The Most Useful Thing

I woke up this morning with the thought: “Is this the most useful thing I can be doing?” I spend a lot of time on the farm – taking care of it, thinking about it, managing people who work with me on it, finding volunteers, looking for money – my whole life revolves around it now. That question often arises.

This morning, there was an answer. It was very clear. The answer was “No.” The most useful thing I could be doing is teaching Zen.

I’m not going to make a lot of words around that right now. The answer came as it is. I will say that for me teaching Zen is the way to point directly to what matters, to the liberation of the spirit.

The question remains whether this farm is the most useful setting for my teaching of Zen. That question will take care of itself.

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What thoughts are for – some thoughts

Visiting my teacher’s temple, I sit with others for two hours each morning. This is a wonderful opportunity and I am grateful. And this morning, as the second period drew to a close, I noticed that I had not been resting, was not deeply at peace. Zazen is a time to set aside busy thoughts and do nothing, a vacation. I love it. So why did I spend my time in plans and memories? Working?

An answer to that question came to me a few years ago, and has been in my mind again recently. Every thought that intrudes on the quiet space says “look at me!” It says “I exist.” More specifically, it is my own mind saying “I exist.” It also says “This is who I am.”

Cabot Rd - Jan 2013 pines - CopyIt goes on and on, confirming my reality, asserting my stability as an independent and permanent entity.

That is what thoughts are for.

There is also something about conversation. I heard this from Roy Dopson, an Advaita teacher who visited Vairochana Farm. Then I started observing myself in conversation.

We speak to assert our existence and to have it acknowledged by others. They affirm that I exist, and various items about myself. I bet you can see this too. I can particularly watch it on Facebook, because there will be an interaction and then it stops. Then there is a response. I find myself enormously involved in how other people respond to my comments or posts. Sometimes I feel relieved. In conversation, if I successfully make a statement and others agree, I may feel relief or even jubilation.

We talk in order to confirm that we exist and have certain attributes – wise, funny, good, courageous – or sometimes their opposites. Because being bad is preferred to not existing.

In the Samdhinirmocana, there is a long discussion of the delusion that we are permanent independent beings, with certain attributes that are real. This is a delusion.

We are really afraid of not existing.

Even if we intellectually understand that lacking a permanent independent existence with fixed attributes is not the same as not existing – that actually it is like being a real, living person instead of a statue – we are still afraid of it. What amazing anxiety exists around this refusal to be fully alive and in the moment.

I am here to attest to this anxiety. I know better, yet I just spent another 2 hours (maybe one and a half) with my mind wandering and working instead of taking a much-needed break.

And why am I writing this? Well, maybe it will help me to quit my addiction to personal existence. Maybe it will help someone else. And maybe it will make me famous as a wise person. I cannot ignore the last reason. Because I am an addict. As with any addiction, honesty is essential to recovery.

I wrote this in December. It still looks good from here. May all beings be free from suffering, from attachment, to delusion – may all beings be happy.

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Gratitude and more

On the verge of entering Rohatsu sesshin – the annual, traditional seven-day retreat remembering Buddha’s enlightenment – there is little to say. I wrote briefly at Here I will repeat only the poem, and the picture of the river.  It amazes me how happy I am these days, with so much trouble in the world. I would be embarrassed, if I did not think that deep calm was helpful to everyone. The troubles we are in arise fundamentally from imagining we are separate, thinking there is not enough, and thinking that someone (separate from us) will hurt us. Our thoughts serve to convince us that we exist, or that we are really how we imagine ourselves. We speak in order to get others to affirm our existence. But to let go of that fixed, permanent, independent existence is to be alive, connected, supported — alive.

“This is what you shall do:

Love the earth and sun and the animals,

despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,

stand up for the stupid and crazy,

devote your income and labor to others,

hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,

have patience and indulgence toward the people,

take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men—

go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families—

re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul;

Cannon River, early winter

Cannon River, early winter

and your very flesh shall be a great poem,

and have the richest fluency,

not only in its words,

but in the silent lines of its lips and face,

and between the lashes of your eyes,

and in every motion and joint of your body.”

–from Preface to “Leaves of Grass” (1855), Walt Whitman 

I will sit for seven days, and at the end there will be a service of healing and in memory of those who have died, particularly in violence. This is not a tradition but what arises for me in this time. 



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After Veterans’ Day

Yesterday, November 11, was Veterans’ Day in the United States, and Armistice Day in Europe. In Britain they honored the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I with poppies – 900,000 poppies for the 900,000 military – human beings – who died in that war. It was said to be caused by militarism, nationalism, and imperialism, along with international alliances and of course an assassination. It was not a war for freedom by anyone’s imagination. The end of that war was a cause for celebration – yet the world has continued to make war in the same way ever since.

There is a place in Neillsville, Wisconsin called The Highground, Wisconsin Veterans’ Memorial Park.

It is the mission of The Highground to honor Veterans and their families and to educate about the cost of things – the human cost. It is the vision of The Highground to honor human courage and sacrifice wherever it is displayed, without either denying or glorifying the pain and suffering of war or of life.”

When you go there, it feels like that. It’s a memorial for those of us who abhor war.

Veterans Day just happens to be the day the Berlin Wall was opened up 25 years ago, and the day of Kristallnacht in 1938, the beginning of the Nazi Holocaust. (Now the only walls are keeping immigrants out of the U.S. at the Mexico border, and keeping Palestinians trapped in what is now called Israel. Do the supporters of those walls ever think about what it means to put up such a wall?) Right now five women are fasting at Bhopal, India, with 1000 supporters, all survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster that killed thousands. They are fasting without water, to ask their government to hold Dow Chemical (which bought Union Carbide) accountable to the court summons that Dow ignored.

On my Facebook page are notes remembering dear friends who never came back from a war, photos honoring those who died in 500 years resisting colonialism in North America, and one poster saying “Who would die for you? Jesus, and the American soldier.” I immediately thought of Rachel Corrie, who died protecting homes in Palestine; five young people who locked themselves down in White Clay, Nebraska on behalf of the Lakota people), and several Lakota people who did the same over the KXL pipeline, and people who lock their necks to bulldozers, and a man long ago who died in Cleveland because the bulldozer driver just didn’t see he was there. I’m only talking here about the heroes, not those killed accidentally, carelessly, or with intentional carelessness.

Heroes are everywhere. In addition to those who died for their people, or for all the people, I want to honor those who took a chance and lived, those who guided their people, who raised the children, healed the sick, fed others, or took care of the land which they knew could not be owned. Our lives are full of such people. There are people who risk their lives. There are people who work tirelessly. There are people who create a deep place of love which nourishes everyone around them. We only have special days for a few of these people. The Buddhist in me wants to honor them all.

So, two days after Veterans Day, I ask: which of these heroes are you? If you think you are none, please look again. Find the hero hidden inside you. Free her, free him, and feel your life open before you.

Blessings.sitting 2011 DC

Shodo Spring

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the flaming leaves and sacred spaces

There was a poem I memorized in high school. From memory:

Cannon River, fall

Cannon River, fall

Thy winds, thy wide gray skies,              thy mists that roll and rise,                       thy woods, this autumn day, that sag    and all but cry with color, that gaunt crag to crush, to lift the lean of that black bluff, oh world I cannot hold thee close enough.

Long have I known a splendor in it all        but here such a rapture is                           it stretcheth me apart.   Lord, I do fear thou’st made the world too beautiful this year.                                                                  My heart is all but out of me.  Let fall      no burning leaf; prithee let no bird call.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay, I think.

The skies were gray, the trees were flaming, and the poem came into mind. I went out to do some work with the land bridge erosion site – I seem to have decided to go ahead and repair it – and I simply could not come back in. I wandered along the old road, and in the creek with my boots, and into the Jizo garden in the pines, feeling the sacred places, wondering if there were any not sacred. And I visited the little creek, and the maple grove; I thought about which trees to cut and which to leave when I thin.

And I thought about the amazing amount of work there is to do here, and how important it is to let the land nourish me. For tomorrow’s sesshin, I added the possibility of an hour walking in the land, because of that nourishment.

What a gift it is to be here.

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Hello again


It seems that I announced that I blog here, but didn’t post anything, while several people checked out the site and a few signed up. Apologies.

