Caring For Place

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At ZCS, we are committed to caring for the property in a way that is in tune with natural processes including water cycling, nutrient cycles, energy flow; and in ways that respect all beings in the ecological web.  Ecology and evolution reveal to us the unity of all life and our relatedness to all other flora and fauna with whom we share the land.  This realization, and the inclusion of all beings in our understanding of “sangha,” or community, also emerges from our Zen practice.

The land community mandala includes soil, water, air, stars, plants, animals, microbes and the many intricate ways we support one another in cycles of death and renewal.  Here are some of our practices and projects that enhance our relationship with the land and all our relations.

Rain garden; green infrastructure

In 20XX, Cornell Cooperative Extension installed the first rain garden in  Onondaga County at the Zen Center. It remains a lovely and functional feature of our place, treating the water from 500 sq. ft. of roof from our largest building. Monarch eggs hatch from our swamp milkweed and the joe-pye weed is thick with pollinators seeking a rare food source in a desert of lawn.

Sangha Grove Urban Forestry Project.

We sit on 6 acres on property right along Onondaga Creek, a waterway with tremendous cultural, historical as well as ecological values. Up until 2 years ago, the woodland consisted largely of short-lived or invasive trees, and an understory snarl of pernicious invasives. Thinking long term, we are replacing them with long-lived native trees and shrubs, with special focus on species that provide food or flowers.

Here is a partial list of the species we’ve added:

eastern white pine Pinus strobus 8
sugar maple Acer saccharum 4

Besides adding trees, we encourage young hackberry and black walnut trees planted by squirrels and birds. Change happens, as we all well know, and our plan is to work with change to help create a diverse model forest community as an expression of our practice and commitment to all beings.

Soil; nutrient cycles.   Wherever practicable, we allow fallen wood & leaves to decay on site; this maintains the “enso” or circle of replenishing soil with nutrients.  We compost food and yard wastes. Except for stubs that pose a clear safety hazard, we leave standing dead wood for wildlife and insects (such as wood wasps).

Invasive plant monitoring and removal.  As much as possible, we remove such plants as Norway maple (Acer platanoides), garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), periwinkle (Vinca minor), European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum). 

Energy.  Already we are reducing our carbon and energy footprint, with low energy bulbs, and reliance on renewable energy sources.  We encourage our members to carpool to sittings and Zen Center events, or bicycle or take the bus, and wear sweaters rather than “turn up the heat.” In the future, we plan to install energy-efficient windows in all our buildings; (other?).

Education. Community members are welcome to visit our rain garden to use as a model for designing their own. The Dharma Kids program often engages in projects in the Sangha Grove such as labeling plants, weeding, chanting to encourage ailing trees, and creating an  “Eightfold Path” through the woods that grounds this fourth noble truth in our relationship to place as well as each other.

Come join us!  If you’d like to help, write to, or check the website, or write to