Zen Students Remember Alan Chadwick at Green Gulch
Alan Chadwick spent one year at the San Francisco Zen Center's Green Gulch Farm, from about February of 1972 until February of 1973. It was a rocky relationship from the beginning, but neither Alan nor the Zen Center could see it coming. Alan tended to be somewhat overly-optimistic about the future, always imagining the very best of outcomes, probably as a form of wishful thinking. Richard Baker, the Roshi at Zen Center, probably underestimated Alan's personal independence and the intensity of his artistic passion. The following are a few impressions of Alan by Zen students at Green Gulch during those years.
The original Alan Chadwick gardens at Green Gulch Farm
From Mark Harris
When Alan Chadwick was invited to Green Gulch by his friend Baker Roshi, myself and the other Zen students in residence there were not happy that non Zen students would be part of the Green Gulch scene. Perhaps in order to appease this sentiment it was agreed that two Zen students would be selected to be Alan's apprentices. Since I had previous gardening experience I was selected to be one of them.
The only two of Alan's apprentices I remember were Joan Felt (who it was revealed 30 years later was "deep throat's" daughter) and a beautiful, sweet, young woman who was a favorite of Alan’s. [ed. note: This was Miriam]
As you know we started in what was then a former bull corral, which means that for years animals weighing over a ton had trampled the earth into a substance more resembling concrete than soil. It was the dead heat of summer and day after day Alan could be seen alongside his apprentices clad only in shorts and tennis shoes. His long tan muscular frame wielded a mattock with great energy and determination. How old was he then? sixties? [ed. note: 62]
I was intimidated by Alan's fiery temper but charmed by him also. You couldn't help being charmed because he felt so deeply. He was a man out of the past. "They don't make them like that anymore". Neither did they then but perhaps there were more like him in times gone by. He was not at all like your modern man who reads a bunch of books and chooses this or that of what he likes to put into practice. With Alan there was a Right way to do everything from collecting the hen’s eggs to sipping tea. Not because he was arbitrarily dogmatic but because he had a deep connection to Life.
He definitely had more than five senses. How else could a bull pen be transformed into a magical kingdom in one season! To walk into his garden changed one's world view instantly. It was seething with vibrant life. The unseen realms Alan had referred to in those first days when we took our break from the toil of making the first raised beds suddenly were no longer just charming fairy tales. One felt as a visitor to the profound and mysterious depths from which the visible manifestations of Life spring. When Alan left green gulch Baker Roshi asked me to take over managing his garden. Everybody said I did a good job but the magic was gone. It was a beautiful productive garden; nothing more.
Alan saw me as ballet dancer. I had spent my high school years adopting a redneck style to blend into the rural Virginia countryside. I still maintained some of those mannerisms and had a stooped posture, halting gait and overall awkward demeanor. Despite this outward appearance Alan must have sensed my inward sensitive nature. Every 20 minutes he had me stop and practice pirouettes using the fence post for balance. Talk about losing face! I could no longer pretend to be a tough guy. Perhaps that was his intent.
There were other Zen students who would help in the garden besides myself and the other Zen apprentice. When the deep Buddhist gong would be struck all the Zen students would drop what they were doing and hurry off to meditation. This infuriated Alan. He could not grasp the detached Zen spirit. For Alan a garden task was a Puja or sacred ceremony. It had a beginning and an end. It was not something to be abandoned arbitrarily. I felt it to be, at essence, a difficult fit; Zen and Alan had opposite temperaments, one detached the other passionate.
I do vaguely remember that the rift happened when Baker Roshi was away in Japan. When he came back Alan was already in Covelo. Baker Roshi lost no time in going to visit him there. I think he felt bad about what had happened. He brought Steve Stuckey and me along to help smooth things along. He also brought a bottle of fine wine on the way to offer as a gift. At first Alan refused to see any of us but Baker Roshi worked his charm on him and they parted friends. I'm now remembering that at one point Alan asked us to choose between our allegiance to Zen and allegiance to him. I chose Zen which may explain why he didn't want to see me.
I see Alan Chadwick as neither a saint nor a sinner. I feel he was an extraordinary man who lived his life passionately committed to the Beauty and Truth that underlies what we call nature and art.
[ed. note: Paul Lee, who had originally introduced Alan to Richard Baker, remembers the events leading to Alan's leaving Green Gulch a bit differently. He says that Baker was in San Francisco at the time of that falling out, and that he telephoned Paul in Santa Cruz with his critical comments about Alan. Perhaps the trip to Covelo was a later attempt to restore the peace.]
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From David Chadwick
I remember Alan well and liked him. I spent some time at Green Gulch in 72 - not living there, just coming in from the City Center where I was work leader and then I lived there all 1973 as work leader.
