to the questions being raised in regards to eating animals.  It is touching something bigger deep inside my heart, mind and soul.  Something Derrick Jensen didn't touch with all his radical environmental truism and insight.  It is making me think and it is turning my world upside down.      

The main question is, how do we live ethically?  In Zen we have the Noble Eight Fold Path.  "It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things."  ( It includes things like right action, right intention, right speech and so on.  So as I think about the question of eating meat I consider all these questions.  If I vow not to eat factory farmed meat or I decide to become vegetarian (as these are the two options I feel compelled to consider) can I really know what the outcomes will be?  The answer is no, so then I can only make the choice based on what my heart tells me is right.  But how do I listen to my heart in a world that inundates us with stimulation of the mind?  

So I consider right speech, action and intention in regards to sharing my choices with people.  Do I practice within and just let people come to their own decision?  Or do I owe it to the animals being violently abused for fun by the exploited workers in factories farms to share what I know?  Can I do that in a way that does not preach or offend?  Or do I simply pass on the sickly chemical filled chicken at a BBQ and forage whatever veggie options they have or bring my own meat choice?  

The author of the book I am reading seems to be writing from a place that implies there is a right answer (be vegetarian), that there is one truth that can be seen in the right light.  I do not have the words to explain that this cannot and is not true.  I have spent countless hours reading, thinking about my responsibility and talking about it with my loving husband and a few people who have open ears to this sort of thing.  But today I may have been shown another piece of the puzzle, or proof to something I only suspected.  I was driving home from a Whole Foods run to Mill Valley and I am driving down Highway 1, arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world, especially on a sunny day like today, and in front of me a white Mustang convertible with four young people in it is probably heading to Stinson Beach.  And right before my very eyes I see them throw a beer bottle out the car window onto the side of the road.  I cannot believe that in a place as beautiful as this, my home, a human being would consider throwing such trash.  I honked and yelled and all I got was the finger.  No choice I will ever make will prevent such acts of violence from happening again.  I cannot make choices based on what I think might happen but what I know in my heart to be right.  And the only way to hear my heart is to go to meditation and quiet my mind.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Four Furry Foxes

Please allow me to tell you about my recent encounters with the wonders of Green Gulch fauna.  Yesterday, as I deadheaded roses, I looked up to see a CUTE little foxy fox reclining under a pear tree.  He just watched me.  No fear, lazy gaze.  Then I looked at some rustling branches above to see two more foxes perched in thick blackberry brambles just eating away joyously.  And finally one more fox meandering away toward the back of the garden.  So count them, four furry foxes.  Fluffy, cute, healthy.

Today Claudia, another garden apprentice, and I went around the grounds picking wild plums for jam.  We were out in a sort of secluded spot by the guest yurt.  I set my bucket down and headed over to the trees with her.  As we return to the truck and bucket I am surprised to see a young deer chompin' away in my bucket.  Like I had set out a buffet just for him!

Later we are down at the other end of the farm picking plums across the creek near the horse pasture.  No horses around but we just get to picking.  Before I know it I look up and two curious horses are simultaneously eating grass and checking me out.  I am overjoyed to see these beautiful creatures.  In some ways like huge dogs but because they're so huge they are almost scary.  But they just meander around.  One of them has a hitchhiker too.  A little bird perched on its rump, probably eating little bugs.

Finally, as I am summer pruning (cutting down the excess vegetative growth to encourage more energy for fruiting) in the apple trees I notice a quail is stuck in the raspberry bed we have covered in netting (to keep them out of course).  I go over to help but he scurries into the center to avoid me.  But then I notice another smaller bird desperately flapping its wings trapped in the netting itself.  Its beak still red with raspberry guts both its wings are stuck through netting holes.  It is terrified.  As I come closer it flaps harder.  I talk calmly and play with the netting until I can pull it out from under its wings and it quickly gets the hell out of there.

I think I saved a life today.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fancy Feast of Engorged Liver Anyone?

