Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The body is catching up

A little cold front passed through here last night and this morning, leaving our temp somewhere in the low 80s this afternoon. Very nice. Around 4pm it occurred to my bored self that this might be a good time to go outside and make another stab at cutting a path through what used to be my garden. It's amazing what hot weather and plenty of rain can do to a garden (and weeds) in a mere 2.5 weeks.

This isn't the first attempt -- but I have to admit that I haven't been exactly anxious to get the job done. My efforts have been lukewarm and short-lived partly because of the heat and partly because I was just plain pooped after the 'vacation' (and yet, I cleared much excessive green stuff away nevertheless). Wouldn't you know that once I got outside I felt a couple of raindrops, then a distant roll of thunder. Mild stuff, nothing to run an Oregonian inside, to be sure. But, as I pulled and cut and tried to make headway, I kept hearing that little voice in the back of my head telling me that if you can hear thunder, you're in a position to be struck by lightning and should go inside. I spent 5 or 10 minutes rolling that argument around inside my head -- still just a smattering of raindrops, no lightning, thunder off in the distance. Wondering if I was being merely stubborn, or just plain stupid. Finally I copped to 'not smart', which is just another way of saying 'stupid', so I gave up the effort and came inside. I hauled a couple of loads of stuff back to the rear 40, but I can't say I can actually see that I made any difference. Next time. I'm leaving again in 3 weeks, so I really need to get it cleaned up before then or there will be no hope at all.

My new toy (aka food processor) arrived today and I quickly put it to work on a batch of almond butter. I make mine with cinnamon and cayenne and a bit of olive oil so it's nice and creamy. The machine certainly made short work of the nuts, I must say. I still resent having to buy a new one after only 7 years of light use on its predecessor. My first Cuisinart, which I clearly remember purchasing right after my Colorado bike ride in 1983, was still working like a champ when I sayonaroed it off in favor of the new one 7 years ago. By my calculations that was 22 years of serious use, without a flinch. I replaced it only because the lid never fit smoothly onto the bowl and I'd had to fight with it every time I'd used it for 22 years, and I was tired of the struggle. I guess they really don't make things like they used to. The component parts of this one were made in China, and I suspect the whole thing was made there. Go figure.

Life seems to have almost returned to normal. The raging poison oak on my arm has subsided, finally. Last Friday night I finally started sleeping again, and it seems that sleep is about all I've wanted to do, day and night, ever since. That's OK. The body is catching up. I've gone to Curves a couple of times (including today, just for the treadmill). I don't want to lose whatever stamina and muscle I might have built up by walking up and down hills all day for two weeks, after all! And, though I hate to say it out loud, I actually lost a couple of pounds, it seems. I'm surprised, because while I was getting lots of exercise, I was also eating a diet filled with carbs, which is not my usual choice, and expected that might have larded up a tad more. It felt good the first time I checked in on the balance scale at Curves, and it was still at the same point as of this morning. Now if I can only stop eating ice cream and other goodies.....

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Plan B?

While I was making almond butter a few days ago my food processor developed a death rattle. It didn't stop running, but I've used a lot of food processors in my day, and I've never heard a motor rattle like this, so it's only a matter of time. I'd really prefer not to have the thing blow up or catch fire while I'm using it.

I'm trying not to buy anything right now -- partly as an anti-greed measure, partly because I don't know where life is going to take me next year and the less stuff I have to carry in the car, the better I'll be. But, I've already decided that wherever I go my good kitchen stuff will go with me -- knives, big mixer, some of the other appliances and yes, the food processor. Wherever I go I'll need to eat, and that'll entail cooking. So, I went ahead and ordered one on-line from Macy's. It was on sale for a pretty good price (although with the way Macy's does their pricing, one never really knows how good the price really is), and I should have it in a week or so.

It's a nicer machine than the one that died, which hopefully means that it'll last longer than the 7 years of light labor this one lasted. It was the bottom-of-the-line Cuisinart but I really thought it'd last longer. I really do like my fresh almond butter, and pesto, and a few other things that a basic blender just doesn't do well. The new one isn't quite bottom-of-the-line and has a 5-year motor warranty, which should be plenty for me.

