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The Chicken Haven!

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The other day, David said he was finally ready to build us a chicken house. The weather in Florida this month is just too steamy and grueling hot for outdoor projects, but he has a window of time off from working and he wants to take advantage of it, so off to Home Depot he went. Hours later he came back with the truck laden with all kinds of odds and ends he would puzzle together with materials leftover from other projects to create a chicken house unlike any other.

I already have the chickens. We bought 5 baby chicks in the spring knowing they would quickly grow large enough to join my 4 chickens and a rooster. Those more mature birds were purchased on craigslist in Feb as a source of free range eggs and we housed them in a small but cute prefab chicken house that we picked up last winter because it was steeply on sale and, while small, too adorable to resist. Building a new chicken house has been in our long range plan since we bought this property, so all along the tiny hen house was considered temporary. The cookie cutter design is meant for 6 chickens at most and really doesn’t have room for any sort of healthy ranging. I’m a girl with big chicken fantasies. so a worthy chicken house seemed important for this lifestyle.

We bought the chicks thinking we had plenty of time to get around to building a more formal chicken house, but as is often the case with busy people, we blinked and suddenly faced a pressing need to get something built because our little house is smack dab in the way of a new parking lot that we are building. I love my free ranging chickens, but they make a mess of the grounds, and while a few fluffy birds pecking around the yogi’s feet is cute, upwards of a dozen free ranging chickens chasing people to their cars and a rooster that likes to crow whenever we are meditating is more than a little annoying- especially when those same birds uproot my mulch and eat my flowers. David and I both agree the time has come to keep the birds contained.

David is a research guy, and innovation is in his DNA, so of course he wouldn’t dream of building a clunky shed sort of thing with a pen attached. He read some chicken magazines began his contemplation. He asked me about what I liked least and best about my former chicken set ups (which wasn’t a very high set bar, I confess.) He looked at chicken houses on the internet. Eventually, he came up with a design incorporating a little of everything he thought would be important.

David’s chicken house not only had to be practical, but well built. He would use reclaimed materials to be environmentally conscientious and cost effective. This would also help us get rid of things building up behind the barn – a bonus! For foundation walls, he began with four big, reinforced stage units we built for the yoga festival three years ago. He decided to use the big rolls of fencing wire we have rolled up behind the barn, remnants of the old fence that we saved after putting up the new wood fence. He configured a nifty system where the pens pinwheel around the hen house so I can let the chickens range in one 12 foot area each week, then rotate the birds so the ground has 3 weeks to recover before the chickens revisit the area. My chickens will never be scratching around in hard packed dirt, which is often the case in chicken pens after they pick the ground clean. He arranged nifty doors in each side of the hen house that can open and close from outside with pulls.  I can direct the chickens to any area with a shift of the hand and don’t need to go inside unless I want to collect eggs.

David used the heavy rolling door he made for our barn a year ago, before he upgrading that building, and repainted a screen door rescued from an old house remodel to use as an entrance. Three other screen doors were made from scratch to provide a separate entry to each of the pen sections. We already had nifty chicken nesting boxes with removable (and cleanable) tile bottoms from when  we first moved here and built chicken housing in a stall in our barn. David’s new brilliant design includes a nifty air handler on the roof to keep the hen house aired out, as well as open space along the bottom of the building so the shavings never smell. He’s added lights for winter, and an automatic waterer, and hung a great big feeder so when we’re busy, we don’t have to worry about the birds going hungry. The food and water is protected by a slanted panel under roosts.  This chicken house even has a small hose rolled up so I can conveniently keep things clean, and a bin for food. There’s even a small box to keep whatever little keepsake might need to be tucked away . My former, little cute chicken house is now situated by the big pen as a housing area for any nesting chickens, or for times when I want to purchase new chicks.

When yogis go out to see David’s newest creation they all comment that the place is big enough and nice enough to put in a bunk for overnight lodging. They marvel at the spacious interior and the windows and the fact that it is cool inside despite the summer sun. We’d certainly love to build a few cute caravans for yogis someday, but for now, we are delighted to have finally created a chicken haven for our feathered friends.

