Wayfinding at Green Gulch

One wish of Green Gulch residents and visitors alike for quite some time has been clearer, more direct pathways and way finding at Green Gulch.  One of the requirements of this construction project is ADA pathways and clear signage.  So after decades of temporary signage, Green Gulch is putting up slightly less temporary signage (as Buddhists, we know that nothing is permanent).

The effort started months ago with a great deal of planning and consultation, and is now in the execution phase.  Signs will continue to go up and alternate pathways to go into effect over the next couple of months.

Former resident, and professional contractor Sam Senerchia returned to help with sign mounting and installation:

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Residents Jiryu and Frank did a lot of the actual mounting:

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A new sign at the edge of the Zendo pond, near the main lawn, directing visitors to the farm & garden and welcome center:

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Clearly marked ADA pathway to the Zendo:

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A new signpost in the main area of Green Gulch, directing visitors to the new building, Still Water Hall, over the new ADA accessible bridge, or to the Welcome Center.

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Many more signs, including wayfinding maps and informational kiosks, will go up at the outer and inner parking lots, new pedestrian pathway (the back road), and welcome center area over the next couple of months.

Cloud Hall: Finish Line in Sight!

It is hard to believe that construction will soon be over.  The construction crew has been hard at work over the past couple of months finishing the new building and site work.

The exterior of Cloud Hall, including the basement stucco, has been finished for some time, and looks beautiful:

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The new roof over Cloud Hall and the Zendo is also finished, and although stood up quite well for the first few rains of the season (the head of maintenance commented that it was so nice not to get the usual half-dozen reports of leaking student rooms, or have to deploy buckets in the Zendo), the big storm in early December caused the roof to leak at the junction with the old Cloud Hall stovepipe, as well as a large branch to crash into the roof, which made a hand-sized hole in the new membrane (it has since been repaired).

Stucco went up on the top floor of the new building in early November:

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This completed the exterior of the building, except for the hand rails, which have been fitted and will be galvanized and installed by the beginning of the year:

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The student rooms are trimmed out:

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And the Green Gulch maintenance crew (Thibault pictured above) mounted bars for new curtains, and wardrobe units which were built during work period.

Larry Strain, the project architect, and Helen Degenhardt, head of Zen Center’s Finance Committee (and also an architect), on the final walk-through of the new building (in the program space):

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A detail of the kitchenette that will serve the space.  To the delight of the Green Gulch Guest Program crew, which has been schlepping dishes to and from the kitchen for decades, there is a dishwasher!:

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A detail shot of the bridge railing, when it was almost complete:

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The back road re-grading and surfacing went quite well.  It will be the main pedestrian pathway to Green Gulch:

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There is one spot in the road where water drains from the side hill, crossing the road and making it impassable without boots during big rains!  We will need to problem solve this spot to facilitate better winter access.

The final piece of the project is the accessible pathways running around the site.  Construction of these began very late in the project, and then was held up by recent rains.  Instead of being finished by December 15th, as planned, the project will spill into the New Year.  Disappointing – and very familiar in construction!  (The good news:  we received a temporary occupancy permit to gain access to the student rooms on the upper floor – connected to the interior of Cloud Hall – while path work is being completed this week.)

The ADA pathway from the parking lot to the new program space (and Welcome Center) runs from the inner parking lot past the farm office and maintenance shop:

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The site looked like this for a week while the crew waited for rains to pass:

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(The pathway and retaining walls are now poured – photos to come!)

The pathway will go past the auto shop, below the grade of the main road in some spots (there will be space for a vehicle to park in front of the auto shop):

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The paver-topped path that lead to the old office and zendo will be re-done to accommodate the new building and conform to ADA standards.  The parts of it that were removed during construction will be re-graded to tie into the ADA pathway and re-done (looking at the old kiosk near the steps of the Tea House):

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The pathway to Cloud Hall, in front of the Zendo, needed to be moved over slightly to make room for one of the exterior stairways:

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Construction of the new laundry room was slowed by the county permitting process.  It will hopefully be completed soon!!

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The grading around the pool deck as well as resurfacing inside (pavers) and rebuilding of the fence (it will be completely enclosed) will happen in January.  Once finished, visitors will have a line of sight and more-or-less straight walk from the back road to the new Welcome Center (which you can see in the right of the frame, below).

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Stay posted!

A Creek Is Born

Since the last post about the creek, construction has ended and the creek is flowing!

