(See the gallery on Facebook)
And so when I was offered the chance to have a working day at our beautiful jewel on the South Island of NZ, the Glentui retreat land, I accepted with joy. I saw it as an opportunity to increase my connection with the land and also make a contribution to its development. Glentui is still in its early stages of being developed as a Diamond Way retreat place and there are lots of ways to help out.
The day dawned bright and clear. The 40 minute drive to Glentui from Christchurch was lined with cherry trees in blossom and the sight of baby lambs frolicking in the meadows. My excitement grew with each passing mile until at last we reached the ‘Glentui’ turnoff. My friends (Chris and Ines) and I were kitted out for a day of digging holes for trees and tidying out the retreat hut.
On arrival we sat down for a brief XVI Karmapa meditation with an outlook over the valley, making it easy to call to mind the vastness of space. Then with clear heads and a light heart, we set to work. While Chris tackled the hut, Ines and I took on the physical challenge of digging holes in the ground along the fringes of the retreat land for over 200 trees waiting to be planted. It took a while to get the hang of it since I am more used to sitting in front of a computer most of my day. But after a few attempts and some powerful mantras I really got into it and it became quite fun. Ines and I were chatting away as we worked, the sun shining down on us and the sounds from the sheep and cows filling the morning air.
Later in the day we took a walk to the top of the hill and enjoyed the spectacular view down the green valley and all the way to the sea glinting in the far distance. Some friends had created a little ‘Stupa’ there with rocks and some relics, strung with prayer flags. We sat at the base of the structure and simply enjoyed being together and sharing in the joy of the moment.
By the time we were ready to head off, I was already excited for the next time I might return.
My feeling is that for those of us who can make the time to help with this exciting project, it is a wonderful opportunity to be part of creating something truly special. I am sure we will look back one day, when Glentui is being enjoyed by practitioners and being used for meditation courses, and be pleased to have been a part of its history.
On Saturday 1st September three of us took the car from the center and drove up to Glentui. We stopped in Rangiora for two pies and a coffee and arrived at around 11am to the retreat land. The plan for the day was changing the old wooden for the new aluminium doors.
The boys took out the old doors and I was cleaning the old wood besides the hut. We took the new doors from the container up to the hut (quite heavy!) and in one hour the new doors were in. After a quick lunch and meanwhile Cris put new walls Vladi and me were digging holes to plant the last trees in the Mahakala forest.
After a nice day of work we came back to Christchuch happy that now, hopefully, no strong wind will break the doors.
Snow everywhere! And this time we managed to get to Glentui with a camera before it all melted. We met some of the locals and they told us that there was 70cm on the ground before the warm norwesterly came through and melted alot of it. It was the biggest snowfall they had seen.
The main road out to Glentui was completely covered in some places and very icy but we managed to get to the base of Glentui and walked up from there. So pretty! White powder snow covering everything. We headed up to the hut carrying some wood and tools. Thanks to some good wool insulation it was warm inside.
We spent the time working out how and where best to put a bridge linking the two sleeping lofts so it is easy to cross from one side to the other. Then we filled in some tricky little bits of plywood cladding in the loft area. With our thermos flasks of hot tea and soup for lunch, some interesting work and a novel and beautiful environment the afternoon passed happily.
Chris drives the car. Niki sits shotgun. I’m in the back. We’re all hunching over to peer out the window, confirming that, yes, we really are driving straight for the ominous looking storm clouds on the horizon. Good thing we’d packed a thermos full of tea. This is my first time pitching in to work on Glen Tui.
We arrive. We meditate in the eaves of the little hut. Despite the work yet to do, the hut is already a loveable place – brilliantly simple, cozy, strong. Chris tells a story about a foot of snow that had fallen during one visit. I get excited thinking about stoking the soon-to-be-installed-stove during winter’s bone, snow blanketing the landscape outside.
We check on the trees. They’re doing great. We start planting more. I’m realising how much thought and effort and mistakes and solutions have taken place here to work out this streamlined system that keeps our saplings safe from hungry sheep and gale force winds.
