Home, Heritage and Healing

There is something about digging in the dirt, planting a garden and pulling weeds that is nurturing and healing. For me, reading about it is an equally healing experience especially when the writing is as visual and thoughtful as the writing of David Mas Masumoto. I have read and reread his book, Four Seasons in Five Senses: Things Worth Savoring. He is a third generation Japanese-American peach farmer and his description of life on his farm is such sensual writing that you can almost taste the peaches.

One hundred years ago his grandparents arrived in America with dreams of owning land, farming and raising a family. They rented land, planted fruit trees and grape vines; survived the Great Depression and continued with their work of raising food and family. But December 7, 1941 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor changed their expectations of a better life in America. The family was interred in the Gila River relocation camp in the Arizona desert and lost everything. 

Then Masumoto's father was drafted. "Lock up our family behind barbed wire in the middle of a desert and then draft me?" He was on his way to Europe when Germany surrendered. In 1950, he took a chance and bought a small farm in the Central Valley near Fresno, California. He lavished care on his trees and vines. 

"Good pruning is really the art of taking away, like a sculptor chiseling at a rock, working to uncover life inside. Dad paced around the grapevine, paused and clipped, leaning in and cutting: eyes darting back and forth, searching for the strong canes, locating spurs for next year's growth. He worked with the past and saw the future--adding to a living timeline."

In his biography, Wisdom of the Last Farmer, Masumoto writes, "As we move on, we leave behind our stories in interior and exterior landscapes. The looming fog of death, the passing of time, the nature of change all lead us to greater self-awareness, and to a final transformation We mourn the loss of our people and miss them. But we continue to tell their stories." 

This, indeed, is the continuing story of how the family cared for his father after a stroke, how working on the land even in a limited way was healing and life-giving, how the family continues to raise organic, juicy fruit. 

This book stirred up so many of my own memories. Everybody has a junk drawer in the kitchen or the garage that collects odd bits of wire, screws, batteries and small tools, but this is nothing compared to my Dad's barn of objects too good to throw away because 'I might need it sometime to fix something.' And he most often found a use for many of his treasures. I was tickled by the chapter "Perfect Junk" in which Mr. Masumoto talks about the farmer's junk pile at a farm conference. An old farmer responds, "Out here we don't call them 'junk piles'. We call them 'inventory'." 

Masumoto writes a whole chapter on the varieties of heritage flavorful peaches. It reminded me of the grocer in our small town calling my mother to say, "Lois, the Elberta's are in." We girls then knew it was time to bake pies, to peel and can and sample a few rich juicy morsels of the Elberta peaches. I remember, too, the Red Haven and Hale peaches. Now I long to taste a fresh Sun Crest peach straight from one of the Masumoto trees.