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  • Writer's pictureStanislas Wang-Genh

Zen on Bluegrass

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

Sault Ste. Marie - Duluth

June 26 - July 20, 2022

It's been three months since I left.

I am lying on a big bed, my legs petrified by the effort. The last few days have been hard because of the wind, the heat and this indecisive road that sometimes gives yes, sometimes no.

A couple with golden wedding anniversary offers me hospitality for a few days. I have a large room in the basement, the coolest place in their huge house.

If I have to draw a first lesson from this beginning of journey, it is that people are good. At least under the thick crust of their torments and fears. Everyone aspires to happiness ¬- even the one in search of a solid beam, rope in hand. And the best way to achieve this is to bring happiness to others.

Certainly, I benefit from this. On the one hand, for the charity I receive, and on the other hand, for the life lesson that pushes me in return to turn more towards others.

Let's talk seriously. I didn't know that Canada had great vineyards. But it is the Americans, the Chinese, the South Koreans and the Hong Kongers who reap the benefits. Difficult to find in France. The country produces Inniskillin, one of the best ice wines in the world.

I am in Kelowna, in the westernmost province of the country, British Columbia. Here begins the Okanagan Valley, a beautiful wine region. And tonight, I hope to taste a few drops of these hidden treasures.

- - -

Let's go back in time. On June 26, I was in Sault Ste. Marie, on the Canadian side (Ontario). Except for a very nice meeting with Michaela, Patricia and Mike, the city does not interest me.

The big question on my mind is how to get around Lake Superior. Either by the north, on the Canadian side, or by the south, on the American side. On the advice of some locals, I take the south, more friendly and less arduous.

To reach the United States, I cross the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge. A beautiful arch and steel truss bridge. 4,500 meters long, 10,000 vehicles per day. Up there, I look like an insect making its way through the great structures of the world. The gusts are like the breath of a divine wrath. I have never crossed a border with such a desire for freedom.

Between Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette, it is 300 km of national road. I go there with an infection in my right eye, probably due to the cocktail of sweat - sun cream - mosquito repellent. When this one crosses the forest of my eyebrows to spread on my eyelids, I wipe it carelessly with a big dirty hand.

Marquette, Michigan

I spend the first two nights at the home of a great couple (Warmashowers) who live in a big, beautiful house by the lake. The husband is kind enough to take me - in his Tesla - to the hospital to treat my eye. He waited in the car for the consultation. Today, I am no longer embarrassed by these repeated acts of generosity. I accept them as they come and my gratitude - growing - becomes quieter and quieter.

The Fourth of July celebration is three days away. I decide to stay in Marquette to let this storm of festivities pass. I feel very comfortable in this industrial-looking town. Iron ore was mined here until 2016, when the last mine closed. Since then, these old red brick buildings have naturally turned into local breweries, haunts of hipsters and travelers on the run.

I need to find a place to spend several days. I can't stay with this couple. Warmshowers was designed for transient cyclists, not squatters.

Reflexively, I type: "Zen - Marquette - Michigan" in Google.

Result: "Lake Superior Zendo - Soto Zen".

Eureka! I go there immediately.

Three knocks with my middle finger on a glass door, a tall guy in his thirties opens the door.

I tell him that I am a Zen monk and that I rode my bike here from France. He clears his hair from his forehead and two big round eyes appear on a friendly face. He welcomes me like a member of his family. His name is Donovan and Daiki is his Dharma name. He wishes to become a monk and has received the precepts (Jukai).

Soon he tells his older brother Roshin, a Zen monk, who arrives shortly after with sandwiches. We settle down in the garden which surrounds the house.

The two brothers explain to me that since the health crisis, the Zendo does not welcome anybody anymore. The sessions of zazen are done in line. Before, there was a community with residents.

Today, they wish to relaunch the activity of this very beautiful place, full of potential.

The Zendo was established in 1990 by Tesshin Paul Lehmberg, who received Dharma transmission from Rev. Shiken Winecoff. It is located at Ryumonji Zen Monastery in Iowa. 

Ryumonji? Our temples have the same name, it's a real link. I ask them for hospitality for a few days. After consulting the abbot of the temple who unfortunately cannot join us because he has the Covid, they accept.

I have one of the rooms of the house.

Every morning we practice zazen and do a ceremony with Roshin and Dailki. Both of them have this depth that comes from solid zazen. We feel a real commitment to the practice. We exchange a lot about the gestures, about the ways of doing the ceremonies, about our respective lineages and more globally, about the history of Zen in Europe and in the United States.

On the first evening, we met at the Blackrock, the most famous brewery in the city of Marquette. A landmark for musicians and mountain bikers. Concerts, quality beers, this place is an institution.

