Dharma In The Dirt - Poem by gershon hepner
Finding dharma in the dirt
is easy if you follow Zen,
but if a bird thou never wert,
it’s hard for bourgeois gentlemen,
and ladies manicured in bowers
laid out by gardeners who’re paid
to dig and weed, regarding flowers
as merely instruments of trade.
My wife is not a Buddhist but
a Jewess who loves Keats and Byron,
yet gardening is in her gut,
and in it she becomes a siren
who draws me to the hidden spots
where she has planted bulbs whose splendor,
like naked ladies with the hots,
is metaphor for all her gender.
Patricia Leigh Brown describes the garden of Wendy Johnson in Muir Beach in Northern California (“Dharma in the Dirt, ” May 8,2008) :
As a proudly Birkenstocked Zen gardener, Wendy Johnson can mindfully muster up affection for many of the earth’s species, with the possible exception of persimmon-devouring gophers. But poison hemlock holds a special place in her heart. Without the presence of this pernicious carrot look-alike, a potent vertigo-inducing poison that when ingested can cause death, she reasons, her garden would be all cloying lilac- and lily-scented perfection — boring, in short. The innocent-looking malevolent weed, which she allows to flourish for its capacity to draw rich minerals from the soil for compost, “gives the garden its punch, ” she said, “snapping me back to my senses.”…Her father told her it was “really not conscionable” to go to college — she should be out protesting. But Ms. Johnson eventually wound up at Pomona. Like many young seekers, she responded to the tumult of the Vietnam era by fleeing, spending her junior year in Israel, where, in 1972, she met her first “root teacher, ” Soen Nakagawa Roshi. A year later, she arrived at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center near Big Sur, where people walked around in black robes chanting in Japanese. “I felt I was making the most relevant decision, ” she said, “because the world didn’t make sense to me.” A fellow pilgrim was Annie Somerville, now the executive chef of Greens, with whom Ms. Johnson frequently collaborates on the “eating-garden relationship, ” including the cookbook “Fields of Greens” (Ms. Johnson is also an adviser to the Chez Panisse Foundation’s Edible Schoolyard project at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley) . At Tassajara, Ms. Somerville recalled, Ms. Johnson insisted on planting comfrey, “a deeply mucilaginous plant with furry leaves that helps coagulate blood and tastes absolutely revolting.” Ms. Johnson said: “There was a lot of sitting, chanting and meditating. The garden kept me sane.” She felt profoundly disoriented upon leaving Tassajara, with its dry porous soil, for foggy Green Gulch, where she and Mr. Rudnick would get married and eventually plant their children’s placentas beneath a now-flourishing crabapple tree. Her homesickness was lessened only when she stumbled upon a huge wild red rose growing on a crest of the headlands, perhaps left by a long-gone rancher, a “north star” plant that emotionally anchored her by reminding her that she was on well-loved land. She takes stock of such touchstones, finding Zen perspectives even in compost. On a cold and windy New Year’s Eve last year, she and Mr. Rudnick headed out to the compost heap with five shopping bags full of outtakes from her book, “much of it purple prose, ” she said. She placed the discarded manuscripts on the pile, covering them with old weeds, hot manure and newly pulled poison hemlock to help them decompose. She put another batch of prose and weeds into a 55-gallon drum. Then, with lovingkindness toward herself, she lit it all. “It was hugely satisfying, ” she said.
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