My garden turned into an overgrown mess during the two-plus weeks I was gone. I guess that's what happens in hot weather with good rainfall. I did a little cutting back and pulling up yesterday, but there's plenty more to be done. I just don't have the energy I should have to do these things. Or much of anything else. Not all of it is physical -- there are plenty of unpleasant mind-states that are present. For the most part, I'm quite successful at ignoring them, with the knowledge that they are impermanent.

Which leads me in a roundabout way back to a proposed life at the hermitage, which was the purpose of this recent visit. The sense of community and shared goals was wonderful. The place is beautiful and peaceful. I certainly connected with the people who reside there. But my body really didn't like it. When I first met with Ayya S. last March, one of the first questions she asked me was if I'm tough enough to live there. I thought I was. A year or two ago I would have been. I don't know what's happened, but I've definitely seen the changes in my strength and stamina just since last summer. Were my problems there due to the issue of the leg surgery? Some of them, certainly. At this age, three weeks without serious usage of any muscle can lead the way to uselessness and atrophy. The sudden usage of that muscle in such a strong way didn't sit well with any part of the leg -- seemed to affect other muscles in the calf, plus the knee, thigh and even the hip. By the time I left most of the difficulties seem to have worked themselves out, but if I'm going to be honest (and I am), I have to admit that I didn't thrive there, physically. So, it's back to plan B (whatever that is) when it comes to next year.

Fortunately, I have plenty of time to work out what plan B might be. I would love to return to Northern California, but it's a pricey place to live and that might not be possible. If that gets tossed off the table, I'm going to be in the same position I was in three years ago in Oregon -- needing to move, but no clear idea of where to go. I have to leave this house, and I'd sure like to be out of tornado alley, which lets out the rest of this area. After experiencing the hermitage, I know I'd certainly like to be near a good Buddhist community where there are people with shared ideas and goals and where I actually feel as if I fit in. Where might that be?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Jayne Mansfield's Car Trailer

My regular web surfing to find a release date on this movie finally yielded some useful information. A trailer has been released (watch here) but apparently, the film has no U.S. distributor as yet, which is why no release date is to be found. That's not good news for those of us who hoped a successful film might bring a few tourists our way, add to the financial coffers of the local merchants. I'd sure like to see it have some kind of 2012 release to make it eligible for the Oscars. But then, perhaps it's just not a very good movie, although given its cast and provenance, that's hard to believe.

Still, I enjoyed the trailer. There are, I believe, four scenes in the trailer that were shot in our downtown. One was a simple street scene, then a little girl (actually Billy Bob's daughter) riding the brown mechanical horse that holds such memories for me, a war protest scene, and then a dance party out behind the West Theater. It also explains the name of the film, which has been a mystery thus far.

Check it out! And let's hope it comes to a theater near you (and me) real soon.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Napa -- and Vine Village

It's hard to imagine a more total transition than going from the simplicity and somewhat primitive living in the deep forest to a visit with my dear friends Walt and Sylvia in Napa. There was a thought that after two full weeks of immersion in the forest, I might initially have a little trouble with the transition, but that turned out to be not the case. I think it might have lasted about as long as it took for me to hop out of the hermitage pickup and into Sylvia's little silver car. Thank you again, Geri, for the ride down to the gate.

I've known these people since 1979, when we all worked together at Beringer. Now we're all older and retired, but the friendship has remained strong and they always welcome me warmly into their home. Any visit with them is a joy, but this one had an extra added attraction that was, in a different way, as inspirational as the weeks at the hermitage.

Sunday morning Sylvia and I took a little drive through the valley and, naturally, ended up at Beringer. This may be the first time I've ever had a good chance to take a photo of the Rhine House without traffic being in the way. And even with this opportunity, I still didn't get the 'beauty shot'. The tree is in the way. I worked in this building for a couple of years -- my office was the one on the left corner, second floor, with the little balcony. Great memories abound of this place. Afterwards, we stopped in Yountville and had lunch in a little cafe behind Michael Chiarello's 'Napa Style' shop. He has a full-fledged restaurant in the same complex, but we shared a super vegetarian panini at the cafe. It was a good morning.  And for that matter, a good day and a good weekend.

