of Green Gulch Farm
by Mick Sopko - written in 2002
Shortly before Suzuki Roshi died, he said that we should have a farm as the next step in the development of the community of men, women, families and children that had formed through its continuing Zen practice and especially through the founding of Tassajara. This community of serious students, who really wanted to train in the way that in Asia had been the traditional reserve of monk professionals, was something new to Buddhism. This was not the young, single, male-only monastic institution that had trained Suzuki Roshi, nor was it anything like the traditional lay support-congregation of a Japanese temple, either. For this new student community there was no precedent, no guidelines from traditional Buddhism. Suzuki Roshi accepted it and guided it.
With the help of Huey Johnson (then with the Nature Conservancy), Tom Silk, Greg Archibald and Dick Sanders (George Wheelwright’s lawyer and friend) the virtual gift of Green Gulch to us by Mr. Wheelwright became a fact in the summer of 1972, less than a year after Suzuki Roshi’s death. Unlike our other two centers — Tassajara, which came equipped with cabin space for sixty people and an established income source in the summer guest season, and 300 Page Street, a completely equipped living facility for fifty people — Green Gulch had been a single family ranch with older housing for ranch hands, a barn, and some outbuildings. We were going to have to remodel and build our own facilities, and find a way to pay for them.
Now, 30 years later, we can look back and see what has been done: we’ve created housing for a thriving community of single people and families; transformed the barn into a zendo, then redesigned and seismically retrofitted it; built a kitchen and 100-seat dining room, the Wheelwright Conference Center and Lindisfarne Guest House, an authentic Japanese tea house and tea garden, and numerous workshops and greenhouses. To supply all these buildings with water, electricity and septic lines, we’ve laid enough pipe and conduit for a small town: almost two miles of trenches, three miles of pipe and electrical line, and a 20,000 gallon water tank, with wells, springs and catching basins.
We created a unique Green Gulch practice period and have had 40 of them in the last 20 years. Hundreds of people a year pass through here as guest students, and over the past 10 years we’ve developed a farm apprenticeship summer training program that provides land-conscious people with a singular gateway to our practice. Recently we’ve expanded this idea to form a work practice apprenticeship program that people can apply for and join at any time of the year. Our Buddhist study programs have become broad and varied and are well-attended by both residents and members of the greater sangha. Among the welcome benefits of all these activities is keeping our own viewpoint challenged and fresh.
Outreach also occupies much of our energy: Each Sunday, between 100 and 200 people attend our visitors’ program which is staffed primarily by non-resident supporters; throughout the week we welcome the daily help of many volunteers and continually conduct tours for schools, gardeners and individuals; we regularly host conferences for the Elder Hostel, for bank and university administrators and for lawyers studying mediation; we hold workshops for women, for business people, schoolteachers, artists and those of varied religious traditions; since 1987 we’ve sponsored Family Days several times each year and have a children’s’ lecture one Sunday a month. A chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship has formed here and includes a prison outreach program.
We’ve been honored by the presence and guidance of many teachers over the years, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Katagiri Roshi, Tara Tulku Rimpoche, Maezumi Roshi, Aitken Roshi, Maureen Stuart Roshi, Robert Thurman, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron and Aya Khema. Throughout this time we’ve also been surely guided by our resident teachers, including former Abbots Tenshin Reb Anderson and Zoketsu Norman Fischer.
We’ve learned to weather the storms and transitions that define each season, not only the physical ones that have flooded the valley, cracked and uprooted trees and left us without power, but the more emotional ones like Baker Roshi’s resignation in 1984 and the death of our fellow-residents Suzy Clymer and Jerry Fuller. Many people have been married here and many have gone off to form their own dharma groups or to become teachers, business people, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, doctors, artists or farmers. A number of our children have grown into adulthood and are raising children of their own. Some young men and women have joined our practice periods and sat sesshin beside senior students who had listened in on them when, as toddlers, they slept at home while their parents were sitting in the pre-dawn Zendo.