I do love chickens. Not only do I love collecting free range eggs daily, but there is something calming and natural about a chicken-friendly lifestyle. I plan to situate a couple of comfy Adirondack chairs out there so people can hang out and watch the cute antics of the birds. I’ll be there with a cup of coffee more often than not, I suppose.

The only problem is, this new chicken house is so fantastic and so big and so user friendly, that my ten, humble chickens don’t do it justice. Having one measly rooster and a few uneventful brown hens out there in such a grand chicken haven seems like a poor use of resources.

So, I’m checking out Craigslist every day…. Looking for some fancies. I need a sportier robust flock as the final garnish for David’s fantastic chicken endeavor.   I’m thinking a few Frizzles, a Silky or two, some exotics…… And don’t ya know, the darn housing is big enough for peacocks or pheasants. Ah, the possibilities!

The house isn’t complete just yet. David has a few final touches and fencing to finish off. I bought a big metal chicken sign for the building and my metal chicken sculpture must find a place of honor. But soon, this chicken haven will be a part of Heartwood that feels familiar to everyone who visits, and in no time, it will seem as if the grand chicken house has always been here. That is how it goes. We work, change and evolve this property, and every addition feels like such a natural fit, we quickly forget the “before”.

That is how the best of dreams unfold, I’m thinking.

 

 

 

Book Release Party

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The other day, I had a book release party for my new Memoir, My Million Dollar Donkey. June is probably the worst possible month and Wednesday evening the worst possible time for such an event because people are traveling and working and such,  but due to the date of the book’s publication and my crazy busy summer teaching schedule, a mid week night in mid summer seemed the only option to launch the book.

About eighty people showed up, and oddly, not the people I expected. I have certain students, friends and family members I thought would fill the ranks out of obligation or a sense of friendship, but few of them bothered to make the trip out for the event. Yet, many others came to voice heartfelt congratulations and enthusiasm, and I felt deeply honored that so many people paused their busy summer to show me respect, interest, and support. I learned a great deal about who cares about me on a certain “respect” level, and will be forever grateful to those who made the night successful for me.  David worked so hard to make the evening wonderful, even giving me an introduction worthy of a star.

I wasn’t sure what to plan for such an occasion, but David, Soraya, and I set up the evening for a variety of activities and despite a threatening weather report, the evening went off smoothly in every way. I did a reading out by our gazebo which got great feedback, and people wandered out to the labyrinth and to see our new Before I Die board. Refreshments were served in the yoga studio where we played the book trailer. I signed about 50 books. David later asked what it felt like to sit at a table with so many people in line waiting to get your autograph. “Humbling” was all I could answer. We gave away some prize baskets filled with my homemade wine and items that are reflective of the book’s themes, and had some great conversations about writing and living off the grid.  When the evening was finished, David and I had a glass of wine and talked about writing, life, and how the little moments such as this make hard work worthwhile.

Years ago, I decided to shift gears in my life with a dream of  writing full time. I changed careers, went to school to be formally trained and relocated all with an eye towards setting up a writing life. While I had a perfect plan in place, life threw me a curve ball and instead of opening space for my writing, life took a direction that all but killed every morsel of opportunity for me to continue that journey. It’s hard when you make great personal sacrifice for something you deeply care about, and end up, despite the best of intentions, losing it all together. But that is life.  It’s taken 6 years to reclaim even a sliver of the opportunity to attend to writing again, but at long last, I’m able to revisit my latent dreams.

The book release was just a start. I am teaching classes and writing retreats at Heartwood now and have a great student body of about 350 people in the Heartwood Writers collective.. This fall I begin 10 classes per term (3 weekly) at ACE – which is the Adult Community Education program at Vo-tech college in Sarasota. I’m teaching journaling, memoir, fiction and Writing Spiritual Wills. The best thing about teaching is that it keeps me deeply involved in the creative process, so I write more myself.

I’m working on three book projects now. A craft book about writing memoir with yoga sensibilities directing your flow and purpose to make the process kinder to self and to the world. A second memoir about building Heartwood  – a continuation of my recently released book where I pick up the pieces of my life and build something out of nothing. And I’m revisiting the first book I ever wrote, a historical romance that had great promise but never really hit it’s stride. The story is still intriguing, however I admit, I’ve evolved so much as a writer in the last fifteen years since I first penned that manuscript that I’m having to rewrite the entire story to do it justice. Still, I assign special meaning to getting the book right after all this time. I’m someone who doesn’t give up easily on anything she starts, so seeing this project to a good conclusion feels like a nagging need.