The work feels great. Satisfying. Niki is patient and gracious as she explains everything. Chris drives metal stakes into the ground. They’ll become a new fence line. So much work. So much dedication.
When it rains we head inside to put up gib. Chris instructs. I get to wield power tools, drill a few screws, and feel that sense of satisfaction that comes with constructing something. Something that will shelter my fellow Bodhisattvas.
My work is a drop in the bucket, but I feel part of this place now. A couple of those screws holding the ceiling up were put there by me, and all the other ones were put there by my friends. That’ll be something for me to smile at one night when I’m nodding off in my sleeping bag.
Another trip to the country, this time with two Hungarians in tow – Denes Andras, one of the Hungarian travel teachers came with us plus another friend. Four bodies, 2 trays of trees, the picnic and some enthusiasm set off to do a bit more.
We planted some more seedlings in our shelter belt that is being established along the south east border. Although the winds are not srong from that direction the view to the neighbour is not so inspiring so the shelter is to create beauty and privacy. Country conditions are more extreme than city living and this day was no exception. It was cold and wettish.
After a tasty slabs of bread, avocado and toppings for lunch we did a few more then showed Denes around the retreat land. He liked the sheep more than the trees so we called it quits after that and went back to the centre in preparation for the evening lecture.
Next week we went off to plant our little trees again. There had been a strong Nor’wester since we were up last week – common around spring time – fierce, gusty, drying and destructive. It caught the hut in its most vulnerable spot – full blast into the front door. Unhooked the door, smashed it against the steel cladding piercing a hole in the iron and breaking the glass.
Time for a proper door we think. We will invest in a new aluminium door that is strong and easier to fit, won’t buckle and will withstand intense heat, wind and rain. Although not cheap – we will be thankful in the long run. We planted some more trees – it is quite involved – they need to be well rooted, watered, feed, supported with a stick and shelter bag, mulched with carpet and held down with rocks and sods. This way they tend to have a higher survival rate. Not a 5 minute job but worth the effort in the long run.
We have good news: the hut is closed-in, and with that, the unauthorised animals are banned from inside. The verandah doors are being finished to a high standard by our dedicated door expert.
Interior is also getting a facelift thanks to our team of interior experts, the builder and his young apprentice. As you can see on the picture, the standard is five-star plywood walls and roof, with natural random wooden pattern, as you’d expect from such an upmarket establishment.
Everybody will feel at home with an additon of light points and power sockets. Did I say about woolen insulation already?
One of our new Czech friends did the carpets – not for the hut, but for covering the ground around plants, so the weed cannot go through while the plant is growing roots – it’s a lot of finnicky work with a knife.
We are planning a shelter belt to the South of the hut, to shield us from the neighbour – a 100 or so fast-growing plants need to go into the ground, into holes 30cm deep.
The ground is full of stones, wires and roots up there, and the perseverance and energy manifested by our dakinis was extremely inspiring and powerful.
On the picture below, you can see how hard is the work up there – the work is done in the best Central European style:
And here is the whole happy team again. See you soon – in Glentui
Last Saturday at Glentui, the hut building workforce included Karol Sleczek, our very knowledgeable travelling teacher and his lovely wife Hermina, Sasha (energy +) from Melbourne Oz, and the usual suspects Niki and Chris (the boss), lovely Lyla and Rody.
After a short and sweet meditation punctuated by the calls of the tui’s from
the beautiful surrounding bushes, the action was full on.
Karol, Hermina and Sasha levelled a flat area of about 4m in diameter for the yet to come water tank, (back breaking convict work!), Karol proved that the different road rules in force in Poland should not affect one’s ability to negotiate tight corners with a wheelbarrow full of dirt in NZ, while Hermina and Sasha displayed outstanding (and surprising) pick and shovel skills.
Niki and Lyla were busy levelling and landscaping a flat area, this time, right in front of the hut. Mateusz, previously against this idea after experiencing difficulty in fine accurate carpentry work on a slanted ground, suddenly agreed.
Chris and Rody were busy finishing the eves at the back of the hut, skilfully balancing on makeshift trestles and and a ladder whilst hammering in nails upwards. Very effective exercise for developing neck and shoulders muscles (and very entertaining to watch). The inside insulation was also started in the upper part of the hut, wool batts were cut to size and fitted in the walls.
