Saturday, December 24, 2011

Decorate the Garden Gate

How to keep Santa's reindeer (and other deer) out of the vegetable garden?

A couple of years ago, i pushed 10-foot tall rebar poles into the ground beside my fence posts. Then i strung nylon twine between these tall, but slender, "fenceposts."

For the gate, i had the building supply store bend a 20-foot piece of rebar into a big upside-down U, 8 feet tall on each side and 4 feet wide at the top. Not until the second summer did the deer figure out that they could jump over the gate (and under the rebar) and munch their midnight snack in the garden.

What to do? I cut a shiny old Christmas garland into sections and hung them from the top of the rebar |¯|.

How do we keep our mental, verbal, and behavioral pests at bay? Mindfulness is our first and strongest deterrent.

First, we have to get to know that pesky thought, that nettlesome rejoinder, or that vexing action. Notice how the body feels just after your particular "pest" has appeared. No need to judge yourself; what's done is done. We are on the hunt, so we have to be stealthy--alert and calm.

When we finally see how our particular pest gains entry, then we will know how to strengthen our defenses. It may be something as fun and flowing as an old Christmas tree garland.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Rallies

The first day of winter is feeling like the first day of spring. Temperatures in the 40s. Slightly muddy dirt roads. A dusting of wet snow that melts as soon as the sun hits it. Blue skies. Chickadees singing. Where am i? Out in the vegetable garden, picking bok choy, mizuna, and red Russian kale. Okay, and maybe some johnny-jump-up flowers for the salad :)

This is a winter like they have in the Pacific Northwest. Fall followed by a cold snap, maybe a dusting of snow, and then a spring that ever-so-slowly unwinds from the end of January into May. But here in the North Country, we do not have the moderating influence of the Pacific Ocean. We are on the tail end of Alberta clippers, the winds that come racing down the plains, and the snow that is born out of the Great Lakes.

So far, winter is only teasing us with almost-cold and almost-snow.

As a hospice volunteer, i know that sometimes a dying person rallies when she knows her loved ones are coming from far away. All of a sudden, she looks pretty good, and maybe she's actually eating too. The loved ones think Maybe she's not on her deathbed, after all. But a day or two passes, the rally ends, and the dying person sinks, perhaps into a coma.

Winter is rallying now. She's looking very good. Haggard and barren, yes, but also somehow young.

Simply live this day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solstice Bonfire

My solstice party. It's always a task to move a convivial gathering out of our cozy candlelit house into winter coats and boots and down the driveway to the solstice bonfire.

This solstice day, rain began in mid-afternoon--a cold, raw rain--but the forecast showed a few breaks in the clouds. I kept my ear tuned to our metal roof, and at 6:45, after it had already been dark for 2 hours, the pitter-patter stopped.

The fire signs (2 Leos and 1 Sagittarius) dashed out of the house into the dark with paper, kindling, and matches. We didn't want the influence of any water signs (Pisces, Cancer, Scorpio), thank you very much.

Within minutes, the fire blazed, and we invited the rest of the party outdoors for smudging, pomegranates (a la Persephone), and anointing.

The solar year died this morning at 12:30 EST. Now the sun begins its long trek north again. The large brush pile, which became a corpse of glowing embers, also died. Meanwhile, we sang and talked for an hour outdoors before i felt the first raindrop, which died its raindrop death on my cheek, where it became running water.

Winter begins.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Extreme Darkness

Today is winter solstice--a day of extremes--the shortest day, the longest night. The year 2011 has slipped away, never to return. Our life is slipping away. One year: Gone.

Shall we take the hedonistic approach to "eat, drink, and be merry"? Shall we consume as much as our pocketbooks and consumer society will allow? Or does that wind up feeling like "empty calories"? Full of stuff, stuffing ourselves and our homes, yet oddly dissatisfied, oddly empty.

In the Buddha's time (and also in the Middle Ages), some people thought they could attain heaven by self-mortification.

These are the extremes: hedonism or self-mortification.

But let us consider The Middle Way, the way between extremisms, a path of moderation. In this time of extreme darkness, how might we practice the Middle Way between self-judgment ("I'm so bad.") and ego-tripping ("Look at me! Aren't I great!")?

"Be a lamp unto yourself," the Buddha said. In these days of darkness--external or internal--notice your inner light. Sit. Meditate--even if only for 5 minutes.
Notice the flicker of kindness in your heart. Fan that ember so that it glows throughout the front of your body. Spread that feeling of goodwill throughout the back of your body. Spread it through the right side of your body. Spread it through the left side of your body.
Sit. Feel the body filled with kindness.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Distress and Eustress

My gardening is reduced to puttering in my solarium, which is crowded with houseplants. Yesterday i took cuttings of a leggy coleus, and they are making an interesting "bouquet" in a glass of water while i wait for them to root.

Time to give several plants a "haircut" while i'm at it. Several plants are leggy from reaching for the distant sun.

Distress and eustress. Distress: the dissatisfaction of not gardening outdoors. Eustress: the stress of happiness, puttering with houseplants.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Heat Loss

The bare ground is freezing now. With no snow cover, the frost begins t sink into the earth. Water, though is still not frozen.

Heat recedes as the sun is veiled by a thin haze day after day. Nights are clear and crisp, the waning moon in sharp focus. Nighttime radiational cooling is not balanced by daytime radiatinal warming, so the cold is winning over heat loss.

Winter winds win. The body of earth gives up its heat. Do we think our own bodies are any different?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Frozen Roads

When i left home yesterday morning for a day-long retreat with Shinzen Young, the temperature was 36 degrees with a few flakes of misty snow. An hour north of here, the temperature dropped to 28, and the interstate turned into a skating rink. Then 30 miles later, the highway was simply wet, and i could resume traveling at 50-60 mph.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the salt and sand trucks and to the state highway department, and to the taxes i pay for this convenience of clear roads.

Deep gratitude for these things that i take for granted.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Sun Has Gone Cold

The sun has gone cold. Standing outdoors in the sun no longer warms me, although we are having day after day of clear sunny weather. The sun rides low in the sky and casts long shadows all day long. Since i live in the woods, the bare branches of trees nearly always veil me from direct sun.

Eventually our bodies will go cold too. For the last 2 years of his life, my father had an unshakeable chill that kept him indoors. He, who had worked outdoors all his life, just could not stay warm. He was caged up in his house, longing to go run his horses.

The sun has gone cold and weak. I take a walk in the barren woods, searching for signs of life.

Friday, December 16, 2011

More from the Winter Garden

Since it was 50 degrees yesterday afternoon, i went to my community garden plot and pulled a few turnips. I also harvested the last 3 stalks of Brussels sprouts. And i cut my only flowering cabbage as a flower arrangement. Really! Isn't it amazing that the winter garden continues to feed and delight me?

Some of my friends signed up for a share of a winter CSA (community-supported agriculture) and are receiving bi-weekly bags of fresh winter veggies. Although the pickin's are slim in the winter garden, i find i am subsisting easily on what i find out there. If i go look, there is enough for the next meal. Fresh. Really, really local. And no oil is used to transport the vegetables or the vegetable-buyer (me).

One line from the Loving-Kindness (Metta) Sutta says:
"contented and easily satisfied...."

I am content with the offering of the winter garden and very well satisfied with a turnip-onion-garlic stew and some braised Brussels sprouts.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Baby Green Grass

Remember that 6-foot-deep trench that was dug through my white garden on October 19? Just beyond that garden the reseeded swath of lawn is now sprouting a peach fuzz of fine green grass. The baby grass loved the warmish weather that lasted through November. And now i have to trust that it will be warm enough this winter with its thin blanket of straw.

It's really quite amazing to watch impermanence in action. Lawn became a 6-foot-deep trench became squishy mud became reseeded with a layer of straw became fine green grass. Change happened dramatically and visually.

Our bodies, our senses, our feelings, and our minds change even faster, from second to second. Yet, last evening, when i had dinner with friends from Burma whom i had not seen in 5 years, the first thing we did was say, "You look the same. You haven't changed at all." But many changes have happened: a husband has died, a grandchild has been born.