We formed a land stewardship committee in 1994 to develop a bio-regional awareness in the management of our physical plant. As we construct replacements for our aging student housing we’re considering just how many people our watershed can support. With each passing year we have to spend thousands of dollars to cull the sick, dying and dangerous trees that surround us while considering the implications of every tree we plant to take their place. We’re currently collaborating with the Park Service on a plan to restore the marshland in the lower fields.
And we’ve been farming. Not expertly at first, but we’ve had good teachers from the beginning. Alan Chadwick, who came to us in our first year, infused us with what he would call "imaginative energy", teaching us the fundamentals of his biodynamic and French-intensive style of organic horticulture, and then left for other projects before returning and staying with us during the last six months of his life. Through the introduction and inspiration of our friend and neighbor Yvonne Rand, Harry Roberts, with his diverse expertise in everything from soil agronomy to welding and basket weaving, began living with us and teaching during the last five years of his life. Now Alan's ashes rest under a stone on the south hill, Harry's on the north hill, as though watching together over the valley and people that had received the bequest of their final work.
This is how co-Abbess, Jiko Linda Cutts, remembers the early days:
It was June of 1972 and I had just graduated from Berkeley. I had been living at City Center in San Francisco during this last year and a half of college and now the only thing that I wanted to do was to go to Tassajara. Everyone had to pay for practice period, so I began to look for a job to save up money to fund me for a year. My first day out looking for work I landed what I thought was a great job at a candle shop at Ghirardelli Square. That same evening Yvonne Rand, who I believe was the President of Zen Center, came to my room to ask if I would be willing to go to Green Gulch Farm, which we had just gotten, and be there for the summer on scholarship working in the kitchen. I said yes enthusiastically, and very soon after my parents gave me for a graduation present a year at Tassajara so I didn’t need that candle shop job after all.
There were only five of us who first went out to "homestead" Green Gulch. There were still a few people living here from Synanon, a group that George Wheelwright had explored selling the property to, and that had not worked out. They all left within a few days. Our little band was Bill Lane who was the caretaker, Tommy Issan Dorsey who was the head cook, Ulysses Lowry, Sheila McCarty, and me as the assistant head cook. We sat zazen in what is now the library and Sheila and I shared what is now the student lounge. We had our own bathroom. There were many Fuchsia bushes all over and the humming birds were thick. The banana slugs were also thick and slick and they would climb up the glass doors of the smaller original dining room every night.
From the very first, Sunday was a time for people to come out to Green Gulch. Mr. Banducci grew irises in some of the fields and there were many cows still grazing the hillsides. I remember the feeling of Zen Center having this place as a dream come true. It was unbelievable that this beautiful country property was going to become a practice place. Strangely enough, that very winter of ‘71, I had driven to Davis with Deborah Madison on highway 1 and as we drove past Green Gulch she said, "This is the most beautiful place I have ever seen, I would love to live here." Her dream came true.
In the next few weeks more people came to live there including one family with a baby. I loved cooking with Issan. For the breakfast cereal in the morning he would always throw in a cube of butter because he thought the "kids" would like that. Everyone was a kid to him since he was much older than most of us. Zentatsu Baker came for visits and brought his friends to see the place. I remember him showing Ram Dass around one afternoon, both of them without shirts, wearing Buddhist beads around their necks.
Alan Chadwick came later in the summer and many other people came to work with him as apprentices. We had a wonderful couple who only ate what they could graze in the fields and at mealtime would “juice” fruit at the table leaving tall piles of rind and pulp by their plates. Alan also brought a glorious peacock and peahen couple that roamed freely about the grounds expressing themselves with wails and tails.
Alan Chadwick was like a force of nature. I was quite nervous to be around him because of his intensity and temper. Even then we had a schedule of community work in which the kitchen crew went to work one day a week in the garden. Luckily, when I went, he approved of the way I had sowed a bed and attributed my skill to working in the kitchen where we were used to sprinkling things. Whew! So much of what he said sounded like poetry to me: sharp sand, leaf mold, turf loam.
At the end of the summer I packed my backpack and headed off to Tassajara, returning to Green Gulch 21 years later.
