Fire Suppression and Fly Oppression
August 26, 2010 by Yugen
Yesterday we received a visit from Steve, a contractor for the local fire prevention service. Following our annual camp inspection by environmental health, we were told that our kitchen needed some work. The kitchen has been the same for years now, passing inspection every time, but this year, the powers that be decided that we needed to make some changes. So changes we have made. Alongside a new hand wash sink and an external mop sink, we are required to install a chemical sprinkler system above the stove top, nestled in the exhaust hood. The idea is, that in the event of a grease fire, the system shuts off the propane to the oven and stove and engulfs the entire area in a blanket of foam. A pretty good safety system it seems, but at $3,200.00, a technological advance that given the choice, we would live without. Not that we don't value safety, but as a vegetarian kitchen we don't use a whole lot of grease to cook in and the risk is extremely minimal. Let Environmental Health's will be done.
Back to Steve. As we were walking up to the kitchen to measure the stove hood, Steve started asking a few questions. It is common for guests, especially professionals who come up here to work rather than to visit the Center, to ask a few things about who we are and what we do. Trying to find a frame of reference for a Zen Center can be tricky. "So what is this Zen business all about, then?", "Is it a religion?", "How old is it?" I daresay Steve was simply making small talk on the way up to the kitchen, but these questions are tricky and got me thinking. I answered as best I could in the time it took to reach the kitchen but I couldn't help feeling that I sounded, at best, vague. For me, the practice is in the experiential details of my life, which are hard to speak about. Verbal communication is important, but I imagine that the walk to and from the kitchen - the living experience - will be more memorable than any of the words that I came up with. Yokoji, in all its natural beauty, can speak for itself.
It has reached that part of the summer, a summer that follows a wet winter, where it is impossible to walk around the grounds without an inexhaustible population of gnats trying to make a new home for themselves in your eyeballs. I guess it is the reflective, watery appearance that attracts them, but if you don't have sunglasses on, you will soon regret it. The gnats join the ranks of the other flying menaces that we encounter in the warmer months. The deer fly have, thankfully, had their season by now, but the mosquitoes are still hanging in there, looking for a few last meals before calling it a day as the cold weather creeps in. Yesterday, for me, was wasp day. The first encounter did not go well for me or the wasp. My first inkling that I was, in fact, not alone in the cab of my truck, was a sharp pain in the back of my neck. My hand immediately, unthinkingly, revenged my throbbing neck; and although their motives were inquisitive rather than homicidal, my bunched fingers located the culprit and simultaneously smothered it. Sorry wasp, but that's where an unprovoked attack will get you.
The second encounter was during the excavation of the compost heap. Every day, vegetable peelings, discarded ends-of-meals and left overs that got left over one too many times, all get taken down to the large compost pit near the solar panels. As we don't have any meat or fish, and very little dairy, we have never had a problem composting cooked food. It doesn't appear to attract any undesirables. Although nothing furry ran out as I started to dig out the pit - leaving a pile of fresh compost to use for any future gardening projects on one side, and a widening hole on the other - a swarm of wasps appeared and a three foot long rattle snake slithered out. I paused for a second to consider whether I was on the verge of unearthing something infernal, but continued, figuring I'd draw the line at any creature bearing cloven hooves hopping out. Luckily for me, the results of the dig bore nothing more sinister than half decomposed coffee filters. I hope the wasps didn't mind too much having to relocate to some other rotting-matter filled environ, but at least both parties came out of this particular confrontation unscathed.