Five days of quiet and quarantine was just what the doctor ordered. I walked in the California sunshine every day around the man-made lake that is outside my sister and now my niece’s home. Vitamin D came through the sun to my core. I recovered quickly.
After the CDC guideline of five days quarantining, I tested and lo and behold, I was negative. Whew! I was relieved. I wanted to visit my sister who was living at a Carlton Assisted Living. Carol and I planned a remote visit, since I didn’t know if I could enter or not.
The process was complicated to get into the assisted living home, and I believed that was a good thing. Even though I was negative, I chose not to see my sister face-to-face. Carol went into a conference room with windows and I sat on a picnic bench outside. We called each other on our phones, and we were able to “see” each and still be safe. We chatted for an hour, happy to be together.
Never one to stay still for long and since I tested negative, I decided to drive to meet up with Karolyn and Tom and Ski China Peak after my visit with Carol rather than wait a day. It was a two and a half hour drive that I began around five pm.
The first leg of the trip was pretty easy, driving south on I-5. On my new F-150 there’s Driver’s Assist and I love it! It senses how close the car is in front of me, and if I am drifting left or right. It’s not hands-free driving—every once in a while it asks me if my hands are on the steering wheel—but it helps me stay safe. The traffic in California is heavy at five pm, and the Driver’s Assist helped adjust my speed with all the bumper-to-bumper high-speed traffic. I’m finding I like the technology available on my truck!
The second leg of the trip was in the dark. The nightfall and the windy mountain road made driving treacherous. Luckily, I have driven many mountain roads, but there were classic hairpin turns and the dark made it feel like I was driving in a waterslide tunnel.
I had an eerie sense as I was driving that something wasn’t quite right. I thought I should be seeing trees in the periphery of my headlights, but it felt as though I was driving through barren land, which didn’t compute—after all I was in the California Sierra mountains, known for the Ponderosa pines and Sequoias. When I got to the AirBnb, I could smell the evergreens that surrounded me. It felt normal.
The next morning we spent some time catching up, but hit the road for the 30 minute drive from Shaver Lake to China Peak. Karolyn warned me the fire had hit close to town. Outside our AirBnB things looked as I expected, with tall pines surrounding me, but OMG, right out of town the forest was literally gone, with burnt toothpicks in its place.
After every curve of the road, I couldn’t help but murmur, “Oh my gosh…” at the devastation. China Peak was saved, but all around it the mountainsides were burned off.
I was skiing China Peak for the first time, and I was in for a very pleasant surprise. All across the Sierras the mountains needed more snow, but the resort did a great job grooming, and we had a fun day skiing the blues and a couple blacks. Tom and Karolyn took a couple runs on their own down some steeper off piste that I chose not to do. I look back now and think maybe I was tired from Covid, because usually I am game for a little challenge. Today I was fine playing it safe.
I planned on skiing half a day more at China Peak, but life got in the way. My college roommate, Joan Eaton, spent her career in her hometown of Fresno. She knew an author that I had long admired, and she offered to introduce me to David “Mas” Masumoto. Masumoto wrote Epitaph for a Peach, and Wisdom of the Last Farmer among other books. His writing is lyrical. He is also a sansei like myself, and he is a peach farmer. His schedule had changed and at the last minute he needed to move our meeting up from 2 pm to 11 am. While I wanted to ski, writing is my heart. It was a no-brainer. I changed my schedule and left Shaver Lake early to make my appointment. Driving down the mountain was an entirely different experience than the drive up. I saw the burn. Foundations of houses. Roads to nowhere. It was devastating. And in a surreal way, beautiful. How can that be?
I’d begun a quest to resurrect the Japanese American experience during WW2, and Fresno was the location of one of 15 assembly centers, where the West Coast Japanese were first held. Most of these were at fairgrounds, and the horse stables were used for housing. I was early for the appointment, so I drove by the fairgrounds. There’s a memorial at one of the gates. Gates were locked of course (this isn’t fair season) so I couldn’t see the memorial. It was enough for me to know it existed.
I drove to the Masumoto peach farm right on time. Their house is back from the main road, and oranges or tangerines were hanging on the trees lining the asphalt road before the turn to his drive. I wondered if they were his. As I drove down the dirt lane, I saw his daughter walking in a field. From his website it’s clear that she’s taking over. She has a TedX Talk that is amazing. (see https://www.changefood.org/video/nikiko-masumoto-reigniting-the-soul-of-farming/) Mas came right up when I parked. He was an easy guy to talk to, and frankly, I am an easy woman to talk to, too. His home is a white, California bungalow. It was the same home his parents returned to after the war.
The temps were in the 60s, the sun was shining, and he walked me through the leaf-less trees, tiny pink buds just beginning to show their colors. The gnarled branches embraced him as he stood among his trees to show me the buds. Every year they trim the trees back. It’s all organic–no pesticides–and he showed me the little pheromone packets that attracted the good bugs to and discouraged the bad bugs from the trees. We stood in a heirloom peach grove, buds emerging but no leaves yet. It was the grove that inspired his book, Epitaph for a Peach. Cool.
We talked about farming, writing, transformations, next projects, past projects. We talked about other writers. We talked about his stone fruits–peaches, and nectarines, and apricots and the decision to quit growing grapes for raisins. We talked about how he transformed his father’s business into an organic farm before organic was as big a thing as it is today. And we talked about how his daughter Niki is transforming the business and adding Blossom Bathing (go to his website to learn more) to the product offering. So Millennial!!
We spent an hour and a half together. It will be a treasured moment for me. Mas and I are the same age, but I hope to grow up to be like him someday!