Friday, April 30, 2010

Let's Plant!

Perennial Swappers had its first meeting of the season last evening. The gardening season has begun! Let's plant!

Last evening we didn't swap perennials, as we do at every bi-weekly meeting from now through September. Instead we watched Bruce Bellville of Meetinghouse Gardens, a wholesaler, divide plants. Every year he teaches us how to divide big clumps while he tells us garden lore. Then he sells the divisions for $1 or $2 or $3. Big clumps of hellebores--8 varieties--for $3 each.

This meeting is a good place to watch desire arising. "Ooh. I want that." In the name of fairness, everyone who gets in line for the ruffled iris or the variegated sedum can buy only one. If there are leftovers, we can get in line again and buy one more, and so on until no more divisions remain.

Watching people's kindness to each other is inspiring. "Here you get in line ahead of me. I already have one of these."

Anytime we show our concern for others, anytime we give "me-first" a rest, we are watering the seeds of kindness.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


On Wednesday afternoons, i teach meditation at an assisted living facility to 2 old ladies. 93-year-old Betty wears 2 hearing aids and still can't hear 91-year old Helen. But Helen can't hear Betty either. I sit between them and boom out meditation instructions.

As usual, in beginning meditation, i introduce various objects of meditation because each individual gravitates toward whatever interests them the most--hearing or the breath or sensations of the body. Betty and Helen both find hearing to be most interesting, specifically "the sound of silence."

"Tranquility is my favorite word," says Betty. "Tranquility feels like a forest glade. A still pool and animals comes to drink there."

Betty is a devout Catholic who has never heard of Ajahn Chah, a Thai Forest master, who said,

"Try to be mindful and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha."

I quiz her about the inner quietness she experiences. "Oh yes," she says. "Even when my mind is busy, the quiet is still there."

This is the reason i keep going back to the Assisted Living facility; i'm learning a lot from Betty.

2 weeks ago, she quoted Shantideva, an 8th century Indian Buddhist scholar, and she's never heard of him either.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Honey Loves Bees

My honey has fallen in love with bees this spring. He walks out the front door toward his car, and comes to a halt beside the rhododendron where a dozen bumblebees are rolling around in the pinky-purple blossoms.

In the past, he has run away from bees as fast as possible, waving his arms about his head. He has dared me to mow near the nests of ground bees--and i have done so unscathed. I walk near bees calmly. I walk in beauty. And so far they haven't bothered me.

My heart is warmed by seeing my honey's goodwill toward bees. Maybe it's the bee pollen he's been eating on his cereal every morning for the past month in an effort to ward off spring allergies. This year, he enjoys seeing the bees pollening. This year he is literally one with the bees and their pollen.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fern Frenzy

Fiddlehead ferns are rapidly unfurling, so i have to look in the shadiest spots to find them still tightly curled up and looking like their namesake.

Years ago i transplanted ostrich ferns into some of my woodland gardens just so that i could have a ready supply of fiddleheads. Cut when they are 2 inches tall, wash, then blanch briefly. Fiddlehead ferns make an excellent stir-fry, tasting somewhere between asparagus and spinach.

I love the spring when greens to eat come straight from the garden or the woods. Transportation cost is merely a few mindful steps to the edge of the backyard. For a moment i can declare my energy independence from oil, from agribusiness, from the vast fields of central California. My energy is fueled by fiddlehead ferns.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Composting the Present Moment

As a Master Gardener, i am now working for my Master Composter certification. I take every opportunity to educate people about the ins and outs of compost: what goes in--the greens (i.e., nitrogen) and the browns (i.e., carbon) and what stays out--wood ash, meat scraps, dairy, and fats.

As part of my Master's degree in Counseling, i attended a workshop on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder presented by a social worker who was a Holocaust survivor. She brought in a jar of compost from her pile that contained scraps of old clothes, a chicken bone, and a rusty nail.

All of our experience is composted and becomes the soil into which we plant our subjective view of the next moment. Then that moment becomes the soil out of which the next moment springs.

A good reason to sweeten the present moment with kindness and compassion.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Early Greens

Several years ago, i planted a seed packet that i found in a drawer at my father's house after he died--the name now lost to me in the mists of time. This miniature lettuce--about 2 inches tall--has reseeded itself for over a decade.

Now while temperatures are warm during the day and flirting with freezing at night, it is ready to bolt.

This "lettuce-let" has spread its seed outside the garden fence to an adjacent strip bed. Since i'm planting there, i harvested the small greens rather than weed it out. What a delightful salad green, with no trace of bitterness.

We can also harvest the results of our own wholesome actions and find them sweet to taste.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"I Know. I Know."