In the late spring of 1967 I first met Alan Chadwick at Tassajara - he was invited by Baker to do the gardens there. I walked up to him at the pool and said, "Mr. Chadwick. I'm David Chadwick," and he perked up in his chair and responded, "Then indeed sir, we must be related!" But eventually at Green Gulch he came not to like me, would scowl at me or ignore my greetings. I don't remember opposing him or anything he wanted to do so I supposed it was because I wasn't being respectful enough. I didn't treat Suzuki, Baker, or Alan with reverence but I was into the agenda of Suzuki and Baker.
I loved the peacocks that Alan brought. They roamed freely but had a pen for the night to spare their chicks from the racoons. I remember how sad we were when the raccoons got them by sitting by the fence and waiting for them to get near it.
But anyway, I respected Alan and what he was doing and a lot of people at Green Gulch respected him a great deal and some thought it was wonderful working with him and people didn't tend to work begrudgingly at anything in Zen Center. I can certainly believe that Baker overstated what sort of support Alan would get and in the end it didn't work out, but I always saw it as a wonderful experiment and event. Alan's positive energy was great to have around. But it was doomed.
Wendy shouldn't have written that about Alan. That's way too one-sided a thing to say. Alan was brilliant and we were very lucky to have had him at Green Gulch. I could see it wasn't going to last but I'm glad it lasted as long as it did. Even though Alan's gardens weren't preserved, a great deal was transmitted then and his influence on Green Gulch through him and his students continues.
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“This is how co-Abbess, Jiko Linda Cutts, remembers the early days:
Alan Chadwick came later in the summer and many other people came to work with him as apprentices. . . Alan also brought a glorious peacock and peahen couple that roamed freely about the grounds expressing themselves with wails and tails.
Alan Chadwick was like a force of nature. I was quite nervous to be around him because of his intensity and temper. Even then we had a schedule of community work in which the kitchen crew went to work one day a week in the garden. Luckily, when I went, he approved of the way I had sowed a bed and attributed my skill to working in the kitchen where we were used to sprinkling things. Whew! So much of what he said sounded like poetry to me: sharp sand, leaf mold, turf loam.”
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Katharine Cook remembered her early days at Green Gulch:
"Back in San Francisco from Tassajara, I attended an Alan Chadwick work day at Green Gulch. I was astonished at how much energy this charismatic figure brought to his vision and how quickly the horse corral we now call Spring Valley became double-dug raised beds. All of us college-educated middle-class city folk were enchanted to be asked to roam the hillsides with burlap sacks collecting cow dung for the compost heap. It was a terribly exciting time, full of new ideas and a new aesthetic, a new approach to understanding what Nature might be and how to respect and work with natural forces. We felt as if we were being shown some ways into the invisible world, connecting with realities we could infer, but could not see or hear, as well as their expression through seed, soil, plants and food in ways we had not hitherto been exposed to.
Alan was offering us a kind of school in relating with life forces, in spirit training."
The irresistible invitation into a rooted culture came to me through seeing a summer tomato planting at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center led by a student of Alan Chadwick, a master horticulturist who is widely credited with founding the organic farming and gardening movement in California. A visit to Alan’s teaching garden at the University of California at Santa Cruz followed, revealing the most beautiful sight I had ever seen; that the garden was also growing delicious, healthful food, flowers and herbs—all biodynamicly—doubled the impact.
I moved to Green Gulch to study with Alan. A total novice, I tentatively began a relationship to the earth herself. I learned to grow plants, harvest vegetables, work in silence. The garden eventually allowed me to touch my own humanity and that of others. Each day alone on the fields, my koan was, ‘What is the role of man in Nature?’
This May in West Marin, Sappho’s fragments from the sixth century B.C., from Sherod Santos’s Greek Lyric Poetry, express the mood:
“When you return from Crete, meet me
at the apple grove, our little temple
Its leafy altar incensed with
the mineral scent of your soapy hair.
Drifted over blue lakewater
a cool wind empties out the apple trees
A cidery, heavy-eyed drowse
spills from the branches and murmuring leaves.
Where the pastured warhorse grazes
the meadow is awash with spring flowers
a serried, wind-lapped lake of blues.”
I asked Jeffrey Creque, Ph.D., Land Stewardship Consultant -- who studied and applied Alan’s ways in his Bolinas garden—to comment on the tradition. “I’m remembering Chadwick’s lectures—‘studies’ they were called—as an impassioned mix of European paganism, Greek myth, horticultural genius and Shakespeare, delivered in high theatrical form,” he said. A student of Alan’s could well have written a poem like the following, expressing the cosmic implicit in the biological.
"And nothing in nature, more than the pear in bloom
seems to say: Here! embrace me, lay me down
here beneath the heavy scented orchard bloom
on the soft bed of last year’s leaf, in the
deep of the spring grass greening . . .
Love me here in the thick bee-driven scent of an April afternoon.”
