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Gifts of Arrow River

March 2003

Woke up the last full day I'll spend here -- clean-up day -- to a beautiful snow fall. Over an inch had fallen by dawn and subsequent hours added a few more. Fired up the stove, made some tea, meditated, and stood outside breathing & enjoying the beauty. The main window of this cabin is large, over 4' wide by 3.5' high, covered just by two sheets of plastic. Though not as clear as the glass side-windows, it gives a broad view, as I sit at the table to type, translate, read, or enjoy nature's wonder. The limbs of firs are drooping with a half-inch covering of snow, fairly wet stuff, I already tested a well-packed snowball. The leafless birches & aspens catch the snow in their notches and crannies. And the hillside down to the river is all white again. For the past few days of melt, only the river was still white, with just scattered patches in the shadier & colder parts of the woods. Now all is covered in white again. Feels like a renewal.

For the residents, it probably has a different impact. I fly south tomorrow, so don't worry about another month of winter. Here it has been a cold & dry winter, so they'd like to seem a real spring. Still, they will appreciate the snow -- better late than never. The more now, the less dry in summer & less danger of fire.

Night has fallen and the snow has yet to let up. Continued all day, maybe 8 inches worth. If it continues through the night, I may be here a couple more days. Not the worst that could happen to me. Temperatures have fallen too. The town and airport are on Lake Superior. We'll call up and see what the "lake effect" has been.

Temps were 10-15-20 degrees below zero (F) at night and barely in the teens during the day for much of the first week I was here. Cold but beautiful and silent, except for occasional owl, goose, or plane. Bears are hibernating. A fresh snow fell for a few days. Delicious .... but the equinox & changes brings warmth, temperatures above freezing during the day & snow is melting. More bird sounds. On a walk yesterday, I saw the belly slide marks of an otter ;-)

Another week passes and there has been rain. River ice is melting, tho can still walk around on it. Incredible patterns in the ice & snow as it melts & refreezes at night. Still snow on the ground, but it's shrinking. More & more leafy ground showing. The bears may be waking up soon. Ravens are noisy!

This cabin, this frozen river, this breathing in and out, this wonderful book I am absorbing, this ever-changing consciousness, and much, much more are the natural gifts reminding me of the sources of Dana. Out this sun-lit window, a short slope down from the cabin, the Arrow River still flows under more than a foot of ice, flowing into the Pigeon, which forms the border with Minnesota before flowing into Lake Superior. I hear the Arrow rushing as I walk upon it, following animal tracks and what looks like an otter’s belly slide — what playful joy. I run in sympathetic happiness through the cold, biting air, kicking up puffs of snow with my clumsy boots, bundled up roly-poly against the zero temperatures. Except my face, stung by the cold — exhilarated. The winter stillness highlights the coarse breathing. The stark beauty of crystalline snow, rusty lichens on cracked up cliff-rock, green lichens splattered on dark-grey bark, crusty grey-green lichens, leafless birches and aspens, snow catching firs, river grass adding mellow gold … nothing in me deserves this beauty and wonder, yet it is given, provided, shared.

The sun is a gift of warmth and light, now setting, lest we forget in ingratitude. The snug cabin was built by nameless others; these days given for my use by Ven. Punnadhammo, the abbot. Paul the steward cooks daily meals and provides other needs quietly, kindly. Candles and other goods are provided by the community’s support network. Trees have gifted their wood that I may stay warm, even toasty, and survive the minus 15 degree nights. I am clothed in the offerings of Thai, Chinese, Sri Lankan, and American donors. It is all gift. What isn’t? Given by others, by Nature, by Dhamma.

The “Gift of Dhamma” is so much more than teachings, meditation advice, words. My heart aches for those who only understand Dhamma on that level. “Gift of Dhamma” is life and well-being and freedom and more. Everything because everything is Dhamma. And Dhamma is all gift, can only be gifted, never taken, to be shared, recycled, circulated in a vattha of generosity rather than the samsara of desire.

I write this essay in a cabin provided by Arrow River Forest Hermitage, while translating, meditating, and reading Lewis Hyde’s The Gift. As my country revs up for war, to dwell for a few weeks in a country more known for its peacekeeping efforts than making and dropping bombs is also a gift. All of these inform and move this consideration of Dana. I hope that readers hear echoes of Hyde's powerful book and look into it themselves.

Santikaro Bhikkhu

late March 2003