Two hundred years ago the Green Gulch valley was covered by willows, alders, oak and, in the deeper canyons, redwood. Its original inhabitants included the Miwok people, a hunting and gathering culture that lived lightly on the land and shore. Their obsidian blades and arrowheads still turn up as the fields are cultivated each season. In 1838, William Richardson received a Mexican land grant of twenty thousand acres and established what was known as Rancho Sausalito. To help develop the area, he hired Portuguese ranchers and workers from the Azores, who began to settle here and buy land, eventually forming a section of five interlocking dairy ranches of which Green Gulch was one. The strongest land-owner was Constantine Bello, after whom Bello Beach (now Muir Beach) was named. It was a rough and tumble area that was a drop-off point for spirits during prohibition. During the Second World War, bunkers were established on the hills above the beach and enlisted men were billeted in Muir Beach homes.
After the war, George Wheelwright and his wife Hope were driving past Green Gulch Ranch and thought that they’d like to live there. Mr. Wheelwright was an energetic and creative person. He was a physicist and inventor (and was to become a rancher and a literal earth-mover). While teaching physics at Harvard he and his student Harold Land opened up a laboratory together and created what became known as the Polaroid Land camera. During the war, Mr. Wheelwright was a navigator in the Naval Air Force and developed sophisticated navigational devices and systems.
The ranch was owned by Ray Button, a horse trainer. Some of the steep hillside roads and trails that are still in use around Green Gulch were put in by him to help develop the qualities of his gaited horses. What is now the zendo was originally a hay barn and the area below that is currently office space was where horses and eventually cattle were stalled. The Wheelwrights were able to purchase the property and it wasn’t long before the inventor/tinkerer mind of George began to come forward. He decided to raise cattle and began to study the best ways he could do it. Not only did he consult with the Agricultural Extension Services but he also traveled to different countries along the 36th parallel to see what kind of cattle and forage would do well in this environment.
He eventually brought several prize Hereford bulls from England and began to bulldoze the hillsides and seed them with drought-resistant bunch grasses from New Zealand. With the help of his connections to the Army Corps of Engineers he began to bulldoze the valley floor - straightening out the creek, creating an interlocking system of ponds and reservoirs including an underground dam in the 3rd field, filling in the lower wetlands and damming it with a levee to prevent salt water from coming back into the fields.
The cabin on the eastern hill overlooking Green Gulch, which we call Hope Cottage, is really “Hope’s Cottage,” and was built by one of Hope’s sons, Turo Richardson, as an engineering project. The elder Wheelwrights used it as a periodic retreat from the hard work on the ranch. If an emergency required their presence down below, one of the children would ring the railroad bell to summon them back down.
Lou Hartman is the husband of co-Abbess Blanche Hartman and is head chiden [takes care of alters] at the City Center. These are some of his recollections:
My memories of the early days of Green Gulch cluster around the zendo. The first time I saw Mr. Wheelwright's old barn, there were still a few bales of hay where the altar now stands. But even then I had a sense that the space which surrounded me would support my zazen in different ways than the zendos at Tassajara or Page Street. This expectation was realized when the first winter storms made the identity of inside and outside a palpable experience, Sometimes more than wind came in through the cracks. Torrential winter rains were common in the early days. One morning — before the tea house was built — the parking lot culvert jammed, and when I stepped off the tan to do kinhin, I was in mud up to my ankles.
Cows came in too. Boyd Stewart used to run cattle up on the hills and once, during a sesshin, someone left a gate open, and when I went into the gaitan [now Cloud Hall] it was full of Black Angus cows. Opening and closing a black umbrella herded them out again but not without a few mementos of their visit. The gaitan was also a place for storage of tools and work boots and the general clutter associated with a farm. The floor was full of knot holes and when Harry Roberts, our live-in agronomist, began getting his crutches stuck, I nailed the ends of tomato juice cans over the holes.
Everybody used to work in the fields in those days. After zazen I'd serve hot rolls and cocoa to get people through the work before breakfast. The first year or so, before the cabbage butterflies found us, we raised cabbages so big they couldn't be sold from the cart down at Tam Junction. So Vanja Palmers showed us how to make sauerkraut.
