On a weekend day in 1998, Bill Ferlatte was driving along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard on his way to Point Reyes when he saw the sign to Spirit Rock and decided on a whim to visit this place he had long been curious about. He walked into the lower Community Meditation Hall and was greeted by a friendly woman who told him about the hiking trails and the upper retreat area. Intrigued, Bill decided to hike one of the trails and to his surprise as he reached the ridge, it began to snow (as you know, a rare occasion in Marin). Bill paused and took in the wonder, following the trail until he came to the relatively new upper Retreat Hall. Entering the hall, he drank in the peaceful silence and sat in the still space watching the snow fall outside. He knew he had found something special and was filled with the feeling that he was where he was supposed to be.
Soon after, Bill enrolled in a beginning meditation evening class series and began to attend daylongs and retreats. He became a regular attendee of the Friday morning Yoga and Meditation class where he now serves as a class manager.
A Biologist and Botanist by profession, it wasn't long before Bill found his way to volunteering on the land. Bill is fond of saying, "You can take the Biologist out of the weeds, but you can't take the weeds out of the Biologist". Working with the U.S. Forest Service and the State Department of Agriculture, as well as an independent consultant and college professor, Bill's professional life was a satisfying journey. "I knew I didn't want to be in an office or a lab", and this, says Bill, is what led him to choosing the flora of the Trinity Alps for his Masters thesis and later publishing a book on the same subject. This expertise Bill now generously brings to Spirit Rock, showing up every single week without fail for over six years to help manage the noxious weeds on our 400 acres. Bill is a true land steward who believes "it is our obligation to leave the land in better shape than we got it.”
Bill feels especially connected to a row of young Yew trees that were planted in the memory of Caryl Göpfert by her family in 2009. Bill looks after and nurtures the trees, protecting them from deer and field mice and keeping them hydrated through the dry summer months. Among the trees, is a bench fashioned from driftwood (Caryl loved driftwood). Designed so one could sit and commune with the trees, the inscription on the bench explains how Caryl had benefited from a cancer treatment produced from Yew trees. As the Yews had given to them, the Gopfert family wanted to give back by replenishing the land with this special tree. Bill had been tending to the Yew trees for some time before he found out that he and Caryl share a close family friend in common. Indeed, we are all interconnected, sometimes in more ways that we even realize.
Next time you are driving on Sir Francis Drake, turning into Spirit Rock, perhaps you will think of Bill and how he found his way to a snowy hike and the tranquility of a meditation hall on the hill; the day his dharma path began. As you travel up the driveway onto the land, perhaps you will look to left and see a row of Yew trees with a uniqure driftwood bench and remember Caryl Gopfert, her family, and Bill; how the circle of giving and receiving that is so exemplified in the memorial; the inter-connection and inter-dependence of us all. As you walk and hike the Spirit Rock grounds and take in the breathtaking beauty, perhaps you will sense the devotion and care of Bill and so many others that tend to this land; perhaps you will soak in the peace and serenity of the meditative atmosphere that so many have contributed to through their service and practice.
Volunteering provides a way for us to practice generosity while receiving the dharma; to give back to that which from we have received so deeply. Bill says his volunteer duties at Spirit Rock "give [him] an excuse to be here". Any time you need an excuse, the dharma will provide one. To find your excuse, email: firstname.lastname@example.org