Timely Rain and The Buddha’s Influence

Late afternoon light on Lake Siskiyou.
Late afternoon light on Lake Siskiyou.

A late afternoon saunter with a fellow monastic walking companion. A lake-side saunter. Wonderful! The sound of water lapping gently on the shores of Lake Siskiyou! Double wonderful! Double wonderful because the lake has been not much more than a muddy puddle for several years. Now, water to the shore-line telling of the recent heavy rains. All is well with the world, very well. To have the lake restored to its  deep watery glory is a boon beyond measure.

At times of drought in the almost long forgotten past in the East Buddhists priests performed a ceremony invoking the name of the Dragon King, who controls water, politely yet insistently asking for rain. We have records of such a ceremony and when push comes to shove, we use them. Does rain fall as a result of performing this ceremony? I’m not saying. Eventually rain does come whether due to the Dragon King’s good grace or not would be difficult to say.  We Westerners can get overly squeamish around religious ceremonies at the best of times, praying for rain might just tip the balance, for some. So I encourage an attitude of creative doubt in this regard. In other words, best to keep an open mind.

Back in September we had been under threat from forest fires, we desperately needed rain. One night it rained. I remember hearing water dripping from the guttering outside of my room. I could smell the dampness coming in through my window. Next morning I was celebrant for morning service. It is our custom to say a few words as we offer incense at the start of the ceremony. I said thank you for the timely rain. Had I been asking for help from the watery dragons? Not at all.

What I can say is that sincere Buddhist practice, sustained over time has unseen and unknowable consequences. I’m content to not know and be grateful for what ever comes.

But you know, the idea of good-natured and generous dragons has a certain appeal. This post is for all those who are thirsty, for water or anything else.

Filling The Empty Chair

I can’t remember snapping this picture but when I found it on my phone I had to smile. The patterns, the busyness of what was probably early 1970’s era carpet and chair covering. The embroidered antimacassar. Wonderful. Nothing matches, nothing tones together. So unlike current indoor sensibilities. And a home SO full of memories of the woman who once lived there. And images of her beloved companion Dakota laying beside her, white as snow.

I smile at this photograph, it’s a smile of recognition. It conveys the essence of the person, Margaret, who is no longer around to fill the empty chair. And how she filled it! A genuine character, a homesteader from Eastern Montana moved West. My last memory of her in 2010 was throwing a large soft ball back and forth to help with her eyesight. She wasn’t taking difficulties sitting down!

There is something about a persons chair when they are alive too. I’ve sat down in a kitchen only to spring up and move knowing I’d sat in my hosts chair! Enter a room and their are clues as to which chairs or places on a sofa are free and which are not. I miss those clues sometimes (perhaps often) and then when I realize it’s not so easy to shift. Where I’ve been staying in Montana there was a rocking chair by the wood stove which had it’s own presence. It was both somebody’s chair and anybody’s chair and the chair once occupied where the cat would sit! The home was both somebody’s and anybody’s too.  A welcoming open-arm kind of  place. I’m so grateful for my time there.

And here I am back at Shasta Abbey, returning to the room I have been staying in since September. Glad to have traveled and glad to be back. Glad to be resting, as chance would have it, in my long gone teacher’s recliner.

Anna’s Not True Story

The backdrop for a local production of The King and I
For the local production of The King and I

This morning a local congregation member showed us around the local theater where he works making props, helping to stage productions and generally looking after the building. The whole place is largely staffed by volunteers and the players are all local and unpaid. Currently playing is The King and I and the painting of the Buddha as the backdrop for the production could not be missed. The staging area is ’tiled’ with copies from Anna’s diary, she is the ‘I’ of The King and I and, let it be known, that in actual fact she was not romantically involved with the King. Not at all. It is recorded that Anna (Anna Leonowens) was regarded by the King as ‘difficult’. That her story turned into something quite unlike her true one is as it is and very many people have cavorted across dance floors to the strains of some of the hit songs. Shall – We – Dance…one, two, three,  On a bright cloud of music shall we fly? And so on – so unlike Anna’s true story.

