Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center

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Where We Stand Today

July 31, 2013 by Yugen

Jim Lakey Rev. Jim Yugen Lakey
Yokoji Zen Mountain Center

Where We Stand Today

Tenshin Roshi and Kaigen Roshi working together during the clean-up

As of today, we have resumed the summer interim schedule at Yokoji. The Sunday Schedule will be going ahead as usual this weekend. We have canceled the August sesshin and Day of Zen Practice as we do not want to host anyone beyond the residents right now. Read on for the reasons why.

Over the weekend, we received a visit from two soil scientists who are part of a team working for the Forest Service surveying the damage caused by the Mountain Fire. This visit has opened us up to a bigger picture; the canyon is full of debris, burned top soil and loose rocks which will wash down through the valley over the next few years when rain or snow hit and cause mud to form. Most of the buildings that form Yokoji are in, or are very close to, the main watershed for the canyon. Depending on the weather that hits, the buildings and anyone in them could be at risk. When there is no rain forecast (which there isn't over the next week), we are fine, but in the winter, especially in a wet winter, stormy weather can be almost constant for extended periods of time.

The mudslides that caused all the damage to the center over the past week and filled the shop with one foot of heavy mud were caused by heavy summer rain. It turns out that this could just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the amount of mudflow and possible rock falls that could occur in the future. However, until we get the report, we have no idea of the extent of the risk. The Forest Service team will produce computer models of the area to try and figure out what will happen in various circumstances. Based on their findings, we will have to make some important decisions as to how to proceed. The report is being finalized over the next few days and there will be a public meeting, possibly as early as this Friday, where the experts will be on hand to answer questions and the report will be made public.

The upshot to all this is even more uncertainty than we faced immediately after the fire. Once we realized the center hadn't burned, we poured a lot of energy into getting Yokoji back on its feet, and we received amazing support from so many different people with donations of both money and time. The shop is now cleaned out, the power back on, the gas is back on in certain buildings (although not on the mainline where the kitchen is). The water is back on but we are having to use bottled water, or treat the water with disinfectant at the tanks, in order to use it for cooking or drinking. A massive amount has already been taken care of. However, until we get the results of the report, we are going to work smart and do the things that need taking care of immediately, but not use up the good will of the volunteers or the energy of the residents with some of the larger projects that will occur if we can stay in the valley.

Our hope is that we will be able to stay in the valley; that with the support of the sangha and federal and state bodies that assist with disaster relief, we will be able to put things in place to protect the buildings and those who use them. The worry is that we may not have the means to do this, or it may not be a realistic proposition, based on the risk involved from the mud and rocks. The chaparral that was burned off in the fire that holds the soil in place through the valley will take at least a year to grow back and maybe longer. If we are unable to inhabit the center during this time, we will face a stark decision.

The fact is that we barely meet our overheads of around $200,000 per year. A huge chunk of our income is from guest groups, who rent the facility for a weekend or longer. If we are unable to host these groups, our income will drop to a point where it would be extremely hard to sustain the training here. Even if we could wait out a year or two, the guest groups who make the operating of Yokoji possible may not return, having been forced to find alternative venues in the interim. There is no clear option, no single path that seems to make full sense right now. We are waiting for the report which may or may not make the decision for us. The impermanence of all things could not be more clear right now, and Yokoji is about as vulnerable as it has ever been. We desperately hope that measures can be taken that will allow Yokoji to continue on this site for years to come, but for the first time, we are facing the possibility that this may not be the case.

As soon as we have more news, we will post it here on the blog. In there mean time, thank you for your continued support. For all those who have volunteered their time in the next few weeks or months, we'll be in touch once we know what is going on.


  • Ingeborg Buzan Prochazka:

    31 Jul 2013 17:29:43

    This comes as a shock, and we can only hope…

  • James Stewart:

    31 Jul 2013 18:04:27

    Dear Tenshin Roshi and Sangha friends at Yokoji,

    When the report gets back could you not consider some very “green” and appropriate ground-works that would help in directing mud-flows should they occur? A strategy would be to construct gabion basket “wall forms” which could have enough mass to resist mud flow whilst causing it to change direction….Gabion baskets are simple cooper of zinc wasted mess “boxes that you fill with rocks. The form of the basket can be almost any shape. You would be able to incorporate a ground work design with geotextiles that might bind the ground more strongly especially if this was incorporated with deep rotting plants…..

    This could also be quite beautiful…

    Anyway I know that this is huge for you all and that it is deepening your practice. Big respect. Love. James

  • Yugen:

    31 Jul 2013 18:17:49

    James—Is this something you have worked with? Do you have any web links you could point us to? Thank you.

