- Shunryu Suzuki Index  - WHAT'S NEW - table of contents

Tassajara Stories
ZC and Green Gulch Stories

There's now a Tassajara Stories page on Youtube for you to send yours

Tassajara Hub --- Tassajara History - Tassajara Stories podcasts

There are of course Tassajara stories throughout this website - especially in people's interviews. Will link to some of that from here when it's noticed. - dc

Tassajara Stories draft chapters for a book of that name - some duplicated here.or here in prior versions. Started working on this fall of 2015. Has a lot of stuff wouldn't be in a book. - dc

A history of fire at and around Tassajara

How Cabarga Creek got its name

Willem Malten - two stories (posted March 2019)

20-03-03 - The Garbageman and the Goddess - by David Schneider

22-01-03 On the Way to Tassajara by Summer Brenner - suggested by David Schneider

Pieces from 2016 (below)

5-02-16 - Fred Nason rip

4-07-16 - BOOK REVIEW/LETTER TO REED MAGAZINE from Rick Levine on Crowded by Beauty: the Life and Zen of Poet Philip Whalen by David Schneider - it's got some good stuff in it relevant to this page. - dc

4-16-15 - Tassajara Bobcat

4-18-15 - Bobcat Update

The Summer of 74 - Danny Parker

Cannabis Cookie Freak-out at Tassajara - by Loring Palmer

by Leland Smithson

          Zen Moires

          Spinoffs & Spin Backs

4-28-14 - Gomashio, sesame salt, at Tassajara

8-06-14 - Alan Marlow's Great Moment - Tassajara

11-05-14 - Bulgarian Salt Loaf

11-08-14 - Learning to Unplug

11-09-14 - One day at Tassajara Howie Klein was standing on the bridge by the dining room gazing out toward the creek. I walked up and said, "Nice view," we should take a picture of it. "Yeah," he replied, "Have to come back and see it sometime." - DC

11-24-14 - Strawberries and Soap

11-25-14 - Jays and Pigeons at Tassajara

11-27-14 - Craig's Oryoki Meal

11-28-14 - Niels and DC - Stealing Food

12-06-14 - Rape at Tassajara - a reminder from the cuke archives

12-05-14 - Suzuki coming going

2-28-15 - Hearding Flies

Fil Lewitt's story

Tenken Stories

11-05-14 - Bulgarian Salt Loaf

Mike Daft was cook for lunch, practice period, Tassajara early, 67 I think. He'd made the bread for lunch having come in before morning zazen to start the process. We cut some steaming slices straight out of the Wolf oven. Awful. He realized he'd put in cups of salt instead of tablespoons. The zazen period was just ending. Noon service would start in a minute. It was time to serve up and be ready to hit the lunch han and bring the serving pots and baskets out to the back table as black and grey-robed students took their seats, sat on their zafu in the zendo. Mike wondered if he should announce that lunch would be served without that course. There was no alternative. There were three bowls to fill. It had to be served. I was on the lunch crew that day. He had a suggestion. Mike thought then nodded. In the silence of the zendo, after the first part of the meal chant but before the servers walked down the isles, Mike bravely announced, "Today's lunch features Bulgarian Salt Loaf." Later there were no complaints. Bulgarian Salt Loaf was, however, never served again.