Early morning from the terrace of my guest room in Napa. San Francisco is hidden by the fog in the distance. I kept meaning to get this same view in full daylight, but somehow never managed to do so. I like the soft morning light, anyway. One morning, a California quail hopped up on the stone ledge and walked around, keeping me entertained for awhile.

Vine Village in Napa is a home for special needs adults, people who would have no other place to live without the dedication of supporters like Walt and Sylvia and many others. The annual auction which we attended Sunday afternoon is a major fundraiser for them each year.

Sylvia and I spent a couple of fun hours on Saturday setting up this center display table that featured the lots for the live auction. As you might imagine, there were some fine wines and some fine non-wine offerings here.

A mass of eucalyptus trees on the property contains a rookery for cranes and herons. When I was there on Saturday (sans camera, of course), many of these residents were at home. By Sunday, the activity seemed to have sent most of them off to quieter surroundings.

Another rookery resident.

One of the fine wines Walt brought along to share at the table.

The live auction began with Kate Hanni singing 'You Are so Beautiful' and 'Higher and Higher' with the residents. Kate, aside from being a beautiful person with a beautiful singing voice, is also the person behind recent legislation that stops airlines from stranding passengers in a plane on the tarmac for hours on end. All of us who travel owe her a debt of thanks!

The residents really enjoyed being part of the singing!
A big part of Vine Village is the art center, where residents as well as day attendees spend much of their time. Each year, some of the resident's artwork is chosen to be placed on bottles of good wine, and the auction lot includes the wine plus the original artwork. The art is pretty darned good, too.

An artist with his art, and the corresponding wine bottle.

It was a fabulous afternoon -- fun as well as inspirational. It was great to see a few people I knew from 'back in the day' at Beringer, and to meet so many new people as well.

So now -- from the extremes of the hermitage and Napa, I'm back in my humble abode somewhere in the middle between the two. It was a wonderful trip, and I am so ready to return to California! When the plane landed in San Francisco, I felt that I was coming home. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to make it happen, but there's plenty of time to work on that over the coming winter.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Aranya Bodhi - the experience

I have to tell you, people, that I honestly don't even know where to begin here. There are so many angles, so much to relay -- how to begin? There's the location itself, there are the wonderful people who live there and work hard to make it the place they envision, and there's my personal experience that's all wrapped up with all of it.

One conclusion I have reached is that you will never, ever, truly understand it until you experience it. You can read what I write, you can read their website and blog, but there are simply no words  in my lexicon that will adequately express either the difficulties or the joys that come with daily life, or the inner beauty of the nuns and lay residents and other Buddhist women who share the land. I'll do the best I can, but admit from the get-go that my writing skills, such as they are, will be inadequate. I also choose not to publish any photos of either the people or the facilities, so I can't do my usual photo essay. Nobody asked this of me, but I also didn't ask permission, so I prefer to let them judge what they want published on their own sites. I do have photos of the land to share, never fear!

Maybe the land is the best way to begin, because without the land, none of the rest of it would exist. The ancient redwoods here were logged -- clear-cut -- somewhere around 22 years ago. I don't remember the exact year. I also don't know how many acres -- but it's in the hundreds. Probably 500 or more, although all of that has not been given to Aranya Bodhi. After it was logged the land was purchased by a woman who in effect gave up what was then her life in order to own, and save, these acres. She didn't know what she was going to do with it, but as the years passed she offered some of the land to a group of Buddhist lay women who inhabit simple cabins, mostly I believe on a part-time basis. Later, she met Ayya Tathaaloka (the Abbess), who at that time led a small meditation group in Fremont (near San Francisco) and who expressed interest in a forest meditation center, or hermitage, as a part of what she was trying to build. Thus came Aranya Bodhi. As you might imagine, the story is much more complex than that, but I've tried to put it in the proverbial nutshell. If I've made any mistakes when it comes to facts, I know I will be forgiven.

This is how a redwood forest regenerates after being logged. The stumps become mother trees, shooting up offspring all around. Throughout the forest, sights such as this abound. New growth surrounding old stumps.

