Monday, January 21, 2013

Winter Thoughts on a Tokyo Farm

Bundled haksai awaiting the nabe pot!

I shove the snow off the top of the haksai (Chinese cabbage) and push away the mound formed on the side. I don't need to do the latter as it's only top the farmers have asked me to clear. But I do it because it's fun and feels tidy. If the meltwater seeps inside the cabbage it will cause damage. At this moment, it would freeze and thaw in a spiral of rot. It's too cold just now for rain, but precautions must be taken. It is for that reason that we bundled the tops of each plant together with string and tied them up with bows. Two weeks ago the farmers and I spent two whole mornings working along together bundling and tying our way down the rows.

Haksai is strong enough to withstand the cold weather of a Tokyo winter. The outer leaves fading and withering, turning pale green and yellow as the days wear on, while the inside stays fresh and green and crisp, alive and safe, waiting for harvest. Well, truth be told, we the farmers and eaters are waiting for harvest. The haksai, more likely than not, is waiting for the sun's warm touch to signal it's time to grow again, to flower and seed, to produce a next generation.

I say good morning to a small white and black bird out hunting for bugs. I imagine he's surprised to be walking on snow. The kaki (persimmon) that hung in the trees at the edge of the field only last week it seems, are already gone. Other, larger birds call in the adjacent broccoli and cabbage fields. They fly up and back down again in little waves, chattering and resettling on the plants where small round broccoli heads are just beginning to form. The deep green leaves, as delicious as the head humans prefer, make an obvious breakfast now that the groundcover is hidden.

Meanwhile, the haksai and I sit in this snowy field on this sunny day after an unusual snowfall in Tokyo. I'm crawling between the rows, batting snow out of the way, pausing now and again to soak in the landscape of greenhouses, netted rows, and high-rises just beyond. Soon, I will start my last year here on the farm, and I want to soak in every moment. I want to carve the scents, sights, sounds, and feelings into every drop of blood, every breath of air I have. I want to carry this place and these people with me wherever I go next. There may be no farm, no garden, no dirt under my nails or in the lines of the skin of my fingers at lunch time in the future. 

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