summer camp

Back from Zen camp. What an amazing thing it is, to sit perfectly still and in silence for sixteen hours a day. Total reboot of the system. Of course, you’re not just sitting. There’s some walking involved, and chanting, and eating, and meetings with the teacher, and even some physical work as well. In fact, it all seems quite busy, so much so that you start to wonder how you are ever going to manage to return to your civilian existence and fit in all the stuff that life demands.

The retreat takes place at a Church of Christ Bible camp on Samish Island, Washington, and the first thing you notice as you come up the drive are forty litle identical brown cabins, laid out in a perfectly symmetrical grid pattern on the flat green lawn. Each cabin is intended to hold four children and is equipped accordingly, with two sets of bunk beds (mattresses encased in plastic, just in case), a folding chair, a astebasket, and a broom. Since there are fewer than forty of us, each meditator has his or her own cabin. Our zendo, or meditation hall, is a basketball court, and my cushion was on the foul line just up from center court.

The camp overlooks a spectacular tidal basin and an improbably high, humped island to the west, beyond which the sun sets. There's a great blue heron rookery in the forest, just inland from the mud flats, and when the tide recedes, the birds are drawn from the treetops onto the shallows, where they stand on the gleaming mud, at dawn, or dusk, or under the moon, perfectly still, waiting for morsels of marine life to scurry by to catch and regurgitate to into the wide and waiting mouths of their fledglings.

In the forest, you know you are nearing the rookery by the ruckus the young birds make, a Jurassic cacophony, as dissonant as the fledglings are ungainly. They stick their necks out of the tattered nests and turn their beaks resolutely toward the sea. When one of the parent birds makes its pterodactyl-like approach, they screech with wild and uncontainable excitement. The fledglings are huge, and down below, on the forest floor, the underbrush is splattered white with excrement, and specks of feather and cottonwood down drift through the air.

In his daily dharma talk, our teacher, Norman Fischer, quotes a lovely Rilke poem, with a line that goes something like, “Even a bird must fall before she learns to fly.” This must be a startling thought, if you are a fledging heron.

Meanwhile, as I was sitting on my cushion, the world continued without me. Here’s a very encouraging update from the meat world, about McDonalds’ new anti-antibiotic policy, sent to me by Larry Haveson. Thanks, Larry. Let’s hope this is real.

And if you're interested in the Starbucks vs. Haidabucks story, there's more information and some cool pictures of the interior of the cafe here.

Thanks to everyone who sends email. It really helps.