This week I lost a number of seedlings. A tray I had been cold stratifying in the fridge up and germinated before I noticed and half of those babies died. Harvesting weeds for My Bunniness at 4 a.m. the other morning I accidentally uprooted the cilantro I’d been nursing from seed and had just transplanted. Today I came home and found that the neighborhood feral kitties had ransacked the trays I’d been hardening off and had planned to get planted tomorrow.
I’ve been working 60 hour weeks for too long now, and I’m keeping those hours low on account of I refuse to work weekends. Guys I work with are losing fingers and winding up in the hospital on an all too frequent basis. In the grand scheme of things I’m keeping my losses to a minimum, but there’s definitely a cost associated with keeping these hours. It’s heavy on my mind but I still haven’t come up with a better way to pay the bills. I’ll chalk my lost seedlings up to poor timing and note the experience, and I’ll continue to spend whatever spare seconds I can find throughout the week working out a better plan. It’s going to be a rough haul any way it works out. Hopefully I can still get those sunflowers planted this summer.
There are moments in all the chaos where tranquility just happens. On Saturday I got to drive a 1937 Allis Chalmers tractor around the Fischer Farm. I spotted a Monarch butterfly and tried to keep up with it for a while, jerking that big orange machine around the field as my target flitted and then vanished. It was but an instant but I’ll probably still recall that moment decades from now. Space gets bigger in moments like those and there’s room for all the aggravation and heartache to disappear. Almost room enough to lose sixty hours in.
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!
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..
Bring on the year of the Wooden Ram A Lamb A Ding Dang!
It’s been a heady few weeks, or more even. I attended the Restoration Ag “short course” with Mark Shepard in July, which is worthy of at least four blog posts. Immediately upon returning from that trip, I started a “micro farm” on a community garden plot, and last week I hooked up with a carpenter who’s supplying chicken coops to Chicago residents, among other projects. Sat in on a beginning farm course with Extension, applied for a 2015 plot, and met with a produce buyer. Had many inspiring conversations with a number of permies and gardeners, both in the flesh and online. This year’s American Community Garden Conference is taking place in Shikaakwa, Illinois right this very now, and we hosted the “pre-conference” at KAM Isaiah Israel on Thursday, which was beautiful. The panel discussion was incredible. I’m wondering if I should post a transcript. Today I led a garden tour through Humboldt Park, where I’ve tended to a number of community gardens over the past decade, and it was almost a tearjerker to hear so many gardeners from near and far express their appreciation for efforts that I’ve been a part of. Oh, and sometime in June I started in as the Farm Manager for KAMII, which is just an incredible project to be involved with. I feel so grateful, and fortunate, to be doing what I am doing, and I hope to find the time to put those feelings into words. Work is starting to come online, the tomatoes are ripening on the vine, and I’m a very busy beaver these days, but pretty soon I’ll manage to put some copy together explaining how I feel about it all. For now at least I managed to get another paragraph posted. Sometimes that’s all I’ll have time for.