“Show me an immovable tree in a high wind.”
~Pacific Zen Miscellaneous Koans
Koan practice in Zen is about showing rather than telling. By showing that we are an immovable tree in a high wind, rather than explaining that we are so, we allow our bodies to feel a wisdom that is outside of our small mind’s ability to grasp. As I write this note, I am sitting virtually in the shadow of the Peace Dome, in Hiroshima, Japan, having come with my family in hope and to bear witness to the mass destruction visited on this city 65 years ago. Will man be able to avoid his own mass extinction? While on the plane, I saw two documentaries that held a similar question. Both were redolent with wonderful images and ideas, but one, I felt, was telling me about the environmental danger this planet is in, while the other was showing me what to do about it.
Jeff Bridges’ Living in Future’s Past (2018), is a beautiful but soon-enough boring pastiche of nature clips with rotating talking heads of experts telling us about the existential threat facing the Earth. All that talking, I must admit, lost me after a few minutes, despite the hard truth of the message. On the other hand, John and Molly Chesters’ The Biggest Little Farm (2018) is an infectious 12-year record of these new age Joad’s looking to migrate out of their jobs as a photographer and chef to convert a 200-acre piece of hard-pan into a vibrant organic farm. Why? Because their barking dog forced an eviction. To be sure, there were some un-realities: the farm had deep-pocketed investors (perhaps Bridges one of them!) who pumped millions into the Apricot Lane Farms, with apparently little need for return on investment. A few dozen eggs sold out don’t pay the mortgage.
But the Chesters show us how it is possible to live in a complex environment and give rather than just take. They learned on the job. When literally tons of snails started eating their fruit trees, they loosed their flock of ducks into the orchard, where the birds ate 100,000 in a season. They brought dogs in to chase away the coyotes, who were devastating their chickens, and the coyotes then turned on the gophers in the orchards, who were also eating the fruit trees. Hawks we attracted to the murmurations of starlings, who were damaging the fruit, and swarms of ladybugs went after the aphids. “The ecosystem of the entire planet works in this way,” said Chester on closing, “and it is perfect.” Showing rather than telling.