Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dead Phlox

I was a naughty girl.
I bought a purple phlox 2 weeks ago, but didn't plant it.
When i came home from my week-long retreat, it was still standing on the front step, but now it has withered brown leaves and dried-up flowers.

Of course, i hope it isn't really dead yet. Maybe some end-of-life aritfical hydration will resuscitate it?

This disappointment is the result of desire. I saw the purple phlox in a friend's garden; i stopped at the greenhouse on the way home and bought it. Then doubt and procrastination intervened. I had the object of my desire in hand, but i couldn't ramp up the desire to take the next step and plant it. I couldn't decide where to put it. I didn't want to clear a spot for it. It languished for a week, looking sadder and sadder. Then i left home for a week.

We want things to stay like we leave them: we want permanence. But unwatered plants change--they wither and die while we're not looking. When we look again, life has changed. The life of the purple-phlox-in-a-pot changed to death.

The ego can load more suffering onto itself. (It's all my fault!), because that way we at least have a reason for what happened. We load more stress on top of the disappointment over and over again. Really, all that happened was that a plant died. Life dies. Sooner or later. This phlox died sooner than i wanted it too.

Life is not permanent.

Friday, August 17, 2012

More Tomatoes

Tomatoes! I've got 'em :)
I have the most abundant crop i've had in years. And i have fewer plants.

Oh! That was hard--to stop buying tomato plants.

The cleaning lady gave me 5 sungolds--THE best cherry tomato i've tasted. 2 died, which left me with the perfect number of 3. Sungolds sprawl, so 3 is quite sufficient.

I also planted 3 grape (cherry) tomatoes. Because of their meatiness, i sun-dry the grape tomatoes so i can have the flavor-burst this winter. (I gave the rest of the 6-pack to a friend.)

As usual, here in the North Country, i planted Jet Star, a small but early tomato, just to hedge my bets.

The cleaning lady gave me 5 Opalkas. (She grows only heirloom seeds.) A.K.A. The Polish Torpedo, these are BIG meaty paste tomatoes.

I bought a handful of other plants, and then i stopped.

Now 6 cherry tomatoes and 18 other tomato plants may sound like a lot to you, but some years i squeeze in 36.

Knowing how much is too much, i restrained my impulse for more.

And yet, now that's it's August, i do have "more" tomatoes than usual :)

Photo from

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


When my Midwestern farmer brother came to visit me a year ago, he took one look at my purple-blooming ironweed (Vernonia), and said, "Why do you have that weed in your flowerbed? Farmers try to eradicate it from cornfields."

I love the rich, royal purple of the 7-foot tall Vernonia altissima. Ironweed has many medicinal properties and is eaten as a vegetable in West Africa. One species of Midwestern moth feeds exclusively on ironweed.

In daily life, there are several counter-intuitive aspects of the Buddhist path that friends and strangers might ask, "Why do you do that?"

Why do we practice the Wise Speech of not talking about someone who's not in the room? Or not saying something that we, ourselves, do not know, for sure, to be true. Why do we not tell white lies? Why do we not exaggerate, just a little bit, to make a good story even better?

Photo by Beau Wilfong
A rare species of calm feeds on just such a wise use of speech.

Did i mention that my farmer-brother has a butterfly and moth collection? That he can spot a chrysalis on the underside of a leaf at 30 feet? That he brings the pupae into the house so he can watch them turn into something beautiful.

Photo of ironweed from

Monday, August 13, 2012

Unexpected Gifts

Yesterday was a day of giving and receiving.  I gave my neighbor some leftover roofing for her chicken coop, and then we picked her green beans. I came home with a basketful.

In the afternoon, i went to visit a Master Gardener friend who had gone to a Sun Dance in Pocatello last month. I took her a copy of my book, Following the Nez Perce Trail. She gave me an angelwing begonia.

These unexpected gifts felt quite sweet and are also very useful.

Generosity is the first of the 10 qualities of the awakened heart, qualities that we practice, practice, practice in order to perfect.

What happened yesterday was perfect :)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Now is the time to plant the fall garden: broccoli, chard, kale, bok choy, and lettuces prefer cool weather. As the hot season crops, such as cucumbers and tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, begin to look piqued when they catch the first whiffs of chill in the air, the coo weather vegetables begin to flex their muscles.

Now in the height of your own summer of strength and health, now is the time to plant the crop that will reward you when you begin to feel a bit piqued in the fall of your life.

What will you do when the body becomes as spotted as an old tomato plant? When your bones begin to look as hole-y as slug-chewed greens? The material world, including our bodies, ages and decays.

Plant your spiritual practice now so that you can begin to reap the fruits of the spiritual life.

Photo from

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Daily Sustenance

We have a beautiful farmstand ( with organic vegetables just 2 miles away. I drive past it every time i go to town and again when i come home.

Beginning in July and continuing through August, i stop every day to buy 3 ears of corn and a pint of blueberries.

I feel quite grateful to have good and trustworthy food so close by.

A good and trustworthy spiritual path beckons us. It is as close as our own body, our very breath. Our path begins with a daily trip to the cushion (or to your meditation chair--or sofa, in my case :)

This daily foray into quiet reminds us of what is most important in our lives.

Take a moment now.
Right now.
Close your eyes and listen.
Close your eyes and feel the body.
Close your eyes and notice your breath.

Nourish yourself with the daily sustenance of natural food and natural meditation.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

8 Kinds of Basil

The basil looks great just now in the height of summer. Each plant has developed into a small bush.

In May, i managed to collect several varieties--ordinary sweet basil, purple basil, opal basil with mottled green and purple leaves, Thai basil, lemon basil, lime basil, cinnamon basil, and the small-leaved globe basil.

Now, of course, i can't keep up with all of this burgeoning basil.  Pesto pasta for dinner one evening, Thai curry the next. Cinnamon basil? How the heck can i use that?

All these basils of the fruits of desire.  In May, i planted a dozen of each. Fortunately, i found only one cinnamon basil plant. Now i'm overwhelmed with the thought of harvesting all these basils.

This is what happens: We get what we ask for. And it turns out to be stressful.
We were so sure that this thing we wanted (basil, in my case) would make us happy. (And i am very happy to eat it.) But we didn't notice the underbelly of the object of our desire.

Notice it now. Feel the stress. Notice that it's a thought. Only a thought. It comes. It goes.

Let's go out to the garden and pick some basil :)

Photo from

Monday, August 6, 2012


A groundhog has taken up residence 10 feet away from my vegetable garden. Sometimes i wish i lived 10 feet away from my grocery store!

I can see the well-worn path from the burrow to the garden fence. I suppose the groundhog piglets go straight through the fence, even though the fence's holes are quite narrow.

My makeshift garden gate has been bent out of shape by parent groundhogs who easily burrow under it. I've lost all my beans, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts to groundhogs and voles.

What burrows into our life and steals the fruit of our spiritual path?

Summer is wonderful for all the vacations and mini-vacations and company, but all the comings and goings can impact our meditation practice.

We may not immediately notice the loss of the fruits of our meditation practice. What is it, specifically, that you lose when you don't meditate?

I lose an easy-going-ness, and i become more irritable on days when i don't meditate.  A friend who meditates to reduce her blood pressure loses her calmer blood pressure.

Now it's time to take another look at that groundhog burrow :)

Photo from