So I will start with a little news from my life in the last 6 months. I’m living at Vairochana Farm, still alone though visitors are coming and there are a few conversations with potential residents. The learning curve has been steep, the tasks overwhelming. I’m spending money on help (farming, erosion control, and the like) that I’d rather save for big projects. It’s beautiful; it’s amazing that I get to live here. More information at

Cannon River, fall

Cannon River, fall

Trying to pull together threads from the past months:

Living on the land, I’m learning as fast as I can, which isn’t fast enough but has to be. I seek balance between self-care and the needs of the land. Harvest; prep the garden; work with erosion; study permaculture and forestry and all the rest. I’ve learned several kinds of pickling, frozen or dried a lot of wild greens and garden produce, pulled up wild cucumber and buckthorn and more. Now it’s time to install wood heat – masonry stove and wood cook stove – and that means lots of firewood. I try not to go in to town too often, but am using much more fossil fuel than when I lived in town. The plan is to get completely off the hook; patience is required. I sit zazen every morning, some evenings, and one day of retreat each month, which is renewal time.

If you have interest in helping with anti-erosion work at the farm, please sign up at  You’ll get notices of events (not so many) and can decide to join, or not.

The goat adventure was – well, an adventure. I had seven goats for a couple months, sending them back when I realized that even without doing anything else I was not keeping up with them. (The plan was that they would eat the buckthorn; it would have worked eventually but moving fences gets really old.) And I still feel sad at thinking that Violet and Brave, the two goats I knew best, may be dead or enslaved now. I didn’t like fencing them at all. So my commitment to using animals to care for the land is running into my feelings for individual animals. Hopefully there will be resolution and I’ll be able to have animals again.

Meanwhile a part of my mind is always with the “outside world.” I wanted to go to Ferguson, bring Buddhist witness for the killings of Michael Brown and the others, but finally decided I need to stay here. Climate change, Palestine, all of it goes on and on while the sun breaks through the leaves in utter beauty.

My identity as a Zen priest and teacher is increasingly central to all of this. I’m teaching a very small group, and love doing so. At a recent priests’ conference, I presented a session about last year’s Compassionate Earth Walk and co-led a session on Buddhist response to climate change, both very well received. And I socialized with other Zen priest farmers. The result, briefly put,  is that I discovered this really is my tribe. Sadly, not a tribe I live together with, but a tribe of shared values and more customs than I knew. Finding people who will live here – or perhaps across the road – is a slow and careful process.

I’m moving forward, one step at a time, not thinking too much about limits – specifically the limit of using inherited money rather than an income. If I go back to work, there’s not the time to wholly take care of the land. Some dana (gifts) have been given, and every one brings me a burst of gratitude and confidence. Still, starting the farm and getting the house off-grid will take much more than I have. A great deal of trust is required. Today I’m asking whether to buy the cheaper masonry stove or the more expensive one, which will save 10% on woodcutting for the rest of my life. And whether to spend $5000 to save the land bridge leading to the wooded north half of the farm.

And it’s time to go back to work; I was given several hazelnut bushes and need to bring them out of the truck, to plant another day. Hopefully the next post will be on one topic and a little more complete.



Land bridge/erosion site

Land bridge/erosion site

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Concluding the Walk

As I start moving into the next phase of my life, it seemed important to gather my own writings from the Walk. I chose not to remove the mundane – donation appeals and event announcements – but to do the whole. The photos are missing, but can be found at the website

My next work is to begin Vairochana Farm,which I usually refer to as a Zen permaculture activist farm:

The entire universe is the body of Buddha; Vairochana is the name for that Buddha. Our spiritual practice at Vairochana Farm will include meditation, offering Buddha’s teachings, growing food, taking care of the land, and doing what we can to address the problems caused by the delusions of industrial civilization.

If you want to keep in touch with Vairochana Farm happenings, please go here:

Much warmth,



July 1, entering Canada
We arrived at the Canadian border with six people, intending to go to the Healing Walk and then start our walk. Instead, three of our people were not allowed into Canada.
We returned to our previous campsite and sat together in council for a long and fruitful time. Finally two of us decided to return – renting a car, after unsuccessfully attempting to get a ride – and four returned to the U.S. They will go to the Rainbow Gathering in Montana (nearby) and then do various things in support of the Walk until we can reconnect. Two people plus some others will join us in or near Hardisty and walk through Canada; the two completely blocked from Canada will be organizing and participating in other activities – and doing our press!
(The bus, running on used veggie oil, requires a lot of work that the two going to Canada did not feel able to take on, so it stayed with Davey who is familiar with it.)
At this moment four of us are at a house in Edmonton, waiting for the fifth to arrive. We will gather our energy, get provisions, and drive to Indian Beach, where we will help with preparations for the Healing Walk as planned. Energy is good, and the whole event resulted in deepening our connections even as we separated. We look forward to returning.
One side effect of all this is an increased cost – both for the rental car and for some duplication of supplies (e.g. second ice chest!)
We will do blog posts as we are able, and the U.S. group will be posting also. Please keep us in your hearts, as you are in ours.
Press release – July 10
Six walkers left  Hardisty, AB on Monday, with intention to walk the Keystone XL route to Steele City, NE. Their walk is descried as a spiritual walk, honoring our place within the community of life.  Walking in shifts, they reached Amisk, AB, and were hosted by a local ranch family for the night.
According to a Hardisty resident, the town of Hardisty itself is completely dependent on the oil industry for jobs and economic well-being. Pipelines are well-maintained, there have been no spills, and pay is high. And even though people defend the oil industry, they are deeply concerned about the environment.
According to the ranchers, many people in the area are opposed to pipelines and fracking (though it’s seen as unstoppable) and care deeply about the environment.  Working the farm has become harder because labor is so expensive; ranch wages don’t compete with the pay for even an entry-level oil worker. So the ranch work is mostly done by the farm family themselves. Still, he works the land in a holistic manner, saying,  “It’s amazing what you can do when you work with nature.”
Before the walk, the group joined 500 people in the Fourth Annual Healing Walk at Fort MacMurray, a spiritual walk dedicated to healing human conflict and environmental destruction.
Day 3. Field Notes from the Compassionate Earth Walk, July 10. Czar, Alberta.
On our third day of walking, we are working out what this pilgrimage means.  Last night we were up past midnight (which had something to do with a support vehicle getting stuck in the sand on a back road).  And then back up again to see the Aurora Borealis.
This morning’s daily zazen became instruction for the sake of those with no sitting experience.  Today and yesterday, we’ve noted the differences between walking on busy roads versus back roads.  On the main highway out of Hardisty, there’s a great deal of truck traffic serving the oil terminals.  Nearly all trucks moved over to give us space, but the noise and intensity were tiring.  Still, there was an energy in the meeting.
Now we are walking backroads, dirt or gravel, with few cars, wetlands, farms, masses of wildflowers – and a sense of being nourished by the Earth.  So we meet the two flavors of this walk:  receiving earth’s compassion, and meeting industrial civilization.
We’ve met several people, and found them friendly and warm.  A Hardisty resident observed that everyone either works in oil and gas, or has family who do; they see no alternative.  Yet they care about the environment.  This was originally a ranching area, and ranching is still dominant here.  Hardisty has had no spills, and even opponents acknowledge the industry as pretty safe here.
A rancher’s father, who’s lived here for decades, observed you can’t afford help anymore:  people can get $30/hr right out of high school [in oil and gas] but $15 for farm help is a stretch – so the family works hard, alone, with no time for flower or vegetable gardens.  They told us that many ranchers oppose escalating oil and gas development, but it seems unstoppable. (These people are ranching relatively sustainably.  They taught all of us about their work – including a chance to see artificial insemination!)  This all started with an encounter with their son, to whom I said, “we think people should be able to have a good life and also take care of the planet for their grandchildren.”
Tonight we are five; our reporter from Turning Wheel has left.  Tomorrow we lose one (who will come back later) and gain three, who are driving toward us right now.    Something is being created here; people come and go and we need to find ways for the community to continue as the individuals change.  Meanwhile, walking 10 miles/ day is…exhausting.  But spirits are high.
Day 8. Field Notes from the Compassionate Earth Walk, July 15. Between Oyen and Acadia Valley, Alberta.
This Sunday, walking day 7, was also our first day of rest. We spent two nights with the gracious hospitality of the Oyen United Church of Canada, spoke at their worship service, and shared a potluck.  In the afternoon several of us visited a native prairie, part of the ranch of Terry Pearen. The feeling of spaciousness, beyond sight of any human stuff except ourselves, the car, and ancient tipi circles, was indescribable. Terry’s depth of knowledge about ranching, soils, prairie care and restoration, local history and indigenous history was enriching and fascinating – and I want to look into Operation Grasslands Community, which is doing restoration and sustainability work in Canada. Finally we left the wide sky and prairie and returned to town for dinner, singing, and deep conversation with Terry, his wife Velma, and minister Helen Reed. We started a little late the next morning!

