“Where land is dry the soul is wisest and best,” wrote the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus in the 6th century B.C.E. If so, the arid land and soul of California is sparking flint, adamantine and diamond bright.
2015 has been an infernal year for California agriculture, expected to be the hottest and driest on record. Satellite photos of the American West reveal the evaporation and depletion of 63 trillion gallons of groundwater weighing almost 240 billion tons. Close to a third of the nation’s produce is grown in the Central Valley of California, where fossil water 20,000 years old is now being extracted for irrigation. Groundwater depletion has caused the Sierra Nevada to buckle and lift, farmland to sink, and tectonic plates to rumble with seismic seizures all along their fault lines.
In the garden we continue to practice under all circumstances, training in an old horticulture grounded in the Zen admonition to “practice constantly, as if to save your head from fire.” Zen gardeners plant perennial polycultures of drought-hardy fruit. We taper tillage to sequester carbon in the living ground. Precious water is mindfully harvested from roof runoff and coastal fog. To break the fever of a warming world we rig shade, spread mulch, and grow green guilds of kindred plants while facing the undeniable truth of warmer winters, premature springs, incandescent summers, and fruitless falls.
To ease the terror and heartbreak of this growing season, I practice walking meditation on the western edge of the continent out at Muir Beach. The vast Pacific Ocean covers 46 percent of the earth’s surface area with a living web of water. Not only vast, the Pacific is also abysmally deep, dropping down almost seven miles to the ocean floor of the North Pacific Mariana Trench.
Walking the beach, I chant a favorite Mahayana mantra from the 25th chapter of the Lotus Sutra:
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