Tassajara Stories


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last edit 9-25


Dianne and Suzuki kneeled facing each other on the tatami in his cabin. She pulled a piece of paper out from the sleeve of her robe and placed it before him. It was a drawing she'd done of a curious colorful creature with three legs and stars for eyes. He crouched over it commenting and reminding her of an excited child.

Suzuki asked Dianne if she was missing Margaret who'd been in the city and she said she missed her a lot. He said he should keep them apart but it was too painful to do so. A number of times he said that he was not a good teacher for Dianne - that he treated her too much like his granddaughter and not like a student. He told Silas in the city to let Margaret come down and suggested Dianne call her to let her know. Margaret did come for the summer and that worked out fine. They'd grown up some and weren't disruptive - not that Suzuki cared.

Dianne found a baby hummingbird on the ground. She was living in the dorm and put it in the window in a little box, fed it sugar and water, and called it Squeaky. It only lasted a few days. She came to me crying and I tried to comfort her. Still crying, she found Suzuki in his garden and told him. He was most sympathetic. She asked him where did Squeaky go? He said he didn't know.


Dianne hadn't been feeling good for a couple of weeks. She had an ache in her stomach that got worse and worse. She was working with me in the dining room and finally I had to tell her to go stay in bed. Suzuki was giving talks and she got too sick to go into the zendo so she sat on a chair outside. The next talk she was in too much pain to even do that and returned to her room. Some people urged her to go see Dr. Wenner and others told her stay away from Western medicine and keep fasting and it would be healed. She'd been partially fasting for weeks and totally for days. Suzuki was concerned. I was concerned. We all should have been more concerned. Another example of us not dealing well with an important situation, a young community without a lot of experienced seniors in a time of great mistrust of authority and the norm. However there was enough trust of Bill Wenner to tip the scales. He was called and he insisted she be brought to the hospital immediately.

She went straight into surgery, Wenner the surgeon. He discovered an abscess on her right fallopian tube and intestine. It was the size of cantaloupe and it broke during the operation. She was in the hospital for five days and then recuperated at Wenner's for over a week - all free of charge, no hospital bill at all.

I visited with her at the Wenner's on a day off. Dianne said Suzuki had come to the hospital and that she'd been pretty out of it on the combination of the prior fasting and morphine.

"When he came in the room I had been not in the room - I was on a cliff and there were big birds flying around me and I was feeling them fly and then I saw Suzuki-roshi at the door and he walked in and said hello and I came back to see him. He came over and said he wanted to see my scar and said that he'd pay me a dime to see it. So I showed him my scar. I wondered if he was putting a blessing on it. Okusan was with him - she stood by the window a lot of the time. They stayed ten minutes or so and he sort of played with me and then she said they should go and he said to come back soon to Tassajara."

The next year Dianne visited Suzuki In the hospital after his gall bladder operation - busting in against his wife's wishes. He told her that he didn't take any pain medication and tried not to sleep during the day so he'd be tired enough to sleep at night because it did hurt a lot and it was hard. She brought Suzuki a dime to see his scar and massaged his toes. There was a man next to him beyond a curtain who'd had an operation and was in a lot of pain. Dianne sat with him a while too. He told her he was impressed  Suzuki wasn't taking any medication.

Bill Wenner told me that Dianne would have died if we'd waited any longer to bring her in. He said that we had to have somebody there with medical training and some authority. Another student had almost died from an illness. People were accusing him behind his back of slacking off when he kept staying in bed. When he got a fever that stopped. When his temperature went to 106 one night we realized he was on the verge and got him to the hospital. Bill said not to wait that long to act. He urged us to rest more, especially when a flu set in, saying that trying to keep working with a flu prolongs it. And he told us to keep resting till a flu had been gone for three days. He made a point that people rest after a head injury.


I was a recipient of that suggestion. Bill Laws and I were among students planting pine trees. We'd dig a hole with pick and shovel then put in the sapling with a stake and pound it in with a small sledge and sometimes whacking with the flat blade of the shovel. I was squatting down holding the stake when Bill came down hard on it with the shovel which slid off the stake to bring the side of the shovel smashing onto the top of my head and cutting a gouge in it. About knocked me out. He helped me up and walked me back to the center sporting my blood-soaked face and once white tee shirt. Freaked people out. I loved it. I was washed off and put straight to bed. Wenner was called. He said someone should stay with me a while and not let me go to sleep. Katagiri was there then and came to visit. I apologized to him for being so out of it and babbling. Jerry Fuller was sitting with me and said that was nothing unusual for me. I got to stay in bed for the rest of that day and the next and got some good reading done.

After one injury there was no question about taking me to the hospital right away. We were cutting up a tree that had fallen in the creek. I was handing up the segments to someone on top of the stone retaining wall by the dining room deck. I was passing up a heavy long piece that was cut at an angle. It was so heavy I could hardly lift it. It slipped out of the hands of the person up top and the sharp end came smashing down like a pile driver onto the top of my foot protected only by the thinness of a rubber boot. I was in shock. They carried me up Cabarga Creek under the bridge and onto the bench of the bridge where I lay down. Dianne was doing grounds then and she brought a vehicle in to get me and drove me to town as we all assumed that my numb foot had multiple broken bones. On the way out we saw an ambulance take off from the meadow where the national park begins.

Stopped by Dr. Wenner's house in the valley to see if he was there. His wife Peggy answered the door, came to the car, gave me a big toke off a hash pipe, and said that Bill was in surgery, a podiatrist was waiting to check me out, and I could be in surgery right away. The podiatrist gently slipped my rubber boot off, felt my foot, went hmm, took an X-ray and reported that there was nothing broken, maybe some tendon damage. I couldn't believe it. He said that the top of the foot and the back of the hand can take enormous blows - thanks to evolution. Learned his prior client was the man in the ambulance that had come off the Tassajara Road. He'd just accidentally shot himself in the foot with a forty-five, was lucky not to loose his foot.

Dianne and I spent that evening with the Wenners. Barbeque outside with cocktails and pot beforehand and then some pot after. Peggy was a nurse and Bill's second wife and that was his hippie marriage. But he was no hippie. Bill was president of the county medical association. He came across as straight and conventional. People didn't realize that he and his teenage kids took acid together. He was also the person who was contacted when someone was having a bad trip. His policy was not to use tranquilizers to bring people down, said that tended to leave them worse off than letting it run its course. The main problem he said was other peoples' alarm and bad vibes. He told a woman whose husband had accidentally taken LSD not to bring him to the hospital but take him to a nice scenic spot with no one to bother them, sit under a tree, show no concern, and let him ride it out.


Dianne went to the city after her operation. Took a room at the SFZC's new City Center. She got a job in a cafeteria. She hated it. She'd come home crying every day.

Her room was over the Suzuki's apartment. One day she came home and was crying hard just before zazen and went to that zazen. Suzuki didn't usually go to the afternoon zazen - just the morning and evening - but he did that day. He got up to walk around with his stick and when he came to her he just rested it gently on her shoulder but didn't hit her which is what the stick is mainly used for. She felt like he'd come just for her. She felt so supported by him.

She had dokusan with Suzuki and told him how miserable she was with her job. He asked what it entailed. Setting, cleaning tables was a lot of it. He told her that when she cleaned the tables she should talk to the them as if they were her friends and tell them how much she enjoyed cleaning them off and hoped they felt better and if she did that she'd feel better at her job. She did it. It worked. She still talks to tables and other inanimate objects. I do too.


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