A baby duck in its
natural eating environment

In case you have missed it, California is finally attempting to enforce a law that was passed 8 years ago banning the sale of Foie Gras.  Foie Gras is made from the liver of a duck that has been force fed so that its liver becomes engorged.  Restauranteurs, diners and foie gras farmers are outraged about the law.  First, because of the restriction on their livelihood and/or lifestyle choices.  Second, because of some of the gray areas in the law, both being legitimate questions.  This article from the Huffington Post does a pretty decent job of highlighting some of the different angles on the issue.  (and of course please enjoy reading the comments from readers)

But I want more discussion about the issues like, what constitutes animal suffering?  Why do many people feel so offended by the idea that ducks are force fed but they feel no qualms at eating eggs from "cage free" chickens when that really means they are just kept in one large room with their beaks cut off so they don't peck each other to death?  Why do people feel so entitled to follow their whims and tongues regardless of any collateral damage?  Why do rich people who can afford to eat foie gras feel like they can find ways to get around the law?  Finally a law that is aimed at rich people instead of the poor!

On the other hand, at least some issue of animal cruelty has made it to the front pages, right?  Maybe it will encourage people to think more deeply and critically about the "nature" of the food situation (probably not).  Or maybe the argument shouldn't be about how foie gras is just like other conventional animal farming practices so it's ok but rather about force feeding ducks and claiming its something they're built for and they already do to themselves so that makes it ok.  Does it?  When people (like some of the Huff readership as seen in the comments) evade the subject by pointing their fingers at a million other issues like how fast food should be illegal or whatever it's a copout, it's lazy, stupid and insulting.  Environmental changes have to start somewhere and claiming that you can enjoy your foie gras while you recycle and drive a Prius is just plain false.    

My friends, look at the front pages of the NewYorkTimes (July 20) or the Business section of the Chronicle (July 20) all highlighting the worst drought in years.  I believe that deeming these disasters as natural or inevitable is false.  There are things we can do about it, like allowing trees to live.  Trees create moisture and oxygen and their root systems maintain soil health for pretty much ever.  When we cut them down in order to plant miles and miles of one species of corn we are making ourselves horribly susceptible to a host of problems.  Being slaves to our whims (ie. overstimulated pleasure centers in the brain) or cultural sense of entitlement to do as we please and do it in a small vacuum is an act of hubris that will probably not work out in our favor.  I just want to do the right thing and every single day I explore what that means.

Please forgive this somewhat aggressive rant :-)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why I Wake Up At 4am

"    Little by little, day by day, your practice will deepen, revealing a mind that is open, free and receptive.  The more we sit zazen, the more we come in contact with our lives and the way our minds work.  We will never find complete and lasting peace in this life until we realize personally the inherent perfection of our own life, an inherent freedom that all of us are born with.
     From birth we have been conditioned by different events and people - our teachers, parents, country, culture, neighborhood, friends, and peers.  Everything we cherish - our positions, attitudes, opinions, all of our attachments, all the things we think give our life identity - are found in our conditioning.  Now here we are, decades later, trying to live our lives out of this random programming we call "my life."  We feel so strongly about parts of the program we are ready to die for it.  And it's all created in our own mind.
     There is no escaping the fact that getting beyond this accumulated conditioning is a long process.  Thirty or forty years of programming takes time to work through.  We look at the thoughts, acknowledge them, let them go, coming back to breath.  Day by day, we uncover what is underneath all of the conditioning.  What we discover is called freedom.  It is called human life.  It is called wisdom and compassion.  It's the nature of all beings.  We don't need a rule book to go by.  We've come into this life fully equipped as a Buddha, and we'll go out fully equipped as a Buddha, realized or not.  Some will realize, some will not, and whether we do or don't is up to each one of us.  It depends on how much we are willing to practice our life, how willing we are to search deeply enough to realize it directly.
     Once realized, all the questions dissolve.  Differences merge and a whole new reality, a whole new way of understanding ourself and the universe begins to develop. [All of this study is a drop in the ocean] If you use that drop, practice that drop, then it will eventually be the ocean that covers the earth, encompasses the heavens, reaching everywhere, touched by everything.  That is your life."  - John Daido Loori