Mid-October marks the end of the construction season in creek beds (although if there’s no rain forecast, it’s possible to extend that to the end of the month).  We were quite pleased that our construction was finished in time.  The last two weeks of October saw the installation of erosion control and demobilization equipment.

Piles of organic vineyard mulch from Sonoma, waiting to be put down on top of the native seed, for erosion control and to aid revegetation:

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Jute being put down on the floodplains and edges of the creek to prevent heavy rains from washing away seed, soil, and eroding the creek bed:

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Jute, carefully pinned down around the piles of large woody debris:

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Willow mattresses and willow waddles being installed:

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A willow mattress is a bio-engineering method to prevent stream bank erosion, particularly on the outside curves of the creek, where the water velocity will be the highest.  Rather than rely on rock or other hardscape material to lower the erosion rate and prevent sedimentation in the creek channel, bio-engineering uses live PLANTS, particularly the roots, to do the job – hence the BIO!

First, you harvest LOTS of live willow branches.  Then you place them along the bank that you want to protect, at a density of around 6-8 branches per foot.

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Then you tie them down using jute twine and wooden stakes,  sprinkle some nice topsoil over them (to hold in a little moisture), and viola!  (The photo below was taken before topsoil was added.)

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If there is no rain in site, you want to irrigate  to keep the willow from drying out (as we did for the first few weeks).  At the base of the willow mattress is a willow waddle – an 8″ thick bundle of willow branches, tied together with jute twine and staked in place.

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Willow is used because it is a fast growing riparian plant that is native to our area. Even in the first season, the willow will lay down a dense matrix of roots, holding the newly formed river bank in place.  It will also, of course, provide habitat for many insects, birds, and other creatures.

Below, some regular old straw waddles, used to slow any water that might be shedding off the hills which, in a heavy rain, can dump a lot of soil in the creek if there’s not vegetation to slow and filter it (this picture was taken after several rains:you can see that the native grasses had begun to sprout):

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The site,after it was all finished, before the rains came:


Site close up

Although it rained a bit in early November, the creek did not start flowing until we had gotten (cumulatively) a couple of inches of rain, later in November.

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There was a bit more flow in early December, after we got 3.6″ of rain over Thanksgiving weekend.  At that point, we had gotten 6.5″ since the rains started for the season.

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Things really got going in early December when we got 4.5″ over a few days, bringing the season total to around 15″ (this was the storm that caused flooding in many parts of the Bay Area):

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In the picture below, you can see the creek topping the bank at one of the riffles – spilling over onto the floodplain:

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New studies are documenting how important this cycle of creeks and rivers spreading out over vegetated floodplains is for juvenile fish.    Juvenile Salmon have been found, after one winter season, to be double the size of fish who do not have access to floodplain habitat, due to the food available (think of all those juicy insects living and breeding in the grasses just next to the creek!).

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More shallow floodplains, this time looking back up toward Green Gulch from the bridge:

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Instead of being channelized under a narrow bridge, the creek now has a lot of room to flow (see photo below).  This storm was said to be a five-year storm, the new bridge is sized for the one-hundred year storm.

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It is so thrilling to see the creek functioning so beautifully!  And since the sandbar at Muir Beach (where Redwood Creek meets the ocean) opened in November, now we just have to keep our eye out for some big red fish!


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touched-up restoration

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September and October Construction

A LOT of work has been done in the last couple of months on the new building, now named Still Water Hall, as well as finishing touches on other parts of Cloud Hall.

**The wood siding is almost completely up on Still Water Hall, and the scratch coat and brown coat have gone up on the upper portion of the building (it will be finished in stucco to match the Zendo and top floor of Cloud Hall on the west side).  The view below is from the “lawn,” with the Zendo off the left hand side of the frame:

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This is the view from the pathway that leads from the inner parking lot to the tea house (and old office).  The covered landing will eventually have stairs leading up to it:

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**The covered entryway on the east side of Cloud Hall has been rebuilt:

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It is unclear, given the new configuration of this entryway (the bridge connects up to it off to the left of the doors), whether the han will return to its former location.

**The new roof membrane on Cloud Hall and the Zendo is complete.  New rain gutters are still being installed.

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**The radiant floor has been installed in the program space and student rooms in Still Water Hall.  The pictures below show the tubing, before the “gypcrete” (a mixture of gypsum plaster, Portland cement and sand, used for fire ratings, sound reduction, radiant heating and floor leveling) was poured.

