April 23, 2013
This month’s installment in the long story called Sarajane’s Adventures in Housing is turning out to be a fine one indeed. A dear and generous lady with a fine brick house and great taste and a flexible spirit invited me to come and live here for a spell and help with the great big garden. My second floor bedroom window, indeed, looks right down into the garden and the setting sun.
This is my first time feeling really comfortable living in town. I have a small room with a soft carpet and a table at which to sit and type my stories & do my work. I wake up and make strong coffee and amble over to the cafe at 6:25 with a cup in my hand, dawn and birds and the occassional car. Past the sweet gum tree and its sidewalk mess, across the hardware store parking lot, past the two young cherry trees in bloom, and I arrive at 6:30 for my shift. I pick up the newspaper on the front stoop, unlock the door, and brew seven pots of coffee. Spruce up the place for the morning crowd: windex the front door & bakery case, straighten the chairs and the salt and peppers in the dining room, tidy up the coffee table by the couch. Fill up the cream pots. Put the cashola in the register, a few good luck dollars in the tip jar. Flip the sign to OPEN. Sweeping the sidewalk in front of the cafe gives me special pleasure. I always think of driving the farm truck through san francisco in the early morning and seeing shopkeeps in all the different neighborhoods out sweeping and hosing off their sidewalks. These are important things to take care of. To work the opening shift at a cafe is to say good morning to a lot of people. It is a gift to be a generous host.
Here in this house lives not only the dear and generous lady, but also a great sage of a gentleman. They are kindred spirits and great pals for sure, but not a romantic couple in any usual sense of the word. I enjoy the gentleman for he shares his little stovetop espresso pots and his wisdom with me. He fills the house with music, whether it’s kitchen singing and banging, giving drum lessons, or playing old jazz and blues on the piano at dusk. We are both whistlers, which I think we both appreciate. He and I share stories of San Francisco. The bookshelf behind the drumkit holds many books that make me feel at home, from Rudolf Steiner to Pattiann Rogers. I enjoy waking up to his gravelly singing and the smell of burning tortillas.
Both of these roommates of mine are dedicated to gift-giving and the common good in their own particular and very different ways. They participate in town life and storytelling and caretaking. I’m realizing that living here has opened a space for a bit of civility in my life, and I have lately been savoring it. I first felt it the sunday before last, when I finished up a closing shift at the cafe. Closing down the place has a different kind of joy than opening it–restoring order to a place that’s been ransacked over the course of two busy weekend days, cleaning and restocking and resetting the energy level. But the moment of leaving work, usually quite tired in mind and foot, is a moment of acute melancholy. Almost every single sunday evening the feeling comes, so regular that I can now expect it and observe it, even while feeling it weigh down so heavy.
The sunday before last–my first sunday here–I walked home in the late afternoon sunlight with such a sad heart. I knew I had pledged to help plant some vegetables in the garden after work and I was dreading it in a profound & nonsensical way. But I swallowed the mood, changed into my flip-flops and got out there to do the work alongside my roommate. I don’t know what exactly happened in that hour, but my mood was magically transformed in such a subtle yet complete way! I think it was the magic of the soil and the plants, of course, but also the civility of gentle industry combined with quiet cooperation. If I had just sat down with my roommate and had a glass of wine and chatted for a half-hour, I wouldn’t have had the same sense of gratification. If I had worked in the garden alone, I might have felt more settled but likely still tinged with melancholy. Our work was calm and necessary, and beautiful.
It wasn’t until this past friday, however, that the word “civility” really made itself known to me. I had made a date with T, who lives down the street & is undoubtedly my favorite tattooed vegan baby-mama in all of Union County. Our date was to hang out here, at the house, and partake of the sauna. Yes, the house is blessed with a second-floor parlor of sorts–quiet, dim, tastefully furnished–that holds a little elevator-sized electric infrared sauna box. It’s very similar to the sauna I used at Green Gulch, so it didn’t seem very out of the ordinary. After hanging out & getting sweaty & having some good conversation & becoming nice and relaxed, the word “civility” came to me. What a civil way to spend a friday night: at home, naked and relaxed in body and mind, intimate and happy with a good pal. No tension, no expectation, no embarrassment. How often do we overlook our sweet embodiment–unless it’s workout or sex related? Again, this was calm and necessary and beautiful.
I was reminded that night of many summers ago at Keith’s Farm, towards the end of a very long season, when me & Q & our trailer-mate Danielero gave up the fast and furious lunch break for a much more civilized feast, complete with a bottle of wine. It was utterly enjoyable and mood-lifting to have such a break in the middle of a workday. Even now I relish the thought!
