Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Master Gardener's Garden

I love going to Master Gardener meetings--once i actually get myself there. The idea of trundling out to someone's garden in the hills feels so out-of-the-way, so i've-got-other-things-to-do.

But i pull into the driveway and park beside 5 other cars. I walk into the 150-year-old little farmhouse that smells like muffins baking. Our host, Steve, is showing us the difference among the 5 tomatoes varieties he's growing this season. Moskowitz--a Russian variety--because it's early. Juliet--halfway between a grape tomato and an Italian tomato--because it's excellent for drying. He shows us his food dryer, which is about the size of a toaster oven.

Then we walk out to his vegetable garden, about 60 x 60. In other words, bigger than his house. New Zealand spinach is difficult to germinate, he says, but it's volunteering in 3 beds other than where it was planted. I taste its tangy, thick leaf.

The 8 people who have shown up ask intelligent questions, make astute observations and share experiences. I am among people who know more than i do about gardening, and i am fascinated.

Sometimes it's hard to drag ourselves to our meditation seat. The world is filled with "more important" things to do. Yet if we simply make the effort to do what we know is good for us, we put ourselves in a position to notice the joy of the inner garden and reap the fruits of mindfulness.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sweet Onions

This year my onions are all the size of baseballs. No weenie onions. Not one.

Of course, i expect the Walla Walla (Vidalia) onions to be that size, but the golden onions and the red onions are only marginally smaller and are at least the size of tennis balls. Maybe this summer's heat relaxed all of them into rotundness. After all the onion capitals of Walla Walla, Washington and Vidalia, Georgia are hot places. Whatever it was, the conditions were excellent for onions this year.

Sometimes the conditions are just right for the skillful habits we want to grow in our own minds. Years may go by when the fruits of our meditation practice seem rather piddly. Then one sit or one stressful situation, perhaps one where we feel hot under the collar, our new skillful habits save us. That's when we harvest the fruit of the spiritual life.

Did you know that some people eat those sweet Walla Walla onions (the onion-ring onion) like apples?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Harvest vs. Vacation

It happens every August and September: harvest season collides with vacation season.

Cherry tomatoes are dripping off the vine, and i leave home for 2 or 3 days to go to the lake or to the ocean. Green beans point their green fingers accusingly: Are you leaving us on our own--again? And do i dare leave the zucchini alone while i take a 10-day trip to the Grand Canyon?

The impermanence of fresh vegetables leads me straight to dukkha--wanting things to be different than they are. Wanting the vegetables to wait for me, wait until i'm ready for them. So i e-mail my neighbors. "I'm abandoning my garden until Labor Day. Feel free to pick anything you want--tomatoes, chard, beans, squash, cabbage, beets, kale, peppers, cucumbers."

Generosity salves the sting of my garden's surplus.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Raindrop Meditation

Yesterday i sat a day-long retreat with a teacher i've been studying with for 10 years. The gray day soon turned into sprinkling rain--a relief for our parched gardens and a sweet meditation object too. Listening to raindrops brings me straight into the present moment. The mind feels refreshed.

My inner naturalist becomes interested in the habits and habitats of raindrops. Each raindrop i hear is actually the death of the raindrop as it becomes something else--a puddle, a wet streak on a window, damp earth. That raindrop has disappeared. It has passed away. Now it's a rivulet running downhill into a storm sewer into a creek into a river into the ocean.

Our own breath exhales, passes away, passes out of our body and become the air that surrounds us. Air that is breathed by the person sitting next to us or transpired by the tree in the yard or the grass in the lawn.

Water. Air. It's me and mine for a moment. Then it's not. What happens to the me when it becomes the other?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pay It Forward

A Dharma Friend is coming this morning to cut flowers for her daughter's wedding. My flower garden might look bare tomorrow. Or i might not even be able to tell the difference.

Should i close my heart out of fear of the unknown? Shall i be close-fisted (also called grasping)?
Or shall i open my hand in friendliness and generosity?
What would you do?

I could pay it forward---as opposed to paying back the innumerable kindnesses that have been done to me. Just last week someone gave me 3 plants and 2 kinds of seed. I might or might not ever pay her back in plants, but i can pay the plants--or flowers--forward. Today.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer Cricket Serenade

Crickets are chirping--in my sweetie's car, in my Hospice client's living room, and in the bathroom at the meditation hall. (That one, at least, i managed to catch and release to the great outdoors.)

I actually rather like using cricket chirping as my meditation object--morning or evening, at home or at the meditation hall. The cricket serenade crescendos late summer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When Life Feels Sandy

When my house was built, truckloads of gravelly sand were brought in to backfill around the foundation. Since the house was built on a slope, i have a daylight basement; the basement door opens next to a hill of sandy gravel that is well-shaded by the cantilevered solarium above.