Comings and goings: On Saturday we were joined by Aaron, Harry, and Justin, who had come from the east with the veggie oil school bus and gone to the Rainbow Gathering before joining us. Sunday Jon left us for pressing engagements, to return in early August. Last Thursday Laura left, to return in September. Right now we have Taylor, Lina, and Shodo in addition to the three new men. Living so closely together, we find each leaving a major loss; yet already we are a new and energetic group of walkers.

Walking is becoming physically easier; the legs are getting accustomed, and for the longer-term walkers the blisters are diminishing. Some of the new walkers are walking vigorously but also getting serious blisters. After walking three days on beautiful back roads, we’ve returned to a minor highway, still beautiful.  Perhaps once or twice we have an interesting conversation with someone; only once the police. We’re learning much about local land, people, history, and politics. This is an area where people routinely live past 90 and often past 100.

A confession: the schedule on the website is not the schedule we are following. We’re starting to settle into a routine, but every night we collectively set our plans for the next day. Usually we rise about 7, sit 45 minutes of zazen (or other contemplative practice), eat breakfast, pack, and send off the morning walkers. After about 4½ hours of walking they get picked up and the afternoon walkers begin. Each group has a different set of tasks during their off hours – and both groups are pretty busy. After dinner it’s usually late; we gather in council, focusing on both logistics and community well-being. Of course, when we are with hosts, priority is for interacting with the hosts. We circle often to take care of immediate decisions. There’s a sense of joy and playfulness among us, and we’re finding the walking more and more a meditation as the days go on.
All best wishes. Shodo

Day 16: Field notes from Compassionate Earth Walk, July 23: Maple Creek, SK
Today we said good-bye to Taylor, who is returning to Japan to be with his wife and prepare for their first child. He’s been with the walk from the beginning at Ft. McMurray, has done our route planning and headed the kitchen, and been a stabilizing influence as well as having good jokes. We will miss him greatly. And we continue. Harry and I walked this morning through green fields with abundant small wildlife – butterflies, frogs, insects, birds – and watched the cows and horses watching us. They often follow us. I found myself able to moo; they responded, but didn’t quote come close to us.
How can I write about the immensity of sky, earth, grasses and plants? Its vastness holds us, carries us, surrounds us, lifts us. Not to be grateful during these days of walking is impossible – even when legs are tired or mosquitoes come around. With perhaps 10 days left until we meet our U.S. contingent (expected to be 11 people), I think that we will meet them from a deepening state of meditation. Everyone is doing inner work in their own way; mine includes both this nourishment and gratitude, and processing forgotten wounds to be fully present in the group.
And then – two nights at Willow Bend Campground in Maple Creek: expensive but wi-fi, two picnic tables, and the best campground shower I’ve ever seen. Tomorrow: off into the unknown again.
Day 14
Saturday was our second rest day, very different from the first. Camped 3 days at Lake McLaren, we swam and canoed, had zazen instruction (after days of intending it), and sat with the sunset then a gratitude ceremony around the fire, led by Aaron. Four young women came up to us, asked questions, and requested zazen instruction; I gave instruction and the ceremony was held until I could join them. The eagerness of the young women was touching. “Can anyone join the walk?” one asked. The answer was yes, but she had a job. Today we are walking again.
It seems as though we meet one or two people along the road every day. This morning it was a worker in a truck, who stopped to ask what we were doing, responded well to Taylor’s explanation, and then gave detailed information about the best route into Maple Creek, our next destination. On Friday it was a farmer offering beer, who told some things about the soil (really good here, you can tell by the birds and animals – good soil means abundant wildlife). And on Friday the non-walking crew took the car to the nearest town to put air in a tire and buy groceries – we hadn’t planned ahead so well – which turned into a 50 mile trip because the first town had nothing. The second, Fox Valley, had no formal mechanic, but at the liquor store they called someone who was willing to take care of the tire – and give us a jump when suddenly the battery wouldn’t start. During that event a reporter showed up, and after a few questions she came out to the campsite to interview everyone. She writes the Fox Valley page for the Maple Creek paper.  I asked her to say that we hoped to meet people; we have no contacts in Maple Creek because we changed the route slightly.
Again we’re walking on gravel roads – one more day for that, before our first real city – and enjoying the wide expanses of sky and plains. We look at birds and wonder about their names. We’ve gathered and eaten just a few wild edibles. It’s hard to imagine ever living in a city again – or even a forest; there is such life in these wide spaces.
We’re walking faster and more easily – now 10 miles usually means 4 hours or less instead of 4.5, including breaks.
I discovered the comfort of double socks – and admit that I’m tiring faster than the others. Defying age may have its limits. But it could be nutrition or dehydration – but tomorrow I’ll accept the shorter walk (missing river and slough) and be on the pair that packs up and moves camp.
Why people like pipelines
We’re learning why people like pipelines. They are everywhere here, and all you see is a small pumping station or shed in the middle of a field – which looks exactly like the field next door. A wind farm would be much more visible and audible. Most of the people we see on the road are obviously working – the agricultural ones but also those servicing the pipelines, a decent job. Farmers tell us the payment for the easement is a significant support  for the risky business of agriculture. And some farmers quit altogether, letting their land go idle, eventually returning to a natural state with wild grasses and animals. Doesn’t seem so bad.
Even chemicals take on a different meaning when you know more. An Alberta rancher who is actively restoring native prairie and distinctly uneasy about chemicals explained “chemfallow” to us. They always leave a field fallow in alternate years – there simply isn’t enough water to grow crops every year. But the usual practices result in erosion and all its problems. With chemfallow, they leave the stubble standing and spray it. The land retains moisture, becomes softer and more friable – but what is the consequence of all those chemicals year after year, he wonders. I wonder too: isn’t there another way? The way I know is to cover the ground with straw or anything, so it retains moisture and doesn’t erode, no chemicals needed. I try to imagine doing that for a thousand acres at a time, which seems impossible but maybe it’s not. I realize how little I know.
If you’re thinking of joining us in the U.S., please make your plans, send an email, and keep an eye on the blog posts for our current location.
All best wishes.
Day 21. Field notes from the Compassionate Earth Walk. July 28, Shaunavon, SK
This morning Lina and I walked 12½ miles in 4½ hours, my longest walk yet. The last few miles were on a paved road, for the first time in days. The first were through an oilfield (fracking, not tar sands) which finally turned back to mostly agriculture before we reached the main road. Three of us walked for hours in almost complete silence; Justin left when we passed the camp, and is now making dinner. We spoke briefly with two motorists; one pointed out that the whole region depends on oil, the other merely asked if we were okay. If we had an injury while walking, there would definitely be help. (On that first comment: someone told us the size of the town has not changed, but there are many transient workers, with the usual difficulties as well as economic benefits.)
Some people say they’ve already begun installing the KXL pipeline, not waiting for approval. Looks like it here. Sign says “pipeline crossing.” Note backhoe digging next to oil rigs pumping.