At Keith’s Farm, like now (to a lesser degree), general civility was being smothered by a mindset of general poverty or survival-mode. General poverty mindset comes when options seem reduced and uncreative, when acting upon vision and intuition seem impossible. Exposure to television and industrial-strength shopping experiences can instantly provoke general poverty mindset. It is an unhappy place. Survival-mode mindset comes when just getting the basic tasks of life done is an all-encompassing chore. Commuting in a transmission-weary old car, even if it’s 12 miles through the lovely PA countryside, greatly encourages survival-mode, as does the economic impact of filling up the gas tank once a week in order to perform such a commute. Spending a lot of time thinking about your living arrangements can also bring on survival-mode. These situations create a harsh state of self-defense that is not welcoming or generous.
Today I had to visit a lady at the historical society (4 blocks away) right in the middle of some work I was doing at home. So i went right downstairs, hopped on my bike, and was there in about 4 minutes. All the trees are in bloom. The grass is the brightest shade of green it will be all year. I waved as I passed the lanky blond bartender/singer who is a regular at the cafe. She was listening to headphones and singing as she walked down the alley. I leaned my bike against a tree out front, ran inside, and paid the secretary of the historical society a visit. I introduced myself, we did our business, and then had a pleasant little chat about our land and history and feeling a part of it all. Then I left, glided back to the house, and returned to my work.
April 14, 2013
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
–Rilke, as quoted by Joanna Macy
(“listen to how R. puts it, in a poem in which he lets God speak”)
To be pure in heart. To see god. Two giant concepts that might be interpreted from any number of perspectives. From my perspective, I said yes.
To be pure in heart is to pay attention without ceasing. To be pure in heart is to recognize the whole world as medicine, to give thanks for teachings daily, to remember to see smell taste touch hear beauty and let it expand your boundaries. To be pure in heart is to seek wisdom with a relaxed yet dedicated persistence. To be pure in heart is to heal and relinquish petty sufferings on behalf our life-giving support system called earth. To be pure in heart is to be unafraid despite the human-scale threats of loneliness, abandonment, disappointment, resentment, regret, anger, possessiveness, loss and harm. To be pure in heart is to start over, again and again. It is a practice, it takes practice. It is giving and receiving help as needed. It is loving without expectation.
And to see god? To see hear taste touch smell the interconnectedness of all things. To be present and yet also dissolved. To give your hand and feel it taken. To hear the song of the world. To feel safe, attuned, helpful, recognized. Buoyant. To feel lucky, blessed, filled with grace and serendipity. To find a generosity beyond yourself. To recognize your own smallness and your own great power. To dream and remember your dreams, to listen to the voice that is speaking with a language much, much older than words. To be a vessel, a river, a flame, a cloud in an endless sky, a trout, a riverstone, a bridge. A loosening. A strengthening. A tap root sinking.
No feeling is final.
April 7, 2013
It is sunday. It is april. Spring is having a little nervous trouble making the leap from creek’s edge down into the rushing waters of Here, Now. I can only say to Spring, I get it. I relate. How many creeks/ponds/lakes/rivers have I stood nervously at the edge of waiting, waiting, waiting for that moment of inspiration, fearlessness, release, wildness to push/pull me through the air, however ungracefully, into the splashing water from which I emerged in the first place?
What makes it come when it finally comes? And it usually comes. I don’t immediately recall a particular shameful moment when it failed to arise–in the literal creekside setting, at least. If the creekside is momentarily transformed into the more worldly setting of a public meeting or gathering, I can distinctly taste the sour flavor that comes sometimes (but strangely, not always) when my overprotective, insecure self swallows up my desire to speak out. Ah, regret. So distinct on the palate.
So what about standing naked & hesitating on the edge of a creek and sitting in a meeting with a lump in my throat is so different? On one hand you might think the former to be the more vulnerable of the two situations considering the nakedness and threat of physical injury. What are they but body states? Creekside is a challenge, but it is deliciously language-free most of the time. Me. The body. Feet in the mud. The water out there. Knees bending. Arms crossed. Sure, there are thoughts that come in words, but the words are so basic (usually something along the lines of ”But. It. Will. Be. So. COLD!”) Creekside is primal and it is distinct: I am either on the shore or I’m not. There’s not a lot of qualitative judgment in the execution of the leap, and once performed it holds the nearly 100% record of being amazing–physical shock, terrifying refreshing sensation, followed by floating fun-time. If there is another person present, they’ve either given up on waiting for me to leap or are getting a kick out of watching my ridiculous nervous-dance on the shore. I haven’t suffered malicious teasing. No one has ever pushed me in, so I don’t fear that. Not everyone naked on the creekside is so blessed.
