Monstrous Caterpillars of White

I often tell people that Shiwa is a beautiful town despite itself. Cost and function are the primary concerns that go into the majority of building designs, a fact the architecture itself reflects. Metal fences painted green or white are the norm. The town is disheveled with power lines. Power poles are complex metal lean-tos marked with reflectors to guarantee they stand out. Metal stabbed into the earth is a common sight. Most of the beauty occurs naturally in the mountain and forests and streams that surround the town.

With this in mind, I was looking at the grape vines in the eastern part of Shiwa. I’ve always had the image of orchards and grape vines as beautiful places. I think of books by Peter Mayle or movies about France or California, stories or pictures that depict an effort to keep the landscape beautiful. But in Shiwa the vines are held and protected by metal poles. At times they’re covered with opaque plastic, and the terraced landscape in the mountains is covered with monstrous caterpillars of white. Like the town, they stand out dramatically from the landscape around them.

(Proviso: the new Ogal Plaza is going to be gorgeous.)





Desolation to Hope

The rice fields in winter are rolling mounds of snow, but if you look closer or when the level of snow drops, you can see the remnants of the rice plants. This straw sticking out would look a mess, like something used and discarded, but because they remain in straight rows, there is a pattern. In winter these patterns are all that indicate the snow covers farmland.

I thought this was depressing at first: the dry straw sticking out of the snow like carcasses revealed by a thaw. When I learned that the soil would be overturned and the straw returned to the soil, I found it oppressive. To spend a winter beneath the oppressive weight of too much snow only to be buried when it cleared seemed a sorry fate.

With more and more time, I’ve learned about the farms and the landscape of Shiwa, and my feelings have changed. I’ve seen the snows come and go and learned about the rhythm of the seasons. I’ve seen the harvests and the planting, and I’ve seen the lazy summertimes when the rice is so heavy it bows politely and then the hurried preparations before winter. It’s like watching people move things from one location to another and back again with the practice of generations.

I get the feeling that nothing disappears, but everything is transferred to another form and then returned. One step in the process only suggests the next. Now when I see the lines of straw I don’t think about the past, but the future. What was once desolation became hope.