Monthly Archives: June 2015

Coyote Beautiful

As I was walking over to the Garfield Park Conservatory the other afternoon, I spotted a furry creature nosing around outside the Monet Garden. It certainly wasn’t a dog, and it was too big and too grey to be a fox. I wondered if it might be a coyote, but it was sleek and beautiful. The last time I spotted a coyote was in the Rockies, where everything is a bit rugged. I was whistling as I walked over, and the creature paused for just a moment to look at me, curiously, before it trotted off. I ran up toward the fence surrounding the Monet Garden and I could have hopped over, but my furry friend had already slipped away.

Instead I made my way through the Conservatory and back out into the Monet Garden, where a few kids were gathered – none of them older than ten years old if I had to guess. I asked them if they had just seen some kind of crazy dog or fox or something, and I was quite excited about it. A young girl, who was probably the oldest of the three, told me “It was a baby coyote.” The tone in her voice was the best part of the whole story. I got the impression that she has seen at least a dozen baby coyotes just this week, and that she was absolutely tired to death of having to explain such things to ridiculous and patronizing grown-ups.

I’ve lived in this general area of the city for most of the time I’ve been in Chicago – close to twenty years now. I’ve heard of coyotes in Lincoln Park, and I once saw one in Winnetka, but I’ve never heard of a coyote in Garfield Park. It’s about time! I know a few folks around here who keep chickens and other livestock, and I’ll have to let them know that there’s reason to keep an eye out, but I’m glad to see some more wildlife around these parts. I’m not sure how much one coyote is going to do to keep the rat population in check, but I’m sure there are other benefits to be had. Begin the trophic cascade!

Which paramita is this?

Today I had the opportunity to help a corporate office in Chicago get set up with a composting operation. I’m not going to name names (I signed an NDA) but it’s an internet company that everyone has heard of, and the office was replete with ping pong and shuffleboard tables, Skittles and granola by the hopper full, even Goose Island on tap. It was surreal to say the least. I’m sure it’s a great place to work, and I applaud them for stepping up their game and getting on board with a real composting program. They provide a catered breakfast and lunch for their employees, and there’s a lot of potential in all those salad scrapings and paper plates. Check out The Ground Rules to see where those eggshells and coffee grounds are going to end up. It’s the sort of project that gives me hope for the planet, and hope is hard to come by these days.

By way of contrast, I spent last weekend in Cicero with a bunch of Tibetan buddhists, reciting long prayers in an odd language and going nearly two full days without food or liquid of any sort. As difficult and challenging an experience as that was, I learned that I can get by on a lot less than I am used to (which can be not all that much). I once heard someone very wise remark that the thing about suffering is, “the more you have suffered, the more you realize how much more everyone else has suffered than you.” That stuck with me. It was pretty rotten starving myself all weekend and kneeling on a wooden floor, but it could have been a lot worse. It isn’t anything I’d just do on a whim, but there are plenty of people out there who had a tougher weekend than I did.

And back to Chicago, where if you’re lucky, you can get a job in a nice office with all the Starbucks coffee you can drink and banana smoothies and whatever else you can scrounge up from the snack bar. Or maybe you’re not so lucky. I noted a number of panhandlers and homeless folk on my way to the office this morning, and before I left I jammed my pockets full of Snickers and KIND bars. I also stuffed an empty potato chip bag full of salad greens for the pet rabbit that I left home alone the whole weekend I was in Cicero, and held onto a bar of bison jerky for myself. Nobody even glanced at me as I was pilfering the corporate stash. It seems like there’s enough to go around.

It wasn’t half a block before I encountered my first panhandler. I struggled to get the Snickers bar out of my back pocket, and it didn’t seem like it was appreciated. It was 91 degrees outside, and I was standing there with a bottle of pilfered Vita Coco handing out a smashed up, already half melted Snickers bar. I thought about handing out the coconut water, but I was also thinking that I’ve got a quarter acre to get planted tomorrow and not much to bring with me in the way of lunch. Work is picking up again, but it’s been slow for too long. That bison jerky is gonna be my lunch tomorrow. I had two more KIND bars in my pocket, but I figured I’d run into another panhandler before I reached the el. I didn’t.

Nothing about that exchange felt comforting, but I also didn’t notice anyone else doing a damn thing. I’m still unsure how I feel about the whole encounter. There is a big hazy area in between generosity and selfishness. If I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be of any use to anyone. At the same time, token generosity just so I can feel better about things is worthless. I should have given away the coco water, and all the KIND bars. I can drink tap water tomorrow, and it’s probably better to make a big gesture for one person than a lot of meaningless gestures for several people. One thing is certain, nothing is easy, and just because my intentions are good, that doesn’t mean that they’re well thought out. More lessons learned, or to ponder anyway.

I’m not sure that this post is really finished, but I’m tired, and I’ve got a lot on my plate tomorrow. I’m finally going to get planted, and then maybe I can start blogging about farming. I think that’s why I started this thing in the first place.




“First you need to find a teacher..”

This weekend I took part in my first nyungne practice. Nyungne is a Tibetan fasting and purification ritual undertaken with the intent of generating compassion for all beings. The particulars are difficult to explain without context, but I’ll give it a go. Save for the recitation of some long Tibetan prayers, most of the two-and-a-half day retreat is conducted in silence, Additionally, retreatants forego food or liquid of any sort for a period of roughly forty-two hours. It is supposed to be a challenging practice. Through this hardship, we develop compassion for all of those enduring suffering throughout the entire universe.

During the weekend I had the opportunity for an interview with Lama Tsultrim Yeshe, who led the retreat. I spoke with him briefly about my buddhist path so far, which has been at times structured and has at times felt more like a pinball’s trajectory. There was no real criticism with my approach — sometimes life takes us where life takes us — but Lama Yeshe emphasized a sentiment that I have heard again and again. Until I find a true teacher, I will not make much further progress along the path. It is up to me to find that teacher, and to decide with whom I’m comfortable entering into that relationship. I can think of a few contenders, but it may turn out to be someone I have not yet met. Opportunities to encounter such a teacher are limited in our culture, and there is that whole pesky and recurring business of trying to make a living, which usually gets in the way of taking the time to check out various learned masters and what they have to say. It’s going to be a matter of juggling priorities, and as is often the case, everything is a priority. Did I mention already the merit accrued through challenging practice?

I started this blog with the thought that I might hash out some of my research into the various threads of environmentalism, sustainability, and permaculture that I am continually exploring, but it has turned into something else. Life takes us where it takes us, and for a while now I have been putting in more time reciting sanskrit words than I have been working on my field ID skills. Still, there is that quarter acre that I have to get planted, and a seed order that isn’t going to sow itself. Writing remains up there on my list of priorities, as does deepening my buddhist practice, and cutting down buckthorn. It’s quite a list, and it isn’t getting shorter. It feels like I may have said everything I have that’s worth saying for now regarding the Four Noble Truths, but it really remains to be seen what I’ll write upon next. Just as important is to do something worth writing about..