My book is selling, steadily but surely. A few book bloggers are reviewing it on some big book sites. It is fun to get messages from friends and people I don’t even know, telling me how much they loved the story. Many people relate to the themes of the book, and I’m proud I’ve captured that universality. But as is the case with most art endeavors, I can’t help but think that, while I’m proud of this first publication, I can do better next time. Perhaps that is all a part of the process. Hitting one’s stride is never an obvious, linear thing. Mining your gifts happens like a labyrinth, with curves and turns taking you closer and further from the goal. You just have to keep putting one step in front of the other on the path, and trust the process. Eventually, by continually moving forward, you’ll come to the center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farmer Ginny Lives!

Farmer Ginny Lives!

The other day, a student who recently read my memoir commented that they could barely imagine me going through that “farmer” stage. I smiled, wondering if I should tell them that it wasn’t exactly a stage (that implies I moved on to something else)– but more like a part of my personality was unearthed, and once you expand who you are and what you know, you can never go back. In other words, the farmer in me is still very much alive.

The one thing I learned from my failed life reinvention  was that the quality of your life isn’t dependent upon where you live. Your lifestyle is defined by HOW you live. I tell yogis all the time that if they want to be serious about living their yoga, they don’t have to run off to Tibet to meditate on a mountain top for a year as the culmination of their education as they strive to be truly authentic. We don’t need the artificial trappings of environment or extremism to define us. A serious yogi needs to learn how to be kind while standing in line at the supermarket  if they want to practice advanced yoga.  If you can take any concept of ideal living and maintain your commitment, attitude and efforts towards that end, and apply your beliefs to your existence as you are deeply engaged in the real world then you are truly authentic. It is easy to remove yourself from society and stay on the path of simplicity because nothing is challenging you to be otherwise. Try to maintain a personal commitment to a simple or naturalistic lifestyle when you are working and raising kids, and dealing with neighbors and bosses and traffic and bills. If you can do that, you are the real deal, not romanticizing who and what you are because you thrust yourself into a situation where you have no choice but live a certain way because you’ve isolated yourself from society and withdrawn your options.  I left the mountains worried that  I had lost my opportunity to live an organic or artistic life, but in truth, I live more in tune with my ideal now than I did when I was buried in the mountains. Even Thoreau left the woods. Carrying what I learned during that time back into a vibrant, active community of Florida is what made my time in the country truly expansive to me as a person.

So, in regards to living an organic, natural, farm-oriented life . . . it didn’t take me long to embrace all those priorities into my new life in busy Sarasota. My first little home had a garden on the side of the house with tomatoes and herbs.  I did some canning, and shopped at the local farms feeling this was a lifeline to the world I had lost. When I moved to Heartwood, the first thing we did was plant a garden and get some chickens. Without going crazy, I continue to move towards my ideal lifestyle, which included living in tune with the environment and respecting food sources. Now, I grow what I can, and each season I do a little home canning to provide preservative-free, fresh bounty to our off-season meals. David and I shop at Obrien Family Farms, right around the corner from us for most of our produce.  Someday, we hope to extend our own growing capabilities at home.

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Obrien Farms is an extremely efficient and unique hydroponic garden business that changes seasonally, but offers “you pick” opportunities and homemade goodies and a farmers market shop and more.  This farm is very much like a place in Blue Ridge that was all the rage (Merciers) only here, we don’t have the crowds or the commercialism that made the other place seem more a tourist attraction than an authentic farm. David and I love stopping by Obriens (and we visit other local farms too), partially to shop, but also to learn. The hydroponic systems are remarkable and very inspiration if you believe in preserving resources and the environment. Someday, we dream of putting in a greenhouse and hydroponic systems at Heartwood – not on the scale of Obrien, but just for our family and the yoga community who visit Heartwood. We’d love our gardens to be a resource to teach others about how to grow healthy food at home, no matter how much space you have.

