I am finally on break from a whole-self-in grad program that has left me with little time for much that I love in life and little in the way of nocturnal dreams. It has taken me four days to settle back into noticing what my body needs, the kind of books I want to read, what it means to be present with my son and husband, what it feels like to sit for hours on the couch of a friend and let thoughts rush in unpredictable eddies that suddenly vanish and reappear as an open desert or seedy urban bar. I am here alone now with a mind free to wander, wondering how my loved ones have grown and changed over the four months I haven’t had time to pay attention. I reflect on a Thanksgiving that got me to the finish line but lament that slow time with friends like that is so rare. I find myself exhausted and most in need of sleep in front of the fire my husband built, one split log at a time, but I am thankful for this solid chair that allows me to write these thoughts, thankful for this cup of yerba buena tea harvested from this mountain. I am thankful that I am right where I need to be with the book I need to be reading.
The title: Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate. It was given to me by a soulful friend as a holiday gift. It explores a woman’s relationship to the natural and cultivated world through gardening and Zen practice. Though the author’s life has taken on a form much different from my own, parts of the story feel like mine. In reading what it means to commit to a life of Zen, I recognize why I have not. My desire to keep one foot in the door of our mad culture and a connection to this crazy country in all its mess persists. I know I will always be troubled by the problems of living and dying and the suffering that comes between, and yet, like Wendy Johnson, I crave a way of being that transcends—more time to meditate, more heartfelt conversation, more time in nature and more time for cultivating a garden. My path meanders now away from these things that bring me so much joy and comfort; for lack of time, it has to. But I am thankful that I know what I am missing, that we sometimes can’t have it all. I’m thankful that I know the door never closes to the practices that matter most to maintaining our truest selves, whatever they might be.
In the year I fell in love with my husband, he shared with me that he believed in staying put. Committing to loving him did not mean a commitment to place, but he made it known it would take much for him to be convinced that a move from the mountain and valley where we know the trees, the water, the sky, fire, air, and the animals and folks who breathe it was the right thing for us. This year, for my education, we deemed it right. We are now living ninety miles north of the place we know so well. I am learning from knowledgeable, skilled, and good-hearted people, but the world we share is lacking. Our family has given up cooking on fire, gathering with long-time friends for sing-alongs, sloshing around in imperfect snow for whiskey-tinged play with ancient cedars that offer a simple tonic of their own. I’ve long known that a life spent in the rooms and halls of sterile buildings is not for me, but now I really know. Gary Snyder said this (and more and more I get it):
Don’t move. Stay still. Once you find a place that feels halfway right, and it seems time, settle down with a vow not to move any more. Take a look at one place on earth, one circle of people, one realm of beings over time.
I have a complicated heart that is consistently pulled in opposing directions, but I can say that the place where we’ve lived for the past sixteen years feels halfway right. And yet I doubt I will ever make a vow to stay. I don’t know if the circle of people here will change enough over time that it no longer feels like my place. But despite growing less certain about many things as I grow older, I have gleaned something in these past four months that I needed to know: This is home.
Tonight, that feels big.