When the dining room in the main house was enlarged, the plan was to return the kitchen to its original location – what is now the small dining room. The idea was that in the interim we‘d cook in the kitchen of the abbot's house. I said it would be a lot easier to run a gas line out to where the stove was in the car port. "There's a sink out there already and we'll camp out for the summer." We were still there when the rains came and since the drain for the back area was right under the kitchen table, the cooks had to work in knee boots. Bit by bit, walls were built, but no matter how often the tenzo asked for a floor there was always something more important to do. Until one day Charlotte Selver came in, fell down and sprained her ankle. Within hours, Ken Sawyer and the carpenter crew were hard at work. (Charlotte and Charles lived in the bunkhouse then and some mornings they made themselves bacon for breakfast and the aroma blended with the smell of incense).
When the densho bell arrived there was no master plan to say where it should be hung, so it was left suspended in its crate up by the shops. During stormy weather it wasn’t always possible for the shoten to hear the han for the robe chant. One day there was a long wait. Then we heard the fukudo, Jerry Fuller, run through the gaitan and yell, “Hit it!”
The old barn for me maintained an organic connection between meditation and the fields. The fields blended into the ocean and the sound of the waves and the smell of the rain surrounded my zabuton with a space that was not bounded by the zendo walls. My last memory of that zendo was sitting afternoon zazen with only one other person – David Lueck, I think – and listening to the altar lamps tinkle in the aftershocks of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which, without actually demolishing the zendo, set in motion other forces that led to its transformation and dissolved a space that once contained all the barns in which I used to take refuge during my youthful wanderings through New England.
After developing cancer, Hope passed away in the late 60’s, and Mr. Wheelwright decided he wanted to give away the land on which as a couple they shared so much special time. A number of non-profit and helping organizations were considered over the succeeding years but nothing quite worked out until, through the effort and support of Huey Johnson and the Nature Conservancy, Tom Silk, Dick Saunders and Richard Baker, 115 acres of the Green Gulch Ranch were sold to Zen Center for a small sum and with conditions. The two main requirements we have to honor in perpetuity are to maintain a working farm – this is part of Mr. Wheelwright and Hope’s request – and in the spirit of the surrounding Golden Gate National Recreation Authority property, open to the public for trails. Zen Center had at this time already proved itself with Tassajara as an able steward of an inholding surrounded by wilderness. This was a major reason why we were allowed to have another inholding in the midst of public parkland.
After selling Green Gulch, Mr. Wheelwright was still an active presence on the land. He came over almost every day just to be here and also to give advice, which most of the time was truly needed and appreciated by the young urban farmers and land managers. Even at age 70 he was an active person, taking up skiing and rowing daily from Belvedere to Angel Island. He got along well with both Baker Roshi and Harry Roberts. He became a regular fixture at the weekly Sunday public lectures in the old barn, having his reserved chair in the corner. He didn’t claim to understand anything about Zen but thought that the new folks were nice enough people. He wound up living here for two years under our care as his health declined before moving to a convalescent home in Tiburon, where he died in 2001 at the age of 98. We had a large funeral service for him at Green Gulch, with 200 friends and family, many of them coming great distances to pay tribute to his life and the often powerful effect his words and deeds and especially his kindness had on their lives. A part of his ashes was scattered up by Hope’s Cottage where he joins Alan Chadwick and Harry Roberts in looking down on the valley he loved so much, winding like an untamed, fertile dragon out to sea.
Alan Chadwick originally came to Green Gulch in 1973 [72?] and helped establish the first formal Zen Center gardens on a bare southwest-facing slope up in Spring Valley. Trained in classical horticulture in England and in France, and a Shakespearean actor as well, Alan was also a disciple of Rudolf Steiner and Krishnamurti. But most importantly, he was a passionate gardener working to bring forth the Garden of Eden on modern ground. After staying a season here he continued up the spine of Northern California and then finally out East to his last project at New Market, Virginia, leaving a trail of glorious gardens in his wake. In the early winter of 1979, he returned to Green Gulch at the invitation of then-Abbot Zentatsu Richard Baker. Terminally ill with cancer, Alan dedicated the last 6 months of his life to teaching and offering his vision of the garden to a lively team of students gathered at his bedside. He died in May of 1980.
