Chapter 14: Ten Ox Herding Pictures

The Ox Herding Pictures is a 12th century series of folk images accompanied by poems that depict the Zen path of self-development and self-realization. The ox herder is on a quest to find the essential self, a process represented by taming the ox. [1]

For more than 10 years, between 2011 and the current date, I have been on a path of self-discovery in my own neighborhood and city. It centres on my love of trees, a common sentiment in this age of concrete and steel. Every fall I walk through a nearby degraded woodland with a bag of acorns and a steel pole to drive a hole in the ground and drop in a seed, channelling Jean Giono’s allegorical story The Man Who Planted Trees. I have a tree nursery in my back yard, and distribute saplings to any that want them. I rail against the tree cutting policies of the City of Ottawa and help mobilize people for climate justice action at the municipal level. With neighbours, I map tree species, calculate the economic benefits of trees, and record what we have and what we are losing in the way of urban tree canopy. Together, we plant tiny forests and pollinator gardens and organize walks to visit and celebrate the ancient trees on our streets and in the woods nearby. For years, Debra has joined me in the fight, giving as much of herself as I do, adding the fire in her belly that gives our actions added emotional force and momentum.

The ox and the ox herder pictures lend themselves to telling this journey of heart, head, and hands.

[1] There are many descriptions and images of the Zen path. The Spring 2000 edition of Tricycle, The Buddhist Review, offers a good introduction.

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