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.







Catching Sunlight

I was reminded recently of how beauty can still be found in the landscape even after it’s turned brown with the season. I was driving after three o’clock, and the sun was well on its way to setting and its light coming in at a severe angle. On the other side of rice fields, now nothing but bare soil, I saw something glowing–a row of uncut susuki grass as tall as a person and dried so that the wind moving through it sounded like a long shushing. The seed heads of susuki grass had grown fluffy and long and were now bowing beneath their own weight. They caught the sunlight and held it, and it was they that glowed and caught my eye as shadows fell from the mountains.



The Promise of Rebirth

The bare soil in the rectangular plots of rice fields is a sign that autumn is underway, and these pockets of open space make two contrasting predications of the future.

One is about the bleakness of the winter ahead. The stooping, gold rice, for so long a major part of the landscape, disappears like a light turned off. The vibrant plant life is reduced, and the mud that remains turns the town a darker color.

Leaves fall from trees and mix with the straw remains of rice. This is the second predication, for as the soil is overturned and nutrients return to the earth, there is a promise of rebirth. The structure of the fields is almost unchanging, the soil is consistently fertile, and the townspeople prepare for the bleak days ahead with practiced motions. They know how to survive Shiwa’s winter. Watching it all, you can believe the spring will come again.