Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday, July 28

I haven't dropped off the edge of the world... just taking some time to relax and regroup before yet more travels. After a bit more than a week in Monterey/Northern California, Gina and I are headed toward New Mexico.

Will post more soon...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Rhythm of the Day

I love it that people are responding to the shortest posting here – What’s the most important thing? A good lesson for a blogger: short is sweet.

My time here in Medanales is almost up…tomorrow I hit the road again.

And just when I was starting to find my rhythm here in each day. That’s been one of the tougher parts about sabbatical time… dealing with lack of structure.

Other freelancers I know tipped me off to finding a rhythm and ritual to each day as a way to deal with this. Mine now goes something like this –
• wake up with the sun
• meditate for about half an hour
• go to the front yard and turn on the water for the plants (and usually get an enthusiastic greeting from Lola the dog)
• come back in and feed the cats (Seti and Maggie)
• make breakfast (often oatmeal with yogurt and flaxseed oil)
• turn on the computer and check news and email
• start on one of my projects… chaplaincy coordination for Upaya Zen Center, or editing for Center for Contemplative Mind
• mid way through the day, lunch
• afternoon sometimes gets peppered with a walk out at Ghost Ranch or Plaza Blanca… amazing rock formations in both places
• pulling weeds in the garden
• making dinner (tonight it's tilapia broiled in ginger, butter, and lemon; lettuce from the garden; and rice)
• chocolate (always a good way to end the day)

and there’s a whole lot of email checkin’ going on in between all those times. Me and my information addiction.

Anyway, that’s the way I like to think it goes. The reality is sometimes I just stare off into space and think, ‘this is summer! I can just be lazy!’

So tomorrow: Plane to Burbank, then Thursday train to San Luis Obispo, then car to Monterey/Santa Cruz. I don’t know how long I will be in California, but I do plan to be back in New Mexico in early August.

More soon… and happy travels to all of you.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tassajara wrap-up...yet fire continues

Smoke in the mountains surrounding Tassajara (photo by Shundo David Haye)

If you've been reading this blog, you've gotten my personal story of the Basin Complex fire that's been raging in central California these past two weeks. My partner Gina, who spent those two weeks with a skeleton crew at Tassajara Zen Center helping to clear brush and prepare the area for fire, made it out safely on Monday.

This past Thursday, the fire raged through Tassajara. Thankfully, the five people who chose to stay behind to fight the fire are also safe, though trapped there because the road into Tassajara is now impassable. There was some damage, but because of everyone's efforts on Thursday and in the weeks before, most of the monastery was saved. David Zimmerman, Tassajara's director, wrote a very descriptive and harrowing narrative of the fire's visit.

Bodhisattva Alert: The fire has been devastating to San Francisco Zen Center, which is comprised of Tassajara, City Center, and Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. The Center relies heavily on revenue from the guest season at Tassajara to support all the activities and the many priests and Zen students connected with it. If you want to find out how to give 'em a hand to continue their good work, read this letter from SFZC president Robert Thomas.

And the Basin Complex fire continues to burn on and to threaten other parts of the beautiful Ventana Wilderness and the Los Padres National Forest, as well as communities in Cachagua, Jamesburg, and possibly Carmel Valley. To date, this fire has burned through more than 117,000 acres and is only 60% contained.

What's the most important thing?

Rainbow, Espanola, New Mexico

What IS the most important thing?

You tell me.

Easy access to comment button below : )

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Okay, Gina is out of Tassajara and safely staying in Santa Cruz for the time being... I feel very grateful and relieved. There are still a number of people still at Tassajara... I continue to pray for their well being in this high risk situation.

It's a warm day in Medanales, after a night of soft, gentle rain. The garden looks incredibly happy this morning. To celebrate the rain and Gina's safety, here's a photo of the horses that live on this beautiful piece of land.

More soon...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Tassajara: July 5 update

I am sitting here eating fudge mint cookies (all natural, of course) and feeling very relieved. I spoke with Gina a while ago and she has decided it's time to come out of Tassajara. She has already done so much...nearly two weeks of intensive physical labor to prepare the monastery for fire, should it arrive. There are still about 20 people down in there; they can't rely on fire crews for support anymore as a fire burning near Santa Barbara has taken first priority on the state fire list.