Despite sandy soil and hotter weather, gardening isn’t harder in Florida – simply different.It is more challenging to farm productively here since success involves more than putting a few seeds in the ground and waiting for nature to do the work, but the growing season is long and filled with the same level of deep harmony with the land that I felt in Georgia.

I have ten chickens now that free range around Heartwood providing us with farm fresh eggs. David plans to build us a new bigger chicken coup this month to keep my bold birds from creating havoc in our gardens. My beehives went bust when my two slowly building hives swarmed … dang bees just took off and landed in a hole in one of our oaks behind the yoga center, so now I can watch them high up overhead busily creating a new home, but I can’t collect honey from them. I will need to have them removed eventually, I suppose, rather than let them live there, laughing at me.  I’ll try setting up new hives in all my bee boxes again next season – and remove the wild bees so they won’t raid the formal hives. We are too busy with the construction of a new septic and parking lot now to play with honey issues, but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it as any farmer up against the elements and nature’s fickle personality would.

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I recently made homemade veggie marinara sauce  and this week I’m due to make more fresh berry jam because my last batches finally ran out. I’m still making homemade wine and cordials, and a cute tower garden outside my kitchen window is always exploding with herbs. It is getting so hot, I’ve cut away the lettuce and only basil and parsley seem to last. Soon it will be time to plant beans and fall veggies. (The seasons are very different in Florida than in Georgia)   Yes, things are growing all around us with nutritious healthy veggies on our property or from the many farms and fresh farmer’s markets nearby that fill in the blanks of what I don’t have time or inclination to attempt to grow myself. Sarasota has a huge organic and naturalistic community, and I can’t imagine anyplace being more supportive of a healthy, wholesome lifestyle than here.  All you have to do is care enough to expand your shopping habits beyond the local Publix or franchise restaurants, get a little dirt under your nails, and decide that fast food will never hold a candle to slow, slow, slow food you grow, harvest, and prepare yourself.

Yes, the farmer in me is alive and kickin’. If only I had space to keep another donkey!

Book Release & Emotional Release

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My memoir, My Million Dollar Donkey officially comes out on Tuesday, Sept. 28. Apparently, all books are released on a Tuesday. You learn something every day. I am having a book release party on Wed. June 29th from 7-9 pm at Heartwood, an event open to the public. Not the best month or time or day of the week for a book release party, I suppose, but with our Summer Yoga Training Programs starting up and the book release date landing in June, I was hard pressed to find time to fit in a party. I’ve been on Craigslist this morning seeing if I can rent a donkey as a mascot to set the stage and provide inspiration for those who attend. I’ll be reading from the book, sharing some of my hard earned country wisdom, and no doubt enjoying the support from friends and students. It will be a very special evening for me, and long in coming.

I was sent a few cases of advanced copies of the book, so My Million Dollar Donkey has been for sale at the studio for a week or so. Quite a few students have picked it up unbeknownst to me. When I go in to teach, I am often treated to heartfelt positive feedback which always comes as a surprise since I have no clue who has picked up the book (so they don’t have to politely pretend they like it). The story seems to really resonate with Yogis as well as people who are in midlife, or who have sustained losses of love, money or self. I’m so honored that these people, who no doubt pick up the book out of devotion to their yoga teacher, take the time to read the entire story and bother to go out of their way to tell me what they love or feel moved by – or even what they take exception to. One student told me she loved every word of my book except a short passage describing “some women of Sarasota as superficial”. She wiggled her finger at me and said that wasn’t a fair description of all women in the area, and I laughed and reminded her that I too am a Sarasota Woman, so I meant no offense.

I have been signing a great number of books. That is fun. But for all that nice words provide a flash of confidence and pride, the most poignant feedback I’ve gotten thus far was the beautiful reaction and appreciation from my parents, who made me feel gifted and very respected (I should mention they do not praise lightly, so expressions of pride feel doubly special). I also will always cherish a beautiful text from my youngest daughter that revealed not only her support for my writing honestly and well, but her beautifully expressed realization that she’s been afforded an amazing gift to see the world and our shared experience through my eyes. Witnessing how I felt and experienced this time in our family history allows her to know me better and to understand things in a broader perspective.