11-24-14 - Strawberries and Soap

Richard Baker credits Silas Hoadley with the idea of having a guest season at Tassajara starting late spring our first year, 1967. We'd need the money and it would be good for us to have the grounding of interacting with the public and the public could know who we were in that way. It seemed like a healthy idea all the way around. There were of course people who came as guests because the SFZC had bought the place, but many former guests came. I think that the Zen Center or the prior owners, the Becks, or a combination, sent out a letter to the Becks mailing list. We did continue serving meat and fish to the guests at first, and continued for a couple of years, but did not serve or sell alcohol or tobacco. Some students smoked tobacco but they couldn't buy it there. The Becks had had a full bar. Still, guests were free to bring their own booze in same as today. Some of the very first guests that came were a group of farmers and businessmen from Watsonville a couple of hours away. We called them the Watsonville Domino Club. I think they called themselves that. They'd get the best Pine and Stone Rooms and drink whiskey and beer and, at least sometimes, charcoal broil steaks on the back porches. At first of course they were apprehensive about the new owners wondering how cultish and weird we'd be and so forth, but after a day or two of the first visit I could see they felt comfortable. The students were not nosy or judgmental, were busy working and too tired to whoop it up at night with all the zazen and other obligations. And we weren't proselytizers. Suzuki would occasionally chide us not to sell Buddhism as one interpretation of the precept not to sell alcohol. The Watsonville Domino Club came early in the guest season every year I was there, my last being 1975. I'd run the dinning room the first four years and had administrative jobs the others and would always visit with them, sometimes allowing them to bend my arm enough to sample their whiskey. They liked that but couldn't understand why I had no interest in their steaks. We liked them too. I remember Bud who owned Topless Vegetables and Burt whose family co-owned globally active Granite Construction with another family (he said they were one of the five biggest construction companies in the world and talked to me about the evils of the inheritance tax). And I remember Mr. Porter. He was the oldest, had a pot belly, spindly legs, and a reddish face. One year they had an 80th birthday dinner for him. He grew strawberries, lots of them. He'd always bring in a bunch of boxes for us when he came. At his birthday dinner we brought out a desert we'd made for them from his strawberries - there was enough to make that desert for all sixty guests that evening. There were about eight men at the Watsonville Domino Club table, all fairly plastered by the time the desert came out. Mr. Porter blew out the candles. There were calls of "Speech! Speech!" He stood up. The whole dining room crowd was quiet. The staff stood by politely.

Mr. Porter picked up a large red strawberry from off his desert. "This is one of my strawberries," he said. "I'm very grateful to these strawberries. We grow fields of them that are covered in plastic so they don't get dirty and are easy to harvest. Then we burn the plastic and prepare for the next planting. Safeway can't get enough of them. They ship all the way to the East Coast and are still big and red and firm when they hit the stores there. These strawberries have made me a rich man." He paused. "And they taste like cardboard!"

With that line Mr. Porter brought the house down. There was enough for the dinning room crew to share.

11-25-14 - Jays and Pigeons at Tassajara

If you go to Tassajara in the summer now you may notice the Steller's jays (also known as the long-crested jay, mountain jay, and pine jay - Wikipedia) closely related to blue jays. Mainly we called them blue jays or jays. Steller's jay is a bit of a tongue twister and sounds too academic. They're not a nice bird. They run off the song birds and mainly squawk instead of sing. Here are Steller's jay sounds. Third one down on the calls is the one I remember best.

Because of these aggressive birds it's not wise 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. A few years ago 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 the reason 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 - just found him on Facebook and sent a message. Yvonne Rand would probably know. She's a birder. 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. They had a sort of creepy greediness to me.

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 the director, Peter Schneider maybe, he 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 carrier or 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 a ton or maybe two tons of brown rice. some white, and some bags of gluton rice for baking and making mochi. I hope that the ZC still gets their rice from the Koda Bros. 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 as in wind blows stretch that was really acting up, making me fear a Volkswagon bus ahead would blow over. Big box trucks do that there. There are big warning signs. At the point that I was furthest away from Tassajara yet not too close to the Koda Brothers' organic fields, I pulled over, slid the back door up, brought the boxes down, and released the pigeons into a new wind-blown realm. I never saw them again.

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

I'll link to something of Sterling's later. - dc

11-27-14 - Craig's Oryoki Meal

To me the greatest of all Tassajara stories is already on cuke in two old interviews. It happened during the first practice period that Tatsugami Roshi came from Japan to lead. It was brought up in an officer's meeting that some students were stealing from the kitchen. Tatsugami said the solution to that is to put a lock on the door. The officers argued with him. No one wanted to do that but he couldn't understand why not so it happened. A number of people were upset by the new lock that appeared on the kitchen door. Niels and I didn't care. We understood. We liked to stay up late and now and then would go over to the kitchen and make a midnight snack. We might have been the main culprits. The new kitchen wasn't finished yet so we were still cooking out of that little shack on the back deck overlooking the creek.

Here's Daya Goldschlag's version. And here's Craig Boyan mentioning it in his interview.

But first, in case you don't know what oryoki is: oryoki - Ōryōki (応量器?, "Just enough") --  set of eating bowls and utensils, wrapped in a cloth, with which Zen monks eat their meals.  The procedure for unwrapping the bowls, eating from them, cleaning, and re-wrapping them has been formalized, and is performed in unison at mealtime.- wikipedia


The image of the wrapped oryoki from, the three bowls with food from, and the one with the seated person eating this way from Elephant Journal run by the cool Waylon Lewis. As you can see if you click that link, oryoki was picked up Trungpa Rinpoche and included in his sangha's practice.