We were trying to cover a lot of miles because yesterday we loitered. And our calculations show us getting into Glasgow (MT) two days later than planned. We want to catch up.
Day 20
In the morning we spent an hour socializing with a rancher living in a beautiful valley, learning about how he ranches and his opinions on politics, economics, and oil. Like his wife the day before, he is opposed to the oil drilling and thinks the environment is being ruined, but he also thinks nothing can be done – and that was where the discussion focused, and on our choice to walk in the face of apparent hopelessness. Finally he gave us a small donation – in spite of the hopelessness.
A bit later we met a school bus full of people: Hutterites on their way to work at the new community they’re building. They offered a tour, and when we met up with the afternoon team we all took a ride and saw their new place. The agricultural buildings were mostly in place; the residences were under construction. In addition to seeing and hearing about how they live, we got a look at a large modern farm, including giant machinery and a machine that milks a cow without human contact. (The cow comes in because she’s hungry and that’s where she gets fed; the machine washes her udder and uses lasers to find the teat; it’s all so easy and left several of us uncomfortable. Then we saw the calves in the next room, drinking out of pails – “If you let them nurse, that’s all they’re willing to do.”
Anyway, that’s how we had a short day yesterday. And we got to bed early by being quick with council meeting (all happy) and skipping the massage.
Day 19 – rest day
We unanimously agreed to sleep in. Justin made vegan blueberry pancakes for brunch, and at supper I made a chocolate cake-like thing to celebrate Justin’s birthday. I mended my robe and did hand laundry (no Laundromat in a town of 2000!) while others went various places in town, some involving milkshakes. We’re trying to deal with the budget – high camping fees and car repairs are hurting – the result is people are buying private food, mostly donating it to the group or for special events like the birthday.
the sock fight
So – we’ve started a tradition of offering a group backrub to one person each night. Each night the recipient was obvious until now – they settled it with a sock fight. Except then it was donated to the person with back pain. The backrub actually happens once every 2-3 nights, right before or after sunset meditation. We are having play and silliness along with deep silence, teamwork, and good food.
Day 18
I remember walking silently for hours with Harry. And this noting: I keep thinking thoughts – mostly planning and worrying – because if I didn’t, the stillness and beauty would take over and shake me entirely out of ordinary mind.
Day 17
We slept at the free Maple Creek campground, which was marvelously free of mosquitoes and full of food (dandelions and lambsquarter). Then two of us packed camp and drove a long way on paved roads (relief!) to Shaunavon, where people directed us to a lovely campground at a public park right in town. We’ve met Paul, the newspaper editor who stopped by and did a story on us. “Everybody knows you’re here.”
It’s so long ago I lost my robe-patching fabric, I don’t remember. Same for the talking stick I had for 30 years. But recently – the small loss is the striker for my bell, also 30 years; the big one is the staff Aaron was making, that has history, story, and relationship in it. And then there are the brakes on the car because we left the parking brake on, the new battery because of running it down, and things like that. I want to lecture people on mindfulness, except that I’ve been involved in nearly all of these incidents.
Approaching the U.S. border:
Today is Sunday, we’ll probably cross on Thursday. We don’t quite know when we meet up with the bus. And we’re trying to estimate time for a public event at Fort Peck campground.

July 31, 2013 Press Release: Compassionate Earth Walkers enter United States after 23-day walk through Canada

Five walkers from the Compassionate Earth Walk have completed a 380-mile journey from Hardisty, Alberta to Monchy, Saskatchewan and returned to the United States to continue their three-month pilgrimage along the Keystone XL pipeline.
Not a protest but a spiritual walk, the Compassionate Earth Walk (CEW) focuses on the relationship between humans and the earth, on making wise decisions in this time of climate change, and on listening to everyone involved. Walkers have enjoyed conversations with ranchers, farmers, pipeline workers, retired people, environmentalists, and religious leaders.
The walk began with participation in the Fourth Annual Tar Sands Healing Walk, a 500+ person walk through part of the Ft. McMurray tar sands, learning and volunteering. The Keepers of the Athabascan, a multi-racial group, sponsors this spiritual walk every year in addition to other activities caring for land and water in the region.  Lina Blount, one of the CEW walkers and a recent Bryn Mawr graduate, commented, “Seeing the tar sands during the Healing Walk and being in a spiritual place with all those people wishing for healing, set a profound foundation for the Compassionate Earth Walk.”
Walkers then drove to Hardisty, where the new construction of the KXL is planned to begin, and began their daily practice of walking 20 miles in two shifts each day, with the nonwalking group taking care of support services. Three of the original walkers have left for work, school or family obligations; a journalist traveled with the group for a few days at the beginning; and three new walkers joined the group on July 10. In Montana a group of about 10 walkers will join the group, bringing a school bus powered by recycled vegetable oil and solar panels – the primary support vehicle for the rest of the journey.
Rev.. Shodo Spring, a grandmother and Buddhist nun who founded the Walk, commented, “There are two sides to the walking. For many days now we have simply walked through the landscape, allowing the earth to support and heal us; now I can feel the other side of the walk, that we are giving to the earth with every step, every thought, every action and interaction.”
During the remainder of their journey, walkers will continue to seek interaction with local people, opportunities both to learn and to teach. Public events are currently scheduled near Fort Peck, MT in early August, and near Grand Island, NE in early August. To schedule an event, to join the walk, or to offer food or shelter to walkers, contact the walk leader, Shodo Spring, at 507-384-8541.
Day 37, August 14 – in the wilderness
We’ve been walking through absolutely magnificent scenery, camping by lakes or below buttes, carrying our own water and camping nearly every night. Tonight we are in Circle, MT, with a bit of Internet access, so here is a quick note.
After crossing the border July 31, we walked to Whitewater, MT, where we stayed two nights in a public space suggested by townspeople – our first such occasion. Many people stopped by to visit us; on our second night we had a beautiful discussion with four townspeople. Then we moved to a lovely riverside campground in the town of Hinsdale, and used it as a base camp for some days. The U.S. contingent met us there; several people came and went, or left for short personal business. At this time we are nine people, including only three who were on the walk in Canada. (Jon Biemer, who wrote a recent post, is with us again for the duration of the trip.) The veggie oil school bus is a blessing; instead of multiple tents and cramming ourselves and things into Harry’s Civic, we pile things into the bus, sleep on the bunks, and have to take care of the engine.
While in Canada I hurt my leg (fell onto a metal culvert, didn’t clean it adequately, got infected). It is almost well now, but I still need to stay off it and am getting quite restless about not walking.
The library is about to close. Remember that you can join us. Messages to the website or my personal email address do get read within the week.
Update: When Will We Be Where? Tentative Schedule Posted on August 21, 2013
People have been asking where we will be so they can join the walk. Here’s the best I know; we are currently a couple days behind schedule, and might catch up or fall farther behind. The dates below assume that we will do neither.

August 20-21   Baker, MT
August 25-26   Buffalo, SD
Sept 8-9          Midland, SD
Sept 11-12       Murdo, SD
Sept 14           Winner, SD
Sept 15           Colome, SD
Sept 18-19      Stuart, NE
Sept 19-20      Atkinson, NE
Sept 20-21      O’Neill, NE
Sept 21-22      Page, NE
Sept 23-25      Orchard, Royal, Neligh, NE
Sept 26-28     Oakdale, Tilden, Albion, Newman Grove NE
Sept 29-Oct 1  St. Edwards, Fullerton, Clarks, Silver Creek, Benedict, Polk, Stromsburg
Oct 3-5            York, Central City, Bradshaw NE
Oct 5-7           McCool Junction, Fairmont, Exeter, Milligan, Tobias, Western, Jansen, Steele City

We’d like to visit Lincoln, but it’s not on the itinerary yet.
We think there will be a pretty big event in Stromsburg, but we’ll have details later when the date is more clear.