To be validated by those you love is probably the most wonderful feeling in the world, a feeling that was rare, if not totally absent, from my past . I can’t help but note that my life reinvention, difficult as it was,  led to an evolution in my community, family, and friends. My world now turns on an axis of love rather than jealousy or resentment, because those who couldn’t muster up earnest care or positive intentions towards me have just naturally slipped away. Amazing what making a commitment to yogic principals does to restructuring a life. In this way, releasing my book was releasing something I’ve held inside for many years too. An emotional freedom has been gained.

If you missed the trailer, here it is:

 

One very special part of finalizing this book project for me is that I have something more to share with my writing students. When I first returned to the area, I taught writing at the Sarasota Senior Center because I wanted to reconnect with the community and volunteering has always been important to me. I learned a great deal about how to effectively teach writing during that time.  18 months later, I began teaching at my studio, and later began a writing program at Heartwood Retreat Center, (which is at long last taking root and blooming). Meanwhile, I am teaching 5 writing classes at ACE (Adult Community Education) at Vo-tech in Sarasota starting in Oct. including Memoir, Journaling, Writing Spiritual Wills, and Fiction. I’ve written syllabus’s and prepared lessons and I’m excited for the term to begin.  Now, when I lecture about what works and doesn’t work on the page, and when I discuss the challenges of not just starting a project, but sticking with it to fruition, I have a tangible project to point to as example of elements that worked better than anticipated and elements with room for improvement. I can talk less theoretically and more experimentally about the publication process, and we can openly explore issues of concern, like the awkwardness of writing about your own life and having to face the reactions of family and friend. Or a writers doubt or disappointment about how difficult the process that go far beyond the simple act of writing the dang story. This book offers me a world of new material to work with in regards to mentoring others – and the philosophy I’ve developed regarding the act of writing for personal growth has been a foundation for my next project too.

 I admit, as a first time author, and considering the subject of this memoir,  I don’t expect much from the publication of My Million Dollar Donkey monetarily or career-wise. But like dance, (and all my art endeavors, in fact) I do not engage in writing for notoriety or with expectation for measurable gain. I write as a spiritual and creative practice. In this way, seeing My Million Dollar Donkey evolve and manifest into a book that actually reaches out to others and sends a message of hope or wisdom has been a deeply moving experience on many levels. The process of finalizing this story has given me a whole new understanding of myself and my life goals and the potential for writing personal life stories spiritually.

So much, in fact, that I’m writing a book about it called, “Yoga on the Page.”  More about that later. For now, I invite everyone to my book release party, or to at least pick up a copy of the book on Amazon to read with an open mind towards not just the story, but what goes into a release such as this on every level. I look forward to feedback and all I have yet to learn from others, because if there is one thing life has taught me, it is that everyone we interact with in life is both a student and teacher.

Buy the Book

 

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Writing for Healing – a community

This week, I attended the TWI (Therapeutic Writing Institute) Therapeutic Journaling and Memoir convention in Hendersonville NC, where I was provided opportunity to listen to some of the country’s leading teachers and authors on the subject of writing for healing. Most attendees were therapists getting credentialing so they can add writing to their programs. And then there’s me.I discovered a whole new community of healers I didn’t really know existed before.

The two time US Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, was a featured speaker. She read her work –and after her keynote lecture and powerful poems, she shared information about programs devoted to helping troubled teens express themselves with poetry that she has been involved in.

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Poet Laureate, Natasha Tethewey, giving a presentation

I took a variety of courses, including several on writing ethical and spiritual wills (lasting words to leave for future generations to share the wisdom of who you are and what you believe), writing to get closer to nature and to forge deeper connections to earth spirit, the power of circles to connect people in healing communities, how to write spiritual poetry, and much more. I have so many of the writing books that were featured, yet still I brought a few and had them signed. I bought a few more for the library at Heartwood too – interesting new titles that I can’t wait to read and share. I have been asked to teach at ACE in Sarasota next term, and my mind was alive with ideas for innovative writing classes for the Ace population, as well as students at Heartwood, too.