I was surprised to see how tall these trees have become in the short, 20-odd years since the land was logged. The regrowth has, of course, been totally directed by nature and includes various deciduous trees as well as the redwoods.

This is the trail that led from the kuti I stayed in up to the main trail. None of the trails and few of the roads existed when the nuns arrived -- all have been established and built by the nuns and lay volunteers -- a formidable task that I can appreciate, as a former trail maintainer of four miles of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. Steps at the far end here are barely visible, yet indicative of many others that aid in the ascent and descent of the many trails that go up and down the mountains here.

Redwoods want to live!

One of the basic teachings of Buddhism is that all sentient beings have a desire to live. It's one of the reasons Buddhists do not kill any living beings. Plants are not sentient beings, but as these photos illustrate, redwoods certainly have a deep desire to live.

Redwood logs lining the trail just above 'my' kuti.

"Dead" logs, with no connection to any rooted stump, issue sprouts all along the trail in the above photo. Is this not a desire to live? 

This 1500 year old Korean pagoda, or stupa,was found in a Seattle antique store and rescued by someone who recognized what it was. Somehow, it found its way to this land and now sits atop a hill on the property, not far from my kuti.

I found great humor in this sight, which is not far from the stupa. The logs and dolly belong to another large landholder up here. I wonder just how far that little blue dolly would get trying to move one of these monster logs?

While the land is beautiful, and while without it Aranya Bodhi would likely not exist, the real heart of the land is the people who inhabit it. I had the good fortune to have a couple of good talks with the woman who owns the land, lives nearby, and who has donated the land to Aranya Bodhi. I won't mention her name because I don't think it's on their website. She may prefer to remain anonymous. I found her fascinating, interesting and easy to talk to, and her story really touched something deep inside me. She, as well as all of the other women, were true inspirations. More about them later.

The first thing that surprised me upon arrival is the terrain. I'd envisioned some kind of level or rolling spot of clear meadow that would contain the basic infrastructure and community, but that is certainly not the case. Very little here is level and my first introduction was to carry my gear up a forest trail to the kuti, a distance I'd guess to be around one-quarter to one-third of a mile. It feels much longer when you first make the attempt, especially laden with bags and camping gear. My experience here was no-doubt colored by the fact that the stitches had only come out of the skin cancer excision site on my leg two days before my arrival, and the fact that I hadn't been allowed to walk for three weeks while the incision healed.

I think it was the second group of steps on the trail where my legs simply said 'no' and wouldn't allow me to lift my body and bags up another riser. Ayya Sobhana, the prioress and driving force behind this place, carried my heavy bag the rest of the way, much to my embarrassment. She isn't all that much younger than I am, but then, she walks these hills daily and also hiked the Appalachian Trail years ago before going forth to become a nun. I struggled with every up and down trip for the first week or so, until the muscle that had been cut out healed and rebuilt, but that didn't stop me from exploring and walking for pleasure, as well as necessity.

The 'doorbell' to a private monastic kuti.

Even the structures and travel trailers are on two different levels, so very little happens without going up and down somewhere several times per day. I'm grateful for the forced exercise, because I know that with the heat of a Georgia summer I would never have driven myself to this level of exercise and rebuilding that muscle. Plus, it just feels so darned good to be out in nature for any reason. The six kuti's are scattered up the hills in various directions, none within sight of another or any other structure. Likewise, tent sites are also scattered. As promised, the weather was mostly cool, but often warm and sunny without being hot. Because I wanted to travel with carry-on, I only had one set of sweats and some thermal undies. I rarely took the sweatshirt off and unlike other bits of clothing, it never got washed because it takes too long to dry. Laundry is washed by hand and hung on lines to dry. I was really happy to see the last of these clothes by the time I left!

The community has everything you might consider a necessity, other than flush toilets and telephones. Power is solar, internet via a dish, whether microwave or satellite I don't know. There's an indoor shower for cooler weather, but what I used was the outdoor shower, which has an on-demand water heater. It's basically a tent, of sorts. There's a flap one can zip for privacy, but since it faces the redwoods it's nicer to stand almost in the woods. The last time I used it however, the air had a chill and a cool breeze, so I zipped it up.  That worked great until you need to reach your towel and clothing, and then there's a bit of briskness involved!

