LISTEN TO THE LAND

I took the dogs back to the Montague Farm earlier yesterday. It’s an easy walk not too far from home.

The Zen Peacemakers once owned the Farm, and after living there communally for over two years, Bernie decided that enough was enough and we bought our/my present home because it was walking distance to the Farm. Since then, there have been two subsequent owners, and I approach each one of them, introduce myself, and ask for permission to walk my dogs up the hill and into the woods (which becomes state property).

They give it happily; I’m still the one who wanders there long after others stopped.

This time I came up the hill and saw the scene above. The spring this year is gorgeous, the sun shining through the light green leaves, in the afternoon creating auras of lime and gold, trees blossoming everywhere, including our own lilacs and apple tree.

I remembered how it was when we lived there. It was lovely, but not like this. Things bloomed all right, but we didn’t have the energy (read money) to get everything mowed, landscaped, pruned, and weed whacked as the present owners do. They have to, they host weddings here for a living. We were so busy then trying to build the Zen Peacemakers we often neglected the very ground under our feet or around the old 18th century farmhouse where we lived.

Yesterday, I looked around and thought to myself, This is how we’d hoped it would be. Not a wedding hall, but a place for peacemakers from around the world to gather. So many are tired and often discouraged. This would be a place for them to rest and hang out, get inspired by peers from around the world. Walk along perfectly cut paths and sheared hedges, sniff the fragrance of purple lilac; Bernie had designed a complete map of crisscrossing paths and even gave them names.

One of many things that didn’t happen, at least for us. Now it’s beautiful for bride, groom, families and friends, a happy result for sure.

How much disorder can we deal with in our life? Some can work with more, some with less. Right now, with Lori bedridden and not well, lots of things around the house that she used to take care of fall on my incompetent shoulders. One of the laundry lines in the basement is down. The hinges on one of the kitchen cabinets have collapsed. There are mice in the kitchen. The oven isn’t cleaning like it should. The back yard is still unkempt even after days of my picking up branches and pinecones.

I try to keep things in place and life simple, but I know that compulsiveness for neatness and order at all costs creates its own stress. Sometimes, the more space I could give the mess, the more space for life.

A friend told me about his brother, who died in his 60s. “What happened?” I asked.

His brother had worked in a factory, in charge of the electric lines during his day shift. He loved that work, I was told. He knew how to start the day and how to end it. But then they changed the terms; suddenly he was being told to work a day shift one week, an evening shift another, a night shift another.

“Suddenly, he couldn’t start his day the usual way, with coffee and breakfast. And he couldn’t end it how he loved, by going to Paddy Gill’s Tavern, having some food, drinking some beer, playing some shoes with the other guys, before going home, catching some TV and going to sleep. He got stressed out. He retired early, gained a lot of weight, and died suddenly from heart failure.”

I climbed up the hill towards the woods with the dogs and thought of a life curtailed, and how easy it is to get stressed out when things don’t go according to our sense of order. I like to make order of disorder like everybody else, it’s one of the reasons I write stories. I search for meaning as a way of doing that even as I know that there is no real meaning to anything. We humans have done that as long as we arrived on the scene.

Life doesn’t go that way.

I remembered when Gigi Coyle, who at that time co-led the Ojai Foundation and was a council trainer, visited us at the Farm. She and I walked up the hill just as I do now with two dogs, and she said: “Finally, you have your own place.”

“Is that good or bad?” I asked her.

“It’s good,” she answered right away, “because you will learn to listen to the land.”

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