Lyla and Niki’s combined effort provided the working gang with a delicious and wholesome lunch, which, added to the breathtaking views, made the event a delightful and convivial experience.
Every sanga and friends are warmly welcome anytime to take part in the action and lunch is always of the finest quality (no reservation is required
PS. Lyla and Rody went back to the site on Tuesday to re-grass the front of the hut and complete the wall insulation. The upper part was thoroughly tested during a (clean) “nana nap” and got a two thumbs up rating for cosiness.
The hut is now stylish and very kiwi with our latest addition: insulation. We first looked at the pink synthetic wool available in Bunnings, but the colour wasn’t that good. So instead, we got ourselves a real wool, rented off a real sheep. It’s very good, because if you happen to put your head in it, you won’t get a head cancer, and because wool handles humidity and water well. This seems to be important with all the rains that we are having recently.
On Saturday we loaded ourselves into the famous Toyota painted in oils and embarked on 59 minute drive to Glentui. The hut looks great and we Wellingtonians haven’t seen it for some time. It literally shines in the sun.
During the course of the day we’ve been putting the woolen insulation into the roof, with Denise and Niki doing the heavy job of cutting the material – whole 200mm of it, now stapled to the beams and secured with blue stripes of plastic. We have almost gotten enough to finish the whole roof, just small bit that was missing. Fortunately Chris got a brilliant idea not to put the wool where the chimney will be. He pointed out the important fact that fire and people don’t go together well.
The highlight of the day was the famous sandwich built up by Niki using secret ingredient: a sauce that probably every Kiwi knows well, but foreigners don’t. Ah yeah, and we also had a massive rainbow, but this is normal with retreats I hear.
Because we liked it so much, or rather because we don’t like to leave things unfinished, we got back there on Sunday. Just as well we were working upstairs under the roof, as it was raining kiwis and pukekos all day. We have put an upstairs floor in (a special floor-variety chipboard) so our goal of the day was actually achievable now: to cover the wool with plywood from the inside. Our fantastic girls Agata and Niki measured the tricky uneven roof so well, that putting battens was a pure pleasure. And they also found a way of pushing the 240×120 ply upstairs – it wouldn’t fit straight in because beams are too close, but with some trickery it was possible to fit it in sideways.
The highlight of the day was first meditation ever to be done upstairs – we discovered the space up there is very cozy and warm, especially in the rain. When we will finally close the hut it will be really good place to sleep, especially with all the heat from the woodstove downstairs. One of the window boasts a view on the plains of Canterbury too, so we don’t need to hang any pictures.
The battens were in place, so we really had no choice but to come again on Monday (it’s a national holiday in New Zealand). Adam came with us and in no time we had the first ply up and screwed to the walls. That was just the first bit though – the rest of the day was spent on fitting the remaining parts of the southern roof (Team A+M), and putting battens and packing them on the northern roof (Team A+N). We got up to the point where we would need further advice from Chris, so we left the site at sunset.
The highlight of the day was the realisation that you can eat a kiwifruit with the skin. Actually, Niki knew it very well, but I didn’t, so it was a discovery for me. Especially golden kiwifruits are good for that, as you don’t have to shave them beforehand.
So Glentui now has a woolen hut on top of it (also known as Dechen Ling) and we are sure that anyone who stays there for the night will be nice and warm.
Another couple of beautiful Saturdays at Glentui, calm and warm late autumn days. We had a good crowd of helpers, some from out of town, which is always great as it strengthens the national feeling of the project. Between the seven of us we were able to achieve alot. Some headed down to the trees to weed the grass away from around the base of the young plants. Grass sends out a growth inhibitor and will stop the trees from growing so fast. They are looking fantastic. We see how they do over the frosty winter.
The other work gang concentrated on the cladding. It became trickier the higher we got. Much like a jigsaw puzzle, fitting bits in and around two roof angles and also the windows. Luckily there was someone taller than our regular builder as it was more than a tiptoe job for him to fit the very top piece on.
We will fit the final bits of the jigsaw next weekend.