  • Pat Shingetsu Guzy:

    31 Jul 2013 18:22:52

    This is really painful to hear………..we will continue to pray for a good outcome!

  • Tim Towey:

    31 Jul 2013 19:15:52

    Anything physical mental or spiritual we can do to help you let me know .you are in our prayers and meditations

  • Gerhard Nicklas:

    31 Jul 2013 19:44:28

    I wish I could be there helping you! But I am busy working.

  • David Zimmerman:

    31 Jul 2013 19:57:12

    Hi Yugen,

    I was Director of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center during the 2008 Basin Complex Fire, and dealt with both the fire that swept through Tassajara as well as oversaw the storm preparation/reconstruction that we did afterwards to protect the monastery from floods and mudflows/rockslides, including constructing gabions as mentioned by James in the above post (highly recommended). While I think the ‘experts’ you’ll be working with can definitely give you good suggestions about how to protect the temple grounds for the winter, I can share with you our experience at Tassajara, including the work we did and the actual outcome if you are interested. (The work wasn’t cheap, but we were fortunate to have both donations and insurance money to help offset the costs, and we saw it as an investment in the future…as fire will—and already has—returned to Tassajara.)

    I’m available at programdirector@sfzc.org, or 415/354-0359 if I can be of help in any way. I wish you all the best and hold your well-being and safety in my heart/mind.

    In gassho,

  • Yugen:

    31 Jul 2013 20:36:18

    David—Thank you! I actually had on my to-do list for tomorrow to call Tassajara and see if I could speak with someone about exactly that! One of the soil scientists said he had worked on the Basin Complex Fire and made the comparison between our two centers, and also our insurance broker said you guys were his client at the time and I think we even have similar policies with the same carrier!

    I’m glad to hear Tassajara didn’t sustain any damage in the recent fires. Thank you so much for reaching out to us. I will certainly be in touch.

  • David Zimmerman:

    31 Jul 2013 21:40:17

    I’ll actually be at Tassajara tomorrow for several days to lead a retreat, and returning to SF on Monday. The current director and other residents weren’t there in 2008 and so won’t be as familiar with what we did. Therefore, I’ll try to pull the files I created for any useful references/contacts/details. (Is the soil scientists you’re working with named ‘Barry’? …forget his last name, but a wonderful, warm person.)

    Looking forward to being of assistance in whatever way we can.

  • Jon Rosenthal:

    01 Aug 2013 07:31:01

    I was wondering about future mudslides but I did not think of tree trunks and boulders. This is more very difficult news. However I have a new word for
    hope. Gabion!

  • Francisco:

    01 Aug 2013 08:19:29

    Hi Yugen,

    There’s a system called Superadobe which is created from the earth available onsite, small amount of cement, water, and special bags. You can find out more about it here http://calearth.org/building-designs/what-is-superadobe.html.

    It may not be the complete answer pending the soils report, however, it may be a piece of the puzzle to retain/divert the potential flow of mud and debris.

    If you are interested I share additional information as I’ve attended Cal-Earth for one year.


  • Yugen:

    01 Aug 2013 08:32:14

    Francisco—We certainly are interested. We have already made use of regular sandbags, but this looks like it could be a stronger solution. Can any kind of earth go in them or does it have to be sand or DG? More information would be great! Our phones are still down right now, so email (zmc@zmc.org) would be the best way to get in touch for the time being. Thank you!

  • Doetsu:

    01 Aug 2013 10:40:54

    This is wonderful, Yugen, to have heard from David Zimmerman at Tassajara and to be receiving such good and hopeful advice. I remember following the Tassajara fire in ’08 and thinking how our situation now at Yokoji is so similar. After reading the update yesterday my heart was sad. Now I’m feeling more hope. Whatever I can do, Yugen, please let me know. I love you guys.
    In gassho,
    Ilene Doetsu Van Gossen

  • Karl:

    05 Aug 2013 07:47:16

    As a friend of Kevin Rileys I was saddened to hear about the damage you sustained.I am sure every effort will be made to save this sacred spot.

  • Koko:

    09 Aug 2013 09:56:01

    The post from David Zimmerman sounds very encouraging. I’ve seen something like what that basket description sounds like being used as retaining walls on extremely steep slopes here in the S.B. Mtns. David probably has photos for you, but if not, let me know & I will send you photos.

  • A. Jesse Jiryu Davis:

    13 Aug 2013 17:40:18

    Good luck good luck good luck good luck.

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