- Shunryu Suzuki Index  - WHAT'S NEW - table of contents

ZC Stories

David Schneider cuke page

David Schneider remembers Green Gulch

This letter was sent by David and read at a gathering at Green Gulch Farm on 8-12-12 as part of the SFZC 50th anniversary celebrations.

David Schneider Shambhala page

Plan to get a page on cuke for David's books and links to other stuff here on cuke for him. He wrote Street Zen. - dc

"The Arrangements Has Failed Again"

Shortly after the inaugural picnic there in Spring of 1972, I moved to Green Gulch Farm to be part of the much needed general labor. There was a strong emphasis on garden work, as in pick-axing. A certain number of us had unknowingly come under the tutelage of master gardener Alan Chadwick, who called us "the apprentices." CLAP CLAP! "The apprentices will now come for a nature walk…" Etc. He had three real apprentices and was disappointed when we (recent converts) hewed more closely to the zen schedule than to his or Nature’s.

"There’s your blasted breakfast bell," he snarled at us one morning.

We knew that. We’d been listening for it, having gotten up early, sat through a period of zazen, having had a hot drink and/or cookie and having pick-axed Nature for about an hour. We were aerating the soil and tilthing and we were very ready for breakfast. There were certain to be other garden teachings later in the day, and they could wait.

Originally everyone did zazen in a room we called the library. We had oryoki meals there too, kneeling on the carpet at low tables and sliding pots down the row. The crew included Bill Lane, John & Gloria Coonan, Mary Williams as Tenzo (later, Issan Dorsey.) Reb came out to live early on. I remember Steve Wientraub being there as work leader though this might be wishful thinking. Sheila McCarty? We workers included Steve Allen and Ulysses Lowry. If we weren’t in the garden, we helped with zendo renovation. For several days we wielded adzes in the barn instead of pick-axes in the field. Our job was to level out the planks on the rough-hewn floor sufficiently to not damage the industrial machinery coming in later. There were no tan, no raised platforms for sitting, other than the one along the back wall, where you entered. That was original. Eventually the tan were built and we all began sitting in the barn. The housing problem remained, though, and the solution was to put General Labor in the zendo. They should sleep there. We were to stow our sleeping gear in a loft space across the hall from the zendo. We had a glorified closeta small, doorless room by the zendo entrancewhere we changed clothes. There we stored our pee-bottles as well, since the next functioning toilet required a nocturnal trot out of the barn and into a small, cinder-block structure with a slanting roof, a couple dozen yards away.

I think I was the first one to sleep overnight in the zendo. At least I slept there alone for some nights. The walls had not yet been sheet-rocked and the wind running up the coastal valley whistled through cracks in the structure. When lights were on for zazen, this wind blew the hanging lanterns around. Between the wind’s noise, the crazily dancing shadows and the creaking of the corrugated tin roof, it felt like sitting zazen in a ship in a gale. Mice darted around. They ran along the tan in front of us when were sitting sometimes, but the darkness at night seemed really to embolden them.

Against this rough and ready background, a little embarrassment occurred. It had been decided that Nakamura Sensei, an Utai teacher of the highest orderthen living with the Bakers in townwould be imported once a week to the farm. We were to be improved by an hour’s class with her after dinner each Thursday. Sluggish, dull and full, we gamely tried to bellow back at her the incredibly powerful and subtle sounds she sent our way - directly from the middle of her body, it seemed. At least we sometimes amused her. She had a beautiful smile; nearly coquettish when she covered her mouth to laugh at us. She also could actually hit us with her voice. If she had to correct you more than once by singing something back at you, when she did it, you felt slapped.

One night, well after class, I was roused from my zendo bed and asked to drive Mrs Nakamura back to Zen Center. The keys to the green van were pressed upon me, and I was urged to hurry. She was waiting. No further explanation was offered. We duly set off along the curving roads of west Marin, Nakamura-sensei elegant in her kimonos, buckled into the passenger’s seat, me in zoris, fat pants, a green army-surplus shirt, skinny, crazy, driving. The green van very often made the trip between Green Gulch and the City Center, and usually it carried compost buckets. It stank. I felt mortified by the smell and apologized for it, but Nakamura-sensei seemed above such things. She simply smiled and nodded to me. In doing this, she somehow drew me into her world of exquisite manners. She smiled and nodded at other things I said, and things I pointed out. Sometimes she even vocalized a bita brief hum of acknowledgement. It dawned on me that she spoke no English. I spoke not a word of Japanese.It also dawned on me, halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge, that I had no money for the toll. I had no wallet. I was driving, basically, in pajamas.

Keeping an eye on the high-speed two-way traffic, I tried to explain the situation to her. Wind buffeted the blocky van, but I persisted: "MO NI? A NI MO NI?" Nothing. Releasing the steering wheel briefly, I tried to pantomime opening a wallet, and withdrawing bills. She smiled at me and nodded, in a style befitting a Living National Treasure of Japan. I knew that somewhere in all the beautiful cloth she wore, there would be a little folding paper wallet perfectly designed for containing bills, and containing bills. She maintained beatific composure in the face of my performance.

There was nothing more I could do. I confessed to the toll booth attendant that I had no money. He regarded me. Then he looked at Nakamura-sensei. He certainly must have bathed in the compost-bucket smell coming out of the rolled-down window. Finally he told me to wait. He left his booth and walked out to stop traffic in all the lanes to our right. Then he came back and told me to drive over to the administration building. As I cut sharply across the lanes, Nakamura-sensei tilted her head slightly, and raised an eyebrow, signaling curiosity. I left her in the van after explaining, if that is the word, that I’d be right back. Inside, they were at least nice about it, though they didn’t bother to cover their mouths.

@David Schneider, The Arrangements Has Failed Again