Tonight we leave Glendive, MT, a city with the friendliest truck stop I’ve seen yet (though my database is small).
About Halfway. Field Notes from the Compassionate Earth Walk. 26 Aug 2013, Buffalo, SD
A few days ago my injury was healed enough to be able to walk again; the first day was 13 miles, this is the third. I’m tired, still building stamina. We’ve been camping mostly by the side of the road; happily two nights ago a rancher offered space and conversation (and the river), last night a fairgrounds, tonight unknown. But I can’t swim yet, and we’re all hot and sticky. Last week I took a 2 day retreat alone in the desert under the full moon. I don’t have words yet, but it helped me calm down, and the crew kept walking and working. Since then I’ve slept on the ground every night. I can report that it is possible to stay dry through a rainstorm when fully wrapped in a tarp (around the sleeping bag) and it is possible to arrange that tarp so well that mosquitoes can’t enter – but the sound is another question. We’ve spent a long time in the desert; green spaces bring that other difficulty.
And still the land, the walking, is the core gift.
Thank you all for your support.
Living by Donations – September 10, 2013 Midland, SD
A few days ago Jess did the accounting. The money we have in the bank is $5-700 less than what we owe various people – mostly walkers who buy gas or food on personal credit cards for various reasons. We have another 4-6 weeks of walking to go.
Most of our food is donated – from people’s gardens, our favorite, or old produce from grocery stores or dumpsters. A little bit is harvested – dandelions, lambs quarter, alfalfa – but this is nearly a desert and we don’t know the plants. We buy staples, or sometimes they’re given. Since entering Montana we haven’t paid for camping, staying at town parks, roadside pull offs, fairgrounds, pow wow grounds, and once in a magnificent national forest. Just once we spent a night in a motel, where they let eight people to take showers for the price of two. Last week in Bridger we stayed first at the community center and then the church, both offering kitchen and shower use. (The usual kitchen is a propane stove on a tale by the side of the bus. Some of our cooks are magicians.) And – every time we come into town a couple of people find used veggie oil for the bus.
We’re tired. It’s hot – up to 100. We argue too much. Sometimes I remind myself that we’ve taken on the deep spiritual wounds of our culture; of course it’s hard. We act out those wounds with each other. But there’s no question in my mind that every single person here is on a conscious spiritual journey and working hard at it.
One more thing: when the bus left Maryland in June, they took paper and art supplies to make individual thank you notes to donors. It never happened. Most of our many donors have probably not received their receipt for taxes; that will be my job and my pleasure after the journey ends.
So here I am asking for money again. The outpouring of generosity has been so great that it’s been a long time since we had to ask. We think $2-3000 will get us to the end. If you have a few dollars or a few hundred, please send them along.
If you’d like to walk with us for a few hours or days or more, the phone is still 507-384-8541. And think about joining us September 28 at Clear Creek Farms in Spalding, Nebraska, for a big celebration (more details to come). From there it will be less than 2 weeks to our finish in  Steele City.
Press Release, September 13th, Murdo, South Dakota
Since July 31st, Compassionate Earth Walkers had been quietly making their way through the buttes, oil fields, and wide skies of eastern Montana. The addition of the veggie-oil powered school bus brought more freedom to camp on roadsides instead of campgrounds, just moving steadily forward instead of shuttling walkers from base camps. People driving by would stop to offer help and sometimes stay for conversation. Most supported the pipeline and oil with statements like “two permanent jobs make a big difference in a town of 100,” or “because of the oil fields we have a nice library.” For the most part it was a quiet retreat, one foot in front of the other, while the non-walking shift took care of food, laundry, and fuel for the veggie oil school bus. Showers were rare, but so were mosquitoes. Walkers started sleeping outdoors, resting under the Milky Way and marveling at the brightness of the stars.
They entered South Dakota on August 25th, and the flavor of things changed a few days later. In Buffalo, an anti-pipeline rancher visited several times, brought garden produce, homemade pickles, and walked several miles with an early morning walk crew. Abbot Steve Stucky from San Francisco Zen Center joined the walkers for 3 days, quietly walking, sharing stories, sleeping under the stars in spite of rattlesnakes, and offering instruction in meditation that left a lasting impression.
Then the walkers made their first deviation from the pipeline route. After deep deliberations, the entire group drove to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, to support the Lakota people in their movement towards sobriety and wholeness. The Women’s Day of Peace is a two-mile walk against “liquid genocide”– specifically, ending the illegal liquor sales in White Clay, Nebraska. (One poster read “A sober Indian is a dangerous Indian”… The Lakota treaties are among the strongest, and they may have a powerful effect in stopping the KXL. A Lakota-based training network called Moccasins On The Ground is currently preparing nonviolent resistance actions and blockades if need be. That specific poster seemed to connect the dots.) Two walkers spoke briefly at the post-march feast.
Upon returning to the route, the Last Real Indians invited the Compassionate Earth Walk to present at Takini School on the Cheyenne River Reservation. They walked on to Bridger, South Dakota– a small village of great historical importance, and the first place that the KXL is planned to cross through reservation land. Awareness of the dangers of pipeline spills and damage to the land is high in Bridger. When invited to participate in the upcoming pow-wow, the team made the decision to help with preparations, clean-up, and wherever else was needed. Shodo Spring, walk leader, said “The walk is about returning to harmony and sustainability. Part of the dis-harmony of our civilization is its violence towards the peoples most deeply connected with the earth, and a core part of recovery must be the strengthening of these peoples– in this case, the Lakota people.”
The walk has perhaps a month left, most of that in Nebraska. Saturday, September 28th, there will be an all-day event including a hog roast at Clear Creek Farm in Spalding, Nebraska. Walkers are still welcome to join, and donations of food, shelter, and money are still greatly needed.
Press release September 23: Compassionate Earth Walkers meet with indigenous and landowner activists
As they moved from South Dakota to Nebraska, Compassionate Earth Walkers found themselves in the heart of anti-pipeline activism. Rancher Paul Seamans talked about his work with the Cowboy-Indian Alliance, and described how a small sustainability group called Dakota Rural Action held off the pipeline for years until national attention finally coalesced. Rancher John Harter described his own experience with the pipeline builders, summarizing with “Transcanada turned me against the pipeline.” (Many landowners complain of high-pressure tactics and other problems which perhaps are best described by journalists rather than here.)

Faith Spotted Eagle, an indigenous activist focusing on sacred water issues, brought friends and family members to walk one Saturday afternoon; most of them returned for several hours the next day. Lakota activist Karen Little Thunder spent a whole day with the walkers, continuing until her feet literally gave out in late afternoon. They shared some of how pipeline issues interact with indigenous issues. For example, Rosebud Reservation has been planning a wind farm for years, but the local utility refuses to but their power. Transcanada offered then enough money to build a transmission line to a location where it could be sold. The reservation refused, though the money is urgently needed. Protecting Mother Earth comes first. Similarly, the Lower Brule tribe refused a lucrative contract to sell their hydro power to Transcanada for the pipeline. Walk leader Shodo Spring commented, “When I see people unwilling to trade their commitment to the earth for the basic prosperity they might find through making such deals, I am humbled. The Red Nations are our leaders and our teachers in this matter  may we learn from them.”
9/22/13 – Field Notes – At Eagle Springs Lodge, Atkinson, NE: blessed rest after intense walking
I’m lying outside in the sun and wind, grasses blowing. Plants here are like home: ripe milkweed, reed canary grass, dandelions ready to eat, all kinds of trees. Smells of green growing things, by a cattail marsh, with the beautiful warm lodge to return to. I slept in a bed, took a bath, woke to sit zazen outside with the dawn in the cold. Flocks of small birds rose so near the wings were loud. Sun rises over the lake. Now I just rest in the warming morning.

I’ve been nearly silent in these blogs since entering Montana – it’s time to return. I didn’t want to write about lying in pain while my leg recovered, or about arguments and group difficulties. I came up with a story about those difficulties, and started a long writing that probably will be the core of the book – I’ve admitted there will be a book. Here’s the essence of that story:

We set out to address the sickness of our civilizations, which is the illusion of separation from the earth and the delusion that we can control everything. We said, “In healing ourselves, we heal the earth.” Holographically. In doing so, we called to ourselves this illness, and also called people who are wounded survivors of the damages of our civilization. We are all wearing those wounds openly, as we attempt to create healing for something bigger than us. Every one here is on a spiritual path of some kind. (A daddy-long-legs just crawled onto my arm and back into the grass, which still smells sweet and green.) Of course it hurts. It is impossible.  We have taken into ourselves something so much bigger than ourselves, and attempt to heal it from our little selves. Of course it hurts.

Again and again, it seems like it’s somebody’s fault – whatever the moment’s “it” is. But the training comes back inexorably: this is my karma, my life, my self. I started this walk, attracted these people, created this situation. Not as my personality, but as me – me-as-expression-of-life-force – with my personality as one of the factors being created.

Having written it, suddenly I see it myself and am forgiven. My personal self did not create this suffering any more than it created the success of walking for 75 days and over a thousand miles without serious injury or mishap, with hundreds of blessed encounters along the way. Neither is personal. This walk belongs to Life itself, not to the one I think of as me.

Today is September 22, all equinox. Yesterday seven of us joined the solar barn build at York NE with Bold Nebraska, while two continued walking. Next week, Saturday the 28th, we have our biggest event of the walk: the hog roast at Clear Creek Farms in Spalding, Nebraska. (Details in next blog post. But you’re invited.) October 8 is the final date in Steele City – 16 days away. We haven’t yet decided how we’ll honor it: a ceremony or a party? I’m hoping somebody comes from Minnesota and I can catch a ride home. And – so many of my friends have donated so generously, including people with little money and people who barely know me. I am amazed and grateful. My own illusions of separation are being vigorously destroyed. Probably another $2000 gets us home and pays all the debts.

One more story: the Walk within the Walk.
Throughout the Walk, the difference between the original vision and the daily reality has been like a stone in the shoe – a bit of suffering for me personally. The opportunity came to briefly attempt the original vision. While most of the group went to York, Chad and I put our belongings on our backs and started walking. He expressly asked to follow the original vision as closely as possible – and I was happy to do it. There were hugs and blessings as the two groups parted.