Harry Roberts was a friend and teacher of Yvonne Rand and her family for a number of years before he was invited to come to live at Green Gulch in 1973. He was a part-Native American and part-Irish botanist who had been trained in the Beauty Way by his mentor, the Yurok high teacher, Robert Spot. He was a man of many and varied accomplishments. His primary training had to do with the study of fish. As a young man he was a turquoise trader. He was also a rumrunner during prohibition and in the 1930’s was a cowboy who worked in the Green Gulch valley. He was Ginger Roger’s first dance partner. He was a fine machinist and silversmith and during the war collected spider webs to be used as the cross-hairs in gunsights. He started the first native plant nursery in California near Guerneville and along with Charles Borden planted many of the trees currently growing in Muir Beach. He was very gifted in solving problems in the physical world and suggested that before undertaking any task you should know the answers to 3 questions: What do you want? How much does it cost? Are you willing to pay the price? Once you have the answers, get to work. He advised us to think of our projects and their effects over a timeline of 500 years. He had read Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, had annotated it and found it similar to his own training. He stayed at Green Gulch until 1981 when he passed away. [He lived and died near Green Gulch at Yvonne Rand's]
Eric Larsen lived at Green Gulch in the early days and has recently been helping us think about our stream restoration project:
In early 1972, I lived in Bolinas, a half-hour north of Muir Beach, and was writing poetry. Knowing that Richard Baker was involved with poetry, I asked, on one of my visits to the Zen Center in San Francisco, to talk with him about my work. He suggested we meet half way between San Francisco and Bolinas, at the Wheelwright ranch. When I arrived he was walking with an intense man wearing shorts, accompanied by two young apprentices. I joined the small group walking up each valley as they discussed what sorts of plants could grow where. Later, we sat in the grass (where the Wheelwright Center is now located) and ate lunch out of a wicker basket that the man, Alan Chadwick, had brought. I naively asked if he had grown the tomatoes. Scoffing, he assured me he had. When we finished, I left without talking about poetry.
One day as I was driving Harry Roberts in his pickup up from Muir Beach into Green Gulch, Harry asked me to park in the turnout at the top of the driveway. He often liked to sit and look. He looked over at the hillside above Spring Valley. After a while, he said, as if he were talking to himself, “You know, Eric, the earth is alive. It is moving, changing.” It struck me that if I had it to do over again, I might have trained to understand the land. Later, I left Green Gulch, went back to school, and became a research geologist.
The early population of Green Gulch was made up of a diverse group of people: those who had already spent some time at Tassajara, families, new students, many of whom considered themselves outside the main stream of contemporary culture. The Vietnam War years were problematic and dangerous times that called up questions about how Zen practice could stay connected to the world. There was an expansive and raw-edged quality to the life and vision of the community. About 75 people lived here as residents. The single and newer students slept in the zendo (for up to 5 years), the seniors stayed in Cloud Hall and the families wherever adequate space could be found. There was a desire to develop Green Gulch according to the growing environmental and political awareness of the time. We got involved with a number of pilot projects for the use of alternative energy, including a big sail windmill, composting toilets, and an organic farm that included horse-drawn cultivation, chickens, ducks, goats and cows.
We learned a lot from these experiments, including accepting the possibility of not continuing them if they weren’t sustainable. We eventually gave up our animal husbandry, for example, not only for ethical reasons, but also because we realized that given the transciency of our community, we weren’t able to provide the degree of commitment required to care for the animals in the most responsible way.
Katharine Cook, who now has her own gardening business in San Francisco, remembered her early days at Green Gulch:
Back in San Francisco from Tassajara, I attended an Alan Chadwick work day at Green Gulch. I was astonished at how much energy this charismatic figure brought to his vision and how quickly the horse corral we now call Spring Valley became double-dug raised beds. All of us college-educated middle-class city folk were enchanted to be asked to roam the hillsides with burlap sacks collecting cow dung for the compost heap. It was a terribly exciting time, full of new ideas and a new aesthetic, a new approach to understanding what Nature might be and how to respect and work with natural forces. We felt as if we were being shown some ways into the invisible world, connecting with realities we could infer, but could not see or hear, as well as their expression through seed, soil, plants and food in ways we had not hitherto been exposed to.
