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8-14-05  - Sabbatical Update #6 - Tassajara Believe it or not! and other stuff.

More on the fire

Yesterday I told about that fire up the road which could have been a disaster. I'm planning on calling the Cal. Div. of Forestry to see what happened to the guy who caused it and made sure it was put out. They probably have an official report. It may even be on the Internet now. I hear he was a little weird. My son Clay says that Alexis is the Tassajara student whom the guy alerted. Alexis lives in the old gatehouse on the road in by the upper garden and had awakened, couldn't go back to sleep, and was reading with a light on when the guy knocked frantically on his door and called out. When asked why he so fearlessly charged the fire to put it out, the guy said that he'd rather die than start a forest fire. It's so dry down there and so much dead crinkly stuff on the ground. It's a sort of miracle there was no out of control forest fire. Or, we could call it, a Tassajara believe it or not!

Constructive suggestions

When I'm at Tassajara I always see things I think need to be tended to, sometimes overdoing it and making certain staff members visibly cringe when they see our paths are about to collide. So I try to limit myself and in this spirit, will mention two such items I brought to some people's attention on this trip.

One is not new. I think it is time to get rid of kerosene lighting, past time. I think Tassajara still has so much kerosene lighting because of a normal institutional phenomena in this case called by me ZC slow and because of nostalgia and tradition. The outside lamps would be easy to replace in the summer at least with cheap and self-contained lamps. Check out this Solar Illumination site which is only one of many sources for these products. Replacing all the indoor kerosene lamps presents a bigger problem. A little bit of this has been done but I think total conversion should be a goal and minimizing kerosene lighting should be a policy.

Kerosene, as used at Tassajara, is dirty and dangerous. It causes marked air pollution indoors and out. I'll bet that could be tested pretty easily. It presents a real fire danger - heck, the Great Fire of Chicago was started by a kerosene lamp although we have no cows - and I've talked to people who have both cut and burned themselves on the lamp chimneys - though that's not much of a problem as far as I'm concerned. I developed an allergy to kerosene in Japan that was probably made possible by years of my own purposeful abuse of kerosene while a student at Tassajara. I often stayed up studying at night with blankets over the windows and many kerosene lamps going for light and heat. So that's what I have to say about that - down with kerosene!

The other change I suggested was to make the paths to the creek from the baths less hazardous. I think there should be removable railings that go all the way into the creek and steps built with care and human frailty in mind. Clay goes down there at night and I join him and I crawl at the end of the decent. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen. At least there should be signs on the men's and women's side that clearly warn people or saw it's closed. If I was director there, which I have been, I would make that a top priority. My apologies.

To balance these complaints, I applaud the new cabins down near the pool. They are beautiful inside and out and just the right feel. Also, the new look to the coffee and tea area is great and the cement slab there made cleaning the dish shack much easier. The new cabinets were attractive and functioned well. Bravo. Also, all the people were perfect saints whom I miss.


While at Tassajara I interviewed a couple of people. There's always someone or two there from the old days. The first interview was with Earl Hartman, Blanche's son. He never met Suzuki Roshi but I want to interview the whole family about their history. There is herein a neat interview with Blanche and Lou and an article about them from the SFZC's newsletter sangha-e!; however, I wish to add to that and have talked to their daughters Trudy and Mitzi about doing interviews and they're game with that but I didn't know how the boys, Earl and Joe, felt.

Earl was sitting at a table near the coffee area when I approached him. He was kicking himself for not having allowed for the possibility that there would be room for him and his family to stay - Tassajara is usually booked up - but there was a cabin empty that night. Alas, they'd just come in for the day and for some reason couldn't stay. He said he could talk for a while and agreed I could record it, but he had to do it right then as they were going to the Narrows soon. I said I couldn't because I had to do guest lunch dishes but then it turned out there was no hot water in the dish shack so I couldn't do them till the heat exchange with the hot sulfur water worked and I had my digital recorder right there in my shoulder bag for some reason so we talked for about an hour. I have to send the tape to Liz Tuomi to transcribe along with one from Vera Dalenberg. But anyway, I was happy about that and the interview will be on this site at some point in the future. And it's unusual for the water to go out. Another Tassajara miracle, or, another Tassajara believe it or not!