So here's your prayer assignment:
1) For Gina to get a ride out of Tassajara quickly
2) For the road to be clear so she can get through to Jamesburg, on the other side
3) For the safety of the remaining folks who are choosing to stay through, no matter what happens.

The current status, according to the Sitting With Fire blog, is that things are in a kind of holding zone... the fire is still very close, probably just about a mile and a half, but relatively cool temperatures have kept it in check. Temperatures are expected to rise over the next few days. Sounds like what they are encountering is not a raging wall of flame but rather scattered pockets of fire here and there. So best case scenario is that these fires will either by-pass or cause minimal damage to Tassajara, since it is thoroughly watered down now with a sprinkler system. But this is a fire, a powerful element, and is very much subject to what the weather does. And even the best case scenarios don't project the Basin Complex fire ending anytime soon... possibly not even until the late fall/winter rains comes.

If all goes well, Gina will be in a safer zone soon, I'll feel much more at ease, and this blog can go back to sabbatical type content... what's that saying? "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Of the people, by the people, and for the people

Well, I really hadn't planned on writing about public land management on this blog... but with the fire crisis going on in my home state of California and my loved ones being directly affected, I am getting more interested in the conditions that led up to this.

This post from Tom Hopkins, a board member of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, is more evidence of what I wrote in yesterday's entry -- the Basin Complex fire is a natural disaster, but one that is exacerbated by a political climate that has been steadily moving toward de-funding essential government services and privatizing as much as it can in the name of corporate profit. An excerpt (when Tom talks about "fuel loads," I understand that to mean the combustible material in a forest including trees, brush, etc.):

The catastrophic fire regime on the western public lands in recent years is, to a great extent, the result of a hundred years of very successful fire suppression and the resultant increase in fuel loads. The environmental community AND the public land management agencies now understand and agree on this fact. But getting our public lands back to a natural wildland fire regime, while providing protection for the exponential growth of private housing in the urban/wildland interface, is going to take a long time. And it is not going to happen if the politicians in DC place foreign interventionism, lower taxes for the wealthy and reducing the size of the federal government ahead of adequately funding public land management. Crisis management is not management...

If we want our federal public lands to be environmentally healthy, including their natural fire regime, AND have private property in the urban/wildlife interface reasonably protected from natural wildfire, it is going to take a lot more money than is currently being allocated. That means changing the status quo in DC by electing leaders who will adequately fund our public land management agencies so they can fully implement their missions.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Why bother?

Stinson Beach, March 2008

So after that fairly distressing post about Tassajara, I feel compelled to offer an antidote.

Over the past few months, one of the articles I’ve found most inspiring is one by Michael Pollan titled “Why Bother?” published in the NY Times on Earth Day. You can read the full article here. It’s lengthy, and doesn’t fit into soundbites easily, but if you are looking for something juicy to engage your mind and heart, I highly recommend it. Michael starts by naming the obvious, the state of despair that more and more of us may find ourselves in:

Why bother? That really is the big question facing us as individuals hoping to do something about climate change, and it's not an easy one to answer. I don't know about you, but for me the most upsetting moment in "An Inconvenient Truth" came long after Al Gore scared the hell out of me, constructing an utterly convincing case that the very survival of life on earth as we know it is threatened by climate change. No, the really dark moment came during the closing credits, when we are asked to . . . change our light bulbs. That's when it got really depressing. The immense disproportion between the magnitude of the problem Gore had described and the puniness of what he was asking us to do about it was enough to sink your heart.

Pollan continues to flesh this out:

There are so many stories we can tell ourselves to justify doing nothing, but perhaps the most insidious is that, whatever we do manage to do, it will be too little too late.

Then he stops the despair train in its tracks:

So do you still want to talk about planting gardens?

I do.

And goes into an elegant exposition about how most approaches to problem solving in the modern age have created yet more problems, and about the power of returning to basic, sustainable practices. I appreciate the diverse sources that Pollan references to make these points… from Wendell Berry to Vaclav Havel. Then he brings it all home:

You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems--the way "solutions" like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do--actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself--that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we're all very soon going to need…

But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen....

