Monday, August 9, 2010

Spiralling Through Space...

     Smooth, rounded river rocks, ranging in size from golf balls to softballs, are carefully lined up along the ground. The outlines of a large mandala emerge from the golden earth... a walking labyrinth. One enters on the south side and follows the stone-lined path round and round, sometimes back-tracking along an arch, as the path bends back on itself before circling round to the other side.

     Stopping momentarily at the entrance, I silently thank those who created and continue to maintain this gift to the community. I breathe slowly and deeply, three times, then step onto the path before me. Placing one foot in front of the other, I feel each step as it connects me to the strength and stability of the earth. I consciously follow the sense of solidity and support moving up my leg, from the pad of my foot, through my leg bones and joints to my hips and spine. Then I step again, and again, and again.
     Walking slowly, mindfully, I am greeted by the wide and spacious center in about ten minutes. A pause, in this circle within the circle, to savor the silent energy of the whole space, precedes my return walk. Half of the larger circle is shaded graciously by huge overhanging branches of the surrounding trees. The coolness of the air, a breeze perhaps, moves over my skin. My body whispers its gratitude and my steps slow subtly to savor the cool air I am moving through. The other half of the mandala's path sits under the brilliant summer sun. My skin warms under its influence, and I am grateful to my hat. As I follow the path's turning pattern, I move in and out of the sun, in and out of the shade, passing from one tactile sense of gratitude to another.
     A labyrinth is designed to be a walking prayer, a physical meditation. My steps are accompanied by my personal walking mantra, its eight-step chant perfected on the John Muir Trail a few years ago, "Love, life, truth, beauty, abundance, and peace." I find repeating those words over and over adds an additional calming and inspiring energy to that already provided by the path of the labyrinth. It's like a Maitri or Metta chant, a prayer for all beings to be happy, healthy, and at peace.

     Tucked away in the Sierra foothills, hidden in Alta Sierra, this simple, sweet walking labyrinth is a part of Alta Sierra Biblical Gardens, located just off Highway 49, between Auburn and Grass Valley, on Auburn Street. The lush gardens lie along a small, rushing creek on the west side of the highway. Painstakingly and lovingly created three decades ago, the gardens are on private property and beautifully maintained by the family who live there. If you take the path to the left, after leaving the parking area, it winds along and over the creek, looping back to the starting place. The cool, shady path is lined with statues of figures and signs with verses from the Bible, that many visitors find deeply inspiring.
     If you turn right on the path from the parking area, it takes you away from the creek and delivers you, instead, to the walking labyrinth... my favorite of the Garden's offerings. The labyrinth's design is a very traditional one, based on the medieval labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. It was created here in 1998.
     At the parking area are several shaded picnic tables, a delightful place to enjoy a book and a snack. The Gardens are open most days until dusk or 7pm (which ever is earlier). The family that owns and maintains this hidden little paradise request only three things of visitors: behave with quiet respect, remove any trash, and leave a small donation for upkeep.
     I would encourage you to visit this treasure that sits hidden "in our own backyard." Use the link above to find a map and directions. The photo above is from the Biblical Gardens website. If you don't live "in the neighborhood," you can use this link to locate a labyrinth in your area.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Fresh and Mindful...

     Dozens of local (and some not quite as local) growers gather near Old Town Auburn each Saturday morning, their tables piled high with freshly picked fruits and vegetables. The Farmers Market offerings vary with the seasons, each season ushered in with its own unique colors and aromas. Gone now are the mandarins that dominated the Market just a couple months ago, replaced by summer's near-blinding bounty.

     This weekend, there are plums arranged in a palette of seven distinct colors. Did you realize there were seven plum colors? There are a shade of green somewhere between lime and ripe honeydew, two shades of red-violet, deep purple, nearly black, and golden... and a magical hue that I am struggling here to describe... I can see it clearly in my eye's memory... but my eye and my verbal cortex are struggling to communicate... so I/we are going to resort to metaphor, a story, and see if that works...

     There is a plum tree orchard that is home to a pair of very creative and very artistic fairies. It is their job to fly about painting the plums as they ripen, adjusting their palette each day as the plums swell and grow sweeter. There are an odd number of trees in the orchard, so the tree in the center has always been a point of contention for them. Armed with their teeny-tiny paint brushes, the two fairies approach the tree, each hoping to get there first and claim the tree as her own. This year, they arrived at exactly the same moment, so decided to share the task of painting the plums. One used golden yellow, the color of butter; the other, a deep violet with only the barest hint of red. As a result, each and every plum, painted with the finest, most delicate of brush strokes, is a wondrous swirl of gold and purple.

     Of course, the plums are but one of scores of different fruits and vegetables on display at the Farmers Market. Mounds of peaches, plums, melons, strawberries, and blackberries call to passersby with their silent aromas. Nearby, tomatoes of every shape and size, glow brilliantly as though lit from within, deep reds, from fire engine to burgundy, tangerine orange, golden rod, lemon yellow, and others that sport patterns of stripes and spots. Farther down are five kinds of cucumbers, some tiny, some long and slender, others grown into great curls, and of course, adorable lemon cucs. Across the way are summer squash and zuchinni in baby sizes: solid colors, stripes, spots, and half-and-half designs. There are cilantro, basil, parsley, and more herbs I don't know. Oh, and potatoes in three colors and shapes; onions, red, white, and green; and garlic.

   Whenever Saturday finds us both in town, Janiene and I meet for coffee and then head for the Farmers Market together. For a small sum, our cloth bags are filled to the brim. This weekly ritual is a wonderful jaunt, a festive stroll in the morning sun. It's like going to the fair (with out the rollercoaster and the screaming).

     All week, my colorful and flavorful Saturday purchases find their way into my menu and my mouth. A salad made with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and cilantro I bought at the "fair." For lunch, a giant artichoke. Tomorrow, I may steam potatoes with garlic and onions, and enjoy another salad. Almost as fresh as if I had raised them in my own garden, but lots less work and lots more fun!

This food is a gift of the Universe.
The earth, the sky, numerous living beings,
and much hard work contributed to its creation.

May I eat with mindfulness and gratitude,
so as to be worthy to receive it.

May I keep my compassion alive by eating in such a way
as to reduce the suffering of living beings
and preserve our planet. 
                                                (Adapted from Deer Park Monastery "songbook")

     There are Farmers Markets all around, almost everyday finds the traveling farmers in one of the little towns around here. The locations of the Auburn area Markets can be found here. Grass Valley area markets here.