It’s been a month of extremes, starting with a long quiet June weekend on Whidbey Island. I stayed at Windhorse, a Buddhist retreat center at the end of a long road and situated in the middle of the woods. Perched on a hillside are three well-appointed little meditation cabins and the Buddha House, a large apartment with the meditation hall as its upstairs. At the bottom of the hill is the home of my friends who own the center, and who happened to not be there during my visit.
I have stayed in the Buddha House at Windhorse several times . I don’t go to meditate; I go to write. This time I also took my paints. I packed a lawn chair because there’s no really comfortable place to be out of doors. This is a meditation center, after all, not a resort.
Windhorse is somewhat of a deer sanctuary. It’s a safe place for man and beast. I feel it the minute I turn off the highway. On this trip I did a little writing and painting but I was completely distracted by some tiny twin fawns only slightly larger than my cats. Under the strict supervision of their mother, I never saw enough of them. In any case, for four days I lived in that lawn chair, bathed in bird song, watching the rabbits and growing used to the habits of the deer.
One deer came every night to rest in the cool dirt just down the hill from one of the meditation cabins. Others grazed at certain times of the morning and afternoon outside the door of the Buddha House. They were so beautiful and graceful as they reached through and ate the leaves of the trees that are fenced off. I learned to peek around the door and move slowly before I came out of the house because the deer were often very close.
Every day I walked across to the next property to see the goats. I would stand at the edge of the fence and wait. First the big white dog would come over to let me pet him through the fence. Then the nannies and billies and their collection of kids trotted over, their funny little faces bright with curiosity. We’d all stand and stare at each other in silent communion.
Except for the animals, I was alone on the grounds of the retreat center. In an emergency I had been advised I could go down the hill, find the key to my friends’ house in the generator shack, let myself into their house and call the neighbor with the goats. Also I could address any questions to the mysterious couple who have lived off the grid, deep in the woods in a yurt for the past 30 years if I happened to see them. I did meet them both one day and to my surprise, they seemed like anyone I might meet anywhere on the island. I had rather expected mountain man and Annie Oakley.
There were no emergencies. Once before when I was alone at Windhorse and got a bit nervous, I imagined I was an S.O.E. agent hiding from the Nazis in a safe house and this was utterly calming. After all the World War II reading I’ve been doing, I rather hoped I’d get to take this imaginative flight again, but I felt completely safe.
Not just physically safe. On my last evening I made my visit to the goats. By then I had lost my curiosity value and they hardly looked up. All the rabbits I encountered froze when they saw me and bounded away as soon as they felt they could. The deer, while fairly comfortable with humans in the big bowl of the retreat center, weren’t going to let me pet them. They edged away when I got too close. All these animals going away from me, leaving me.
Next thing I was sobbing for Freud, my cat who died in my arms several months ago. Great, gulping sobs like I hadn’t cried in ages for anything. It can be frightening crying alone like that but I felt like the big bowl was holding me. I had brought my writing and my painting to Windhorse but when I finished crying, I knew that I had done what I came to do.
I came back to Seattle the next day. After a few days of civilization and technology, that yurt idea was starting to look very good. Stay tuned.