And there's more. It's a great piece of writing, really. When you've got some time, read it and let it nourish your heart, soul, and mind. We need that nourishment so much in these times.

How would you respond if someone asked you, "Why bother?"

Things are getting worse

The fire continues. This morning I spoke to Gina on the phone and told her to get out of there. This fire is out of control – more than 60,000 acres burned and no containment in sight. There is only one road out of Tassajara – a 14-mile dirt mountain road that takes a good hour to get through. I hope she and all the others who have spent the last week and a half down in that canyon preparing for the fire can get out safely while there is still time.

I have been so focused on the personal aspect of this fire because my loved one is in there. But if you know me, you know that I look to see how the personal and the political are intimately linked… and they always are, as in the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina that I wrote about a few years ago in an article in Common Ground magazine. We are seeing the consequences of a state budget and a safety infrastructure that has been gutted. This would be a huge fire to deal with in any circumstance, but the lack of resources available to firefighters is making this one a true hell realm.

These powerful words come from Susie Bright, who lives in the Big Sur area. You can read the whole entry here on Susie's blog.

The air is orange and choking gray with smoke, the heat like an iron. In my neighborhood, 20 miles from from the nearest burn, there've been swarms of winged insects crowding the windows and doorways. You can drive past smoldering ruins and still-flaming burns down Highway 1...

There's an extra edge to the smoke, that goes beyond the inevitable natural crises: Our country has, for some time, been unable to provide the infrastructure to deal with disasters.

I'm not just talking about for the hermit who's off the grid. Everyone in California is mindful of the terrible floods in the Mid-West, and that leads to the all-too-obvious reminders of Katrina. A bridge collapses in Minnesota, and everyone knows that bridge should have been repaired or replaced ages ago. I'm sure all of you could tell me about something in your area that is a public hazard, overdue for repair, a "disaster waiting to happen," and yet nothing happens 'cause there's "no money."

Meanwhile, we see the latest gas prices, and read about the exploding number of multi-millionaires— who still can't fucking pass through the eye of any needle— and you just want to explode.

Of course the government can't arrive at your side, like Superman, to scoop you up when the clouds of locusts arrive. But we know that many of the crises we're having today are because the roads ain't fixed, they laid off the rescue workers, the repairs went unfunded.

We have no tax base in our state to cope with our problems, and it's not because California isn't still golden with profits. The corporate taxes are so low here, it's beyond reckless. We have the worst-funded schools in the nation— dead last. Our parks are closing, the streets are buckling, there's three cops in town to work the night shift, and the firemen haven't had an hour off in a month. They need ten times the numbers they have to cope with these fires.

People I know who work in public safety whisper to me about how shocked the public would be, if they only knew how undefended we really are. Well, it's pretty obvious, now. Anyone who wants to start a fire or rob a bank, just drop on by; our whole community is walking around with its pants down.

The individual acts of heroism in the past weeks, are, of course, inspiring. My friends in the thick of the smoke are relentless. They'll be marked by this forever.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tassajara fire update

Gina, on the left, and other Tassajara students
get ready for another day of preparing for fire
(photo by Shundo David Haye)

The fires continue to burn in the Ventana wilderness, and from what I can gather from my distant perch here in New Mexico, are creeping closer to Tassajara, perhaps within a mile and half away at this point. Gina calls me nearly every day and she is still good, offering what she can along with the handful of other students who chose to stay and prepare the monastery in case the fire reaches there.

My intuition is that they may need to really evacuate soon. This is big dharma, practicing with impermanence. From an entry today on the Sitting with Fire blog:

Lots of people like the Tassajara zendo and would hate to see it in ashes. Yet, this is a building which owes its life to a fire. A temporary replacement for the zendo which was destroyed by a local fire the year after Zen Center students fought hard to defend the monastery against the Marble Cone fire.

While we sit with the possibility of the fire reaching Tassajara we are playing with the idea of how we could take our cue from the seeds that need fire to open and use this fire to renew ourselves, our community and our places?

So, I continue to wait and pray for Gina's safety and that of all the beings and creatures in that beautiful land, and all beings everywhere.