Saturday, September 20, 2008

Farm Retreat -- Written August 29, 2008

Well, it's officially called the Mountains & Waters Zendo-Raising Retreat, but Farm Retreat is easier to say. We actually came back a day early, i.e., yesterday rather than today. That was because we were all so efficient with our carpooling that the couple of people who needed to come back yesterday meant that half of the retreat participants were leaving. We decided that the other three of us from Portland would also leave, hence we are back early.

It was a really wonderful retreat. My first as Tenzo (chief cook). It was a ridiculously easy tenzo experience in many ways (which didn't necessarily make it easy for me, as I find the whole thing difficult). First, Seido, who was hostess, shuso (the one who actually runs the retreat and makes sure everything happens as it's supposed to), and head of construction for the Zendo-raising, also did all the menu planning and shopping. She has an outdoor kitchen she sets up for retreats out there in the Empty Field Hermitage. We tented out near there as well. The kitchen had propane stoves, tubs for wash water, a faucet, a cooler, dry storage bin, and pots, pans, serving bowls, plates and utensils. For some things I did have to go to the house and/or the packout cooler, which was a little bit of a walk through the fields. I realized last night, though, walking to the Sangha House from the Dharma House, that the distance was fairly equivalent to that walk I make here at least twice a day, and often more.

I had a clipboard, and an expanded menu with lots of room for me to make lists on. "Shopping" lists of things to get either from the house or from the packout cooler -- this is a working organic farm, and they work Tuesday Market, Thursday Market, and Saturday Market. This is a busy time of year, of course, harvesting things, getting them ready for sale in the packout area, washing and labeling them, etc. Seido met with me every morning, and we checked in usually a couple of times during the day to make sure I had what I needed to prepare the next meal or two.

Breakfasts were simplified by not cooking oatmeal, but having granola instead. Fruit was mostly strawberries (picked daily by my faithful assistant Adam) and sometimes blackberries. And then tea, which it took a couple of mornings to get down exactly right. I usually missed part of morning zazen to get breakfast together, which we then ate together in silence in the zendo, oryoki style. Lunches were usually sandwich-y (tofu pate, egg salad, one day grilled tempeh to make "BLTs") with often a salad. These we ate informally in chairs around the kitchen. Dinners were also somewhat informal, but at that point we entered into silence which lasted through evening zazen, morning zazen, and through next morning's breakfast. Dinners usually involved some real cooking, grilling or some sort of melange of flavors in sauce to put over pasta, rice, or quinoa.

All of it came out really well, and I even did pretty well at estimating quantities -- I guess I have been absorbing something during the kitchen work I've been forcing myself to do so far. It also helped that we had 2 three-hour work periods every day. This is not typical of retreats, let me tell you, and it helped me immensely to have that much time, especially early in the week when I was still pretty intimidated by the whole thing and trying to figure out where to start, what needed to be done next, where to find whatever it was I needed, etc. I eventually discovered that I needed to take my breaks during work periods, since break times for the rest of the crew were often when I needed to be intensively involved in the kitchen fixing dinner.

Also, of course, I was working with incredibly good food -- all this beautiful fresh produce, much of it picked that very day. We had sweet corn twice, once grilled and the second time steamed. Tomatoes -- many of the tomatoes that weren't considered perfect enough to go to market, made it into our consumption. I discovered the first day or so that I was grabbing cherry tomatoes and carrots for snacks out of the colander handy on the counter, and decided to put those on the snack/beverage table for the work crew. They began disappearing at a good clip. The carrots were, you know, crooked and otherwise "imperfect," but were incredibly delicious. We had sliced tomatoes with almost every lunch. And herbs -- oh, my, what a luxury to go outside and pick thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil, mint ... I made marinades for tofu and tempeh, threw herbs into pasta primavera and curry sauce -- well, who can go wrong with all of this to work with?

The work crew actually got the engawa pretty much done. This is like a deck all around the outside of the building, which will eventually be used to do kinhin (walking meditation), which I gather is traditional in Japanese temples. There is still finish work to do on it, but they got it substantially in place. After lunch yesterday we did a little ceremony where we circumambulated the building three times chanting in order to dedicate or bless it. That was pretty cool. It felt good, solid. A job well done.

I did take a bunch of pictures, and will try to get them up here if possible.


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