Tassajara Stories


previous --------------- next

last edit 9-20


If you go to Tassajara in the summer you may notice the Steller's jays - closely related to blue jays. We called them blue jays. They're not a nice bird. They run off the song birds and mainly squawk instead of sing.

Because of these aggressive birds it's not wise in the summer to eat outside anywhere near the center of Tassajara which is where they tend to congregate, perched on branches around the courtyard waiting for a careless student or guest. Often heard guests complain their lunch has been vandalized. I've seen the jays swoop down and snatch an apple slice out of someone's hand. Edward Brown bout had a fit when one hit a sandwich he was eating, got off with some of it, the rest on the ground. They are one of the reasons we eat in a screened in area in the summer - the flies too. We used to talk about how to get rid of them. A farmer from Greenfield said the thing to do is, when they first show up in the spring, shoot one and the rest will fly off and not return. We couldn't do that though some of us would have if allowed. So people have learned to live with them, and in some cases, appreciate them, or submit.

When we first got to Tassajara in 1967, the jays weren't dominant. I don't even remember them from then. Pigeons were. About twenty of them lived there. That was around the time Herb Caen dubbed them "rats with wings" in his famous daily column in the SF Chronicle. I don't know what type of pigeons they were. I bet if I called up Sterling Bunnell he'd remember. Yvonne Rand would probably know. She's a birder. Bob Beck said that pigoens where used by previous owners to communicate with the outside world when the road was blocked. They weren't aggressive in the same way as jays but they weren't afraid of us. They'd gather around our feet on the long gone old back deck and eat all the cat food and anything down there. We couldn't leave things out unattended but they wouldn't hop up on a picnic table rudely while we were sitting at it, so we ate outside then. To me they exhibited a sort of creepy greediness.

I found them to be pests when I was running the dining room and decided to get rid of them. I don't think I had to ask anyone due to their general unpopularity but I always shared everything with everyone and always had a million ideas of what should be done so even if I did tell an officer they probably just went sure sure hoping I'd go away and not have another bright idea. So one morning after guest breakfast was over and the dining room all clean, I put out a jumbo cardboard box propped up with a stick, holding a string tied to it, a plate of dried cat food inside, and waited. Not long. They were really stupid. One by one caught them all, put them in other large boxes, and before time to set up guest lunch the task was done. After guest lunch cleanup loaded the boxes with all of them in it in the back of the shopping truck and drove them out to Carmel Valley. They got back about the same time I did.

I talked to former Tassajara owner Bob Beck about it. He said they were homing pigeons and that they had been used to carry messages in and out of Tassajara years back. Or maybe that was other pigeons. I'll ask Sterling what he thinks.

Later in the summer I got the job of driving the six ton flat bed four hours to Dos Palos to Koda Brothers Farm to get several tons of brown rice. some white, and some bags of gluton rice for baking and making mochi. I brought some friends with me, the pigeons re-caught and boxed gingerly for the trip. Dos Palos is between I 5 and 99 north of Fresno and the road there through Los Banos has a famous windy stretch that was really acting up, making me fear a Volkswagon bus ahead would blow over. Big box trucks do that there. There are billboard size warning signs. At the point that I was furthest away from Tassajara, I pulled over, slid the back door up, brought the boxes down, and released the pigeons into a new wind-blown realm. I was about a hundred forty road miles from Tassajara and seventy-three as the pigeon flies. We never saw them again.

In the Zen in America section of Sunseed, filmed at Tassajara in the summer of 1970, Suzuki said:

If we try to listen to something wonderful [laughs] -- it means that to ignore the bird which we are listening now. You know, when you think Buddha said something wonderful and I must find out what he meant, then your mind is directed to Buddha’s words [pointing up with his right hand], so you don’t hear the birds [pointing left with his left hand, and birds are chirping loudly]. So always we sacrifice various actual reality because we stick to something. And we stick to something which looks like very good [laughs], but that is not so good. If we have this kind of attitude, when we listen to words or teaching even, we lose our life and maybe our whole life will be sacrificed because of some special teaching. So I always rather to enjoy, you know, our life right now without sacrificing.

When I heard that I thought I should be more accepting of the birds at hand.

Birds at Tassajara by William Sterling starts on p.13 of this Wind Bell - a much more positive approach to our avian friends.

previous --------------- next