"I know. I know." Tsoknyi Rinpoche calls this phrase the Western mantra. How often we say, "I know." Our conversations are also peppered with unconscious, "You know?"s

Chances are that although you and i "know" something intellectually, it hasn't penetrated our being into "knowing." Robert Heinlein called this thorough knowing "grokking" in his novel Stranger in a Strange Land.

Our Western mantra doesn't transform us. The knowing of the mind is not sufficient. We are still at the beck and call of habit. When the body "knows," then we well and truly DO know.

We think that everyday knowing is sufficient to get us through. When knowing soaks into us, soaks through us, there we will find release.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Practicing Gardening

When we say "practice the piano," we don't expect the results to be perfect. Part of developing a skill is making a lot of so-called "wrong moves." In this way we train our bodies and minds to move skillfully.

We have a meditation practice too, training our minds to move in skillful ways beginning with mindfulness and loving-kindness.

Gardening is also a practice. No one is perfect at it, not even the so-called experts. We practice by planting seeds or seedlings, annuals or perennials. As much as we might like to "do it right," we have to make a lot of "mistakes," a lot of "wrong moves." That's the reason i'm digging up that blue hydrangea i planted 4 years ago and moving it to a sunnier location.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Out of Sight in Plain View

My theory of compost bins is to hide them in plain view. That way your compost pile is easily accessible, and you will actually use it.

My driveway is bordered by trees. The house is straight ahead, and that's where the eye travels to. A parking area is off to the left, and that's where my 3 compost bins are hiding behind a forsythia bush. I am fortunate to have a truck that is usually parked in front of the bins.

So visitors see the house and garden and an arbor beckoning them. The corner of their eye may register a green bush and a silver pick-up, but not the compost bins that are 10 feet from where they park their car.

I have 3 bins--one i add to, one is resting, one i subtract from. I tie 4 pallets together, standing upright, to form a square. Voila! A bin that can be assembled in 10 minutes and disassembled in 5.

Every day when i walk out to my car, my sweetie reminds me to take the compost.

Maybe that compost pile is too handy?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sleeping on a Cloud

Last night
i slept
on a cloud,
shimmering stars
above me,
misty firmament below.

The cherry pink dawn
woke me to spring
scintillating ice crystals
of the chill and bird-swept land.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dead Rosemary

A friend's rosemary bush stands dead in her kitchen garden. The now-brown pointy and still-fragrant leaves cling to the branches in stark contrast to the bright and sunny daffodils blooming nearby.

Rosemary is native to the lime-rich soils of the Mediterranean and is hardy to zone 7.

A couple of years ago i discovered prostrate rosemary, one that lays close to the ground instead of standing up straight and waving to the world, "Yoo, hoo. Here i am!" This low-growing rosemary has survived 2 winters in my Vermont herb garden, and yes, it tastes and smells like rosemary.

My friend's dead rosemary stands as a mute reminder of death among a throng of living, breathing green life surrounding it.

Friday, April 16, 2010


We don't identify with our cars--at least most of us don't. Oh, we may identify with driving a certain model of car. "I drive a Prius." Already that speaks volumes about my personality. My sister dries a Jaguar, which tells you about her.

Station wagon, van, mini-Cooper, truck. Vokswagen, Chevy, BMW. But while we are driving our alter-egos on the road, we don't mistake our car for our self. The car does our bidding--faster, slower, turning, right, turning left, passing, stopping.

What if we felt the same way about the vehicles we seem to inhabit--our bodies? What if we looked out the windows of our body--our 2 eyes--and saw? Simply saw? Simply looked at the landscape passing by and realized that we are just a passenger in this body-vehicle? It affords me great mobility, but the body is not what i am, and certainly not who i am.

How silly to say, "I am my Prius." "I am my pick-up truck." Perhaps it's equally foolish to identify with our bodies--thin or fat, big or small, well or sick.

What if the body is simply a vehicle.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sudden Death

My insurance man died of a heart attack on Sunday. He was 63. Norman sold me and hundreds of other Vermonters long-term care insurance. He won't be needing it himself.

My thoughts often turn to Norman in this season of spring ephemerals--the wildflowers that bloom briefly in the woods. His birthday was May 1, as was my grandmother's. Perhaps this is one reason i felt so comfortable and at home with him when i met him 36 years ago. He hired me as the bookkeeper for the Putney Food Coop, which he co-managed.

Already, at age 28, he was a harbinger of The New Age: he had established and managed the first natural foods restaurant in Vermont--The Common Ground. Soon he would become the first massage therapist in southern Vermont--when "massage" was still code for sex, and before therapeutic massage had become commonplace.