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Farmers Market and the Side Hustle

Farmers market!! Garden apprentices get to go to the market at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza once a season, otherwise, Danny, the man of the garden, goes regularly.  It is so fun!  We get there at 6am to set up.  The garden has a table and the farm has two tables and a wall of boxed produce to stock up.  You will notice above 12 unique flower arrangements, 6 sweet pea bouquets (smells like heaven), 2 rose bundles, a shit ton of herbs like rose geranium and anise hyssop, a handmade lavender wreath and boucoup lavender sachets and bundles.  Emila, the farm elder, 60 years old and the fastest lettuce harvester this side of the rockies, has been coming to this market for 20+ years and knows everyone.  So throughout the day we traded produce for Blue Bottle Coffee, pastries and amazing pork sandwiches.  (cue belly rub)

Side hustle!  Some of you may know that Austin and I had our first paid gardening gig last weekend.  We worked on our day off but it didn't feel like work and we had fun doing it together.  Long story short, an old artist friend of our friend Reirin needed some enthusiastic and creative types to get her garden into some sort of shape.  Her only instructions were fill it with different colors, textures and smells, some edible and leave her with a simple maintenance routine.  We planted lettuces, greens, tomatoes, basil, pineapple sage, snapdragons, sunflowers, cosmos, rosemary, lavender, thyme, and oregano.  We did some other fix it things.  I have not heard an update yet.  I really hope she watered and that things are surviving...I'm left with a little anxiety.  I am a little worried because I fell victim to planting all of the things I am familiar with but are not necessarily perfectly suited for the hotter climate.   Overall I think everything is ok but the lettuces might be getting a bit hot.  We'll see :-)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hangin' with some Deadheads

Oops, not that kind of deadhead! Garden tip for the day:  For many flowers that grow with heads like cosmos and roses, if you cut off the flowers that have died (deadheads) many more blooms will come.  The most obvious reason is that when you cut of the dead part the plant does not have to send energy to support it and it can send more energy to growing new blooms.  
Also on this note, let's say you have transplanted seedlings you sprouted in a greenhouse or inside your house, sometimes if you leave them in the flat they start flowering too early or when they're too small, think a 6 inch sunflower.  They reach capacity in their tiny cell and the roots run out of room.  The plant thinks it's going to die soon (perhaps it might) so it starts to produce the flowers, ie. the part that spreads its seed.  So if you can get that sucker into the ground so it has room to grow AND you cut off the flower head it puts more energy into growing big and strong and very likely it will produce normal size flowers at the right time.

One more fun fact.  If you happen to wake up early and take a walk through a garden, like the one here at Green Gulch and you walk down the path admiring the lavender you might notice what looks like many many dead bumble bees all over the blooms.  Do not despair!  These wonderous furry little creatures are just sleeping.  I guess they are not like honey bees that usually go back to the hive to rest these party animals just pass out after a days work and wake up when they feel like it and get right back to it.   Good times out here, good times.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

"Faster than a speeding bullet"

Everything changes so quickly.  Possibly the most used phrase in the English language.  So quickly in fact I didn't even have a chance to snap one last picture of the robins all grown up and ready to fly the coop.  The momma built her nest on a ledge in a well traveled shed in the kitchen garden.  Despite the fact that we were always peeking in the nest and coming and going she must have felt we were not a threat.  They went from egg to flying teenagers in two weeks!  Also the duck family I may have mentioned a while back went from 10 babies to 2 remaining preadolescents.  It seems like maybe momma duck took about 5 babies with her to some hidden place after half the flock was eaten and she recently returned with the two that I think will make it.  I love watching them.  I am pretty sure she is teaching them how to be ducks.  How to dive down, how to groom, etc.  Fun times on animal planet.