Solar panels in the redwoods. There were others atop the laundry shed.

My work for the week was in the office trailer where I worked on catching up with their bookkeeping. Others worked on the construction of a new wooden tool shed, which was a far more impressive endeavor, to me. When I arrived only the foundation was built. Soon, the plywood floor was laid, then the walls built and raised one at a time, by a group of lay women with little or no construction experience, led by the indefatigable Ayya Sobhana, who works harder and longer than anyone else on the property. Men are welcome, by the way, but because it's run by women it tends to draw more women. A couple of monks were expected a few days after I left. And then there's the old sexism issue in Buddhism (and elsewhere), where women are relegated to inferior roles, so it's not surprising that Buddhist women come here.

During my visit three nuns were in residence, along with one impressive young lay woman who is the steward -- she does most of the cooking and much more. Several women came and went during my stay -- for periods ranging from a few days, to a week, to two weeks and one who arrived a few days after me who plans to stay for two months. Others were expected after I left. They come and work -- inspired much as I am, helping to build this wonderful community. Some have monastic aspirations, others do not.

Back to the women who live here, including the Aranya Bodhi residents, the donor, and the other group of Buddhist women who dwell on the other side of the creek. The one single, over-riding impression I received from all of them is the deep level of happiness and contentment that comes from following the path of the Buddha. You can see it in their eyes -- and feel it in the kindness with which everyone treats everyone else. This is one place where words totally fail. You just gotta be there.

Another place where words fail is in how simply they live, how little they have. Everything they have is the result of a donation of some kind: money, time, or in-kind donations such as food. Almost everyone who visits brings food, especially fresh veggies. They are able to shop for what they need, but town is a couple of hours away for the most part, and they would never spend money on things they might consider to be luxuries, so they mostly live from food donors. Take coffee, as one small example. When I arrived, there was a Folger's can that didn't hold Folgers -- just a mix of coffees people had brought up there from time to time. I suspect they wouldn't buy coffee at all if they ran out, but I know they'd never buy anything premium, even though some of the nuns and lay residents enjoy good coffee. We coffee drinkers were all really grateful when the woman who arrived a couple of days after me brought two pounds of a fine coffee from San Francisco. Thank you, Geri! The first thing I did when I got to Napa was buy some good coffee and send it to them.

And yet, despite the simple life and what most of us would consider to be deprivations, these women are thriving, as individuals and as a community. The visitors I watched come and go also had a glow -- certainly by the time they left, if not when they arrived. Inspiration is everywhere -- in the forest, and in the way these women practice what the Buddha taught. See? Words fail again. One thing that I can say unequivocally is that I truly miss everyone I met here, every day.

That's enough for now, people. Inadequate, but enough. If you get a chance, go visit and see for yourself.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I'm home -- more or less

Let's say, my body is here. The rest of me is still adjusting and still needing a tad more sleep. You won't hear much from me today (and some of you may appreciate that), but naturally there will be more to come.

There were two definite highlights of the trip: Aranya Bodhi, of course, and the visit with my friends in Napa that included an auction to benefit a home for learning-disabled adults that was downright inspirational.

Here's some teasers:

When I arrived at Aranya Bodhi after a very long day of travel, I was greeted with the news that instead of having to set up my tent, a kuti was available for my use! This is the Ratana (jewel) kuti, nestled in the redwoods high up a hillside. It was my happy home for two weeks.

In Napa, we helped set up this table of auction items, and let me tell you, there were some very fine wines in these lots!
So - there's something to look forward to down the road. Once I get life at home back under control once more.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Later, people...

Remember when I said I wanted to try a buzz cut? Well, yesterday I had the gal at SuperCuts use her clipper to cut my hair back to one inch, and I am reminded of that old adage about being careful what you wish for. First of all, it's hard to believe it's actually one inch long, but whatever it is, it's short. Really short. No curl -- guess it's too short for that, too -- just lies flat against my head in a most unattractive way. Think Jamie Lee Curtis (great if you like that look, but it's really not me). I take comfort in knowing it will grow. I just hope it grows enough so that when I attend a charity event in the Napa Valley a little over 2 weeks from now, it'll look a bit more normal.