By selling long-term care insurance and Medi-Gap insurance, he continued to serve his cohort group, the Baby-Boomers.

And now his death reminds us that, for some, the blooming ends suddenly, and life itself is ephemeral.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Refrigerator Weather

After 10 days of summer, spring has arrived. Saturday started out mostly cloudy, then it snowed, then the sun shone. Even though the thermometer said 57 degrees, i bundled up against the chill breezes.

The recent spate of 70 degree, 80 degree, 90 degree days felt great, of course, but i also felt as if it were too good to be true. A meterological "bubble" that had to burst in order to realign the forces of the natural world around us. I imagined glaciers melting and the polar ice cap receding as the heat wilted the snowdrops in my flower beds.

The refrigerator weather of spring keeps daffodils brightening up our days and slows down the aging and fading process for other spring arrivals.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Russian Red Kale

Russian red kale easily survived our New England winter, so i harvested enough for dinner. Braised with onions and garlic from last summer's garden, our supper last evening cost $0.

Leftovers from 2 years ago went into the compost pile to become compost last spring and spread on the vegetable garden to grow kale and onions that we eat for dinner. Any leftovers or onion skins go into the compost bucket and....

Kale--an exemplar of the circle of life that flows through us.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Barred Owls Talking

The barred owls are teaching their babies to talk, right outside my bedroom window. The lesson begins shortly after i go to bed.

The parents carefully enunciate, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?"
And the babies think this is the most hilarious thing they've ever heard. "Hoo. Hoo. Ha. Ha" in a rising pitch that sounds like it belongs in an African jungle.

The barred owls--old and wise--call to me as i drift toward darkness.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


The bloodroot are blooming. This ephemeral wildflower grows in little colonies--but not where i originally planted it.

Right now, it's blossoming in the middle of a triangular flowerbed--right where i've planted all the tall stuff. But the tall perennials haven't peeked their heads out of the winter bed yet, so the bloodroot may as well flower there in center stage.

One is also blooming in between two stones in the walk near the front door.

Never mind that i can't control it. I simply put it in a place where i thought it would look good, and now it grows of its own accord.

We also plant wholesome thoughts and actions in our everyday lives. And then one day, we notice, "Oh, i used to be mad at this person. And now i'm not." Or, "Oh, this situation used to make me anxious. And right now it doesn't."

That's the benefit of sowing skillful seeds. You never know where they will show up.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

About Time

It was about time, i suppose--i finally took the Christmas wreath off the front door. It was looking a little piqued now that warm weather has arrived. The green circle of living balsam lasted 4 months--from Christmas to Easter, from Hanukkah to Passover. There seems a certain poetic justice in that.

Yet it's just a story about time--as if time actually existed.

Time is just a way for the mind to compare past to present, past to future. In fact, past and future are mental constructions, with as much substance as a dream. The body, on the other hand, is always here now.

This gift of the present moment is the only place we can be.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April is the cruelest month

"April is the cruelest month," said Shakespeare. The Buddha calls such disappointment "suffering."

70 degree day, flowers blooming, birds singing--what's not to love? Falling in love with Spring feels great!

Year after year, i forget how fickle April is. Just after i've skimmed down to shorts and a tank top, April turns a cold shoulder, and i cover myself in polar fleece. Just when my face is tanning from the warm sun, my lover April pelts me with cold showers. Just when my body relaxes into April's embrace, she chills out, and i shiver

Oh April! Receiver of my pent-up energy.

When hopes and dreams and expectations are dashed, dissatisfaction weighs down our hearts, and we call it cruel.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Person I Used To Be

April showers have come early this year, and the creeks are running near flood stage. Spring run-off, we say. And where does the spring of our life run off to? Where is that young face and lithe body?

The photos of the person i call "me" delude me into thinking that's the person i used to be. In fact, that person is dead now.

Yes, i can remember her memories--sort of. Five years of college, living with her boyfriend in Florida. She was a VISTA volunteer in Utah, and i can tell you about all those national parks on the Colorado River Plateau. She fell in love with a Japanese-American and followed him to Hawai'i. I can tell you a lot about Hawai'i. She moved to Vermont to get a Master's degree; I live here still.

The events of that young woman's life set in motion a chain of events that, even today, i feel the ripples of.

The creek is roaring outside the window. In summer it becomes calm and tinkling. Now, in the autumn of my life, the mindstream is littered with the fallen leaves of memories--some clogging little channels and some settling to the bottom to decompose.

The creek flows on. A young middle-aged old life running its course, never able to flow backwards to the person i used to be.