Most delightful was the community meals that allowed me to meet the other 160 attendees, most of whom are therapists, all of whom are writers with stories to share of how writing has changed the lives of those they work with. The people I met were all passionate about writing, serving others, and making a difference in the world. I couldn’t help but be impressed with their commitment and generosity of spirit. It was unlike any yoga or writing event I’ve ever been too – yet oddly similar at the same time. This convention opened my eyes to many concepts, teaching me what I know and what I don’t know about therapeutic writing. It was a profound experience that revealed I have good instincts and I’ve been teaching quality material. Sometimes the validation that you are doing something right is the best take-away of all. The free writes and opportunity to follow another teacher’s lead in journaling was deeply appreciated too.

The timing of this experience couldn’t have been better because as soon as I left for a week, my book arrived at my home- a month earlier than expected because the official release date is still a month off. I have had some concern about my memoir and how it will be embraced or perceived by those who are mentioned in it, yet after listening to the wisdom of these great teachers and their message about writing as an act of healing, how important it is to speak your truth despite resistance and fears and the way others try to silence you, made me not only feel validated, but deeply proud, that I stuck with my project for over 9 years to finally get the book in print. Coming home to hold the printed words in my hands for the first time had special significance after hearing so much on the subject – and I couldn’t help but feel good about my own commitment to spiritual growth and the writing I’ve done to understand myself and my place in the world. It doesn’t make a difference if anyone likes my book or not. What is important is that I wrote it, boldly and with right intention.

When a few new friends at dinner discovered I was a yoga teacher, they quickly instigated an impromptu class, and I found myself teaching yoga to a group of writers on chairs (since we didn’t have mats) outside in the grass after a long day of writing indoors. It was magical. A hummingbird soared by as I was teaching, reminding me of my garden, because we have a resident hummingbird that I seem to see everyday this time of year sat home. At Heartwood, I am trying to blend yoga and writing, and this small, spontaneous hour and the visit from my little bird friend seemed to confirm that my vision is indeed possible.

It has been a long time since I’ve taken the time or spent the money to attend an event like this to expand my understanding of writing. The drive was long, the beds in the retreat center hard and uncomfortable and it rained the entire time.  Despite it being spring, the weather was uncommonly cold, and of course, I did not pack for such conditions, but that didn’t kill the buzz! I drove to Walmart to buy a blanket for my bed, and endured the rest with a smile.

In addition to enjoying the educational program, I had been looking forward to experiencing a different retreat center to see how the vision we have at Heartwood holds up. This convention was at the Kunuga Retreat Center near Ashville, which is a renowned 180 acre Episcopalian spiritual retreat center that has been established for some 80 years.  I got such a kick out of seeing they had a peace pole (the same size as ours) and a labyrinth (the same size as ours) and other similarities. This reinforced my belief that we are on the right track. I certainly felt pride that we have done as much as we have with so little space and limited private resources.  I came back with a few new ideas to enhance the inner quiet for our students too. I walked the labyrinth in the rain, using the time to consider how my writing has changed, grown and taken root in new directions over the years. It was lovely having the private time to process what I was learning and doing as a writer, teacher and woman.

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Labyrinth at Kanuga

Today I am home. David is hard at work refinishing the back room of the studio to make a permanent art room so we can expand our programs to include more spiritual arts. Soon, we won’t have to drag materials and tables in and out of storage every time we use them. Meanwhile, I am sending out copies of my book to family and friends, and attending to the backlog of work.  Back to the grind, but what a lovely grind it is.

It is good to get away – but even better to come home to a place you feel defines you, and to see it with invigorated purpose.

International Labyrinth Day

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Today was International Labyrinth Day and people all over the world walk labyrinths in churches, spiritual centers, parks and private facilities in honor of world peace.  David and I recently built a Labyrinth at Heartwood, so we opened it to the public today in support of this cause. I gave a short lecture with a nifty PowerPoint presentation on the history, purpose, meaning and metaphor of walking a labyrinth so people could see the potential in something as simple as a walk, if done with intention and an open heart . We had about 20 people in attendance, some who are new to labyrinths, and others who have walked the pattern all over as they travel and explore different communities.  The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and the positive commentary and warmth we receive from those who joined us today made for a poignant afternoon.  On days like this, I love what I’ve done with this chapter of my life.