Fine baby green grass grows on the grave of a loved one.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A "Dead" Poinsettia Blooms

My neighbor, Connie's poinsettia is blooming Wait! Let me tell you the story of Connie being away for 6 weeks last winter and coming home to find a dead-looking poinsettia by the sliding glass door in her basement. She just left it there and didn't water it. Not being one to declare a plant "Dead," she planted it in a corner of her vegetable garden in May. It sprouted leaves.

There it remained until the October frost warnings became dire. Connie dug it up the leafy poinsettia at the last minute and potted it. Of course, it went into transplant shock and dropped many of its leaves.

At the end of November, she cut the leafless 18-inch stems entirely back. Today she brought it upstairs from her cool basement. It's blooming because it has had 12 hours (more recently 14 hours) of darkness every night.

Sometimes we think we ought to just declare our meditation practice dead. Once upon a time, i suddenly stopped meditating, cold turkey, for 2 years. But the right conditions conspired to get me back on the cushion. One of them was Connie saying, "I'm so depressed we have to start meditating again." We had meditated together 18 years earlier, then stopped when she had children. Meditation may have looked dead in our lives, but we both knew the roots still had life in them. We planted ourselves together every morning for 20 minutes. Eventually Connie's depression lifted, and she re-bloomed into her life.

Even when it looks like the life has gone out of a plant--the right conditions--in the case of the poinsettia, not-watering, cool temperatures, and darkness--give birth to new green growth.

Monday, December 12, 2011


My amaryllis is blooming! This success comes after years of hit-and-miss results--mostly failures--with getting amaryllis to re-bloom.

OK. You buy an amaryllis. You plant it. It blooms. Then what?
You hide those wide green strappy leaves somewhere behind another plant. Then i take the amaryllis (and all my houseplants) outdoors for the summer.

I have tried:
1) leaving them in their pots, cutting back the foliage in September, taking the bulbs out of the pots, storing them in the basement, and replanting the bulbs in pots in November.

2) same as (1) except leaving the bulbs in their pots.

3) taking the bulbs out of their pots in May, planting the bulbs in the garden, digging them up in September, and letting them rest until November when i re-pot them.

4) same as (3) except repotting them in September.

My neighbor Cliff leaves his potted amaryllis on the window sill 365 days a year. He never cuts the foliage back. He waters it just like he waters all his other plants. The amaryllis reblooms every December. So i decided to proceed on the theory that amaryllis re-bloom when they become root-bound.

I bought 2 potted amaryllis at a plant sale at the library a year and a half ago. Last spring one of them bloomed, and now the other one is blooming. Success! I feel ecstatic.

Sometimes we really have to hunt for a solution in our meditation to find a meditation object that interests us enough to keep us alert and that will also lead us to tranquility.

Does watching the breath work for you?
If not, try hearing meditation.
If that doesn't particularly work, try watching sensations of the body.
If that doesn't work, try loving-kindness meditation.

You get the idea. My book, The Meditative Gardener, offers more than 100 guided meditations, contemplations, and investigations. Surely, you can find something in there that interests the mind sufficiently so that it settles down for a few minutes.

And then joy arises when our meditation blooms :)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Benefits of Kale

My cholesterol count has been high for several years. Every year, the nurse practitioner tells me, "Exercise. And watch your diet." Next year, same thing.

I've tried other people's remedies, such as red yeast rice or oatmeal with almonds, to no avail. This morning i read about the cholesterol-lowering ability of steamed kale. Steaming kale for 5 minutes makes it 42% as effective as a prescription drug.

I have 3 varieties of kale growing in my winter garden--red Russian, lacinato (or dinosaur), and redbor, a very curly red. Apparently my cholesterol-lowering Rx is standing right there in the garden.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Syzygy happened this morning--the lining up of 3 celestial bodies (sun, earth, moon) when the full moon occurred at 9:37 a.m. (Eastern time). On the West Coast, it was possible to see the rising sun at the same time as the setting moon in eclipse--the last lunar eclipse until 2014.

When we line up our intention with our action, then our karma follows us as surely as our own shadow.

Can you name one of your intentions? To live a good life? To be happy? To bring joy to others?

What action do you take to support your intention?

And what are your un-intentions? Perhaps you can think of an unintended consequence (a.k.a. karma).

Plant the seeds of your intentions, and notice what grows.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Coldest Days

December 9 begins the coldest 90 days of the year. The garden has been put to bed, but the ground is still not frozen. You can plant spring bulbs, which you can buy quite cheaply now. But no dilly-dallying about getting those daffodil bulbs into the ground. Buy and plant immediately, because we can never be sure when the window will close on this pre-winter interlude.

I have moved out the polar fleece jackets of autumn into winter wool coats. I wear woolen scarves or neck warmers every day now, as well as hats and aging gloves with tiny holes in them.

My brother turned 60 yesterday and lamented that 60 is old, and he doesn't want to be old. I see the 60s as the gift decade when you still have your health and are also freed from responsibilities so you can focus on your purpose and passion in life.

The old, cold season begins whether we want it or not. Let's enjoy it for as long as we can. After all, there are some gifts awaiting us a little later on in this season.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Feeding the Goldfish

The little fishpond in my patio garden is 4 feet wide. Since it is 3 feet deep, the fish live there all year long. The resident goldfish are Comets, which are reddish-orange, perhaps mixed with white, and Shibunkins, which are a calico mixture of black, white, and reddish-orange.

I stop feeding the goldfish when the water temperature goes below 45 degrees, usually in mid-October. At that temperature, the fish become quite logy. They look like they are on slow automatic-pilot, unable to dart about, even for food.

December has been unusually warm, and the water in the fishpond is 50 degrees, so i've fed the fish this week, but not every day because i don't want to over-stress their metabolism. Too much food will kill them. The directions say "as much as they will eat in 5 minutes," which isn't that much in cool weather.

Too much of a good thing also stresses us. When we see, feel, hear, smell, or eat something good, our automatic response is "More!" But more is not necessarily better. "More" is craving in disguise.

We are in the season of too much food and too much shopping. Slow down. Eat mindfully and shop mindfully.

Let's think more thoughts of peace, goodwill, and joy and fill up on those :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Abundance of Watercress

I picked watercress yesterday. In 2 minutes, i filled up a 5-gallon bucket.

Now for the sorting. I pinch off the top one-third of green leaves on stems and compost the remaining stem and yellowing leaves. I am separating green from yellow, separating a preponderance of leaves from the stem, which happily roots on any damp surface.

The Buddha suggests we separate wholesome from unwholesome. Just for today, imagine you are putting your skillful thoughts, words, and actions in one pile, and your unskillful thoughts, words, and actions in another pile.

Uh-uh-uh. No fair beating yourself up for having unskillful/unwholesome thoughts and actions. We are playing the part of an impartial observer here. Oh! Isn't that interesting? We are acting as a referee and calling the move "fair" or "foul" from a balanced viewpoint.
Apply the scientific method; be curious. How did that happen? What happened just before that unwholesome/unskillful thought, word, or action appeared?

Meanwhile, i have about 3 gallons of watercress stems to go into the compost. This quantity of green being added to the mostly brown (at this time of year) compost will hurry the composting process along. And that makes me smile.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Slug Season

Slugs are commonplace in the Pacific Northwest, where they may grow to be 6 inches long, but it's quite unusual for us in the North Country to be seeing slugs in December. They are hiding in the salad greens, the bok choy, and the watercress. I even saw one crossing the dirt road i live on.

One friend refuses to eat greens that a slug has crawled (and pooped) on. But i just spray the leaves with a jet of water to knock all the detritus off.

Here's a Meditation on a Slug from The Meditative Gardener:

The next time you find a slug or other creepy-crawler in your garden, notice the feeling of repulsion. If you can, notice where in the body that feeling of “Get it out of here” or “I don’t want to look” is located.

