The Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, one of the three practice centers associated with the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC), is under threat from the Dolan fire, one of 23 large wildfires currently burning in California, according to firefighting officials. While tens of thousands of residents across the state have been forced to evacuate their homes, the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is not yet in immediate danger.
As of 23 August, there were four people staying at Tassajara—down from 15 a few days earlier—two of whom have professional firefighting experience and two residents with experience and knowledge of Tassajara systems and terrain. The center is a monastery and retreat center in the remote Ventana Wilderness in central California.
The Dolan fire has burned 21,844 acres (8,840 hectares) and was 15 per cent contained as of Wednesday morning, according to the US Forest Service.
Two other conflagrations in the area, the River and Carmel fires, also pose a threat, but are currently seeing “containment numbers in the 30–33 per cent range” according to Tassajara’s latest fire update, which added: “The Dolan fire’s eastern edge continues to burn into the Ventana and firefighters are monitoring it near the North Coast Ridge Road and North Coast Ridge trail.” (San Francisco Zen Center)
In a 24 August update, Tassajara reported: “Yesterday afternoon various Buddha and bodhisattva statues from around Tassajara were buried in the bocce ball court to protect them should a fire come. This task was performed with great reverence, ceremony, and care by Kogen, a SFZC priest who is one of the four fire crew members currently at Tassajara. In this photo, some of the statues look on as the trench is dug. They will be carefully wrapped before being buried.”
Along with these activities, workers continue to clear brush to reduce fuel for the fire should it reach the center and run the center’s sprinkler system, nicknamed “Dharma Rain.” With all of the watering taking place, Greg Fain, a longtime Tassajara resident, described his experience as “a very soggy situation.” (San Francisco Zen Center)
Tuesday, the SFZC leadership wrote to express thanks to all those who have worked diligently to protect Tassajara:
We want to express our tremendous gratitude to the residents of Tassajara who have done so much work this spring and summer in preparation for the possibility of fire. Many people spent hard-working hours on fuel reduction, pump and Dharma Rain maintenance, care for the grounds, as well as all the regular everyday upkeep.
The crew who is at Tassajara now sent this message: “We would be so much further behind the curve if that work wasn’t performed. Now we can focus on more technical things. We really want to acknowledge what was done and stress the value of preventative work.”
Tassajara would not exist without the people who make it so. Please know how much appreciation is coming your way.
Leslie James, Abiding Teacher, Tassajara
Rinso Ed Sattizahn, Abiding Central Abbot
Tenzen David Zimmerman, City Center Abiding Abbot
Ryushin Paul Haller, Urban Temple Dharma Teacher
Helen Degenhardt, Board Chair
Shinchi Linda Galijan, President
Sozan Diego Miglioli, Vice President
(San Francisco Zen Center)
Members of the SFZC noted that those remaining at the center felt “optimistic and energized” and were continuing their efforts to protect the area. Another SFZC practice center, Green Gulch Farm, was close to the Woodward fire but was not under immediate threat.
In addition to their concern for the concern for the Tassajara center, they pointed readers to a 24 August update from the US Forest Service detailing their efforts to protect the rare California Condor and other species in the area.
Fire Updates (San Francisco Zen Center)
Dolan Fire Condor and Species of Concern Update (Facebook)
California condor sanctuary near Big Sur ‘completely destroyed’ as Dolan Fire spreads (San Luis Obispo Tribune)