The program space:

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A student room in the dorm above:

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Looping over toward the stairway down to Cloud Hall:

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The hallway in the dorm (all the tubes connect to the control panel):

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The control panel (wow!):

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The program space in Still Water Hall after the gpycrete was poured:

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The alcove in the left of the frame is the storage closet for yoga props, chairs, etc.  The wooden doors were custom-built for the closet and the glass paneled doors are for the front and back entryways.

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The exposed wooden beams, a lovely architectural detail, extend out through the front and back of the building and will support covered walkways on both sides.

In the picture below, you can see the beams at the top of the left hand side of the frame, on what will be the front of the building (entering over the new bridge from the direction of the Wheelwright Center):

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**The bridge is coming along as well.  For quite a while it was just bare concrete:

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Then the handrail support posts went up:

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Then the wooden decking started going down:

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It will be finished in the next couple of weeks.

**The final coat of stucco went up on the exterior of the basement:

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**And the retaining wall that holds up the pedestrian pathway between the Cloud Hall bathhouse and the dining room and basement offices (part of our updated ADA pathways around Green Gulch) was “refreshed” so that it actually retains what is behind it and the railing is straight:

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Large Woody Debris

One thing juvenile fish apparently LOVE is LWD: large woody debris.

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From the King County government website:

Large woody debris refers to the fallen trees, logs and stumps, root wads, and piles of branches along the edges of streams, rivers, lakes, [and other shorelines].

Some key benefits of large woody debris to fish and other aquatic creatures:

  • It provides refuge for juvenile and adult fish at a wide range of river flows, such as flood events.
  • It creates pools for juvenile fish and hydraulic complexity and roughness along the river bank
  • It provides food sources and habitat for aquatic insects and wildlife along shorelines.
  • It helps stabilize shorelines and reduce excessive erosion.

As there is not yet naturally occurring LWD in our newly constructed stream channel, it was designed and placed as part of construction so that the hydrological and habitat benefits will be immediately available.

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Great care was taken to mimic naturally downed wood – a pool was dug around the root wad of this tree, just as would appear if the tree had upended itself.  It will fill with deep, cool water and provide a nice place for a little fish!

Because we would like to stabilize the site and keep the design in place for some time, redwood (which decomposes slower than other kinds of wood) was used in many places.  Rock was buried under the bank and the logs were bolted in place:

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Here you can see the underside of the bolt, going into the rock:

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The redwood used for this project was planted for and removed from a local housing development (the crew kept finding bits of irrigation pipe in the tree roots).  It’s nice to know the source of the wood – and know that it’s not coming from a redwood forest somewhere.

A lot of willow salvaged from the old creek bed (below) and some cypress removed from the site last year were also used:

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Channel Construction Begins

This is what the sixth field looked like from Highway One a couple of weeks ago:

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Closer up, the field was a rainbow of these colorful wooden markers, indicating start and finish grade at various points:

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I learned that the crew leaves the markers in place, on little islands of soil, until the final grade is confirmed to be according to plan (then the little islands are knocked over):

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In only a few days, the channel was obvious to the layperson’s eye:

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When excavating the the new channel we uncovered alluvial gravels from a historic streamed in the same location of the planned big meander. Very exciting!  They also found the remnants of an old bridge.  You can see the band of gravel in the photo below:

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They were also excited to find the new channel filling in with a large amount of ground water – which, in the driest part of a very dry year is a good omen for this newly constructed fish habitat. Mike and Frank, below, looking into a section of the new creek channel:

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Mike has been staying in the Green Gulch guest house during the week, so that he can start early and end late! Mike in front of the “little” excavator:

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And digging part of the channel:

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Soon the materials stock-piled in the compost yard will begin to be placed in the channel…

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Basement Stucco

The exterior of the basement is almost complete.  As with the rest of Cloud Hall, there are many layers under the one we will all see…

You may recall that they demolished the walls of the basement, and re-framed them, back in April (this photo taken from inside the basement, looking toward the dining room):

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Then the whole building got a plywood layer, and a vapor barrier:


Then came the exterior insulation:

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 As with the rest of the building, a layer of gypsum board went up over the insulation, covered by “weather-resistive” paper.  Instead of wood siding (as on the upper floors), metal lath went up.  This creates a drainage space between the building paper and the stucco, allowing water to drain out through the “weep screed” at the foundation.  (From the InspectAPedia website: “Stucco relies on this drainage plane for waterproofing, since the stucco material itself is relatively porous. It tends to soak up water when it rains, but it dries out quickly since it is highly permeable to water vapor.”)