Notice if the mind has already headed into ways to deal with the slug problem. Stop.

Look at the slug again. Maybe even touch it.

Can you find the feeling of “unpleasant” that comes before the desire to get rid of the slug or move away from it? Can you find the feeling that comes before the mind gets busy?

Photo courtesy of

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Present of Less Stress

We're leaving home the day after Christmas, so we got an early start to the holiday season by buying a 3-foot tall tree. It's smaller than my ficus, my banana plant, a palm, the hibiscus, and the bird of paradise. It's a tabletop tree with one string of lights, so that it will be really easy to de-decorate on Christmas Day.

On the one hand, i feel like my grandmother, whose holiday trees shrunk over the years to eventually fit on an end table beside the sofa. Am i really that old?

On the other hand, i am noticing a lack of stress. I set up the tree all by myself in about 5 minutes. Maybe i won't even open the big storage box of Christmas decorations.

Less stress. Now there's a Christmas present in the present moment!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Winter Leeks

Leeks are growing in my garden. I bought leek seedlings at the Farmers' Market in May and received a leek education. There are early leeks, and there are cold-hardy leeks. Since the garden produces more than enough food from July through October, i don't need anything else to harvest then. I'm looking for something for the late fall garden--like leeks. Siegfried leeks, to be specific. Now they are ready to harvest. I've just been waiting for inspiration and a special occasion.

What are we planting now in our lives that we can harvest later? Mindfulness of the present moment. Sweet and tender.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Baby Bok Choy-lets

Small baby bok choy are growing in the garden. While i wasn't looking, 2 or 3 went to seed, and now bok choy-lets are growing along the seed stalk, which has fallen over and is lying (and rooting?) on the ground.

When we grow sweet little qualities in our inner garden--friendliness, kindness, cheerfulness, self-compassion--we sometimes aren't paying attention when they go to seed and multiply. Then someone says, "You are so grateful for the blessings of your life."

Hmmm. Well, yes, i am. I am practicing taking no-thing for granted--not my sweetie, not my life, and not my checking account. They are here today, but that doesn't mean they will be here tomorrow. Sometimes, change happens very fast. For now, change is happening slowly, and i can pretend that my sweetie and i will grow old together and be comfortable in our retirement.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Salad Days

Strangely, we are in the salad days of the garden. Mizuna, mustard, and watercress grow in abundance along with one other nameless rosette of green.

Although we may think of early spring as an excellent time for greens, by late, late fall, a few of them have self-seeded and made themselves right at home. I add johnny-jump-up flowers to the salad as well.

Shakespeare says,
My salad days,
when i was green in judgment,
cold in blood....

Thinking back to our own salad days, we may have a shudder of shame, a twinge of remorse, a pang of regret--I can't believe i did that. Did i really say that? Oh, i was SO young. So naive. And so sure of myself.

Although psychology has given shame a bad rap, the Buddha praised shame and remorse as being the protectors of the world. The sort of shame, regret, or remorse that curbs our coldness toward other people and other creatures in this world protects all of us.

When we realize the effects of our actions and restrain ourselves for a moment, we are practicing wholesomeness and kindness toward others.

Meanwhile, the salad in the garden is green and cold and sharp to the tongue.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Building a Brush Pile

The warm weather (55 degrees here in the North Country) calls me outdoors. Of course, i find something "to do": pick up sticks and build a brush pile. My ulterior motive is a bonfire on winter solstice.

For now, i walk around my gardens and collect downed sticks and limbs. The pole bean poles are obvious candidates. My woodland walk produces a pile of sticks and branches as tall as i am. Later, i will throw rotted compost bin pallets on top of the brush pile to give the solstice bonfire a satisfying crackle and flame.

You could say i am cremating the old garden, burning up the old year.

The perennial garden is mostly dormant, except for a few hardy johnny-jump-ups that lay low. The vegetable garden and the annual flower beds are mostly dead.

I walk through the "ghost town" of my garden knowing that one day my own life will be a ghost town too.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Disappointment in the Garden

Brussels sprouts were disappointing this year. I started them from seed in March and planted them in my community garden plot, which has a high sulfur content. The Brassica family (broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, et al) loves sulfur. Last year, the neighboring plot had a broccoli head that was as big as a medium size pizza.

This year's Brussels sprouts? As big as my fingernail. The sprouts are either tiny or totally unfurled such that they look like a fan dancer's skirts.

Disappointment is just another word for stress or distress. I wanted Brussels sprouts that would look like Brussels sprouts.

One community garden neighbor said, "Oh, but those little ones are tender and sweet." So i've harvested 2 batches of Brussels sprouts from my 2 dozen plants. They don't particularly look like Brussels sprouts, but i close my eyes and practice mindful eating. Melt in your mouth sweet. And they taste like Brussels sprouts :)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Walking in the Woods

I have a woodland walk--a path in the woods that loops around and is about 200 feet long altogether. Although it doesn't go far and is just a few feet from the road, still, it enables me to take a meditative walk in the woods.

Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion, sits on a bench and waits for me. I walk by her nearly every morning on my way to meditate at my neighbor's house.

We can bring mindfulness to walking in our daily activities--on the street or in the grocery store. Or maybe now, as we stroll through our gardens, with nothing really "to do," except walk and notice the body walking.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Little White Stars

My jade plant is blooming with little white stars. While this may not be unusual for people (and jade plants) living in zone 9 or 10, my jade plant and i live in zone 5. I didn't even know that a jade plant could bloom indoors until i accidentally discovered the secret: Withhold water in September and October and the jade will bloom in November.

Actually, i don't have the heart to totally withhold water, so i water very, very lightly, just a couple of tablespoons of water once or twice a week.

Renunciation can make us bloom too. It's counter-intuitive. By giving up something, we will have more time, more energy, and quite possibly, more calm. In this season of buying more (buying more than we can really afford?), what would you be willing to give up? One trip to the store? Overeating at one meal? Turning off the computer an hour or two before bedtime?

Let me know what you can renounce with an open heart.

Let's go outdoors and watch the stars shine in the night sky.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

One Last Thing

My neighbor, Connie, planted thornless raspberry bushes on Thanksgiving Day. I tell you, there's nothing like 6 inches of snow to get a gardener going on those very last projects of the season.

The snow has insulated the ground and kept it from freezing. So Connie just dug in with her spading fork. "Well, my fingers did get cold," she said.

And when the first snow falls on our snowy heads, what's the one last project we will want to do?

One of Connie's best friends, Wow, is dying of cancer. Wow's advice is "Be more present."
It's the only day we have.

Friday, November 25, 2011

"Been There. Done That": An Enemy of Gratitude

The barred owl called for several minutes as i was meditating at 4:00 this morning. "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" it asks.

My Thanksgiving cooking took a different form this year as i prepared some baked goods for the interludes between the 40-minute sits at 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, and 10:00 at Vermont Insight on Thanksgiving morning.

The cranberry-walnut scones were a big hit, but the kale-apple muffins were the big surprise. The recipe came from 365 Days of Kale.

During our final sit, I led a guided gratitude meditation.
Begin by practicing gratitude for all the ordinary, every-day things you take for granted.
Running water, electricity, your car, a warm home, safety as you walk on the street.
All the services: the post office, the bank and the magic of plastic, which so eases our lives.
You can think of many more.

Taking things for granted not only kills surprise in our lives, it numbs our delight in life.
"Been there. Done that" is an enemy of gratitude.

I can see i need to practice feeling surprise at kale. Wow! You can chop it up in your food processor and put it in muffins and the kale taste disappears. Magic!

Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Weather Forecast

I unloaded a truck full of manure yesterday afternoon. Good thing, because this morning there's 6 inches of snow on the gardens.

Sometimes we are forewarned by a forecast of bad weather. One friend just had a complete hysterectomy, and the biopsy showed ovarian cancer.

Sometimes bad weather takes us by surprise when our car slips off the road. Or, as happened recently, a friend died of a heart attack.

One thing is for sure: at some point, we will be "under the weather." Sickness and dis-ease are inevitable.