The second interview was with Haruyoshi Kusada Sensei, an 84 year old Japanese Jodo Shinshu priest whom Taigen Dan Leighton introduced me to. Kusada came to the US in 1961 and met Shunryu Suzuki now and then at Japanese American festivities. He was with a Japanese American named Ken Kaji. I took notes on this interview. Maybe I can get to it later today. We'll see. It was pretty interesting - and moving. John Sumser, who drove Clay and me in, said it was the most moving story he'd ever heard. The hardest part to believe or not though I'll not mention till I transcribe the notes.

I keep calling what I do collecting oral history but I really hate to call this interviewing oral history because it gets written down and also because I do find printed matter that's an interesting part of this history. People give me things they've written and there are excerpts from books.

When I'm at Tassajara I always think of doing a book called _Tassajara Stories_ which would include interesting stories from the Suzuki days and since and stuff from before - not dharma stories, weird stuff, interesting stuff, funny stuff.

I really love going through all the old newspaper clippings about Tassajara and think at least there could be a nifty little book for guests to buy there. I worry about those scrapbooks getting lost and wonder if they're all backed up and think it would be good to have the old news accounts and the oral history tapes all properly archived and I think of making that a project of and tell myself to get to that fundraising and get someone hired to write grant proposals for some of this stuff. Actually I remember now that one woman whose name I forget put a lot of time into getting the old news stories together and interviewed people, especially one old guy, adn she has copies but I don't know of how much of it.

Print on Demand

While at Tassajara, I read the brief and obscure _DT Suzuki. A Biography_ by A. Irwin Switzer that is nowhere available now that I can find on the Internet and I thought that it should be available and that I'd like to get a print on demand book service going to make a lot of out-of-print Buddhist and other books available to the public, at least the reading public.

Of course I started thinking about that as a way to get my two out of print books available again, but I've been thinking about lots of other books too and the cool thing about print on demand is no store and no inventory. I talked with people a lot at Tassajara about starting a store like that on the Internet. I already have it started so to speak but it's just in its experimental and earliest developmental stage now with three t-shirts two political and one  for my son's metal band. However, there are two Buddhist t-shirts on the way. I see the store as making books, CDs, and t-shirts and other novelties available.

I have some CDs in mind - Suzuki Roshi lectures of course though that's up to the ZC and Richie Domingue's dharma music  though that's up to PZI. Another would be to market a rather interesting dharma CD with chanting and music and excerpts from lectures that a German student at Tassajara named Ayla created. Then there is music I've made in the past, some of which is a bit bearable. Anyway, my idea of what to do with the print on demand store is to put up products as I can and learn as I go how to do it and let the list of products grow. Some products would help to support and my various projects all under the name of Chadwick Industries - no, that name won't do. The profit from other products would go to other worthy causes though maybe there would be a way for Cucumber Amalgamated (no, not that either) to get a cut. Details. Anyway, it's not like a store with a lot of investment. We'll see what happens. Investors welcome.

Back to Tassajara Believe It or Not! - three more items I found most delightful.

1 - I walked up to a student whom I know pretty well and who was there for ten days like Clay and me and asked the time and he looked at his watch and said it's ten till five and I pointed out that his watch read twenty till five and he said "Oh, that's because I always keep it ten minutes slow." That blew my mind - I couldn't believe it. He said it helped to keep him going at a leisurely pace and he said it like it was good advice. Seemed downright un-American to me. I'd never met anyone in my life who purposely kept a timepiece slow - fast yes, lots of people do that - but slow, wow. Then I started to point it out to other people when he was around and I think I've made him self conscious about it. Maybe he'll stop doing it. I'd feel bad about that. I think I won't mention it anymore and try to be discreet when I glance at his watch to see if it's still set behind the time. Better late than... than rushing ahead of oneself I guess. Tassajara believe it or not!