On another note of things changing so quickly.  Time is flying!  My mom expressed concern or curiosity about how an extrovert like me would do in what could seem like a very quiet and serious place.  Au contraire, I seem to be doing just fine at keeping every spare minute booked and having a grand ol' time during my scheduled life to boot.  I probably leave campus more often than most people but it's easy to do when there are often visitors in town, family to see and lifelong friends close by.  Plus I am a planner, a hostess, and usually high energy.  I get going and it's hard to slow down.  I am pretty sure that going to do a practice period at Tassajara is the only way I will slow down.  That's why I am resisting it ;-)  I don't have to go yet so I won't.  I have a husband who has his own challenges taking it down a notch every so often but his usually revolves around work and studying, not so much in the social realm.  So together we practice.  Together we learn.  Together we seek the balance.  And of course try not to take it all so seriously.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

An omnivore's dilemma

You guessed it.  It's coming up again.  I am questioning my omnivorous lifestyle.  I was born an omnivore, turned vegetarian, a brief stint as a vegan, back to vegetarian and finally settled back into omnivorous life.  As a Buddhist I am/was even okay with this.  There's a feeling among some sects of Buddhism that everything is life and everything is Buddha, so whether I eat plants or animals is not such an important distinction. 

A few things have happened to make me reconsider my choices.  I started reading a book called Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.  He promised in the beginning it wouldn't be another book stating the case for why everyone should be vegetarian.  I admit, so far I don't think he is living up to his promise.  I have a variety of issues with the book but one thing that stuck with me was his comment that "you can't call yourself an environmentalist and eat factory farmed meat."   I am not sure if I "call" myself an environmentalist but to the extent that we all need clean air and water I think we have to be on the environmentalist spectrum and talk about it honestly.  What the repercussions are of every choice we make about food.

Another interesting point that the author made is that these days it is pretty socially acceptable in the United States to tell people you are vegetarian.  They might even ask when they invite you over for dinner.  But telling people you only eat humanely raised meat is like calling them puppy dog killers or something.  It is kinda important to me not to be "that person" who is such a pain in the butt that no one wants to eat with you or at least have you over or go out to a restaurant.  This begs of course the question about our social and emotional relationships to food and to each other.  Belonging is important.  Eating is important.  How do these things relate?  How do social conditions dictate what is acceptable to eat?

As an environmentalist I also have to acknowledge that conventional farming of fruits and veggies may be just as damaging to the environment as animal farming.  AND then there's whole issue with the "organic" label.  That organic meat, eggs, milk can and often is produced on large scale "organic" farms that are just as terrible as conventional farms.  I'll spare you the details.  So in the end, whether or not someone cares about the wellbeing of animals or whether animals have feelings, we can all admit that farming practices are directly related to the health and longevity of the planet which is directly related to the length of time humans can survive here and our quality of life. 

I ask you.  Can I save the world living and farming in this beautiful place?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Can we eat our own poop?

This past weekend most of the farm and garden apprentices went on a fieldtrip to John Jeavons' Biointensive farm in Willits, CA.   It was an amazing weekend of camping, bonding, learning, laughing, and discussing really scary, controversial, exciting, hopeful things.  The first wave of us went to Jackson State Forest outside of Fort Bragg to camp.  The car was packed full, we chanted a little chant for travels and then hit the mix CDs and hella traffic then some rain.  It felt great to be on the open road with these amazing four people.  Jackson State Forest is way the heck out there.  Perfect.  Redwoods.  A river.  QUIET.  The next day we lounged, read, knitted, talked, ate, ate and went into Fort Bragg for a little meander and some beer from the North Coast brewery, makers of Scrimshaw, Red Seal and Brother Thelonius among others.  Great day, sitting around our mediocre fire sure the others were not going to make it that night.  Then low and behold at about 9pm old faithful, Danny's minivan, rolls down the hill with the second wave of the party with more food and more beer!

