Friday, November 28, 2008


Thanksgiving started out as a work-day with that work-day gesture towards a lie-in, the 4.50am wake-up bell. Work ended at 1.15pm and after a break to clean and polish ourselves there was a short service at 2.15pm. This took place in the dining-room before an altar decorated with baskets of produce and tokens (mainly photographs) of people and things for which the residents are grateful.

Thanksgiving dinner then followed at 2.30pm. This year the kitchen spurned the accumulated years of tradition and replaced nutloaf on the menu with an excellent mushroom strudel. This was served with mashed potato, mashed sweet potato, crispy fried kale and salad. Dessert was a hearty cheesecake. Vegan, non-mushroom and other alternatives festooned a side-table.

Kathy, the work leader, was able to join us for both the work period and dinner. She has her left arm in a sling after falling from a ladder last week and breaking the arm in two places.

In the evening the dining-room was converted into a cinema for a dharma-event double feature; Amongst White Clouds and Enlightenment Guaranteed. This started late as four laptops had to be tried before we found one that had a working DVD player and would work with the projector.

The winds of change blow gently through the valley carrying the sounds of laptops from room to room. Can wi-fi be far behind?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some links...

Here is a selection of Simon Moyes' photographs of the construction work.

And here is Keith Baker's account of his time at Tassajara helping to move pipes.

Soft rains falling

It's raining softly but steadily here with the NWS radar showing that we're getting about 0.1inches per hour. While some Tassajara residents are looking forward to a sterner test of the new defence walls, most are grateful that the heavier rains moved to the south of our area.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The trees come down

We were advised that trees close to the creek bed can act as anchors for debris when the waters rise. In particular we were warned that the handful of trees close to the junction of Cabarga and Tassajara creeks posed a threat to the foundations of the dining-room porch. So now they are gone. Did you notice the difference?

We have also been cutting fallen trees in the creek beds into smaller sections that will flow more readily downstream and felling dead trees on the road up to the water plant.

The walls spring up

After the fires many people made donations to Zen Center. Of this money, a large amount has recently been spent on preparing Tassajara to withstand the rains of the next 3 or 4 winters.

A crew from Ventana Engineering lived at Tassajara for the first month of practice period and moved a large number of rocks to construct rock walls and gabions. They filled several thousand sandbags and gravel bags and built berms and swales.

When the sandbags were ready, a group of day labourers commuted from Greenfield to place them. They would arrive at Jamesburg at 6am, climb into one of our Suburbans for the drive to Tassajara, work until 5.30pm and then reverse their journey.

I'll post shots of this work soon.


The seven-day sesshin ended on Wednesday evening with a Shosan ceremony. Thursday was a personal day with a lot of people taking the opportunity to rest after the sesshin. The Abbot, Director and Tanto left for commitments in San Francisco.

Dinner on Thursday was a chinese meal prepared by the Doan Ryo that featured spring rolls produced at an exuberant community rolling festival in the kitchen.

Breakfast this morning offered adzuki bean soup in the second bowl and kimchi in the third.

Boy cat is resting at Jamesburg after a trip to the vet to be neutered.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Some new life on the hills

We were hoping for early and light rain that would enable the ground cover on the hills to flourish. We got the early rain and thankfully it was light but the ground cover has not come back to the hills. As this shot of the hillside below Lime Point shows, the larger vegetation is making a robust comeback but the grasses are totally absent.

The same is true of the hills above Tassajara. This is the hill above the hill cabins and Stone and Pine rooms.

And the hill above the Kaisando and guest cabins.


Tassajara has two new cats. Kitchen and dining-room cats which for now have to be known as Boy Cat and Girl Cat as in a vivid demonstration of Zen Center dysfunctionality they are still nameless after several meetings and one community vote.

Boy Cat having quickly worked out who is the most important being in the kitchen, seizes the Tenzo's chair.

Girl Cat patrolling the courtyard.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Possible problems

While the fires are out, the Ventana will be living with their consequences for several years at least. Some of those consequences may be entirely welcome - many people are looking forward to an abundance of spring wildflowers. Some of the consequences are less welcome, with floods and debris flows posing possible threats to lives and property. The report of the State Enmergency Assessment Team (SEAT) states:

As a result of the fire and the burn severity there is an increased risk for storms to result in flooding, debris torrents, mudsliding and debris flows. As storm intensity increases or as duration rises, there will be an increased risk for the storm to trigger flooding, rockfall, debris torrents, mudsliding and debris flows.

So for example, we can expect an increased water yield of 390% for Tassajara Creek at Tassajara, 1141% for unnamed tributary creek at Tassajara, and unnamed tributary to Church Creek road crossing of 855%.

Lots more water than usual, probably mixed with mud, rocks and logs.

More information:
The CPOA website has links to maps from the State Geological Survey showing projected debris flows and probablities and a Google Earth file of the hazard locations from the SEAT report.
Xasáuan Today has a collection of posts on the aftermath of the fires, for example, here are some maps of the soil burn intensity.
SURCATS has a report on a recent meeting that combined a presentation of the SEAT report with a dsicussion of winter preparation. Although this focuses on the problems confronting the Big Sur residents, many of the dangers discussed are present on the east side of the fire area.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fall and winter

In the wake of the fires, the wilderness area is springing back to life. Green shoots cluster around the burnt skeletons of the trees and bushes.

In the monastery, the quiet of practice period has finally arrived after several weeks of intense work preparing Tassajara for the winter rains. Tangaryo came and went to the sounds of heavy earth-moving equipment. By the time the Ventana Engineering crew left last week, many walls had been built, endless sandbags filled and placed.

The first, gentle, rains have fallen and we have been shown how easily the hills can flow down to the valley floor. Several small slides came down by the pool and lower garden and the creek bottom is black with fire-darkened silt.

In the months to come, we'll try to keep friends and family informed about conditions at Tassajara and to show you some of what we've been doing to prepare for the winter.