2 - Greg, the head of the cabin crew at Tassajara has a skill that I really appreciate. I don't think that any others appreciate it as much as me because I'm the only one I've seen make a fuss about it so maybe you won't either, but I think it's remarkable. Maybe it's because I'm so poor in this regard. So, what he can do really really well is - word jumbles. Whenever a new SF Chronicle arrives I go to the section with the word jumble, inconveniently recently placed with the classifieds. It's also got the bridge column which is my favorite part of any newspaper - but that's another story and this is Greg's word jumble story. So I get the word jumble and then I find some people I want to impress, often just one person but once I did it with his whole cabin crew during their morning work meeting - he didn't choke. I walk up to Greg and, if he has time which he usually does, I thrust the newspaper at him opened and folded to the word jumble.

Now for those who need to be reminded, here's a sample word jumble:





Un-jumbled, those are vein, icing, guzzle, racquet.

The word jumble in the chronicle has five or six words and my impression is that they're harder and longer on average than in the list above. Then there's a riddle with a little cartoon, the answer to which comes from letters chosen from the darker squares in the blank squares to the side the jumbled words in which the aspiring word-un-jumbler has written the correct order of the letters. The riddle could be, for instance, "Why was the Zen monk in the dark?" and the answer could be "Because he _ _ _   _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _." And you'd fill it in to read "Because he was not enlightened."

Greg does the word jumble more than just quickly. He reads the answers out like they were already written into the blank squares. He pauses about as much as I do when I read - like to breathe or because I've stumbled over a word or gotten distracted by a stray thought. But pretty much he just reads it out. He says it's his one skill but the cabins look very clean to me. Tassajara believe it or not!

3 - Lastly, I report a strange event that happened while Ayla (see above a few paragraphs), Clay and I stood in the coffee and tea area (see even more paragraphs above). This was a once in a lifetime happening. Don't take my word for it - ask Ayla, ask Clay.

Whenever I'm at Tassajara I compulsively restock the glass mugs used by students and guests for tea and coffee. It's an old habit from having run the dining room for the first four years when staff was many fewer people. There are two sliding drawers (new this year and quite attractive and highly functional), one above the other, for the racks of glass mugs.

Ayla, Clay, and I were standing right next to each other talking. I had a rack in my hands - most of the glasses were gone from it - seven were left. It had been below but I'd replaced it with a full rack and was about to individually take the cups from this almost empty rack and put them in with the other rack below that was almost full. In order to do so I placed the rack down on the counter above the drawers.

Some of the aforementioned rack was hanging over the edge of the counter and above the new hard cement slab (which made the whole area so much easier to clean up - but I've already said that earlier in this report). Problem was that I placed the rack down with too much of its weight hanging over the edge, thus ignoring a basic law of physics. The rack started to tip over, to fall and when I tried to grab it I just knocked it down catapulting its contents toward Ayla, Clay, me, and the hard cement floor below. We all three braced for the sound of shattering glass. Time seemed to pause and the air was full of cups - enough it seemed to me to confuse a veteran juggler.

We kept waiting. It seemed that time had started again - people were talking. But no broken glass, no crashing or even tinkling at our feet. That reminds me - when I was very small that's what we in my family called peeing - tinkling. But this use of tinkling is another onomatopoeic usage of the same word. Back to the point - there was no sound of glass striking cement. A miracle had happened.

I looked at my accomplices in the miraculous. We replayed what had just happened. Each of us had a cup in our hands, instinctively caught, which we silently placed back in the rack.  And each of us had had a cup bounce off of our bodies and back into the rack. And I'd hit one with an elbow which acted like a tennis racquet lobbing a ball over the net into the court. I'd played tournament tennis when I was a kid and hadn't made a shot this good in decades. In one second we'd prevented all seven glasses from fulfilling their catapulted trajectories, had instinctively caught and bounced them back where they belonged. We savored the moment, agreed there would never be another like it, and then returned to our conversation as I placed the rack squarely back some on the counter and continued putting the cups in the rack below. Tassajara believe it or not!

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