Last week, i signed my Power of Attorney. I already have my will, my trust, my living will, and my durable power of attorney for health care. I'm trying to be prepared for the eventuality of "bad weather," whether through aging or illness, whether or not i'm forewarned.

Meanwhile, i tend the garden of mindfulness and enjoy every day i have. Even if i am snowed in.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Shining Shrubs

Although trees have been bare of leaves for a month now, several shrubs are still decked out in eye-catching splendor. Viburnum leaves burn with red. Fothergilla (witchalder) bewitches me with lovely yellow-orange leaves except for one stem, which is red. I look and look again at the contrasting colors. Like a cat with 9 lives, Physocarpus (nine-bark) plumes yellow to show me one more interesting facet of its personality. Even Forsythia is showy in burgundy. Holly and Oregon grape shine glossy green.

People age differently too. Some bodies give out somewhere in the 70s. Some bodies are still going strong at 80. Some people's minds go, and others are sharp as a tack. Some oldsters take up painting; some continue to volunteer. We can't know which of these futures awaits us. All we can do is live today mindfully and let the future take care of itself.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Civil War of Kale

Kale is a vegetable that causes my cooking to freeze in its tracks. The thought of "more kale" makes me come to a complete cooking halt. But scavenging the refrigerator soon loses its appeal. I am caught on the horns of a dilemma: fresh vegetables are growing in the garden, and i don't want to eat them.

This is one more way the mind has a civil war with itself.
"I should eat vegetables from the garden."
"I don't want to."

The mind bickers with itself every evening before dinner, and so nothing gets cooked.
"Kale is good for you."
"I don't want kale."

How long can this quarrel go on?

A reasonable head of cabbage from my community garden plot steps up to the plate. Inspiration strikes! Cabbage cashew chicken. The cooking fire is lit, and dinner arrives on the table.

Photo courtesy of Underwood Gardens

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Flowers for the Performer

My granddaughter is in a play that we went to see last night. As we often do for her school plays, we take a little bouquet of carnations and daisies.

She is so happy to be in a play. And she's a budding gardener, so she's delighted with the flowers.

Flowers last a bit longer than the performance, but just as the play and the performance arise and cease, so do the flowers.

Impermanence. Everything we cherish will change and vanish. The river of life flows on, around us and through us. We can't hang on to anything--not our roles, which also arise and cease from moment to moment. And the flowers--here today, gone tomorrow.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mullein Remedies

In the community garden, i watched as someone dug up biennial white mullein and composted them. To her, they were weeds--plants growing in the wrong place.

To me, they were nascent wildflowers, full of next summer's potential. Now they are compost.

Our views, our opinions, our viewpoints often lead straight to distress or stress. Wise View is the first step on the Noble Eightfold Path. We know a view is wise when no stress arises. Hmmm. How is that possible?

When we see and accept the world as it is. Right now. Plants have been composted. That is all.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

First Seed Catalog

I received my first seed catalog in the mail yesterday. It's beautiful. But i put it aside for now.

The Buddha recommends abandoning sensual desire, and that's what i'm doing--for now. Abandoning the seed catalog to a box marked "Spring" where i will pile all the new seed catalogs.

Oh, i will let desire overtake me, maybe one evening in January, when i'll sit down with the catalogs and salivate over the descriptions of vegetables and flowers. Then i will feel in my body what desire feels like.

For now, i'm feeling what "abandoning" feels like in the mind/body. Unfettered. Open to this beautiful November day, with nothing "to do" in this moment.

Besides the noble art of getting things done,
there is the noble art of leaving things undone.

The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.
-Lin Yutang, writer and translator (1895-1976)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Forcing Hyacinths

I'm forcing hyacinths. The naked bulbs sit in their vases, suspended above water. They will sit there in the dark cool basement for 3 months or so before the flowers begin to sprout and unfurl.

In our lives, we sometimes force ourselves to be nice because we think that being nice is the same as being good.

But goodness is a skill that we can develop. The instructions are in the beginning lines of the Metta Sutta.

This is what is to be done
by one who is skilled in goodness,
and who seeks the path of peace.

Let them be able & upright,
straight-forward & gentle in speech,
humble & not conceited,

contented & easily satisfied,
unburdened by duties & frugal in their ways,
peaceful & calm & wise & skillful,

not proud & demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing
that the wise would later reprove.

Consider pondering one of these pairs of skills at the end of your meditation. A "nice" person might be gentle in speech, but not "straight-forward." How in the world can we do both? How can we say "No" (or even "No!") with an open heart?

Allow these phrases to grow in the dark of your sub-conscious. Some day you will be surprised by their blooming!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fragrances--Sharp or Sweet

I'm "planting" paperwhites in shallow bowls filled with white rocks. I prefer the Tazetta variety (also called Chinese Sacred Lily) to the more common Ziva. Tazetta has a sweet tropical fragrance, but produces fewer blossoms.

So how do you decide which paperwhites to grow?
More flowers or fewer?
A "sharp" smell or a sweet smell?
Doing what everyone else does (Ziva) or something unusual (Tazetta)?

In our daily life, it's so easy to mimic what others are doing without really paying much attention. Think of how new words come into your vocabulary. But also gestures, attitudes, and opinions. Did you ever find yourself expressing an opinion you heard someone else say and then realizing that you don't really know if that IS your opinion?

A behavior that is replicated contagiously is called a meme (rhymes with "gene.")
What is the "fragrance" or "taste" of a contagious behavior? Sharp or sweet?

This is the reason that our spiritual friends are so important to us. We want to "catch" their behaviors of kindness and mindfulness. That's the meme we want to remember.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cole Crops for the Cold Season

The Brassicas* are the only crops remaining in my vegetable garden--a couple of cabbages, a row of turnips, 2 rows of Brussels sprouts that have failed to "sprout," 3 varieties of kale, and mustard greens. I harvested 1 head of broccoli this year; the rest failed to thrive.

These "cole" crops form the backbone of the fall garden. Kohl is the German word for cabbage; thus we have "cole slaw." The cole crops like cold weather :)

What will we have to harvest at the end of our gardening season? Some kindness, some mindfulness. And perhaps a few other qualities that failed to sprout or take root?

Meditate now while your growing season is still warm and vibrant. The change of seasons comes too soon.

Meanwhile, i'm mindfully cooking up a batch of cabbage soup today to ward off the cold.

* Brassica comes from the Celtic word bresic meaning "cabbage."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Seduction of Beauty

Driving on the interstate, i see a stretch of brilliantly colored leaves--a rarity in our late fall of tan beech and russet oak leaves. The quarter-mile edging turns out to be burning bush (Euonymous alata), which has become an invasive in the woods. Oh, my. It certainly is beautiful, but i'm sure no one planted it there at the verge of the woods and the mowed edge of the highway.

Then i pass a cliff face made festive by bittersweet scrambling around on it. A friend recently offered me some bittersweet from her yard. "Yes," she said, "I know it's invasive, but it's so pretty."

"And it's illegal to transport it," i said. Because what are you going to do with it next spring? Throw it away. Where? In your compost pile so it can sprout somewhere in your garden a year or two later?

Beauty is the seduction of invasive plants. Perhaps we have some friends who are beautiful people. "Are they honorable?" is the key question. Beauty comes and goes. Beauty, in particular a beautiful woman draped over or around an item of merchandise, will get us to buy any number of products--cars, alcoholic beverages, even those mud flaps behind the back tires of semi-trailer trucks. We read in the news about men who smash their promising careers (usually political) by chasing after a young beauty.

And we, do we smash our honorable intentions of harmlessness and kindness by rationalizing, "Oh, it's so pretty. Just this little bit won't hurt."

Photo courtesy of Blue Heron Landscape Design.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mulch Your Mind

My neighbor Connie borrowed my truck to pick up some mulch hay. We both put our vegetable gardens to bed by covering them with a heavy quilt of hay.