Alan was offering us a kind of school in relating with life forces, in spirit training.
My daughter Amber and I moved to Green Gulch in the Fall of '72, six months after Green Gulch opened. After a highly unsatisfactory living experience in what is now the tenzo's office, which then served as a passageway between the kitchen and the back porch, we were able to move to the Airstream in Spring Valley, which became our first home at Green Gulch. Before long I began work under Mark Harris, who had been Alan's apprentice. I was very grateful to just be so physically tired out at the end of the day from hauling manure and digging beds that I couldn't think. Suzuki Roshi had told me to try not to think so much. Alan Chadwick was gone by then but he had left behind scarlet runner beans climbing the deer fence all the way around the whole corral, a sweet pea line underplanted with Bloomsdale spinach down the entire length of the valley, and whole beds each of blue and yellow viola. These memories of stunningly beautiful garden sights are but a few of a treasure store from which I draw inspiration over and over again.
Green Gulch drew people who knew how to, or wanted to, work hard. The early residents had to figure out how to combine their formal Zen training with the demands of managing the land and improving a rickety infrastructure. Some people stayed for a number of years and left to become priests and dharma teachers in their own right, to become entrepreneurs or consultants or householders. Some stayed at Green Gulch for many years and cultivated their vision, transmitting it on to the succeeding generations that passed through. People like Steve Stuckey, John Coonan, David Cohn, Peter Rudnick and Emila Heller were among the pioneers who developed and refined our present field system. Katharine Cook, Virginia Baker, Skip Kimura, Wendy Johnson and Sukey Parmelee carried our teachers’ energy into the present garden location. Throughout the 70’s, Zen Center had an incredible carpentry crew, led by Paul Discoe, a disciple of Suzuki Roshi who had studied traditional temple carpentry in Japan for 5 years. Ken and Michael Sawyer, Jerry Fuller, Barton Stone and others worked together over the years to build an impressive array of structures throughout Zen Center: the Tassajara kitchen and zendo, Greens Restaurant, and at Green Gulch, The Wheelwright Center and Lindisfarne Guest House.
Michael Sawyer who lives at Green Gulch with his wife, co-director Emila Heller, remembers an early carpentry experience:
One day at Green Gulch I was building a planter box and was down on my knees nailing boards together. My nephew, Micah Sawyer, who was born here, came by and watched silently for awhile and then said to me, “Uncle Mike, why aren’t you going to use that one?” He was pointing at a 3-inch nail that was bent quite sharply in the middle. I told him that it was bent and unusable. He was 2 ½ then and always asking “why” questions.
asked me for my hammer. He took it in his right hand and with his left
hand took the nail and placed it firmly on a flat concrete surface with
the bend pointing directly upward. Then he struck the nail five or six
times and handed it back to me. “Uncle Mike, you can use it now.”
(Today, Micah is a partner with his father Ken in their construction
business in Sonoma).
We wanted to be self-sufficient but also to honor our covenant: to maintain an agricultural presence and to take care of an interested public. Our meditation practice was always central and from the beginning we maintained at least one public day a week when instruction was offered and a lecture was given. Similarly, our farming efforts have always included tours and classes to pass on what we have learned and our produce has always been offered to hungry people, both at restaurants and markets as well as to soup kitchens.
Over the succeeding years, as we’ve continued to farm and learn about what works best, we’ve modified our techniques and approaches. Some of our garden area is now planted and cultivated according to Permaculture principles. While most of the farm is devoted to tractor-cultivated row crops, we’ve gradually given over the second field to intensively planted, hand-cultivated vegetables and flowers. It’s from this area that we currently supply baby lettuces to Greens Restaurant. During the long dry days of the growing season we have a big crew and devote ourselves to planting, cropping and marketing. But as the rains come and the underground runoff from the hillsides soaks the fields, we’re more willing to simply plant our beds to cover crops and refrain from working (and compacting) the wet soil so much, choosing instead to turn our attention more inward, like the earth itself, and enter more fully the intensified winter zendo schedule.
