Notes from the Field - The Path of Water

July 21, 2021
Notes from the Field - The Path of Water

This last weekend I made a trip to the Eastern Sierras hunting for hot springs and alpine lakes. I hadn't been out that way before and wasn't sure quite what to expect. The drive from Los Angeles towards Mammoth cuts through Mojave and then up into the Sierras. It's a dramatic shift of landscape. The dry hot desert,full of creosote and Joshua Trees, rises up into sagebrush steppes and then to mixed conifer forests as the elevation continues to rise. Although I have never formally studied ecology, I take an ecological view of the landscape. I try to understand the intersections of geology, weather, soil, plants, animals and the myriad forms coexisting in these spaces.

What I have studied formally for many years is Zen Buddhism in the Soto tradition of Dogen Zenji. Dogen was a 13th century Buddhist Monk who traveled to China to study with masters there. One of Dogen's teachings that I always return to is the Mountains and Waters Sutra. This writing uses the forms of mountains and rivers to reveal the interdependent nature of all beings. To say that all beings are interdependent is to say that no being has a permanent or unchanging nature. This is something we should all consider deeply.

The rivers I found along my hike were shaped by the form of the mountains yet at the same time the mountains are shaped by the river. They give each other form. The same is true for soil and plants. At 9,000 feet, I came across a vast bunchgrass meadow with a meandering stream and wildflowers dotted throughout the landscape. The meadow could only exist because of the particular combination of soil, water, sun exposure and so on. This is where I found the connection between Buddhist teachings and ecology.

For four years I have been nurturing the garden at Flamingo Estate, creating a diverse and robust ecosystem throughout the various plantings. As Flamingo has grown to include many farms, chefs and producers, we consider them a part of our ecosystem and strive to ensure we interact in a way that honors our interdependence. We say pleasure for and from the garden, but I wonder if compassion for and from the garden is more accurate. Like the mountains and rivers, we humans are shaped by each other, taking on the forms of all we encounter.

With compassion for all beings,
Jeff Hutchison Director of Flamingo Estate Garden & Horticulture

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