Minding the earth, walking


It came to me to walk before breakfast, first thing. Perhaps the memory of communal work was calling: at Green Gulch Farm, after zazen meditation, we gathered in the old barn for tea and a muffin, followed by a long silent walk to the lower fields to tend the vegetables we depended on for our livelihood.

And so now, an empty bag in my left hand, a pair of scissors in my right, I begin again.  Down the stairs of my apartment building, one by one, holding the handrail, on to the asphalt parking lot, between the garbage cans to the long raised mound of California poppies in the adjoining parking lot, where a mound of earth stretches the length of the lot.

There our coastal poppies, deep yellow with orange centers, have been increasing yearly, due to mowing, and have become a richly beautiful scatter. I want to use my body, arms and legs to tip the balance of plants from annual weeds to more natives, and those attractive to pollinators. The bees are in need of our help.

I tread the gopher hole-pocked mound slowly, careful not to trip or twist an ankle. I scissor down any seed-bearing annual grass stalks I see. One snip and they fall to the ground, hopefully not to germinate. The tasty Himalayan blackberries along the old wood fence will stay, at least for now—food for some folks who might come gathering, the beautiful quail, other birds.

Stepping the length of the mound to where it narrows into the driveway, I take in the garden hose left sprawling, the unwatered zinnias wilting in the doorway of West Marin Literacy. I will stop by the owners’ offices and request that they mind their hose and water their potted plants, as they are in the public view. (I did the same at Palace Market, and now as one leaves one’s car and walks to the front door, one sees the earth well cared for.) 

Following that leg of the walk, I enter the pathway before the community garden. Some days I bring a sharp-edged hoe, spading fork and small shovel. As weeds, wood chips and sawdust have accumulated along the nooks of the pathway, I take to them with a long-handled, flat, sharp-edged hoe. I cut them at the crown, take up and sort the refuse, and wheel the compostables to the back corner of Chris’s lot. The edges of the pathway are now clear.

I am pleased that plants, earth and stones all seem to respond to my tending. After zazen at Tassajara, we raked the pathways. During work time we watched Suzuki Roshi pull stones out of Tassajara Creek, and build stone walls and gardens. Was he teaching the “mind of stones”? It was hard to believe stones were responding to my tending the earth. But there it was.

Soon I will plant some perennial grass and wildflowers. When the rains come I will scatter more perennial grass seed, the same that greened both east and west shores of Tomales Bay year-round for recorded history.


Katharine Cook was trained in French Intensive Biodynamic Gardening at Green Gulch Farm by followers of Alan Chadwick, who is now said to be the founder of organic farming in California. She lives in downtown Point Reyes Station.