I know. Hay = weed seeds. It takes a leap of faith to willingly cover the garden with hay after spending the summer pulling weeds. But i converted to the Ruth Stout method several years ago. Watch this video of 92-year-old Ruth showing us how to Have a Green Thumb Without An Aching Back.

Our spiritual practice requires leaps of faith as well. I am not talking blind faith here--the believing of something that cannot be proved. I am talking about the scientific method of faith: You try out this theory of meditation with good intentions. After a while, you evaluate your effort. Did it pan out? Did it pay off? Was your faith verified by your experience?

Mulch hay in both fall and spring keeps the weeds down in the vegetable garden.
Mulch your mind with meditation today!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Communing with the Moon

65 degrees yesterday afternoon--warm enough to carry an afghan out to the hammock and take a nap under a blue sky while the trees stood mutely around me.

Mid-afternoon, the fever broke into a gentle rain that cleared up in time for the full moon to rise.

I have a hot tub, partly to lure me outdoors on just such a night of bluish moonlight. The moon rides high in the sky now, as if to compensate for the sun that sinks farther south every day.

Night is a deliciously quiet time to commune with the moon and with its current companion, Jupiter. Veils of thin lacy clouds drifted across the moon's face as trees reached their bare limbs skyward in silent gratitude.

Watching the daily simples of sun and moon, clouds and stars, calm and contentment arise.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Letting Go of the Garden

By 2 in the afternoon, long shadows cover most of the flowerbeds. The sun rides low in the southern sky, heating my passive solar house to toasty, but the sun only peeks at the gardens for an hour or two before they're shaded by the surrounding woods.

It feels like being near a loved one who doesn't have many days left to live. Life still shines, then they sleep long hours. They waken again and perhaps describe the travels they have dreamed that are so real. They have a foot in both worlds.

All we can do is watch and stroke their hair and hold their hand. Perhaps give them a sip of water. The end is coming. When exactly? We don't know.

I wander around my gardens looking for something to do. I rake a few leaves. I pat a few plants into earth. And wait, as the shade deepens.

Letting Go of the Garden

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Seed of Stress

The stone man came yesterday to build a step in the terraced garden. I say "terraced" because that is how i imagine this hillside, but so far only a partial terrace exists. Two more terraces await their definition by stone.

I hired this stone man in June and imagined a completed project by the end of July. He finished the 10-foot long stone retaining wall in September, and now i await the terracing. Yesterday, he talked about returning next spring to do some more work on this hillside.

Do you hear the stress and frustration of this gardener? Weekly phone calls to the stone man have yielded his big silver Chevy truck driving into our driveway. We see him for an hour or maybe two, and then he's gone. Next week, another phone call.

No matter which way i turn, stress awaits me. Fire him? Call him every day? Find a new stone mason? Forget the project? Do it myself? Let him proceed at his own pace?

I want things to be different than they are. This is the seed of stress.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Gift of November

Now that leaves have fallen off the trees,
now when what little daylight we have shines clear and low,
now is the time to take a wander through the woods.

For our vision is unobstructed:
We can see clean through the crowded city of trees.
Our view unhampered by leaves,
which instead of greening above and around us
crunch brownly and satisfactorily under our feet.

Is this what happens with aging? Our bodies bereft of beauty, and, while no one pays attention to our gray and wrinkly form, we see clearly with new eyes. Finally, we glimpse through our decades of delusion. Life unfolding, ever-changing, ever-stressful. And i--so changed in outward appearance from what i was in the springtime of my life--is this still "me"?

The light of day hurries southward.
The "light" in our eyes dims to indistinctness.
And the world becomes soft.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tending the Root

I attended a day-long meditation retreat yesterday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The commute to get there was another 2 hours on both ends.

The teacher, Shinzen Young, opened by saying that those of us who made the effort to come were tending to the root. In our busy lives, it's so much easier to be distracted by the leaves and branches. Multi-tasking and multi-stimulation can seem so much more interesting and attention grabbing.

Sitting still, doing nothing (well, that's what it looks like, anyway) can seem like a waste of time, when the press of people to text, sites to see, and places to go feel so much more pleasant. So little time; so much to do, do, do.

When we "retreat" from daily life, we have the opportunity to glimpse the arisings and passings of life with a bit of clarity and equanimity rather than being swept along by the winds of life.

In this season, wind is blowing the leaves off the trees. When the trunk and branches of our life stand bare and exposed, where is the root of basic mindfulness that will keep us grounded in the present moment?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Forecasting Future Faucets

I rolled up the garden hoses and stored them away yesterday. I have 4 outdoor faucets--one on each side of my house. 2 of them are retrofits, because i didn't know when i moved into this house what a gardener i would turn out to be.

I couldn't have known back then that an outdoor faucet under the kitchen window would prove to be very handy for the hillside garden. Or that another faucet--beside the front door--would be very useful for watering the garden beside the front door. I had no idea there would even BE a garden at the entrance to my home.

As busy as our minds can be, planning the future, we never really know what the future holds. And if we look back--at my outdoor faucets, for instance--we see that our batting average for forecasting the future is rather low.

We think if we know the future, we can calm our fears. But this is a deceiving assumption.

Calm lies in the present moment, which is really the only place we ever are.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Apple Stress

The nearby orchards are offering pick-your-own apples for half-price. Quick now! Before more hard freezes turn the fruit to mush.

In 15 minutes, i picked half a bushel of Macouns and Jonagolds. The apple-picking was really an excuse to be outdoors on a beautiful fall afternoon.

Now there's the cooking and storing of the apples, which creates a bit of stress the moment i return home with my bounty.

Fried apples--fried in butter with a drizzle of maple syrup (or brown sugar), and a good salting--reminds me of fall breakfasts when i was growing up. Applesauce is easy and my sweetie adores it.

That still leaves a nearly-full bag of apples sitting in the cold, dark garage awaiting more inventiveness.

Stress in disguise.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Meditative Gardener Wins 2 More Book Awards

The Meditative Gardener is a finalist in 2 categories of the USA Best Books Awards:

Best Interior Design


Under Control. Or Not.

For the first time in 6 months, i feel like my gardens are under control. Not since mid-May have i felt the gardens were going in the direction i intended. The plants knew where they were growing--kale outside the garden fence (how did it get there?), onions overrun by tomatillos, artemesia popping up again after i had weeded it out of one flower bed. I wanted my plants to grow where i wanted, not where they wanted.

How often do we try to wrestle our world into the way we think it should be? The flower bed would be prettier if.... Our children would be happier if.... We would be happier if.... And this country would be better off if....

Wanting things to be different than they are gives rise to stress. Sometimes, we can muscle our world into congruence with our wishes. Sometimes, all that effort leaves us panting. Sometimes, the world--and the garden--goes on its merry way, no matter how much pressure we apply to change its direction.

Occasionally, i end my meditation with the "prayer":
May i see things as they really are.
May i see and accept things as they really are happening.

This is not a fatalistic view of, "Oh, what the heck?" Seeing things as they really are relaxes our stress and gives rise to the equanimity of how the world is unfolding around us.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Small Protected Space

My neighbor Connie uses four bales of hay as a make-shift cold frame. Placing them so that they form four sides of a rectangle, she sows her lettuce and spinach in that small protected space.

In meditation, all we need is just such a small protected space—a single chair.

When i visit friends who meditate at their homes, I'm sometimes amazed at their meditation space. A few people have an actual room (usually quite small). Others, a chair, maybe a slightly out-of-the-way chair, a chair that you walk by all day long, but early in the morning, or in the evening, that's the small, protected space where a meditator finds respite from the worldly winds that blow.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Season of Darkness Begins

Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is celebrated on November 1 (All Souls Day) and today (All Saints Day) in many Latin American countries. It's a day when families go to the cemetery and bring a picnic to party with their deceased relatives. It is believed that the souls of the dead pay a last visit to their loved ones at this time of year, before going underground.

