Wednesday, December 23, 2009


To quote Professor Hubert T. Farnsworth of Futurama, "Oh my, yes, it's the apocalypse all right. I always thought I'd have a hand in it."

The Shenandoah Valley got its biggest snowstorm in the ten years I've lived here last weekend. Here are a few photos:

First, this is during the storm. It came down well over an inch an hour for the first several hours, so it piled up fast. In the front you can see the wrought-iron fence around our front yard. The gate section, the highest two points, hit me mid-thigh, and you can see how close they are to being buried. In the back you can barely make out my pickup truck, which I only finally got dug out today (Wednesday the 23rd).

This is the next day. That's the same high point of the fence, and behind it the enormous pile that built up from our shoveling the sidewalk.

My husband's Toyota, with 22 inches of snow on the roof. When the snow finally stopped, there were 22-24", depending on where you stuck the tape measure. His car was completely buried, not a single bit of metal visible at all.
This is looking down the side street. Being in two dimensions really flattens out just how steep this hill is. This block of the street is basically a U shape, with a stop sign at each high point of the U. When it ices over, it is virtually useless. We've heard people spinning their tires for minutes trying to get out of either end of the street (record tire-spinning time: 45 minutes -- no kidding!), only to finally give up and go home.
We're lucky; we can park on the major street (I took this picture standing in the middle of it) and take other routes to get where we need to go, so when this street is icy or snowy, we just don't use it for a couple weeks. Other people aren't so lucky. You can't quite see them, but there are two dead-end streets located virtually at the very bottom of the U. They have no other option but to try to get out this way. About the only thing to do is get a running start, have someone watch for traffic, and blast right through the stop sign; alternately, if you can keep some traction, creep through using barely any throttle.
Staunton is an incredibly hilly town -- on the street behind us (the one this U-shaped street intersects in the picture), the sidewalk gives up and turns into stairs at a couple of points.
Mary Baldwin College is located here. Frederick Street forms the lower base of the college, and a set of professors' offices called Rose Terrace is near the very top. I counted the steps once walking from Frederick to Rose Terrace. One hundred and fifty stairs -- I think the rule of thumb is ten steps to a story, so that's the equivalent of walking up fifteen flights of stairs.
Finally, the two most comfortable creatures in Staunton that night -- our cats, Peanut (the grey one) and Indy (the black one) curled up on the radiator. The camera woke Indy up and she's starting to stir. The moment before this, she was sprawled out asleep. It's only a hot water radiator, so it doesn't get nearly as hot as a steam one would. In fact, it stays pretty much perfect cat-warming temperature all winter, although when it gets really hot, they favor the piece of drywall that Peanut is lying on.
I wanted to add one little Buddhist thought, and then we're off to visit family in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for the holidays. I tried in my book to emphasize that Buddhism is not a philosophy but a practice. I said "actions speak louder than words," "you have to do it, not think it," and so on. Although the intentions behind your actions is important in terms of karma (i.e., seemingly good actions, done with bad intentions, generate bad karma), it is the actions you undertake that make you the person you are. No matter what we say to one another about ourselves, others see our actions and whether or not they say it out loud they judge those actions against what you've said. If your actions and your words match, you're seen as a person with integrity; if not, you're seen as a hypocrite or a liar.
Buddhism is the same way. It asks you to look at yourself as others do and see whether or not your words (or your goals) line up with your actions. If not, it asks you to be honest about recognizing that and to make the change so that they do. It also asks you to be honest -- brutally honest -- about your intentions. Are they not-so-great intentions? Then expect not-so-great karma -- and don't complain about it when it arrives, because you are the one who set it in motion.
Is it okay to do good actions with a good intention because you want good karma? Sure. Wanting good karma is pretty karma-neutral. It's a little more selfish than doing good things with good intentions just because they are good in and of themselves. But it's not nearly so bad as having bad intentions, such as doing something to put someone else in a position of owing you, or doing something because you want to be to be admired for it. Those would be karma-negative intentions. Doing something because it's inherently good, with zero expectations, is karma-positive. Doing the right thing because you want to keep your karma in the good zone is karma-neutral. It's not a negative, at least.
Really, Buddhism is remarkably simple, and one very old Buddhist story reflects this.
A monk renowned for his wisdom was sitting in deep meditation when someone
approached him and asked, "O venerable teacher, what is the essence of

The monk replied,

Not to commit wrong actions,
But to do all good ones
And to keep the heart pure --
This is the teaching of all the buddhas past, present, and future.

His questioner was annoyed and exclaimed, "Why, even a five-year-old child knows that!"

The monk (and this is why he is called wise) replied, "Yes, but how many fifty-year-old men can easily practice it?"

This is indeed the essence of Buddhism. It's simple to grasp and can be explained in a sentence, but to practice it, every hour every day for a lifetime, is remarkably difficult, something that requires teachers, retreats, books, and communities of fellow practitioners to pull off.
Whatever December 25 means to you, have a merry and safe one, and a happy and prosperous 2010!

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