During the early years, the tremendous work Mr. Wheelwright did on the land was consistent with his vision and also reflected the mindset of the time – molding the natural world to do our bidding. Nowadays we have a somewhat different view of our fragile ecology and are reexamining some of these projects. Working closely with the Park Service we’ve been studying the ecology of our watershed and asking ourselves questions about how the land might look and behave if left to itself. We’re increasingly concerned with native species of plantings. We’re considering the riparian habitat around Green Gulch creek and what it would be like to let the lower part of the stream flow down through last fields freed from the concrete channel that now holds it. This ties in with the Park Service plan to restore the lower fields to their original wetlands state.
People come to Green Gulch for many reasons and we encourage them however we can to do so. Just to be in this valley, so close and accessible to the urban area and yet so far from it, in its connection to the natural world and the practice of slowing down, is an opportunity we’re always trying to provide. Our Guest Program has been developing since the early 80’s. We host a busy schedule of conferences, large and small, single- or multi-day, throughout the year. People can also come here individually to stay overnight or for a period of time in the Guest House or Wheelwright Center rooms. They’re free to participate in the community’s zendo schedule and to join us for our daily vegetarian meals. We also have a Guest Practice Retreatant program where people stay overnight as guests for a reduced rate and join us for a portion of the day in our work practice as well as in the zendo. There are no TV’s, radios or phones in their rooms, no swimming pool or even hot tubs, but we can provide an abundance of fresh air, fresh vegetables and bread and a finely structured opportunity to wake up before the sun to enter the day in a quiet, respectful way. The Guest Program has matured to the point that it’s now the major source of revenue for Green Gulch.
Our practice life has developed since 1981 to include 2 formal, monastic-style practice periods every year. They’re 2 months long each, with regular lectures, interviews, classes and study time as well as a full meditation schedule and daily work. Between 15 and 30 people are usually participating, some coming from outside, taking a leave from their workaday lives, some coming from within the Zen Center community, passing through the formal paths and gates of residence. During the rainy season the entire community, even though we’re still caring for the land and hosting guests, turns its attention toward supporting the activities of the practice period.
For the past 7 years we’ve been setting aside the month of January for a period of residential practice. This is normally a slow time for guests and conferences and we actually close Green Gulch to the public (except for our usual Sunday program) so the whole community can come together in following the same intensive monastic schedule. There’s also room for experienced practitioners from outside to join us.
On the one hand, 30 years seems like a long time, and looking back on what has happened at Green Gulch is to see a full catalogue of fresh ideas, fueled by raw energy and determination and combining both an idealistic view of what it means to live and practice together, and the will to try those ideas out. On the other hand, it seems that the dust has only just begun to settle and that our considerable work now has just begun: to tend to, cultivate and build on the efforts of those who came before us.
Through our growing experience in farming and greeting guests, in practicing intimately in this particular corner of the earth household, we’ve come to acknowledge and appreciate the mystery of plants and the cycle of seasons, their complexity, and the close connection of their study with that study of ourselves which is Buddhism.
Mick Sopko, 2002
Much of the history presented in this article was provided orally by friends and neighbors, especially Yvonne Rand - who was a dynamic presence in the early years as an administrator and fundraiser and who today has her own practice center at Muir Beach - and Wendy Johnson, who with her husband Peter Rudnick, developed and coordinated the garden and farm operations for over 20 years. Previous issues of the Windbell itself, going back to 1972, were a treasure store of information and insight.
Posted 8-17-13 - Katrinka and I arrived Wednesday at 4pm at Green Gulch and took a walk to see the work being done on Muir Beach which is mainly closed for restoration - see SF Chron article. Boy was it in good shape, tons of young people in the garden and farm apprenticeship programs and guest students and residents. Bunch of old friends there. Zendo and work meeting packed. We were there to walk around with 17 fellow members of the Institute for Historical Studies, one of my two fiscal sponsors, the other being the Pacific Zen Inst. Arlene Lueck started the tour off at the office then zendo and then we all wandered down to the garden and fields. After lunch in the small dining room I answered some questions and gave a bit of history. Katrinka filled in more history details from Mick's history above. It was a good sunny day. Never seen GG in better shape. - DC