As gardeners, we pay our respects to this season of decreasing daylight by planting bulbs in the darkness of earth. There they will grow roots invisibly all during the next several months. In 6 weeks, the Queen of the Underworld, Persephone, will reign at winter solstice. Then 6 weeks after that, on February 2, a little underground spirit in the form of a groundhog will peek out of the earth to check for signs of spring.

We, ourselves, may have mixed feelings as we enter this season of darkness.

Plant spring bulbs now. Not so much for hope, because hope engenders anticipatory waiting that is impatient with the "now." Rather we plant bulbs to help us notice that gestation takes place in the dark.

Is some aspect of our own lives entering gestation?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Compost of our Thoughts

A local company (that uses a LOT of paper products) always has a pile of pallets to give away. So, once a year, i drive my truck over there and load up, because pallets are easy-to-assemble compost bins in disguise.

Stand 4 pallets up on their sides in a square and tie them together with rope at the corners. Voila! Compost bin.

I line 3 bins up beside each other--1 for adding to; 1 is resting; and 1 i am "subtracting from," using the compost to plant plants or as fill. Now that growing season is over, November is a good time to cover flower or vegetable beds with compost (and get a head start on spring).

When the "subtract from" bin is totally empty, the pallets that surrounded it look quite decrepit. After 2 or 3 years of containing compost, the pallets have also rotted. I haul them off to a brush pile and erect the new pallets. The now empty bin becomes the new "add to" pile, the old "resting" heap becomes the "subtract from" pile, and the former "add to" agglomeration can now "rest."

Today's thoughts, words, and deeds become the compost for the rest of our lives. That's why we aim to add wholesome thoughts to our inner "compost."

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character.

So watch the thoughts and its ways with care,
and let them spring from love
born out of concern for all beings.

The Buddha

Monday, October 31, 2011

When We Can't See the Forest for the Trees

Driving home from Boston late Saturday afternoon in the pouring snow and without snow tires :( we found a B&B in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and homed in for the night. Sunday morning dawned with a blue sky and melting-wet roads.

We drove home through the spectacular beauty of snow-laden pine trees interspersed with khaki green, gold-brown oak trees that still have all their leaves. The combination made for beautiful mottled hillsides. I really had no idea of the dense oak population in New Hampshire forests.

We often can't see the forest for the trees. We are so focused on the thoughts in the mind that we don't notice the mind itself. We "believe" our thoughts and think they are real when they are but momentary firings of neurons, passing through quickly. And then they are gone.

We've had 10,000 thoughts in the past 24 hours. Where are they now?

We've been so intent on the trees (i.e., our thoughts), that we haven't noticed the forest of the mind just being there.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Beech Leaves

The first snow has fallen here in the North country. And, finally, the first frost this morning--31 degrees--which had the effect of freezing the wet snow.

Beech leaves have been beautiful this past week--apple green in the understory, changing to shades of yellow-golden above eye-level, topped off by coppery tan above. Now snow encrusts leaves and branches.

The pale green beech leaves almost fooled us into feeling spring, yet now their aging is truly apparent.

Friends in their 60s and 70s, who seem young at heart, nevertheless wrestle with their aging bodies. A 53-year-old friend has terminal cancer.

The end of harvest season gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on our own end-of season as wintry frost creeps up on us.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kiwis in the North

My favorite fruits are berries. When berry season begins, i buy a pint of berries a day at our local farmstand, and ssshhh, don't tell anyone: Sometimes i eat an entire pint of red raspberries before i arrive home, 2 miles away.

Strawberries, red raspberries, black raspberries, cherries, blueberries. The season is all over by early September. For solace, i buy ground cherries, also known as Cape gooseberries. These little yellow-orange "berries" hide inside a tomatillo-type paper husk. They are slightly tart and also sweet.

Then, the last week of September, it's kiwi season in the north country! Kiwis in zone 4? Yep. These grape-sized "berries" have a smooth skin and taste exactly like their big-cousin kiwis. If you daintily slice one open, you'll find green fruit and teensy black seeds. Kiwis only last until frost, so usually the season is just a week or 10 days long. This year, kiwi season has lasted an entire month :)

In our meditation practice, we may yearn for the "big fruit" of en-lighten-ment. In our day after day practice, little insights--the little fruits of our practice--gradually add up. Eventually the light will shine through.

Meanwhile, let's enjoy the fruit(s) that we can taste right now.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Melting, Melting

My garden still has not had a frost, though the forecast calls for freezing temperatures at night later this week.

These warm (for October) temperatures make me think that, somewhere, glaciers and icecaps are melting. A Bermuda-sized iceberg just broke off of the Greenland ice-sheet.

These icebergs won't raise sea level, like melting ice cubes in your drink don't raise the water level in your glass. The inland melting of glaciers into rivers and into oceans raises the water level. Bangkok is flooded with more water than it has ever seen. Even the houses on stilts have had to be evacuated.

Change--climate change--is happening relatively fast. Our children will live in a warmer climate zone than we do, and their children in a warmer one still.

Notice this day's warmth and coolness. There'll never be another day just like it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Topping Off the Compost Bin

The end of gardening season is creeping up on me. To entertain myself, i prep the beds for next spring when the garden becomes a hive of activity. It's good to do as many of those spring chores as possible NOW, sort of like prepping for a big dinner party by doing some things days ahead.

I picked up a load of manure on Saturday and used it to "top off" 3 bins of compost that had already reached the brim with fall clean-up. Now they can sit and "cook" all winter.

This is the effect meditation has on us. We pile on 20 minutes in the morning, and unnoticed by us, it "cooks" our mind during the rest of the day. Perhaps we can keep our fingers on the pulse of calm for a few hours. Or maybe irritation stays at bay.

What effect does meditation have on you? And on your day?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Clump of Bulbs

When i dug plants out of the white garden to save them from the trenching, i found a big clump of daffodils, already sprouted and ready to keep on growing. This "find" provides the perfect opportunity to divide the overcrowded clump of bulbs and even give some of them away.

Our lives become overcrowded with busy-ness. One activity spawns another. Every new material item requires some sort of maintenance, such as dusting or washing or finding a place to store the darn thing. Things pile up on top of each other. Responsibilities proliferate.

It's time to divide those responsibilities. Give items away. Hand over responsibility to someone else (even though this is very hard.)

After a period of rest this winter, you too will bloom.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I am overcome with gratitude, all because my front sidewalk is back in place.

The gardener, Elisha, and i re-leveled two of the big stones, but the last one--3 feet x 3 feet--was daunting. And really, really heavy.

When the 28-year-old Green Mountain Well guy came by, he and Elisha worked on the last stone. Now the walkway looks as good as new. Thank goodness for young backs!

Begin your meditation with a minute of gratitude. Recall people, situations, places, or events that you are grateful for.

Open your heart to the unfolding of life.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bedraggled Mums

The mums at the front door are looking somewhat bedraggled. Too much heavy rain has flattened various aging stems.

I'll cut these mums back and plant them in my flowerbed. About a third will survive the winter and settle into their new home.

Now, when there's not much color remaining in the garden, i have splotches of previous years' mums blooming in their full glory. I cut mum bouquets that last for 3 weeks.

Sometimes, when we are feeling bedraggled by life, it's time to plant ourselves at a retreat. If we can't actually go on a retreat this week, then begin by pruning back activities. Make space for yourself. Take a walk outdoors instead of going shopping and watch your heart bloom.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The 6-foot trench has been filled in. The excavator has moved the dirt, but the contours of the garden and yard have been changed. The flower bed, the strip of lawn, and the edging of shrubs just don't look like they used to.

It's another form of impermanence, sort of like someone who's had a major operation. Afterward, they feel worse, at first, and maybe their loved ones feel they are just a little bit different somehow. Perhaps the anesthesia has induced a shred of mental confusion. How did things used to be?

Life and the garden shifts slowly, sometimes subtly, over time, as they organically evolve. But this re-contouring is a big change from one day to the next. And it's not the way i want it; it's the way it happened.