Other than that -- got the stitches out with no troubles. Am spending today doing lots of little last-minute things (took care of the garden issues this morning, other than some final watering of blueberries and tomato).

My ride comes at 6am tomorrow -- so I'll talk to you again in about 3 weeks.

Monday, July 2, 2012


The heat wave has snapped, thank goodness! Oh, it's forecast to hit 97 before the day is over, but I can deal with that. The night should be cool and the following days and nights a tad cooler.

Fortunately for my health, I spent most of yesterday inside good air conditioned spaces. First my car for 45 cool minutes, then the meditation group until around 3pm, back to the car and then I stopped by my cousin's house in Rockmart and had a couple of good, cold beers and watched a movie on TV. Just after I arrived the bottom fell out -- rain and wind and even some good-sized hail. That sort of thing will cool off a Georgia afternoon real well, but depending upon timing and location, it's also possible to end up with an unpleasant steam bath once it passes on by. Yesterday was a good combination of the two, and when I left their place around 7pm my car's thermometer read 73. That went up a couple of notches by the time I left their rural hillside behind and hit town, and went way up to 86 by the time I got home. Maybe Cedartown didn't get quite as much rain as  Rockmart did. My house was a steambath, but it cooled well enough once I got it opened up. More storms passing nearby brought good cooling air and breezes. This morning has been mostly cloudy with lower temps that are steadily rising.

So, there should be relative comfort here for the next few days, until I flee west to very different climes. I'm getting closer to being ready, but there's much that's been left until Wednesday, the last minute. I see the doc to get stitches out tomorrow, will get my hair cut, some last minute shopping and whatever else seems necessary, such as hitting the bank for cash.

After weeks of considering all the possible alternatives for getting to/from the Atlanta airport, I've finally opted for one, with a backup. I can get a local airport transport from this end -- they will actually pick me up at my house, which is great -- but coming back, their last bus leaves 15 minutes before my plane is due in, so I'd given up on that option until my ex-co-worker in Rome offered to pick me up.  So, that's what I'm gonna do. If for some reason they don't show up, I have a fallback plan B, which is the original plan to drive in and park.

I like leaving my car in the driveway so it's not so obvious that I'm not home, and to maybe keep my crazy neighbor across the street from getting stupid again and finding some mischief to get into. No more dogwoods left to kill, and I'll bring tools and such inside, but there are things in the garden he could kill. I haven't seen [read: heard] him for several days now, and since it's too much to hope that he's in jail for the next 9 months, I assume he's off on some kind of vacation.

That's it for today folks -- not much happening.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I'll take whatever I can get

Last night was a killer! Stayed around 109 outside from early afternoon until after 8pm, got up to about 85 inside for most of the evening and stayed there, although it was approaching 90 by the time I finally opened the house up. I drank gallons of water, lived with a wet cloth and dunked my head under the cold water faucet often -- seemed like every 5 minutes or so. And I could still tell that this old body wasn't happy. I finally went to bed around 10pm, tired enough to sleep with the aid of a Xanax, with both the ceiling fan and the window fan blowing air across me. At some point it cooled enough that I brought the blanket over me, but when I got up at 5am it was about 78 in my kitchen, which isn't a good omen. I opened the front and back doors, flipped on all of the ceiling fans, and an hour or so later it's getting closer to 75. Not good, but then, I'll take whatever I can get. I'm still feeling the effects of it -- headachy, whine whine.

A friend that I worked with in Rome called around 7pm or so, said it was 85 in his apartment with the AC going -- the unit just couldn't keep up with the heat.

Fortunately, I'll be leaving here around 8:30 and won't return until around 4pm -- our monthly half-day meditation in Cartersville. That house is high on a mountaintop and has to be at least a bit cooler, plus it's air conditioned. That will be a blessing! The house will still be hot when I return, but at least the body will have a chance to cool off for awhile. They're still saying it should cool off a tad by tomorrow. I can only hope.

Wherever you are, I hope you are safe today from whatever weather is in your life. At least I still have power, no floods, no fires, no raging thunderstorms.