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A closer look:

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Stucco has three coats: the “scratch coat”, seen below:

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The “brown coat,” here:

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And the “finish coat,” which will go on 28 days after the brown coat.  (Stay tuned…)

Watershed Work Party Invite

Watershed Work Party This Sunday Begins with Visit to Creek Restoration Site

Hello Green Gulch watershed volunteers,

The skies have cleared of fog and the sun has been shining. Even more amazing is the transformation that is occurring down in our 5th and 6th fields. The creek restoration project is underway!

Watershed Work Party
Sunday, September 14
Meet at the stop sign near the GGF Wheelwright Ctr at 1 pm
We will work until 3:30 and then get together for tea & muffins
Come at 12:15 for a complimentary lunchBoth new and returning volunteers welcome
RSVP: 415-354-0432 or sukey.parmelee@sfzc.org

Our deepest thanks to all of you who have contributed your time and energy in preparing for this exciting time. Removing cape ivy can seem endless, but the site looked so clean I felt really confident that we are starting with a clean slate.

During the last two weeks, men in big machines have been moving tons and tons of soil. They have also been re-moving vegetation and trees and digging beautiful channels. There is a rainbow of colored stakes marking out the new creek channel and its flood plain. The ground work has been laid for a new bridge to be installed next to the horse pasture.

Check out our Renovation and Restoration blog to get more details and photos, with an introduction to the creek restoration project and a post titled, “Creek Construction Begins.”

We will start our work party this Sunday with a visit to the creek restoration site and then we will get down to work.

Projects will be selected from the following list:

  • Sukey_toward_creekCollect seed for the restoration planting later in the year.
  • Apply more mulch on the Bermuda grass patch in the 5th field.
  • Scrape and sheet mulch another Bermuda grass section in the 5th field.
  • Any nursery work that needs attention.

We look forward to seeing you this Sunday!

With our appreciation and delight,
Sukey and Audrey

Atop the Guest House

The following was published in Sangha News Weekly, the San Francisco Zen Center’s online newsletter, about the Guest House roof project completed earlier this summer (see other posts about the roof under “other projects” on this blog).

Laying a Roof and Raising Consciousness: An Interview with Contractor Ezra Wynn on Being Atop the Guest House

Interview conducted by Lauren Dito

Among the many large-scale improvement projects at Green Gulch Farm this summer, the re-roofing of the lovely Lindisfarne Guest House was notable as much for the extreme complexity and tediousness of the job as for the uplifting inner effects of the experience as reported by some of the visiting workers. The uniquely shaped roof was beautifully completed in early July, thanks to the amazing craftsmanship of contractor Ezra Wynn.

The Lindisfarne Guest House is a distinctive example of a traditional Japanese style of architecture that avoids the use of nails. Twelve rooms open onto a skylit atrium in one direction, and landscaped and wooded grounds in the other. This summer the repair work involved replacing all the shingles, along with the chimney and the flashing around the windows. The two-story octagonal structure was built in the 1970s with a crew of Zen students led by Paul Discoe, a disciple of Suzuki Roshi who had studied traditional temple carpentry in Japan. The workers took their time as they diligently followed the Zen Center schedule, devoting significant time each day to zazen (rising at 3 am, to bed at 9 pm).  (Photo: Sara Tashker)

In the interview below recorded by Green Gulch resident Lauren Dito, Ezra explains what is so unusual—and challenging—about the architecture, while also reflecting deeply on some of the non-material rewards of having spent time on the property.

After being closed for much of the summer, the guest house reopens fully for stays in just two weeks, beginning September 4. Guests are warmly invited to book a stay under the beautiful new roof and enjoy the charm of the architecture and grounds at Green Gulch Farm.

Is there something particularly enjoyable for you about this kind of architecture?

Oh yeah, it is kind of like the Path. You get into it and it looks doable, and then you find out it’s really hard. Then at some point you surrender to the flow and enjoy the space. I have been a meditator for most of my life, so I enjoy the energy here.

Early construction photos (1970s). As reported by original builder Paul Discoe in the book Zen Architecture: The Building Process as Practice: "We foolishly decided to blend the roof plans from octagonal to round. This turned out to be much more difficult than we imagined. Many mistakes later, we found out how to precut the shingles in the shop and make curved templates to align the courses. Years later this study was useful in other projects. …In the end, the structure became an integrated whole that could be felt as one pattern but could not be easily understood."

I understand you’re also one of the most skilled roofers in the area, with more than 30 years experience. Was this the first Japanese-style roof you have done?