Another lesson in impermanence, the stress of wanting things to be different than they are, and the emptiness of the word "garden," which meant one thing yesterday and a different thing today.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Price of Progress

We are having a heat pump installed in our well in order to use the geothermal heat of the water to heat two rooms of our house. It's difficult to understand how 55-degree water is going to heat a room comfortably, but the electricity the heat pump uses will cost much less than the propane for the hot-water baseboard.

The price of progress? A 6-foot deep trench through my white garden beside the front door.

It didn't actually take long to dig out the important plants that were in the way, but deconstructing a garden does bring a level of stress, of anxiety about the future, and of wistfulness for the beautiful garden, now gone.

These revolutions also happen in our lives when children leave home, when we change jobs, or move homes. We assume the future will be brighter, and to that end, we willingly undergo the stresses of anxiety, of not-knowing, or of wistfulness.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Surprise Visitor

A surprise visitor came to my garden yesterday: the neighbor's pig and 2 of her little piggies. She was a sizable brown sow with a snout darkened by rooting in the earth.

My sweetie had already complained about her previous 4 visits. She has plowed substantial sections of our lawn and meadow, looking for grubs, i assume, and leaving an uneven mess behind.

Fortunately, she doesn't seem as interested in the flower beds as she is in my wood chip paths.

Impermanence: What was smooth is now rough.

Dissatisfaction: What was smooth is now rough.

Emptiness: The lawn is composed of not-lawn elements (e.g., grubs, dirt, grass). Lawn is just an idea i have, a concept that proves to be empty of meaning.

Maybe i should dub this porcine teacher of the Dharma "Buddha."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Our Native Habitat

I just spent a week at a retreat in the woods of Virginia where sweet gum and dogwood grow prolifically.

Here in Vermont, we have 1 grove of sweet gum, just a couple of miles north of the Massachusetts border. Dogwood (Cornus florida) will grow in people's yards, but is rarely seen in the wild. Vermont is a different habitat than Virginia.

We compare our habits to, let's say, our friend Virginia. She's so sweet and pretty too. And we..... Well, we just don't look like that or act like that.

We each have our habits of mind, our own habitats. Some qualities grow natively there, and some do not.

What's the use of comparing ourselves to anyone else? We are unique individuals. Every single one of us.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Meditative Gardener is on Retreat

I'll return on October 17.

Enjoy autumn wherever you are.

Fall Colors

The garden chores have slowed to a crawl. This sunny day is a day to take a walk in the woods, shuffle through those crunchy leaves and smell those dry leaves that are now just five or six feet from our noses (instead of fifty or sixty feet). The leaves are changing color fast now, as chlorophyll production slows to a halt, leaving the yellow color that has been there all along, but invisible to our eyes.

We may think our mind is colored by red anger, green envy, blue melancholy, or yellow cowardice.

Meditation eventually calms us sufficiently so that we catch a glimpse of the clearness of mind. That clarity has been there all along, just covered over by the colors of our emotions.

Let's take a walk today and really pay attention to the clarity of the fall colors.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Plant Garlic Now

Now is the time to plant garlic. It needs about 6 weeks to establish its root system before the ground freezes, , but before it has an opportunity sprout green.

Choose the largest heads from this year's garlic crop. This is the hard part. Those best, fattest cloves are going into the ground, not into a soup or spaghetti sauce, nor into the oven for roasting.

Let the best go in order to multiply for next year's crop.

Wouldn't we rather keep the best for ourselves and give away our ratty-tatty stuff? Wouldn't we rather keep the new and give our used stuff to a thrift store or the church rummage sale?

The highest form of generosity is raja (think: maharaja), or kingly, giving. Queenly giving gives open-handedly, open-heartedly, and even without letting anyone know where the gift comes from.

In the case of garlic, we are giving to ourselves. Choose the best cloves, plant them, and harvest a king's ransom of garlic next August.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Still Alive

The garden did not die last night. I awoke this morning to 34 degrees and a clear sky, but no frost. Meanwhile, gardens near me have died. My neighbor, Connie, lower down our road, had frost yesterday morning.

The mystery of life and death. My garden, my life goes on. Someone else, an acquaintance, dies unexpectedly. Suddenly she is gone. Gone. Her family is shocked.

Meanwhile, i am still preparing for my own demise. It's time to plant spring bulbs for next spring's resurrection.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

24 Hours to Live

The garden had a reprieve from its death sentence of frost last night, and so did the gardener (moi:).

Today i can aim to do what didn't get done yesterday: cut the last zinnia bouquet and harvest the holy basil (aka tulsi).

What would you do if you knew you had 24 hours to live?

I would go sit in the garden and not do a thing. Assuming good-byes had been said in expectation of yesterday's death, i'd take a walk in the woods, sit by a stream, and watch the river of life flow on.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Frost Tonight

The forecast of frost tonight puts me in high gear to bring in all the tender things today. Pick the last of the basil and the tomatillos. Pot up the last begonia or impatiens. For tomorrow they will all be dead.

Friends who have cancer and the prognosis of death take care of business: will, living will, durable power of attorney for health care, and power of attorney for financial matters.

I have taken care of most of this business, but i lack the Power of Attorney for financial matters, which a friend just brought to my attention last week. I've called the lawyer to make an appointment.

Hopefully, the "frost" won't fall on me for a long time, but stories of friends having sudden collisions with distracted drivers lights the fire under my intention.

Let's act as if the frost is coming tonight.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Fall Garden

The fall garden is blooming now with indigo monkshood, yellow mums, pink turtlehead (Chelone), and white burnet (Sanguisorba). Overhead, green is receding from the leaves on the trees that are turning yellow, red, and eventually, orange. Those same colorful leaves float down like confetti and add careless color to the lawn, the paths, and the flowerbeds.

The landscape is aging fast now, like vibrant 60-, 70-, and even 80-year-olds, capable of leading a colorful life while the body returns its strength (earth), flexibility (liquid), and even its air-y gases (ahem) to the world. These qualities, that we thought belonged to us, turn out to have been borrowed. In fact, our entire body has been loaned to us by the universe, and is not really "ours" at all.

In the fall, the river of life rushes on.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Redecorating the Entrance to Your Home

Now it's time to redecorate the front step. Time to bring the plants of annual flowers into the solarium and wonder how many will survive the cool dryness of decreasing light.

Replace the planters with pots of mums, flowering kale, or pumpkins and gourds.

While we're at it, we'd like to redecorate our personalities. Take that irksome characteristic of ours straight to the compost pile, and replace it with something bright and cheery and socially acceptable. Or maybe we'd just like to forget about it and wish it would go away all by itself.

If we are using our ego to strongarm ourselves into a new mold, it isn't going to work. The ego has learned to survive as it is, thank you very much. Using one sub-personality to dislodge another sub-personality? They each have their own turf.

Instead, bring mindfulness to that unskillful aspect. Bring that "unfortunate" quality into your heart this winter, and simply be mindful of it each time it appears. Feel what irritation feels like in the body. Feel what the thought, "I'm so stupid" feels like. Notice confusion when it arises and feel the discomfort that comes with it.

Notice these traits or your own particular idiosyncracies. Live with them, really live with them for the next month or two as if they were an unruly puppy.

Practice this loving-kindness meditation toward yourself:
I love myself as i am, angry.
I love myself as i am, confused.
I love myself as i am, feeling stupid.

Use your own words.
Be kind to yourself.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


A bluebird house is attached to one of the fence posts in the vegetable garden. No bluebirds have taken up residence there, but it's often the home of chickadees or wrens.

Yesterday i saw a surplus of nesting material pushing out of the easy-to-open front panel (so you can spy on baby birds). Since nesting season is over, and the summer birds have flown south, i flipped open the front wall and raked out the grapefruit-sized nest.

Out fell a mother mouse with 7 suckling teenage mice. She landed on a leaf and lay there for a minute looking extremely weary and perhaps stunned by the sudden eviction from her comfy home.

Then she dragged herself and her 7 cute, gray attachments off to hide under other nearby leaves.

Attachment, sometimes called craving, is the source of our on-going sense of unease with ourselves, our friends, and our world.