The vision I had given up was to walk without support vehicles, carrying everything on our backs, asking food and shelter as we went along. It included 1-2 hours of morning meditation and a shorter evening period, and some kind of spiritual ceremony daily, with walking mostly in silence or with chanting and prayers.
The packs were too heavy: It was cold when we packed them, and we made sure we’d be warm and have enough food. Way too heavy. Chad already had blisters, and wasn’t experienced with backpacking. In a day and a half, we managed ten miles – pretty slow. We ran out of water, used the purification tablets in the muddy Elkhorn River, and were nearly ecstatic when Kathy drove up to interrupt our retreat time with a ride.
And yet – there was a power in it. We walked in silence, balancing between painful weight and the effort to allow the mind to be quiet. The first evening, we sat ten minutes of meditation, followed by chanting, prayers for people and for the whole, and sleep. In the morning we sat 45 minutes and walked 45 minutes in meditation – and in joy. We ate all our cold protein for breakfast and started off. Our first break was just a half hour in – the blisters ruled – but it lasted two hours while he slept and I, unable to sleep, managed to send a press release. We resumed walking with new energy and speed, but the next hours were about how to just keep going when it seems impossible.

I was grateful to stop, and to have a full day of rest in this luxurious lodge ( Yet I’ve also started thinking about doing it again. It’s just possible that I’ll show up in Texas some time this winter – with a lighter pack and a firm commitment to walking as spiritual retreat/engagement.

The September 28 event in Spalding has these confirmed speakers: Ken Winston, Nebraska Sierra Club lobbyist; Helen Winston, poet; William Powers, director of Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society; Robert Berndt, organic farmer and our host; and me – Shodo Spring – talking about the change in consciousness that can and will actually heal the planet.

With gratitude,

Walking into fall: field notes from Compassionate Earth Walk – September 23-25, Neligh, Nebraska
Monday morning the sky was so dark and threatening that I started out wearing my rain poncho, sure there would be a cold rain. It kept off the wind, anyway, as we walked in the early morning. Sunday was fall equinox, and it felt like a cold front moving us into cold weather. We walked in silence. The clouds stayed dark. A flash of red caught my eye, and I started thinking about fall. Was it poison ivy or Virginia creeper – the earliest reds I know? I don’t stop to check.

I start thinking about fall colors. A Sara Teasdale poem that starts: “O world, I cannot hold thee close enough. Thy winds, thy wide gray skies, thy mists that roll and rise, thy woods this autumn day that sag and all but cry with color….” It’s too early. But I become homesick, and hope the colors wait for me back home. 200 miles north.  Maybe I should hope the colors come soon here while I’m walking. (12 days left! How is it possible?)
The wind blows. I see more tan and brown grasses, most of them familiar though names are unknown. Another flash of red and I check: Virginia creeper. The wild plum trees line the trail – leaves mostly still green, but no plums. Only a week ago we were stuffing ourselves with plums and bringing them home to share. But that was farther north.
The peculiarity of walking is that the climate changes in so many ways: we are moving south and further into fall; we are moving east while the days get shorter. Zazen is at 7 am now, barely light, where it was before 6:30 in broad daylight. Waking up is always cold, often dewy; I’ve added a waterproof layer to my outdoor sleeping kit, but it’s still hard to get up. And we often eat in the dark.
I want to go home. But when I arrive, I’ll be sleeping in a house with city lights everywhere. Now, sometimes it’s parks with lights, sometimes the Milky Way brilliant across the night sky. And sometimes hiding in a tent from the cold damp or possible rain.
This blog wrote itself during the Monday walk; now it hides from me.
That was the day of joy. I went on ahead of the others, swinging the staff and my legs, into the wind and clouds, floating. It seemed as if I could go forever, floating rather than walking, carried, flying, all light and completely part of the landscape.
There is a plum tree loaded with plums; I immediately plunge off the trail and am followed; we all look for ripe plums and eat them. I was wrong about the plums.
Cattails stand in water, leaves tan, spikes long and narrow, by the thousands of course. Home. One kind of grass is so dark brown against the light, I fall in love with it and finally ask for a picture. Dried seedheads abound. The only flowers are yellow – Jerusalem artichokes – until I see some small white and small yellow flowers. Later, sunflowers continue. Homesick. Trees – many kinds of trees – bare branches, thorns, brown leaves, magic patterns against the gray sky.
We stop for a snack, and I take off my poncho. The rain but it comes lightly and we don’t get soaked. It’s a little warmer but still cool, all day.
When have I ever felt so lighthearted? And I don’t know why, unless the silent companionship and that feeling of walking with the earth. Even talking didn’t entirely take it away.
I recited the poem; the whole thing is still in my body; and later another, which I couldn’t quite remember. Wendell Berry’s “A Vision.” And remembered my religion, the meaning of this walk, the meaning of living on the earth and the dream I wish for my grandchildren.
“If we will have the wisdom to survive… asking not too much of earth or heaven….then a long time after we are dead, the lives our lives prepare will live here….the river will run clear, as we will never know it, and over it birdsong like a canopy….families will be singing in the fields…a music risen out of the ground.” It doesn’t seem right to quote the whole thing, but I have found it, copied it, and will read it when I next speak, which is this Saturday, less than two days away. Our biggest party of this whole journey, and then only nine days left.
We have now made an agreement to make these last days ones of spiritual practice; to join in sitting meditation, dharma conversation, and prayer every evening (those who wish); to walk with intention and as a ceremony. People are suddenly careful with their time to protect these things – and the need for sleep. And we have many hosts now, people bringing food, and we hope some to walk with us. Nine of us have been together nearly two months now. We can see each other changing, learning – as we see stresses and weaknesses. Tonight will be another session in nonviolent communication. I have noticed I was forgetting to practice it; some people learning it new are making great effort; compassion actually seems to be arising among us – never perfect but growing.
We are talking about making the last half day – October 8 – a time in which we all walk together to Steele City, and invite others to join us. Perhaps the early vision of crowds might still happen. And we don’t know where the last farewells will be said. We’re not worried. Things that don’t look so good are turning out to be fine – taking us more deeply into something that I do think will bear fruit. Not yet ready to say how.
October 4, Geneva, Nebraska How can I live without this?
Two days ago, walking toward York through fields of grain and corn under the wide sky, I said to Harry, “How will we be able to live without this?” Placing my feet on the earth, one after another for four hours each day; living outdoors, sleeping on the ground, blown by wind and warmed by sun: How can I live indoors again, and alone without ten people to meet with, talk with, walk, negotiate, share work…how?
Then an email came from Rosalie Little Thunder, who was going to join us for a while but was sick when the time came. She writes, “Having participated in two walks (700 miles and 500 miles), I still long for the spirit of the moving community. There are the human weaknesses and challenges, but they don’t last long under the sun and in the wind. I feel a strong connection with the ancestors who moved in the same way and held all the wisdom of the earth.” And then, “I’m wondering about the energy of the hundreds of miles of Earth that carry you now. Must be profound.” Yes indeed.
We are still discussing how to close: It will be October 8 in Steele City, but will there be a public or community event? We’ll post about that. Will there be a followup sharing of some kind in Lincoln or Omaha on Wednesday? When we know, we’ll let you know.
My body has been tiring more easily these days, like at the beginning. Yesterday it was hard to get moving, and hot. It took over an hour to walk past the smells of the feedlot. I walk briskly but want to amble. But then, near the end, I received the staff again and it carried me forward. Suddenly moving at ease, like flying, I left my partners behind (as I tell others not to do) and then waited for them at the next corner. We stopped there and waited for our ride.
There were storms the last two nights. The first, in York, I spent in a tent with 2” of standing water outside. Fortunately the bottom of the tent was waterproof. We dried things in the sun in late morning. Last night we were hosted. I slept in an actual bed, with tornado warnings, lightning and great winds outside. By 7:30 a.m. I was able to spread a tarp for sitting zazen outside. But I was alone with the trees and grass; people stayed up late socializing. The evening sitting and dharma discussion had several people. Overall, the walkers have been interested in spirituality but have not chosen to participate in Zen activities. This has been my sadness, mixed with joy in those who do come for sittings or ask for dharma teachings.
As we talk about how to close this three month journey, someone mentions looking forward: what will each of us do next? A key question. I know my official plans: go home, make some visits, spend time with grandchildren; buy land for the farm (and find people to work and practice with me there), finish editing my teacher’s book, write about the walk. And what else? I think about a short walk on the southern leg of the KXL, where activists blockade and resist. There might be a documentary after all. The outer consequences of this walk are quite unknown. The inner consequences? Deep nourishment from the land and my own body; more openness to people different from myself; enormous gratitude in many directions; and the old guilt about not doing enough replaced by a willingness to lead where and when it becomes my place to do so.
Last, there has been an outpouring of generosity from donors during these last weeks. To the best of my knowledge, we are still about $1000 short; we may have covered that by now. So I will say this: If we fall short, the burden will fall on those of us who advanced money, hopefully on those who can best afford it. If we have surplus, it will go to those both inside and outside the walk who have helped us, are doing important work, and could use the money. The walking group will make those last decisions. We intend to stop fundraising when we stop walking.
Coming home – just a few thoughts – October 10
October 8 was our official last day. October 9, noon, I packaged the staff and mailed it home just before our closing circle. “I can’t believe it’s over” was a common refrain. There is more to say but I’m not up to it yet.
I packed my things, took a bus from Lincoln, NE to Minnesota, and waited at the Burnsville Transit Center for my daughter to come and pick me up. The station wasn’t open at 3:40 am, and it was cold. I threw my sleeping bag on the ground and took a much-needed nap, only slightly concerned that I might be disturbed. This is something that comes naturally now. About 5 there started to be more lights, and cars, and buses, and people. I got up and found the station open. I went inside, where it was warmer but much less comfortable. About 7 I brought my things out to be ready for my daughter.
The sky was red in the east. Deep, brilliant colors. Dozens of people were getting out of their cars and walking toward the buses, not looking. I took a photo, which was inadequate, texted daughter and granddaughter to look at the sky, and stared. It became pink and spread across the whole sky – clouds overhead, even in the west. Utterly spectacular. A text came back, with a photo, from my granddaughter.
I remembered something absolutely precious about our group. “Sunset” someone would call, and everybody would stop what they were doing and look. People went into raptures about very subtle, “ordinary” sunsets. In this group of young people, the sunset rules.
I had been taking this for granted. But the very non-ordinary nature of our moving community was to admire sunsets, talk with cows, horses, buffalo, and wildflowers, and to indulge in the beauty of grasslands, roadside weeds, and clouds. I forgot this was unusual.
We lived that way for 3 months. This alone would be enough.