12-05-14 - Suzuki Coming Going

When Shunryu Suzuki arrived at Tassajara everyone was glad he'd arrived and when he'd leave people would want to say goodbye, so little by little a practice evolved of students gathering and standing near his cabin, on the bridge, and on the road, to greet him or say goodbye bowing with hands in gassho. I don't remember there being any bell or announcement, so not everyone would be there. Oh yes - there were three hits of the han when he'd arrive. It wasn't so formal. That practice continued when Richard Baker became abbot. It wasn't something he asked for. I recall Stewart Brand being turned off by it. It did look a little culty. Of course Suzuki was arriving in somebody's car, like Yvonne's VW Bug and what Stewart saw was Baker arriving in his albatrosic BMW. But also, I think that Suzuki was more comfortable with it than Baker. I remember noticing that he liked it. It would be hard not to like a bunch of people being so positive about you. And also he came from a culture which revered teachers and had all sorts of ways to show respect. But in both cases, everything would resume to normal quickly. Don't think that practice is done anymore. The whole abbot thing has come down a few notches. - dc

21-02-20 - Mark Pringle sent two stories

My two Tassajara stories: 

First one was in the late sixties. A friend and I had heard about the hot springs and drove down from Berkeley to investigate. When we arrived we were given permission to use the hot springs and a place to camp down below in some open space near the baths. One impression of the baths - I remember vaguely the scene painted on the wall there - the Tassajara Hot Springs Legend, a remnant of the old resort. It must be long gone by now. 

It rained that night but we stayed fairly dry under our tarps. In the morning we got the word that it was time for us to leave. The road was pretty muddy and we were advised to borrow some chains to get our vehicle up the hill. We dropped them off at Jamesburg on our way out. But before leaving a zen guy came down to our campsite. Clearly we were footloose hippies much more interested in the hot springs than in zen but he took a chance and asked me what I was looking for or what I wanted in life - along the lines of - what’s the most important thing? I thought about it for a minute and reflecting on my own personal difficulties of the time said: peace. He looked a bit surprised and said something like - Maybe there is something in zen for you after all. It took me another decade or so to find out he was right.

The second experience of Tassajara was a hike in from China Camp. This was sometime in the early seventies. I wanted to explore the caves along this part of the trail and thought it would be interesting to end up at Tassajara. I knew Dianne (now Daya) Goldschlag was in residence there. We had known each other through some encounters in Berkeley and a trip to Mendocino with our mutual friend Ellen Sirota. My relationship with Dianne was more as an acquaintance than friend but I decided to stop in and see if she was free to have a visitor. As I came down the hill into Tassajara in the late afternoon someone was sounding the big bell at the entrance gate. This turned out to be Dianne. She greeted me warmly and invited me to have some dinner and offered to let me sleep on the floor of her cabin that night. Dinner happened around an outdoor table - maybe a dozen or so people gathered around. I was asked how much I wanted on my plate (or was it a bowl?) and I answered that I was pretty hungry. Before we ate someone offered a short grace. It was: “Dear God thank you for this food and thank you for the Dharma.” A curious mix of religious traditions I thought at the time. It turned out I was unable to finish the large mound of brown rice in front of me. There were some murmurs of disapproval or else I imagined them, anyway I felt a sting of shame at my greed and ignorance. 

Dianne was sharing a cabin with a roommate - I don’t remember her name but I’m guessing from podcasts and written interviews that it was probably Margaret. I slept on the floor near the foot of her bed. I woke in the early morning and noted that Dianne’s roommate was doing zazen on her bed. I also noted she was not wearing any clothing. This got my attention and I raised my head in “curiosity.” This was at first met with imperturbable indifference which transformed into something like the stink eye and I settled back down - again in a state of mixed feelings.

Dianne bid me farewell that morning and she told me she had been reprimanded by someone in authority there for inviting her “boyfriend” to come and visit. This misunderstanding was my third and final transgression of this trip to Tassajara. Clearly at that time in the history of zen in America we all had a lot to learn and still do, but I’m grateful for these early encounters with zen in the backcountry of the Ventana Wilderness. May all beings be at peace.


Pieces - from 2016


Walter - Audrey and Bob

Dealing with Rowdy Guys

Force - rape at Tassajara