How does attachment feel?

Attachment to material possessions yields a sense of "mine." Mine, and you can't have it.

Attachment to people is an important developmental stage for babies (and baby mice too!)
As adults, attachment masquerades as love. Yet would love really be dissatisfied when the object of its affection is absent or distant or choosing her or his own path? Would love be disappointed? How could love be heart-broken? Love, by definition, is heart-open. How could love hurt?

Attachment suffers, but love does not.

Still, we drag our attachments around with us like the mother mouse dragging her 7 nearly full-grown children. Like her, we are worn out and panting from our burden of attachment, but how can we lay it down?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Green Mulch

As usual, the vegetable garden has been out-of-control for several months this summer. It looks more like a jungle than a picture postcard. So, well-armed with intention, i wade into the waist-high greenery and start pulling.

The culprits are not so much weeds, although there are a handful that escaped my attention and are now going to seed. Tomatillos sprawl everywhere. In our short northern season, only a few on each plant are big enough to harvest. So i pull out the plants wholesale, and pile them up in the middle of the garden. Self-seeding arugula has also gone wild, and i tug another one out every 3 or 4 feet.

I pile up all this green stuff onto the tomato bed and voila! Green mulch.

Sitting down to meditate can feel like we are waist-deep in the alligators of the mind. Our mindfulness mulch consists of noticing each thought--not as a distraction to our breath meditation, but as another opportunity for mindfulness. "There you are, Irritation." "I see you, Worry." "There, there, Anxiety." Simply call these gator/hindrances by name.

Proceeding step-by-step, through the garden or through our meditation, we clear a space and take a deep breath. Ahhh.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Aging Garden(er)

I just returned from a week in Florida where i talked to several aging gardeners who have given up gardening. The reasons are many: moving into a retirement community, stiff joints, failing sight, the natural attrition as orchids and bromeliads succumb to unexpected Florida freezes.

We age and our gardens age. Some gardens peter out. Some gardens become impenetrable jungles. A certain dispassion arises, which a younger gardener may misread as lack of interest.

For those who are fascinated by the natural world, perhaps the emphasis shifts to a different syllable. Instead of focusing on doing and controlling, on having (more plants) and becoming (a better gardener), the attention naturally shifts to simple unfolding.

The aging body unfolds in new and unexpected ways. And so does the garden and all the plants within it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Death in the Garden

I left a 5-gallon bucket out in the garden a couple of months ago. Then the hurricane blew through. Yesterday i found a dead mouse floating in a half a bucket of water. Death by drowning. An unintentional death.

Mostly in the garden we intend death--to slugs and bugs, voles and moles, beetles and weeds. We plot the demise of woodchucks. We pray for hunters to decimate the deer population. We feel exasperated enough to wish death on 4-legged, 6-legged, 8-legged, or many-legged creatures.

But an unintended death strikes our heart. "Oh! Poor dear."
We sigh, breathing out the contraction of surprise, horror, and really, the fear of our own death. After all, death may overtake us in some surprising way. The body and the ego: Gone.

If we look closely enough, we see that we die every minute. Our ever-changing experience arises and passes away, moment by moment.

We go to the garden to touch the pulse of life--growing, blooming, and fruiting before our eyes. And dying.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Roots of Stress at the End of the Season

36 hours ago, it was 88 degrees, and i was in the neighbors' swimming pool. This morning frost is predicted in low-lying areas.

The good thing about predictions is that they light a fire under my intentions. Yesterday, in the rain, i picked all my peppers and harvested 2 basil bushes.

Hot weather has dropped off suddenly, which brings my attention squarely to face the fact of hot weather crops: Summer is over.

I cannot loll around in the delusion of an endless summer any longer. The cucumber vines have died. So have the tomato plants. I pulled out all the pepper plants (still green) yesterday. Basil is next. I cut zinnia bouquets every day.

I could take the route of aversion and just give up on the gardens. Forget it! Too much work!

I could take the route of greediness and think, "I'm going to harvest every single thing, turn my kitchen into a food preparation workshop, and fill my freezer to overflowing."

Delusion. Aversion. Greed. These are the roots of our stress in daily life.

I nod to each one as it shows up in my life and in my garden.
"Oh, hello, Delusion. You think i should wait a few more days just in case hot weather returns?"
"Hello, my good old friend Aversion. You think i should just give up and call it quits? You're too tired to do anything?"
"Oh, my dear friend Greed. So good to see you again. I see you have lots of plans that entail me harvesting everything, preparing it beautifully, and cooking delicious meals."

Mindfulness recognizes each one and smiles.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mosquito Meditation Redux

Mosquitoes have come late this year. They are small, end-of-the-season creatures with a single-minded purpose: reproduce before the weather becomes too cold. To this end, they do not hesitate to drill into tender skin.


I'm out of the habit of spraying myself with mosquito repellant from Thailand--a citronella spray that smells pleasantly of lemon grass. So i am their unprotected victim.

Mosquitoes were scarce in the spring and summer. They were lazy with heat and could be shooed away with the wave of a hand. The absence of mosquitoes has made me lazy. I have come to believe that summers, and definitely autumns, should be mosquito-less. But reality is mosquito-full.

Days are still hot, even though the dark is gaining on the light and will soon (next week) overtake it. Mosquito predators (birds) are heading south, and the skeeters are having a field day.

When i practice the Mosquito Meditation on page 127 of The Meditative Gardener, i find that unpleasantness overwhelms me, i feel impatient, and i just want to get away from the buzzing that annoys me. I go indoors.

This is mindfulness too.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Basil Pesto

The August issue of The Meditative Gardener newsletter included a recipe for basil pesto. Now that it's time (or past time) to harvest basil, i've refined the recipe slightly.

My neighbor, Connie, tells me to blanch the basil leaves to take out the little undercurrent of bitterness that comes with basil that has gone or is going to seed. Of course, by the time i harvest basil, it's already flowering. Instead of beating myself up for not paying more attention to the basil (Aversion), i now "blanch" it by putting the leaves in a sieve in the sink and pouring boiling water over them.

Yes, the leaves start to look like spinach, but the pesto stays bright green instead of turning dark.

Here's Connie's recipe:

Basil Pesto
2 cups basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil

Blanch the leaves in very hot or boiling water for 10 seconds or less.
Dry the leaves (which look like cooked spinach now) as best you can in a salad spinner or in a towel.

Put the leaves into a food processor with the olive oil.

You may freeze this pesto base in ice cube trays (great for single servings!) or in small containers.

When you are ready to serve pesto,
add to the pesto base in the food processor:
2-3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup parmesan
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes

Roast 1/3 cup pine nuts in a skillet until brown. (Or use walnuts.)

Mix the pesto and the whole nuts with pasta or rice.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Harvesting. Or Not.

In May, a vendor at the local Farmers' Market offered 5 different varieties of basil seedlings for $2/paper cup. So i bought all 5 types. (Desire.)

Regular basil

Purple basil

Lemon basil

Thai basil

Sacred basil aka Tulsi

Just imagine the delicious pesto, fish, or Thai curry i could cook! (Delusion)

Since summer is full of vacationing, by the time i settled down at home in late August, the basil was flowering. (Aversion, because you're supposed to pick basil BEFORE it flowers.)

Yesterday i harvested the lemon basil, put it through the food processor, and froze it in little containers. (Happiness.)

This morning i harvested the purple basil.

But does anyone really want to eat purple pasta? (Doubt.)

Today i'm turning my attention to sacred basil, which has a very slight anise undercurrent to the main basil flavor. Hmmm. Licorice pasta? (Doubt AND aversion.) In the Ayurvedic system, sacred basil (tulsi) is used to make teas and tinctures. (Desire for a good idea.)

Harvesting continues in fits and starts. Doubt, aversion, and worry slow me down. Sense desire (pesto!) speeds me up.

Bringing mindfulness to the harvest of your garden, what do you find?

What vegetables or flowers languish?

Which vegetables or flowers actually get picked?

Once they are picked, what happens?