Dear Friends of Compassionate Earth Walk Nov 25, 2013
In my last note, I promised to write again when we knew our financial situation. Several walkers made generous donations. In the end, we are short just $700. I ask you to help with this, if it feels good to you. If not, it becomes part of my tuition for the incredible learning experience this has been.
Donation details: We have returned to our original sponsor; here is the link. The page is outdated but the money will get to us. Or you can mail a check made out to Shodo Spring, 806 Water St S, Northfield, MN 55057. Either way, I will send you a tax receipt. We thank Harvest Collective for taking care of us during the Walk itself.
I almost forgot to add: Niffer Desmond has offered to donate a portion of proceeds to us, from sales of her Earth Pillow and Earth Tapestry artworks. Link is here:
It’s seven weeks after the end of the walk. People keep asking about accomplishments. It’s still hard to know what to say. Here’s what I think today:
Change is blowing in the wind. The support for reform or revolution, for clean energy or lifestyle change, for anti-imperialism or decolonization, and the understanding that we are one, has never in my lifetime been stronger than it is now. Our walk was a part of that. I can’t say it was more or less important than lobbying, civil disobedience, mass protests, anti-hunger walks, reclaiming cultural heritage, teaching, growing food, creating sustainable community, or any of the rest of incredible things happening now. It was just the thing I needed to do, and about 20 other people needed to do it too for some period of time. It was a prayer for consciousness change. All you can say is we did it.
We also managed to live together, while walking 20+ miles per day in difficult conditions, and survive as a team. There was only one physical injury, mine, and I stayed with the Walk for about 2 weeks before able to take up walking again. (The pain and the ER expenses were part of my tuition.) Many people did things they had not done before, and some spoke of waking up to environmental issues, or to indigenous issues, or to their own strengths. We studied Nonviolent Communication, and got a little better at it. But this was the hard part. The physical walking was a joy, most of the time, and became more and more like meditation through the weeks.
We were nourished by the earth, walking through incredibly beautiful spaces, sleeping under the stars, our feet on the earth, walking through grasses and flowers and occasionally over a river. On returning home I realized I’d been part of a group of mostly young people who would drop everything to look at a sunset. I want to say that’s a gift of the Walk.
I think we offered some encouragement to local activists; we certainly received a lot. Every day there were chance conversations with people from a wide range of perspectives; for most of them the pipeline was not central to their lives. We listened and learned.
And something has happened with the people we know back home or online, and that is also impossible to measure. There will probably be some more writing, maybe a book or two. If there is other news from Compassionate Earth Walk in the next two years, you will hear it here. Meanwhile each walker will be moving on with life in a changed way. I I will be teaching Zen and growing food, as planned before, but not the same.
Thank you for being part of us.
Shodo Spring
Walker Doug Grandt’s campaign to help Rex Tillerson find his heart – December 19
Doug Grandt joined us for the last week of the Compassionate Earth Walk. Now he’s gone off and started his own action, continuing the theme of compassion and of consciousness-raising, and aiming at one very powerful person. Doug is pretty creative, and he’s no wimp.
Doug is asking for coffee with Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon Mobil, the giant fossil fuels corporation. Specifically, he wants to discuss his book A Scout is Brave, which consists of 350+ letters he has written to Rex during the past 20 months, asking Rex to lead the company away from fossil fuels. (Doug and Rex were both Eagle Scouts, and Rex is still on the Boy Scout board.)
So Doug stands in front of Rex’s office every day with a sign, during morning and afternoon rush hours. This is day 18. He’s been getting more and more friendly honks and waves from Exxon workers, and other locals, and great conversations as well.
Rex’s security staff offered to deliver a copy to Rex on the first day of the campaign, presumably hoping Doug would leave satisfied, but that was Day 1. Ice, snow, wind and very low temperatures have not kept him away. One police officer did bring him a cup of hot coffee which he accepted in spite of having brought an insulated travel cup of piping hot home brew.

