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Out of the Womb of Tassajara

The 99th practice period at Tassajara ended this morning. We visited each alter as we did three months ago when the practice period began. Except then I wasn't present for the entering ceremony, because I almost drown in the creek the day before.

One of our bridges washed out as the creek rose almost 15 feet. Was it more? 15 seems fair. It was raging, being fed by our huge watershed of steep young mountains. That bridge got tangled down stream and threatened some of our cabins. It was catching logs and starting to dam up. For 5 days before this day I had mitigated similar situations. Make a cut here or there, and whoosh, it would break up and wash away. After this summer's fire we had 3 times the rain we have had during the drought, over 60 inches.

I'm glad I brought my whole crew on this job. Usually I'd just bring one person to look out and hand me things. But this time I brought Jody, Elliot, and Julianna. Julianna stood up on the bank and looked up river to make sure no huge log came to crash into me. Jody and Elliot- both on the medical team-EMT and ER Doc- were handing me tools from the bank. I put on chaps, a helmet, a harness, and tied into a tree with a gris-gris. A gris gris is a carbiner type mechanism that allows a person to repel, but also locks, so you can lean into it. It's great for working on steep hill sides like I did this summer, cutting down trees for the fire.

I made two cuts with the chain saw, which my crew jokes about being my spirit animal, because I'm always polishing them. Then they handed me a sledge hammer, which was somebody's idea, seemed pretty good. So I'm tied in and leaning over a rock I'm standing off and giving the bridge a few golf swings, trying to loosen it up. It was pretty effective. Then we stand there thinking, and someone thinks, a rock bar, let's get a rock bar and pry it up and over the rock it's wedged on, the rock I'm standing on.

So I start prying. Jody and Elliot are cheering, actually, because the big mass is starting to break up. The water is white and rowdy and deep. I turn to them and say, "Okay, that's all I got." And then I slip.

Even as I slipped I wasn't scared, because I figured my team would just pull me right out. Or I'd pull myself out. And that's when I meet hydraulic force. My boots flew off and my helmet was swirling topside. I was like a fishing lure- spinner bait- tumbling under water for at least 45 seconds. The rope was taught! I couldn't budge. I didn't really have any narration, but Calliope's face did flash through my mind. I decided to get out of there, saying, okay, what next?

It was apparent I wasn't going out the way I came in. I thought if I could get some slack, I might get pushed into the dam and climb out. And then I thought maybe the bridge has a sharp edge and I'll get slammed into the dam. And I figured that's a risk I'll have to take.

Meanwhile, my crew thinks I'm a gonner. All they see is my orange helmet spinning around without my head in it.

My knife was buried under layers of clothes- my rain suit, my chainsaw chaps. So I couldn't cut the line. The gris-gris is simple enough, but I had to get my gloves off. I opened the gris-gris and flew ass first under the dam, like a breach born baby.

Somehow I know this happening and get an arm up on the other side of the damn. It lands on Elliot's foot. His back is to me, because he's looking for me where I fell in. He grabbed my hands, but I was still getting water boarded until I figured out I could hide my face behind his calf. I yelled out "I'm okay!" and then I yelled out, "Cut the line!" because it was holding me under the damn from the waist down. There was no way to climb out unless I gave up my hold on daylight and adjusted the gris-gris again.

I see them shaking their heads, they're not going to cut the line. I'm getting weak. It was like doing a swim/climb event, thoroughly exhausting. We must have been only ten minutes in at this point, but my ribs and abs already hurt from the pounding water. My hands, like after climbing for an hour, were getting very, very weak. They don't want to cut the line because I might wash away. I yell it again with pauses between each word, Cut, The, Line!

Finally they cut the line, the whole fire brigade is on scene, and many other monks are there to help out. They throw me a new rope, I get it in my hand, but I look at my friend Aaron- the temple fire marshal- and shake my head, nope, not gonna do. They've made a chain from the bank, standing in the shallows, and he grips my hand, but I shake my head again, nope, I don't have the grip.

Then Antoine, a huge man, grabs me by the yoke of my jacket and tears me out. I stumble. I growl or yell. And walk barefoot with the director to a cabin with a fire. My throat and eyes are sore from the pounding water. They bring me heavy cream with chocolate. My crew and I do an after action review. It grows into a community meeting, it shook things up.

I'm humbled and grateful. And then I sleep through the wake up bell the next day and miss the entering ceremony.When I wake up I think what if I was still out there right now, 20 hours later? I think about how I wouldn't want anyone to see my body like that. I think I must not let Calliope, my daughter, fall in.

But today, 3 months later, it's really bright out. The worst thing that happened today was the automatic gate was acting up. And home depot is...some kind of realm. I thank Samantabhadra Bodhisattva for supporting me to wake up this morning, so I could hand off the incense at the shop alter to Abbot Ed.


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