This post is for several woman I’ve known for many years whose lives are coming to a close, relatively soon. One wrote her unedited life story some years ago and sent it to me. It was a way to remember, embrace and let go of her long life. And move on, which she did. The writing remains with me for safe keeping it’s a story of love and loss, adventure and intrigue, joy and sadness and quite a lot of fun too. She loved to tell of her time dancing on stage in a theater in south Manchester. I’ll not note the name of the group here as I’d give her away, photographs taken at the time show her as a lovely bright girl dressed to the nines.

Seeing Is Believing

Known as the Backbone of the World by the Blackfeet Tribe
Known as the Backbone of the World by the Blackfeet Tribe

The other day three of us drove from Whitefish in Western Montana over the Marias Pass to Browning in Eastern Montana with a van full of food for the Blackfeet Foodbank as well as bags of warm clothing. This is a regular fortnightly run one of my hosts has done for several years – as he says there are a lot of people behind getting the van filled with food and clothing and still he reliably makes the journey winter and summer alike. And what a journey! Thankfully the weather was good, the roads were clear of snow and the temperature was a bit above freezing making the journey an easy one.

I’d not ventured out of Western Montana over the Continental Divide into the vast open expanses of Eastern Montana. The Rockies rising into the sky in white jagged spikes and spines are frankly improbable – seeing is to believe them real. We drove along the Eastern edge of Glacier National Park before the steady climb to Marias Pass where the flattened terrain gradually turned from lush and green to scrubby and dry in a matter of a few miles. Then the road leads out to reveal the vast arid appearing plains with Browning scattered below. We had entered the Blackfeet Indian Reservation with Browning the seat of government for the Blackfeet. I’m conditioned by the films I’ve watched, romantic scenes of indians  riding bareback, tepees and open fires, head dresses and dancing. Well yes, along with the guns, bows and arrows and bloodshed.

Now to press reset and see for myself the conditions under which these noble people live now. I’m still processing as they say. I’ve not found it easy to write about the Foodbank run and the window we briefly looked through onto the lives of those who benefit from what we brought. Not pity, not guilt, not any of the kind of emotion one might imagine in oneself on encountering modern rural poverty first hand, especially poverty of the people native to the land. Poverty of a people who predate the explorers and the cowboys and soldiers, by centuries. I’d say sad-grief, a great grief has lingered in me these past couple of day. I will remember particularly the two native women who helped lug the heavy boxes of bread and bags of potatoes etc. into the store-room. I’ll remember the words Native Pride embroidered in bright colours on the back of their jackets.

The return journey was absolutely breath-taking with the Rockies spreading across the horizon. Again, seeing is believing. The photograph does not do the mountains justice. And for railway enthusiasts the nearly 100 mile track from Whitefish to Browning is….historic.


Barb and Barb with loaves.
Barb and Barb with loaves.
Where I am staying two woman friends are baking bread to give away as gifts to just about everybody they know in the area. They started early at around 7.30 am and now at midday it’s looking like all the dough has been made and most of it baked. They are obviously enjoying each others company and there’s much laughter and reminiscing. It is quite a production and they have been doing this faithfully for 24 years!

They have kept a diary which includes news of who’s around, children and then later as they have grown to adulthood, their boyfriends. Recorded – the cat eaten on the porch by a Mountain Lion, their resolutions which have remained much the same. More laughter and merriment. Their highs and lows shared in diary form now read aloud and remembered with sometimes laughter and sometimes serious and thoughtful silences. One woman remembers with a wistful glance. Not many birthings, lots of deaths though.

I’ve been reading a book recommended to me some time ago called The Gift by Lewis Hydes. Of course the ‘holiday season’ is a time of gift giving. I’ve been looking at ‘things’, gloves, boots, coats and the like and imagining letting my parents know what I’d like for Christmas. With no present giving parents alive now I may well purchase a few things on their behalf, with the money they left me. I’ll give myself gifts. I think that counts as gifts.

Now the gift tags are being written and the loaves bagged…Remember when I made my (very elderly) mother seal all of the bags?. The whole process is obviously brings so much for these two women before the bread reaches receiving hands and anybody and everybody in the house gets drawn into the process. Perhaps I’ll venture into the kitchen and start the clean-up. By the end of the day all the loaves have been delivered.