Last night David and I were out there hanging heavy iron decor on a structure by the labyrinth and working to maintain the grounds nearby. David installed a marble shelf in the entryway, which later will include a kiosk with more information on labyrinths so people can learn more. We created a guest book so people who come to visit can sign in and their names can be included in the world wide count of people who walk for peace. We also created a community journal that will be kept out there inviting those who wish to share insights or encouragement with others to leave a few words behind. Sometimes all people need when they are facing challenges is to know that they are not alone and that others have walked the same path.   Like all of Heartwood, the labyrinth project is unfolding slowly, depending on what resources and effort David and I can spare, but it is deeply rewarding to stand back and see we have made something special to support those seeking answers and personal peace, for no other reason than because we can. Walking a labyrinth is free, good for the heart and soul, and it keeps people unplugged and connected to nature and their best self. Everyone should give it a shot just to see if such an endeavor has anything to offer them.

We’ve had visitors walk the labyrinth before today. One woman came in a wheelchair, and she did the entire path on wheels to contemplate her life. Her mother walked behind her, giving her space, yet feeling a part of her journey at the same time.  We considered this  a very special initiation for our project. We’ve had groups walk the labyrinth together, and couples, as well as solitary people with issues they wanted to contemplate. Several people today decided to pick up our “Journaling the Labyrinth” worksheets, where thoughts can be written in the path of the labyrinth on paper. I asked if they would mind my taking a picture (from afar so their thoughts remained private) just to share what this looks like. One woman introduced herself as a mental health counselor and she asked if she could return with a few of her clients, one on one, whom she feels would greatly benefit from the experience. Of course, we said, “anytime.” After talking, she and another health care professional (cranial therapy) decided they really should bring a few of their patients to my journaling workshop as well as to visit the labyrinth. We believe everything we do here, writing, yoga, spiritual meditation etc… is connected so when one of our free programs or activities opens the door to another (also free) program, we can’t help but feel our work counts and touches lives.

About an hour after the lecture, and after most people had walked the path, I couldn’t help but smile to note that all three of our hammocks had people resting in them. A few others were writing in the garden or had taken one of my labyrinth books out to read a bit on our benches scattered about the grounds. One group of women, people who just met today, decided to share a ride (parking is difficult) to Pickin’ in the Park in Bradenton to enjoy the art festival and music. It is an amazing thing to watch community form and support each other and know you have positively encouraged it through acts of good intention. David and I are honored to be a part of an ongoing process to create something special here, and tonight, not for the first time or last, we will walk the labyrinth together to reflect on our own journey as a couple and as partners in creating a small, but meaningful, retreat center that, on a good day like today, touches lives.

 

Bamboo

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For several months now, David and I have been on a quest to learn about bamboo. Our initial consideration of bamboo started with problems we’ve had with neighbors. The houses on two sides of our property are situated very near the property line so  they loom over us, creating a distraction in what is, otherwise, a very natural and serene property that promotes deep connection to nature. Our home and outbuildings blend into the environment with dark, rustic wood, while one of our neighbor’s houses (the closest and most prominent) is bright red–a beacon you can’t help but notice and that feels rather invasive. More problematic has been the way the man living there is overly focused on anything we do and feels entitled to judge, attack, reprimand, and cause trouble in manners that show not only a lack of respect, but ignorance. In short, we live next to Mrs. Cravitz (with a mean streak).

So we put up a privacy fence – which I’ve wanted desperately since the first day we moved here. The problem has been that a different neighbor, one we much respect, wasn’t receptive and reacted negatively when we began putting up a fence, so to keep harmony, we stopped the process even though we had invested heavily in (as part one of a two part plan to get some privacy) the materials. To be honest, with such an expansive space, fencing Heartwood was a bit too pricey for us considering all the other projects we undertook. But eventually, we felt we had no choice but to put up the fence when the problematic neighbor got even more nosy, and started shooting guns whenever he saw cars parked here, just to disrupt us (which he bragged about online). His dog was coming over and digging under my chicken coop too, which worried me because a few seasons ago, the dog came over and killed a few of my poultry. I was uncomfortable even going out into my own pasture because, after a year of voiced threats and cyber bullying, I feel he can and will do whatever he can to cause us harm. The point is, eventually we had to admit it was time to create a barrier and reclaim our privacy and our right to live without interference or fear from others….. Sigh…… a fence was at least a start.