For years i despaired over this sandpile that seemed to collect odds and ends and look generally disreputable. Then a few years ago, with a devil-may-care attitude, i planted a 6-pack of begonias there. They flourished! The next year i added impatiens and pink polka-dot plant. Now 2 varieties of bleeding hearts have volunteered to grow in this totally shaded, incorrigibly dry spot.

No matter how bleak our lives or meditation practice may look, a little creativity can suddenly create a spot of interest. This interested attitude creates in turn the energy for us to continue gardening--or continue meditating.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Fall-ing Garden

A misting rain this morning--perfect for our too-dry gardens that are limping into their old age of late summer. My body has the same sunburned, dried-out, curled-at-the edges look as the fading leaves of Solomon's seal.

The phlox and peegee hydrangea are just entering their heyday. The tall purple ironweed (Vernonia altissima) reigns supreme.

This is the time of year when many gardeners throw up their hands. "I've had it," they say. But some few of us are dedicated to enjoying the autumn of our lives. I've been cultivating a fall garden for some years, so for the next month, i'll have more and more blooms.

"Where do you get your energy?" my step-daughter recently asked.

Whether it's grandchildren, flowers, or life, i guess the answer is : Love.

This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds
To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stars and Star Flowers

We tried to catch the Perseid meteor shower 3 times. Tuesday night, thin clouds wafted overhead; Wednesday night--the main night--was completely overcast; finally last night we lay out in the hammock for an hour looking at the star bejeweled sky. We only saw a couple of meteors, but my, oh, my, the fragrance of nicotiana nearby was intoxicating.

Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana) has simple star-shaped trumpet flowers that look rather plain-Jane all day. Then when the sun sets, they begin to pump out their perfume and fill the air with their sweet tropical scent.

The meteor shower was a source of dissatisfaction this year--weather conditions didn't permit us to see what we hoped to see. Yet what could be sweeter than lying under the open sky, star-gazing with my sweetie?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Reducing Cherry Tomato Stress

It's cherry tomato season. Even though i have learned to limit my plants--3 sungolds and 2 grape tomatoes--i still harvest dozens every day. OK. I admit--at the last moment, at a plant sale supporting a youth program, i bought 3 pale yellow "cherry" tomato plants whose fruits are the size of golf balls.

This is the price of desire, that little voice that says, "Oh, i'll just have one or two more." Three months later, what do you do with a burgeoning crop?

I could complain about it as if it's someone else's fault that i'm overwhelmed by little tomatoes. But complaining is a form of aversion, and i really don't want to water those seeds of unskillful words--whether spoken aloud or silently in my mind.

I could give my extra cherry tomatoes away and practice generosity. That would be watering the seeds of skillful action. And i could have the joy of knowing someone else will en-joy them.

Here's what i actually do: i sun-dry the cherry tomatoes. Two racks of them are in the food dryer right now. My homemade food dryer is powered by 4 100-watt light bulbs. I've heard that you can "sun" dry tomatoes in a low oven (200 degrees) overnight, if you leave the oven door cracked.

You might call this approach making lemonade out of lemons. It's one way to reduce the stress of way too many cherry tomatoes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hummingbird Joy

These summer mornings i sit on my second-story deck to do my meditation. From there i have a great view of my lawn and gardens. A few years ago, we refurbished the deck and replaced the 2-board sides with 2 wires. The plastic-coated wire doesn't interrupt the view of the garden like the boards did, and the wires do give a feeling of enclosure.

This morning a hummingbird perched on a wire about 4 feet in front of me. He appeared to be a juvenile because his feathers were still mottled. His ruby throat was a bit patchy. And his beak was only an inch long.

Hummingbirds like to perch on bare (i.e., dead) branches--i guess that gives them a better view--and this morning the plastic-coated wire served the same purpose. I watched his tail move slightly up and down as if he were learning to balance. He cocked his head this way and that--one eye looking up at the sky, checking for danger. A chickadee landed nearby, but the baby boy hummingbird wasn't threatened.

Watching birds brings me a lot of joy. This joy calms the mind, which doesn't need to go looking elsewhere for momentary happiness. I close my eyes in mediation again, and express gratitude for my senses--i can see, i can hear the hummingbird buzz up to the nearby feeder and give tiny satisfied chirps. Hearing a hummingbird "talk" is also thrilling. Then it zooms off.

Ten minutes later, i hear the telltale chirp and open my eyes to see the little guy sitting near me again. Awake to the day. Awake to joy.