March 24, 2009


One of the remarkable aspects of a project like ours is the manner in which good people seem to appear just as they're needed; after numerous such occurrences, one almost gets used to it. We've recently had another such unfolding.

As noted in recent posts, we're at the point where we deem it suitable to establish a first structure on our land. I'd thought this would be something small and inexpensive: a meditation cabin or hut, sufficient for 3 or 4 people to practice. The idea was that by building such a structure, at least our minimum responsibility would have been fulfilled: we would have successfully created a place where intensive dharma practice could be undertaken. My plan was to then take up residence in the area, to practice and work the land, thus hopefully creating affinity links that might support later development of the property.

It was with such thoughts that we began preparing for, and announcing, our meditation hut. The response we received, however, was more than I'd hoped for: not only donations of tools, but offers of help from a home designer/builder, an architect, construction managers, and a large crew of strong bodies. After some intensive discussion, we realized that our plan to build a small meditation structure had evolved. We were now discussing the possibility - financially and logistically - of going straight forward and building stage one of our overall Korinji project, a larger structure to serve as the staging ground for our future residence.

Right now an engineer is designing a 60 x 30' barn structure, sincluding an engawa (covered deck), and containing a main space as well as smaller rooms built out for storage and other needs. Our architect friend has offered to take that design and produce drawings. We have information coming on the materials cost: it looks to be a bit more than we currently have, but not out of reach given the generosity we continue to experience from our donors, and the success of fundraising events like the annual Fall-a-thon. As for labor, we have willing hands, and the simplicity of the post-and-beam construction we plan allows us to largely do it ourselves. The building will not be will not have bath, kitchen, or other important amenities; those we save for stage two, the main house. But most importantly, we'll have a place to begin working on Korinji together.

I spent four days on the land over this past weekend. The feeling of the place, even now at the end of winter, is remarkable. An electric, humming stillness covers the land there this time of year; other than a brief exchange of great horned owl calls in the early evening, and some yapping and fussing from coyotes across the far side of the valley around midnight, a deep, silent clarity seemed to well up from the hollows and ravines. Sleeping on the ground under a tarp, I awoke around 1am to see brilliant stars spread out from ridgetop to ridgetop, illuminating silvery patches of snow that still lay on the north facing slopes. Truly, our future home is a place well-suited to Zen training.

The days were warm, and we got some good work done: the parking area, an existing flat ridgetop accessed by the drive on the south end of the property, has been cleared of dead wood and brush. From there an already defined trail drops down east to an overview of the valley, zig-zagging then more or less north to the bottom of the main ravine (there we eventually plan a wooden footbridge, or at least flat walking stones, to allow passage over the bottom of the ravine) before rising up to the building site, a south-facing slope looking directly into the deepest part of the land. We needed to clear only thorn trees there: we'll get some good sunlight. The view from there in March is of snowy forest, gray rock, and the valley beyond. In summer I expect the valley will be obscured, and only a sea of waving trees will be seen.

We've identified other future sites as well, including the locations of our future house and a possible small retreat cabing. Yes, we'll still build it at some point for use as a solitary practice place. From its doorway there, one will just be able to see, north across the valley and past a grove of white birches, the zendo rooftop. Perhaps - if the wind is quiet - one would hear the sound of the meditation bell.

March 7, 2009

Tools for the Job

The weather seems to have broken here in the Chicago region, at least for the time being: the lake this morning is largely free of the white ice sheet which only a few days earlier stretched to the horizon. We'll most likely have another snow, and temperatures will still hit the twenties and thirties. But the worst may be over.

This means it's time to start our meditation hut. Our temple land in Wisconsin is a few hours north, so temperatures there in the Madison area are a bit lower still. But I'll be spending several days on our temple land later in March, to confirm the hut's exact location and orientation (along with the location of some other important features such as our access drive, parking area, trails, footbridges, and steps to be inset into hillsides - all of which we'll be working on this spring and summer).

Once those decisions are made and plotted on the GPS, it will be time to begin cutting the hut's major structural pieces back in Chicago for assembly on the land. We're still planning a wood frame structure, with plastered straw bale walls. Interior floor space will be four tatami: three actual tatami, and one tatami-size area of exposed wood flooring as an entry area and location for our woodstove. The hut will have a small engawa (covered walkway) on one side, overlooking one of the ravines we'll most likely build into.

We still have some small details to work out: rather than windows set into the walls, for example, we may use recycled bottle glass. But the form of our structure has been largely defined.

Now is the time we'd like to appeal for donations of items we'll be needing to use this year: tools! If it can be used for simple construction, clearing land, landscaping or gardening, we probably need it. Here's a partial list:

  • Shovels and spades
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Pick
  • Hoe
  • Sledge
  • Axes and hatchets
  • Pruning tools
  • Measuring tapes
  • Hammers
  • Handsaws
  • Chainsaws

If you have items like these you'd like to donate, we'd be very happy to hear from you (and to send you a receipt for the value of your tax-deductible donation).

One recent purchase by the Foundation was small, inexpensive hand-held video recorder (a Flip Mino HD). We'll be using this to film our next land visit, and to document the construction of our hut. Keep an eye on the blog and on the Korinji website for these posted videos.