The first billboard kind of describes the whole thing; there’s also and
You don’t have to come, and he doesn’t need money. But he is looking for some help with photos for the billboards he’s planning to do, located where Rex will see them every day – more info here –
As climate change becomes real for most of the earth this winter, individuals need to do whatever they can. Doug is not only giving up ordinary life on behalf of the needs of all, he’s creatively reaching out to someone who actually has the power to make a difference.  We don’t know how Rex will respond – if his heart will eventually soften – but I am inspired by Doug’s action and hope many others will be as well.
Much warmth,
Please send a comment regarding the Keystone XL – February 13, 2014
This is my comment against the KXL. I sent it through Credo Action because that’s the link I found first. Please write; you can submit multiple comments. In this comment I focused narrowly, knowing that I can write again.
I post this knowing that the Walk was not specifically against the pipeline. It was, rather, an effort to call attention to our whole way of life, and to an alternative way which we could actually live with – the way of connection, participation in the whole family of life. I hope this letter is consistent with that attitude.
In addition, if the pipeline is approved I will need to return to the Great Plains. If you are interested in making that return, with a spiritual focus, please get in touch with me. We can work out details.
Love and community,
This comment is in opposition to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  It specifically addresses the claim that the KXL will have no impact on the extraction of dilbit from the tar sands, and thus is not implicated in climate change.
Assumption 1: that extraction will occur, the tar sands will be completely exploited, and that a way will be found to bring the dilbit to a refinery, somehow, somewhere.
Actually, every effort to build or expand a pipeline is meeting with fierce resistance by multiple groups, including significant legal challenges based on treaty rights. We cannot assume that some other pipeline will be built just because the easiest one is not built.
There are threats to simply ship the dilbit by rail, which is naturally frightening because of the high incidence of rail accidents. First one must question the relative safety, since pipeline spills are always underreported. Pipeline spills are discovered later, often by accident, and are routinely very large, while rail spills are discovered promptly, minimizing their size. But the industry has created a climate of fear around rail transport.
Should the industry switch to rail transport, and should Transcanada attempt to replace the KXL with rail transport, one can expect even more public opposition, and more successful opposition because trains are easier to stop.
Assumption 2: our economy depends on developing all possible fossil fuel resources.
Actually, money invested in conservation and renewables creates many more jobs than money invested in fossil fuels. Specifically relating to the pipeline, while 35 permanent jobs would be directly created by the pipeline, no one has done a count of the damage to agriculture, tourism, and other work that will be diminished or destroyed by the pipeline. Of course, if Assumption 1 were true and other means were found to bring the dilbit to a refinery, that other means would also create jobs. Since Assumption 1 is false, this is irrelevant. Also, the pipeline would bring jobs involved in cleaning up spills and in medical care for the increase in cancer, asthma, brain damage, and other known health effects of oil and dilbit. These jobs are well-paid but not being publicized.
Assumption 3: The market supports the KXL.
Actually, without the support and defense of the U.S. and Canadian governments, it would already have died, along with the Alberta tar sands. As Senator Gaylord Nelson once said, “The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment.”  U.S. subsidies to fossil fuel industries are currently $10-52 billion per year. The $52 billion figure includes the cost of wars for oil, but does not include expenses for health problems caused by fossil fuels, relief for climate change disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, infrastructure supporting fossil fuels, or corporate tax-avoiding corporate structures.  The $10 billion figure excludes war, and direct subsidies to the top five oil companies are $2.4 billion.
Assumption 4: It doesn’t matter when the CO2 is released, so it’s good to exploit the tar sands as quickly as possible.
Actually, the sooner the release, the more damage is done, the faster climate changes, and the less time we have to take corrective action.
Assumption 5: It’s hopeless, so we might as well exploit all fossil fuels quickly and enjoy ourselves now.
The hopelessness is addressed below. The moral depravity of the conclusion is unimaginable. The cruelty toward tomorrow’s children is beyond appalling.
Absurd Claim A:  The tar sands must and will be completely exploited.
If so, our species is doomed. This winter has given us a taste of what climate change means – and we are just beginning. Fortunately, we have barely begun to try the alternatives. Imagine what could be done if that $52 billion per year was dedicated to conservation, wind, and solar fuels?
Absurd Claim B: Pipelines are safe.
This means “pipelines are safer than rail.” This returns us to the fundamental assumption that the tar sands will be completely exploited, and we must choose the lesser of two evils. The fact that Transcanada, Enbridge, and other pipeline companies do not report spills, and that state governments aid in the cover-ups, does not negate the spills that have happened. Here is one list from a source believed to be neutral; other lists can be found online:
In addition, pipelines and rail are both becoming less safe as climate change progresses. Expansion and contraction of metals and of soils, winds uncovering pipelines, floods and severe weather damaging both rails and pipelines – all kinds of extreme weather increase the likelihood of spills.
Values problems:
Money is considered more important than health, life, spirituality, or any other factor at all.
Fossil fuels jobs are considered better than any other kind of jobs, even though the workers often must travel long distances, live far from their families, get sick from toxins, and experience social problems well known in the “man camps.”
Nature is reduced to “natural resources” which is reduced to money.
We have abandoned the natural animal instinct to preserve the species.
False hopelessness:
There is the claim that nothing can be done, and this belief is being fostered and encouraged in the general public, who then think they are not responsible to change anything. Here is a short and partial list of things that can be done, and that could easily be implemented by a national program at the level of Roosevelt’s WPA:
Retrofit all buildings to conserve energy and/or to create energy, including solar panels, wind generation, and where feasible rooftop gardens.
Switch from monocrop, oil-based industrial agriculture to polycrop, organic agriculture. There is plenty of data to demonstrate that this is a way to grow more crops per acre, requiring more labor which means more jobs. Include a switch to permaculture-style cattle and dairy production, which increases the number of animals per acre while sequestering carbon, reversing desertification, and holding water in the soil to prevent flash floods and other environmental degradation.
Create a CCC-style program to plant trees in the desert, improve soils, use fungi to remediate toxic waste areas, and so forth – using technology currently known.
Encourage individuals and communities to creatively take action that will help reduce climate change.
Reduce population by having fewer children. Remove the tax incentives for bearing multiple children, particularly among the well-off (because their children consume more and have a higher carbon footprint than poor people’s children)
That is enough. Much more could be done. The first four options should be completely obvious and uncontroversial. It is not time for hopelessness.
In short, I am proposing that the KXL be denied, other pipelines and fossil fuels be phased out, with a two-pronged program to reduce carbon emissions and to use natural means to sequester carbon, both of which would create millions of jobs.
If we continue in the direction we are headed, we face increasing climate disasters, which will push us deeper and deeper into debt both collectively and individually, for the temporary benefit of a few wealthy individuals.
Say no to the KXL!
Rev. Janet Spring
Northfield, MN 55057

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Compassionate Earth Walkers enter United States after 23-day walk through Canada

July 31, 2013; For Immediate Release:

Compassionate Earth Walkers enter United States after 23-day walk through Canada

Contact: Shodo Spring,

Five walkers from the Compassionate Earth Walk have completed a 380-mile journey from Hardisty, Alberta to Monchy, Saskatchewan and returned to the United States to continue their three-month pilgrimage along the Keystone XL pipeline.


Not a protest but a spiritual walk, the Compassionate Earth Walk (CEW) focuses on the relationship between humans and the earth, on making wise decisions in this time of climate change, and on listening to everyone involved. Walkers have enjoyed conversations with ranchers, farmers, pipeline workers, retired people, environmentalists, and religious leaders.

The walk began with participation in the Fourth Annual Tar Sands Healing Walk, a 500+ person walk through part of the Ft. McMurray tar sands, learning and volunteering. The Keepers of the Athabascan, a multi-racial group, sponsors this spiritual walk every year in addition to other activities caring for land and water in the region.  Lina Blount, one of the CEW walkers and a recent Bryn Mawr graduate, commented, “Seeing the tar sands during the Healing Walk and being in a spiritual place with all those people wishing for healing, set a profound foundation for the Compassionate Earth Walk.”

Walkers then drove to Hardisty, where the new construction of the KXL is planned to begin, and began their daily practice of walking 20 miles in two shifts each day, with the nonwalking group taking care of support services. Three of the original walkers have left for work, school or family obligations; a journalist traveled with the group for a few days at the beginning; and three new walkers joined the group on July 10. In Montana a group of about 10 walkers will join the group, bringing a school bus powered by recycled vegetable oil and solar panels – the primary support vehicle for the rest of the journey.

Rev.. Shodo Spring, a grandmother and Buddhist nun who founded the Walk, commented, “There are two sides to the walking. For many days now we have simply walked through the landscape, allowing the earth to support and heal us; now I can feel the other side of the walk, that we are giving to the earth with every step, every thought, every action and interaction.”

During the remainder of their journey, walkers will continue to seek interaction with local people, opportunities both to learn and to teach. Public events are currently scheduled near Fort Peck, MT in early August, and near Grand Island, NE in early August. To schedule an event, to join the walk, or to offer food or shelter to walkers, contact the walk leader, Shodo Spring, at 507-384-8541.

For further information and updates, see the blog and website at

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Please check out the website.

All blog posts are now at the website, To catch up with what’s happening, please go there and click on blog.

Lots and lots is happening. We have five walkers committed for the whole walk, the route is set, support people are working hard, and we have a support vehicle – veggie oil school bus. Please check out the website, and sign up for updates to stay in touch. 

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Phone call February 28; matching grant ends soon

Dear Friends of Compassionate Earth Walk,

 We will have our first group phone call on Thursday afternoon, February 28, at 7 pm Eastern Time, 6 Central Time, 5 Mountain Time, 4 Pacific Time. Please sign up for the call by replying to this email.


You’re invited to this call if you’re planning to be a walker or supporter, or if you’re thinking about it, or if you’d like to volunteer some help. Here’s an approximate agenda:

  • Introductions and getting acquainted.

  • Discuss the general feeling of the walk, what it means to be a spiritual walk, doing service, listening, dialogue. At the end of this call you’ll have a better idea of what it will be like, which may help you decide whether to walk, whether to invite all your friends to come along, and so forth….

  • The specifics currently laid out on the website are an attempt to express my original vision; this conversation will help that vision to evolve. Three specific questions have come up; there will be more later. First, shall we go to the Healing Walk at the Alberta Tar Sands – a long drive, but a great send-off; I’ve attended this and will share information. Second, exact start and end dates – or at least a start date and some conversation about the end. Third, the dog question. Two people have asked to bring dogs, and there will probably be more requests. I think that considering this question will help us get real about that “general feeling of the walk” topic.

  • Finally, we can clarify who is interested in becoming a planner, or in volunteering for advance tasks without becoming a planner.


Please take a look at the website, if you haven’t already, and sign up for updates. If you would like to donate, please do it while we still have the matching grant.


And if you’re coming to the call, take a good look at these pages: describes a day on the walk and more. The forum invites conversation online, including one thread specifically for those who are definitely planning to walk. And here is information about ways to support us without coming along.


If the long distance phone call is a problem and you can’t borrow a free phone, contact me. Also contact me if you want to try to join the next call.


I look forward to talking with some of you soon.




Shodo Spring

for Compassionate Earth Walk

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