I first saw Alan's ways via the garden at Tassajara by Reuven BenYuhmin, and it was that which inspired me to go to Green Gulch Farm and learn to garden. Among other things, I saw it as the way I could manage both tending a small child and doing "gainful employment" for the community. I returned to Tassajara later and managed the garden there, and basically created all the raised beds with flowers that became the "lower garden"
I arrived at Green Gulch in December of 1972, but was not put in the garden originally. I begged to be able to work there and my wish was granted, but Alan was gone by the time I began work in the upper garden with Steve [Allen] who took over the management of the upper garden at Dick Baker's request. I was assigned to the flowers, and still write about Alan's winter beds of anemone coronaria, two shades of viola, and freesia for my column on West Marin Share. Also the long line of sweet peas down the center of the paddock, with the Bloomsdale spinach at the base of it was breathtaking on a foggy morning.
There is a lot more I could write about Alan's legacy at Green Gulch Farm and Tassajara. . . That Alan grew flowers and treasured them, and had specific varieties he favored was an aspect of his tradition that continued at Green Gulch well after he was gone. The early pioneers, mostly men, were in favor of no flowers, just food. . . I was doing the flowers when Wendy Johnson came to Green Gulch, and I was the "transmission" of the varieties Alan favored that wound up in the Green Gulch garden. Skip Kimura and Wendy were part of that as well.
Anyway, I imagine my memories of Alan's flowers and his methodologies are endless. Before my daughter could walk, I would be carrying her in the garden and she would point towards the tomatoes and gesticulate. She was not satisfied until she got one in her mouth.
One standout moment with Alan was sitting in the room while he was giving his series of lectures while he was dying. . . He did not remember me from earlier days, if he ever knew my name then, but he looked at me directly and said, "You have clear vision . . . never lose that." When I started working in gardens outside Zen Center, circa 1996, I always felt Alan was with me, and everything I had learned about his ways, even if they were second-hand, went into those gardens.
I was just at Good Earth Market in San Anselmo reading their newsletter, in which they point out that farming and gardening were both revised following WWII to make use of and accommodate the large numbers of chemicals created for combat. That being the case, Alan's legacy in California was instrumental in turning the pendulum back towards a sane and earth-centered farm and garden practice. One of the pleasures of recalling and writing about him is exactly the beauty of bringing back the spiritual implicit in organic gardening.
[ed. note: These recollections of Alan Chadwick are taken from a recent correspondence with Katharine, along with some comments she had previously posted at cuke.com, a website dedicated to the memory of the great Zen master, Suzuki Roshi. For more, see: http://www.cuke.com/others/kc-florales-ludi.htm]
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(The following is from an interview with Steve Allen by David Chadwick, originally posted on http://www.cuke.com/Cucumber%20Project/interviews/steveallen.html )
SA: At a certain point, I had to face up to the fact that . . . I mean basically what we all called ourselves “Zen slaves,” right? You were just put someplace, you were just moved from various places. You know, you wanted to be at Tassajara but they needed you in Green Gulch. So you went to Green Gulch. OK, so you're at Green Gulch, well then you don't stay, they move you to the city. So obviously, chattel. [laughs] That's about all, and I just . . . I completely gave up. I just completely did whatever they told me to do, and so from the fields at Green Gulch where I was head of the garden, I was shipped off --
SA: And so I got my original training with Alan Chadwick, in the garden there and then I came to Tassajara and then I set up the gardens here.
DC: How'd you get along with Alan?
SA: [laughs] I was one of the few people who could get along with Alan. [laughs] No, I loved Alan Chadwick. But you know, I sort of I like old irascible people, I always think they've got something to teach me, right? So I just did what Alan said. He was the Zen master as far as I was concerned, about gardening, and so I was there to learn and I just did what he said.
DC: That's great.
SA: And so from Tassajara I went to Green Gulch in the spring and was head of the garden and Steven Stucky was head of the field. And then eventually we brought the two together.
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David Schneider remembers Green Gulch
Shortly after the inaugural picnic there in Spring of 1972, I moved to Green Gulch Farm to be part of the much needed general labor. There was a strong emphasis on garden work, as in pick-axing. A certain number of us had unknowingly come under the tutelage of master gardener Alan Chadwick, who called us "the apprentices." CLAP CLAP! "The apprentices will now come for a nature walk…" Etc. He had three real apprentices and was disappointed when we (recent converts) hewed more closely to the zen schedule than to his or Nature’s.
"There’s your blasted breakfast bell," he snarled at us one morning.
We knew that. We’d been listening for it, having gotten up early, sat through a period of zazen, having had a hot drink and/or cookie and having pick-axed Nature for about an hour. We were aerating the soil and tilthing and we were very ready for breakfast. There were certain to be other garden teachings later in the day, and they could wait. . .
[This is taken from part of a letter sent by David and read at a gathering at Green Gulch Farm on 8-12-12 as part of the SFZC 50th anniversary celebrations. For more from David, see: http://www.cuke.com/zc-stories/arrangements-gg-mem-ds.htm]