Since living at the zen center, I have adapted the creekside non-verbal pre-leap prayer for encouragement, bravery, and safekeeping to be an ode to Samantabhadra, who we pay tribute to as the bodhisattva of great activity. For me, standing creekside, there is no greater activity than leaping in. So it usually works out.
The difficulty comes in recognizing the rest of my decisions, the rest of my situations, my daily waking up, as being fundamentally creekside situations. I suspect this difficultly comes because the rest of my life is actually NOT fundamentally creekside. Creekside is simple and reduced and immediate. Daily decisions & choices on time-management, yes-saying, what/how/when/why to do “it” are (seem?) much more fraught, nuanced, interpersonal, unpredictable in outcome. One of the distinct qualities of the creekside energy, the pre-leap, is its very separation from daily complications and muddy decisions. It is a whole-body palate cleanser. It is exceptional.
When I first drove by this sign last summer, I laughed out loud. “Perhaps today” is the ultimate expression of muddy decisions and familiar procrastinatory tendencies. It is the shoulder-shrug of phrases, vague and non-committal. “Perhaps today” is dawdling and passive. How am I so sure? Let’s just say that for every creekside moment, I have hundreds of “perhaps today” moments. How can I bring the creekside to bear on my well-trod trails and patterns and habits? Where can I find a bucket of blue paint? I will fill in the top of that sign so that it reads, simply, TODAY.
Spring, meanwhile, is not known for leaping. And one virtue I am grateful to have learned through living the life of a procrastinator is patience. So take your time, dear. I will be here. Today and tomorrow.
April 7, 2013
in order of last-to-first
blow out candle, pat riley-dog goodnight
pledging to write tomorrow, really.
midnight cigarette, bundled up outdoors cloudy skies, hot shower to try and relax
a flurry of bleary-eyed, overtired
one-way emails & voicemails to far away longed-for friends
(deciding it will be the seed for a fund to buy further quality instruction
in the learning/teaching of permaculture)
finding an unexpected $50 check written to me
& immediately wondering where to give it away
kombucha: second fermentation first attempt. ginger and blueberries
“be careful” is part of the instructions.
(maybe a little bit more than an hour)
spend a precious hour in front of computer assembling http://pinterest.com/knifebowl/pins/
appreciating smells & textures, sprouted acorns lingering under the leaf mat,
fading light, hoots & hollers of sat. night neighbors
possessed by the spirit to rake leaves in the chilly dusk,
uncovering vegetable beds & tidying yard
finding myself in the rare situation of being home. alone.
(the difficult question: why didn’t I do this 2 months ago?
the even harder question: why didn’t I do this 7 months ago? )
assembling vasile’s semptember gift to me: a light tray for seed sprouting
a very fine gift, in deed.
arriving home, somehow inspired to keep Doing,
a buzzing energy from a day devoted to stirring the pot
listening to Bill Sharp give a talk:
new kind of capital, energy flow in ecosystem health, inventory of folks working for good
happy with how it went, sure that if I had prepared more it would have gone better.
teaching on “why garden” with Nanso,
presenting our hand-drawn slideshow
CURIOSITY DELICIOUSNESS THRIFT CONNECTION
to about 30 friends and strangers
arriving at the rivertown coalition’s day-long workshop on sustainability
waking up at 6 a.m. to drink coffee and finish my talk for later today
February 25, 2013
February 24, 2013
I can foresee complaints. The motorized tourists, reluctant to give up the old ways, will complain that they can’t see enough without their automobiles to bear them swiftly (trafﬁc permitting) through the parks. But this is nonsense. A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles. Better to idle through one park in two weeks than try to race through a dozen in the same amount of time. Those who are familiar with both modes of travel know from
experience that this is true; the rest have only to make the experiment to discover the same truth for themselves.
They will complain of physical hardship, these sons of the pioneers. Not for long; once they rediscover the pleasures of actually operating their own limbs and senses in a varied, spontaneous, voluntary style, they will complain instead of crawling back into a car; they may even object to retuming to desk and ofﬁce and that dry-wall box on Mossy Brook Circle. The ﬁres of revolt may be kindled — which means hope for us all.
(2) No more new roads in national parks. After banning private automobiles the second step should be easy. Where paved roads are already in existence they will be reserved for the bicycles and essential in-park services, such as shuttle buses, the trucking of camping gear and concessioners’ supplies. Where dirt roads already exist they too will be reserved for nonmotorized trafﬁc. Plans for new roads can be discarded and in their place a program of trail- building begun, badly needed in some of the parks and in many of the national monuments. In mountainous areas it may be desirable to build emergency shelters along the trails and bike roads; in desert regions a water supply might have to be provided at certain points — wells drilled and handpumps installed if feasible.
