Alan Chadwick is Injured at Green Gulch
(A account of an incident that occured in 1972, written down from memory in the year 2003. An audio version, recorded nine years later (2012) can be found elsewhere on this website.)
Alan loved to play games and practical jokes. One of his favorite pranks was to hide behind bushes, trees, or walls and throw pebbles at the apprentices as they worked. You would be busy with your task, carefully lifting Dahlias, sowing carrots, or planting out lettuce, and suddenly, whoosh, a pebble would hit the foliage right next to you, or your pant leg, or your back. At first it was very startling, but after you got used to it, it was fun to try to figure out where he was hiding and then throw something back.
Every once in a while you managed to get a decent shot in his direction, but rarely if ever, a direct hit. Usually he concealed himself so well that it was impossible to locate the source of the attack. After minutes of watching you looking all around in utter futility, he would suddenly jump out of his hiding place, point his finger at you in mockery, and laugh hysterically while jumping up and down in childish glee.
One example sticks out in my memory, perhaps because of its unintended results. It happened at the Green Gulch Zen Center in 1972.
We had set up a propagation area just west of the central paddock, near the old barn. It was my job to sow the seed flats and maintain them with waterings five or six times a day until the seedlings were ready for planting into the main garden. This particular location was rather out of the way; rarely did anyone else go down there, and I could spend as much time as I liked working in my own private little nursery.
One afternoon, as I was studying a newly germinating seed bed, I felt a pebble hit my back. Knowing exactly what it was, I didn’t move, pretending not to notice anything at all. Slowly, I scanned the propagation table for a suitable pebble with which I could retaliate. I figured that if I acted quickly enough, I could catch Alan unprepared and maybe hit him back. The trick was to find a pebble large enough to carry some momentum, so that it would reach as far as your target, but not so large that it would actually hurt anyone.
Knowing that I didn’t have much time or Alan would disappear, and also knowing that to show any sign of picking up ammunition would keep him behind cover, I grabbed the first thing I could get my hands on: a dirt clod about two inches in diameter. It was a little larger than I would have chosen ideally, but it was the only thing readily available.
As soon as I managed to get my hands on it without being too obvious, I whirled around as fast as I could, hurling the projectile at full velocity in the direction I calculated he must be lurking, but without fully fixing on a target before releasing the dirt clod.
Once I could see the lay of the land, it was clear that Alan must have been hiding behind the corner of the wooden barn about 30 yards away. Although I watched my oversized lump of soil hurling toward the corner, Alan was nowhere to be seen.
My first thought was to scan the ground for another pebble to throw, in case Alan reappeared, but before I could make a move, he stuck his head out from behind the barn to see what I was up to. Just at that precise moment, the dirt clod arrived and I saw it hit him square in the forehead, right between the eyes.
He sprawled out backwards, moaning and hollering that he had been mortally injured, invoking every curse in his navy vocabulary on the insubordinate idiot who had intentionally blinded him, and whom he would kill just as soon as he recovered from his fractured skull. He made so much noise that very soon he was surrounded by a half-dozen Zen students, offering him aid in rising, dusting off his clothing, and guiding him to a bench where he could rest. He allowed himself to be led, his eyes closed like some old blind Oedipus bemoaning his fate, all the time hollering and cursing and bellowing at the top of his lungs that he wouldn’t put up with such treatment from ungrateful apprentices, that this was a crime of assault and battery, and that someone would pay dearly for his hospital bills, and that he planned to leave this accursed country and return to England where life was civilized, and so on.
The Zen students were glaring at me, their eyes accusing me of responsibility for blinding Alan and his decision to leave the country, depriving them of their master. I kept my distance until he was finally able to hobble up the path, still muttering and cursing, supported on both sides by solicitous helpers. At first I was concerned that my prank had seriously misfired. However, after hearing the volume of his cursing, I figured he must still he hale and hearty at the core, and that the likelihood of a real concussion was probably minimal. As my body relaxed, I felt myself smiling and then laughing over what had happened.