The next morning we're up and at 'em by 6am on the road by 8am and at Ecology Action Biointensive Farm by 9am on the dot.  And the next wave of adventures begins.

Many things have lead John Jeavons, a student/mentee of Alan Chadwick, to this system of farming and currently his farm is a research farm (yay!).  One of his main things is how can we farm on a small space with maximum yield in a way that provides for our daily nutrients and isn't killing the planet like conventional farming is doing rapidly and surely.  His farming system does not include animals.  The only manure it uses is human-nure ;-)  This is what makes it a "closed-system," humans plant food, eat it, poop it out, put the nutrients back into the ground as compost and keep the cycle going.  Give and return.  In part his system is a response to the assumption that fossil fuel has peaked, population continues to grow and large scale agriculture is hugely inefficient and turning farmable land into desert.   This gave us a lot to talk about on the way home.  Although we weren't sure we'd make it home when the first car left with the keys to our car and a third car had to go chase them down.  Alas we all made it back with a quick detour to Taqueria Bahia in San Rafael.  Yum.

So in conclusion, no one has all the answers.   But getting out and seeing what others are doing and hearing the wisdom of their experience is crucial to helping each of us figure out how we can each save all beings.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Viva la Resistance

In the garden these days life is good.  The sun is hot and the flowers are just exploding.  Just when I think it can't get any more beautiful it does.  Two days a week we spend hours cropping flowers of all kinds and making arrangements for the community and bouquets for the farmers market.  We also get to do crafty things like make lavender wreaths and wands.  Totally my cup of tea.

We are in full swing of compost season.  Every week adding layers of straw, food scraps, green waste and manure so that in a year we will have amazing nutrient-rich soil to add to our cultivating beds.  Making and using compost is a defining feature of organic farming.  Without it we could not maintain the health of our soil.  As we take nutrients out in the form of food we have to give carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and other minerals back.  Simple as that.  It may go without saying but I'll say it anyway, large scale conventional farms are not doing that.  They essentially use up the soil, adding sub par chemical fertilizer that is only partially absorbed (the rest leaks off into ground water supplies) until the land just doesn't produce any more and they move on.  Read: we may run out of farmable land...

As Derrick Jensen said in his talk on Thursday in Berkeley, this method is not sustainable.  And we do it this way for many other systems, like fishing and meat production, fossil fuels (gas), etc.  If you have read any of his books (or even some of their summaries) you know the facts.  The depressing, apocalyptic, and accurate facts about the type of future we may have to envision if we keep living like we do.  There were eight of us Green Gulchers who went to his talk at the Edible Schoolyard Project at Martin Luther King School and while maybe some of us didn't feel particularly inspired towards any specific type of action it stimulated much conversation and, as a writer, maybe that's all Derrick Jensen can hope for.  He talked about other things that just might be too controversial for this blog ;-) or at least too intense but I did like how in his talking about the health of the planet he felt he had to discuss power dynamics and the nature or origin of our exploitation culture.  I will mention that the word patriarchy entered that convo several times...

My first thought was to say that everyone should be exposed to this type of information and maybe listen with an open mind.  But on second thought I know that there are people that will, to the day they die, disagree and even exact violence in order to quiet these voices.  Maybe nothing can change...maybe a little can change...or maybe everything will change no matter what we want or hope for.  In the mean time I know that being here at Green Gulch and taking care of this land, learning how to listen to and see the sheer magic that is nature, and trying to live in harmony with all types of people is an important part of fighting the status quo. Of working towards change that can help save the planet.  I'm trying to "wake up" or see the world clearly every minute of every day.  And have a little fun while I'm at it.

Aren't these eggs worth changing our lifestyle?  A computer can't possibly create a blue this beautiful.  You have to see it with your own eyes.  Robin's egg blue.

P.S. I would like to make it known that I too enjoy (am addicted?) to modern conveniences.  Imagining life without fossil fuels is almost impossible.  No one ever said this would be easy :-)