Once people are liberated from the conﬁnes of automobiles there will be a greatly increased interest in hiking, exploring, and back-country packtrips. Fortunately the parks, by the mere elimination of motor trafﬁc, will come to seem far bigger than they are now — there will be more room for more persons, an astonishing expansion of space. This follows from the interesting fact that a motorized vehicle, when not at rest, requires a volume of space far out of proportion to its size. To illustrate: imagine a lake approximately ten miles long and on the average one mile wide. A single motorboat could easily circumnavigate the lake in an hour; ten motorboats would begin to crowd it; twenty or thirty, all in operation, would dominate the lake to the exclusion of any other form of activity; and ﬁfty would create the hazards, confusion, and turmoil that makes pleasure impossible. Suppose we banned motorboats and allowed only canoes and rowboats; we would see at once that the lake seemed ten or perhaps a hundred times bigger. The same thing holds true, to an even greater degree, for the automobile. Distance and space are functions of speed and time. Without expending a single dollar from the United States Treasury we could, if we wanted to, multiply the area of our national parks tenfold or a hundredfold — simply by banning the private automobile. The next generation, all 250 million of them, would be grateful to us.
February 23, 2013
Tonight the weather is “creepy.” Chilly heavy wet low mist. A clinging dampening uncomfortable sort of weather. A good night for staying inside and writing a post, I’d say.
Last night at Cherry Alley, I had dinner with J&L Tewksbury, a pair of farmers who are very well known in this little pocket of the Central Susquehanna Valley. Well known, I should say, among those who are prone to knowing organic vegetable farmers. Since I, predictably, have become friends with lots of people from this group, last night was a satisfying enactment of so many suggestions that I “really should meet the Tewksburys–they’re so great.” Indeed, indeed. While we talked of many topics & told stories that are now good fodder for future entries–human systems, making change, etc.–the one that resonates with me tonight was almost an aside towards the end of our conversation after the band had started.
J Tewksbury, when not a full-time farmer, is a full-time teacher of kindergardeners (!!). As you might imagine, he’s a pretty genial fellow. Since I almost never hang out with kids and yet have this growing fascination with how kids interact (or don’t interact) with nature, I couldn’t resist the urge to bringing up Jon Young and his posse of radical coyotes. I’m not very well versed in this “school of thought” [sic] quite yet, but I’ve scratched the surface in different ways. To me, what Jon Young and possibly Richard Louv (of No Child Left Inside fame) and many, many other nature-based educators are advocating is Humans Spending Time in Nature. Especially Kids. Our brains and bodies have evolved in nature, with nature. As we continue to separate ourselves from nature via glass, cement, steel, fiberoptics, mountain top removal, higher education, extended end-of-life care, 24-hour grocery stores, and a generally extractive/consumeristic/no consequences Pursuit Of Happiness, we continue to feel worse and worse. Suffer more and more, both in body, spirit, and mind.
Of course, I’m not saying that they’re saying that going for a walk at Dale’s Ridge will cure your diabetes or ease your estranged relationship with your kids. I’m saying (and I don’t know whether they would say this or not) that through spending time in nature–such that the whole no-separation concept starts rustling around & making itself known–we will develop a more grounded understanding of our own place in the large, diverse, mysterious world. Our abilities and capacities in heart, mind, and body will surely expand.
I am thankful that I have arrived at this beautiful truth, and hope to spend the rest of my life exploring and opening to it in different ways.
For me, farming was the gate through which I entered into a sustained relationship with the outdoors, the sky, the weather, the not-so-secret lives of plants. As Johnny and I talked about nature connection last night, ironically having to shout across the table under the beat of very loud electronic music, his own observations mirrored my own so perfectly. He talked about knowing when the chickadees arrive, knowing which trees will lose their leaves last. I think about the way my pant legs would get drenched with dew if I walked through the broccoli patch too early in the morning. As Donnie used to say: we could sit and literally watch the lettuce (and the weeds!) grow. Raccoon prints in the furrows. Goldfinches bobbing and feasting on thistles gone to seed. The smell and feel of soil as a daily part of life.
Of course, what farming also has is stress, deadlines, product, and the very alluring Urge to Control. Farming has equipment, co-workers, schedules; observation, but often tightly coupled with trained judgment. So, while farming pulled me out of my indoor-dominated life and introduced me to a freedom and a range that i hadn’t really known before, nature study is allowing me to put down roots of a different variety: wide and many-branched. Nature study has no product, no goal. It is only about seeing, listening, paying attention. Looking at the sky to tell the weather. Losing myself and meeting myself anew. Allowing connections to arise. My relationship to this work is what you might call a “slow-growing tree.”
And I have only just begun.