Pretty much. I have done a fair amount of straight ones. This was the first one that went from an octagon to a dome. It is a work of art. I just kind of restored it.

So what did that feel like for you to now come into this project later in its life? And what was challenging about the job?

We have done a lot of wood shingle roofs—all different styles, lot of Victorians, a lot of fancy turrets in different wave patterns, roofs with curved edges. So I looked at this and I thought, yes, we will be able to do this. But as I was taking pictures, before the scaffold was set, I thought, this looks pretty complicated. Sure enough it was incredibly complicated just to figure out how to start it! There are eight facets, and every other one is steeper. So that created a problem, because we had to make the steeper sections blend with the less-steep ones as the octagon gradually became a dome.

Also, the class B fire-treated shingles we chose are very difficult to work with. They are dried out and brittle, and you have to cut them with a saw rather than with your hand. It turned out that all curved shingles had to be cut, every single one. After about five weeks we ran out of money—maybe six weeks we worked with my crew. For about the last month or so I have been here alone trying to get it done. Every estimate I have made turns out to be twice as long as I think it is going to take.

Ezra Wynn (photo: Lauren Dito).

The main thing I realized as I was getting into this job was the amount of dedication and devotion of the original builder. This person was so devoted as to put together this incredibly difficult project and did a beautiful job.

So now you have added another layer of dedication and devotion to this building.

I went through the whole process in my mind: oh my god, what a failure! I am losing my shirt, what a moron … until finally I just accepted it and said, listen, this is the most wonderful place you could possibly work. I am going to be happy here despite myself.

I was determined: I thought, if I am going to do something this demanding and this difficult, if I got to climb up this “mountain” 25 times a day, I want to get something out of it, some expanded consciousness. I want to do some waking up.

(Photos: Lauren Dito)

But the roof came out beautiful. I feel really good about it and we did as good a job as we possibly could for greater longevity.

That’s a big challenge for this community because of the proximity to the ocean; everything deteriorates so fast.

I also stained it with a pigmented stain, which Maintenance should do every 5 years and get 50 or 60 years out of this roof, or 100 years if you keep it up.

What would you say about your time here at Green Gulch?

It has been a wonderful blessing for me, and I am very grateful for this opportunity. I have a much greater understanding of Buddhism, doing this here. The crew too—they loved working here. They were sad to go. I would say it is my favorite job I have ever done, and I have done a lot of them. And the last couple of weeks I started eating in the hall with everybody. It is really nice.

(Photo: Shundo David Haye)

I think it feels really good for the community, too, when they know that there is somebody who has really felt invested and has felt the magic of the place. It just adds one more person to the family. Can you say more about your own spiritual practice?

I do yoga. It is a very mystical type of meditation focusing on the third eye, raising body consciousness. So it is the same place, the same goal [as Zen Buddhism].

What is your feeling—when you see people in their robes, when you hear the bells?

I absolutely love it. To me, this is a guest house but it is really a temple. They built a temple here. I couldn’t have asked for more. It is like a gift. I got to do some growing, and I am a little wiser than I was before.

[Green Gulch later received this statement from Ezra in an email: “What I observed in finishing this project was that my heart was full.  My cup was to capacity. I saw that if a committed group of people live simply and purposefully, and consciously calm their minds, what remains is love, naturally.  I saw the whole place enshrouded in the thickness of it, as tangible as the fog.”]


There has been a lot of work in the past few weeks on the pathways leading to Cloud Hall and the basement.

They are not, as of yet, completed.  We are waiting on the architect-specified binding agent for the pathway surface – it does not contain nasty chemicals that might wash into the creek (the sub-contractor had originally ordered a different product).

Here is the pathway leading to the southeast entrance to Cloud Hall, ready for surfacing:

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The ADA pathway splits to the left, where it will lead either to the new program building or, if you take a right turn off the bridge, to Cloud Hall.

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The same pathway, photographed from the bridge (the pathway in the left foreground of the shot leads to Cloud Hall).

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The view from inside the entryway (men’s bathroom off to the right in this shot).

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The freshly poured concrete pad meeting up with the ramp that comes off the bridge.  The finished bridge and ramp will have a wooden decking over them, as well as railings and path lights.

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The same entryway.  You can see how the ramp to Cloud Hall meets up with the bridge on the far left of the photograph.

The other pathway that is taking shape is the one to the basement offices.  This one is also ADA compliant, and very cool.

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 We are all enjoying its serpentine quality (someone mentioned it looks like a dragon!).  Here it is, seen from the second floor of Cloud Hall:

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