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.