Very quickly, I met many people. People from Michigan have this natural friendliness that makes everything easier. People come up to me and ask me if I am the Zen monk who rides his bike around the world to get to Japan. I get a kind of pride out of it, it's nice.

It's signed, the Blackrock brewery becomes my landmark for the next few days. I can write quietly during the day and enjoy a beer in good company in the evening. I start to know names, shake hands, hug, drink coffees with local figures: musicians, bike store employees, etc.

On the 4th of July, the city cancels the fireworks due to rain. Everything is perfect.

It is the day of departure. My bike is loaded, my heart too.

Daiki accompanies me for about thirty kilometers to reach the house of Roshin, who lives in a small town with his wife and two daughters. We cross an old mining area. The forest covered the railroad and some villages were swallowed up by removing the foundations of earth, rich in ore.

We spend a very pleasant moment. I share with the two daughters of Roshin this singularity of having parents engaged in the practice of Zen. The smallest of the two draws me a cat in zazen which I keep in the pocket of my rakusu.

After lunch, we spend hours together in their garage maintaining my bike and installing a rack before Roshin trades me for a Joban (a Japanese kimono-like under-jacket) that I will send him once I arrive in Japan. The two brothers also gave me a mosquito repellent jacket, a yellow vest, some chocolate and Roshin slipped a cigar in one of my pockets.

During these few days, we made a very nice friendship.

There is not much connection between European Zen and American Zen. I am convinced that this meeting is not insignificant. It is immense. We are young and something tells me that we will meet again in the next decades. Zen in Europe and the United States still has a whole story to tell. This is only the beginning. I dream of a rapprochement, of a structure that links us. Our Zen history is similar. Our evolution over the last 50 years is like the playful course of two tributaries of the same river. They keep crossing each other to flow into the same ocean.

It's time to leave. We bow as it should be and the two brothers keep both hands in gassho the time I disappear with my bike.

Duluth, Minnessotta

There are cities that inspire and aspire. I know when I arrive in Duluth that I'm going to spend some time there. I already feel at home. Not just because Bob Dylan was born and raised here, but because this city is beautiful, airy and exudes creativity and youth. Duluth is a city that lies between Lake Superior and huge, steep hills. It is known as the "San Francisco of the Midwest" in reference to this topography that runs from the water to the hilltops.

Kesley, a talented musician with a beautiful voice, welcomes me to her home for several days. We hit it off immediately. Kesley has this vibrant energy that makes you want to bite the summer and do a lot of activities. On the first morning, she takes me to The Back Alley for a breakfast/concert. She introduces me to some friends.

A group of musicians plays bluegrass. I gently penetrate the soul of Duluth on the sound of these typical instruments: Banjo, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, double bass. It's very catchy, they are talented.

Here, the young Duluthian generation brings the standards of the 40's up to date.

Among the musicians, Jacob and Owen, two brothers of 21 and 23 years. They are part of several bands, including the New Salty Dogs. They know Kelsey and suggest we come to another concert in the afternoon in a music lover's garden. I later learn that they spend their lives playing music from morning to night. They sometimes give several concerts in the same day and roam the various neighborhoods of Duluth with their musical instruments. I am amazed by their talent. They master guitar, drums, bass, double bass and sing very well.

They live by music and for music. This is a real education for me. Seeing them play gives me heart to work in my zazen.

One evening, Kesley introduces me to the New Zealand director Taika Waititi. We devour one of his films with a pizza.

The next day, she introduces me to her friend Matt, a bike and meditation enthusiast. This city is full of paranormal phenomena. Every time we meet, it's love at first sight. I feel an immense joy in their presence. I can't leave this city anymore.

Another night, which was supposed to be the last one, we go to Brent Paddle to see the New Salty Dogs play.

Molly, a friend of Kesley's joins us. She is no stranger to the esoteric mysteries of Duluth. We hit it off immediately. The connection is very strong.

That same evening, I receive an email from Daiki from Marquette. He tells me that they have decided to restart the Lake Superior Zendo. My heart is warm.

At the request of Kesley, Matt and Molly, I introduce them to zazen.

With Matt, we talk about creating a zazen group in Duluth.

In progress...

Through this trip, I want to encourage this type of initiative. This is an integral part of the Zanmai project. Many people want to sit in meditation every day but cannot find the structure or the guidance.

From the bottom of my heart, I hope that in Duluth a group will be formed. I am here for them.

I embrace you all.

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2 comentarios

15 ago 2022

Thank you for your sincerity and warmth, wishing you well on your journey

Me gusta

Marita Vanderpoestclement
Marita Vanderpoestclement
07 ago 2022

💔It is an amazing story that brings you deep in the heart of America

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