Anyway, once the fence was in place, we decided perhaps we should screen off some of our more troublesome spots with quick growing bamboo. Bamboo has a bad rap as many people consider it an invasive species that runs rampant in a yard, destroying fences and causing other problems. But this sort of troublesome bamboo is “running bamboo”, that spreads quickly and in every direction through root runners . Clumping bamboo is another story all together, and while it spreads and grows larger to some extent, it is easy to control and stays where you put it. It is a perfect tall screen if you need one, and is beautiful, sounds amazing, and has very positive associations in a zen/yoga community. Not all bamboo is equal, and clumping bamboo is a bigger investment of time, energy and money than the easy to collect running bamboo, but worth the trouble in our opinion.

Some bamboos grow up to 100 feet in three years – a few species can even grow a foot a day in peek growing season! Bamboo is a renewable resource, with shallow roots so it can be planted near a septic etc… It’s considered “lucky”. And it is beautiful with many varieties to suit each selected planting area. David researched bamboo, and as a gardener and scientific sort of guy, became a walking bamboo dictionary. We have gone to two bamboo farms to talk to specialists and see different species, to see, touch, and listen to different varieties before daring to invite it to our beautiful property. From the start, I am concerned with maintenance and keeping up with the demands of any landscaping choice we make because I am the primary gardener who is chief pruner, weeder and decorator. David’s role is more the heavy work, the planting, watering, big pruning, building……

So we went bamboo shopping, each with our own agenda and concerns. We fell in love with the black bamboo, the gigantic bamboo, the golden bamboo and stalks that grow in blue or reddish tints. We’ve had great conversations with bamboo enthusiasts and specialists who share stories of how bamboo saved relations with neighbors, created amazing landscape features and offered them a livelihood. David even talked whimsically about turning our pasture into a bamboo farm as something we could do on the side when we hit our old age… but I talked him out of that. Just not the direction I believe we are made for in this phase of life. Anyway, it’s been a bamboo fest at our house for months – and as always, it is fun to learn something new and be engaged in a new project.

We chose a few species that will grow successfully in our area – the soil and the climate is appropriate for success for these varieties – and we had to forego a few because we are just a few degrees too cold here (black bamboo.). We planted a dozen quick growing tall plants in front of the fence to mask the red house. We planted spreading blue bamboo by the labyrinth to create a privacy wall to deepen meditation practices. We planted gigantic, thick bamboo behind the yoga center to create privacy and because we adore the sound when wind rustles through the bamboo once it is grown. It is like a living wind chime! We have plans for more varieties and starter clumps when we can afford it, and David has plans to start his own cuttings from a friend’s property when the season is right – something he wants to do partially because it will save money, but also because he is enthralled with learning new things and wants to enjoy the experiment factor.

When we visited Ringling last week, we marveled at an intimate sitting space outside the museum that created what felt like a room in a bamboo cave with pathways leading to private benches. They had a few banyan trees too make it even more spectacular, but even so, the bamboo was magnificent.   The shade, the privacy and the beauty of the space was deeply inspirational, and the moment we got home we picked a place to create something similar.

David has worked hard planting our bamboo. He had to dig huge holes that he filled with a mixture of peat, manure, soil and plants. He then ran new irrigation to each bamboo area to assure we nurture our new living wall. He checks the plants every day, tends them, waters them and talks to them. I have to believe our bamboo is happy here.

Now, all we need is patience. In three years, we will have transformed our terrain yet again, changing some of our empty pasture areas into tropical garden rooms that will create spaces rich with opportunity to seek solace and quiet alone in nature. I’m delighted to report that our bamboo has already grown a foot taller in the first month. Not thicker yet – but research has shown us that it will take new shoots for that result.

Life is ever changing, and so is the landscape. It is a joy to be a part of the process, treating our property like a work of living art. One idea always seems to lead to another….. and since it is spring, the creative juices are flowing like wild at Heartwood. I look forward to every stage of the evolution and what we learn along the way.