I was born on an equinox, on the first day of spring. As a Californian, I didn’t observe the seasons all that much and just have an abbreviated impression of the climate as being moderate all year long — foggy or blue-skied in San Francisco or generally sunny with a smoggy haze in Los Angeles.
When I lived in Los Angeles, I enjoyed not really having to go through real seasons and was happy not to have to own a huge parka or snow boots. I enjoyed that I could rely on the sun practically every day. It was like the weather gave me a sense of consistency because it didn’t change much. It was something I found reliable. It made me feel comfortable and somehow a little more grounded.
Well, now I live in New York, where there are very apparent seasons. New York, where the summers are sticky hot, where falls get too beautiful for too a short a time, where you are subsequently propelled into winters that are a dry monochrome and where you come out into springs that are like a sigh of relief.
I’m not much of a cold-weather type person, so to have to endure November through mid-April here every year is quite a challenge for me. Springs are like a reward for surviving the winter. The longer I live here, the more I’ve come to appreciate the cyclical power of nature and its ability to bring a newness to life over and over again.
This year, my husband and I decided to start gardening. We’ve been blessed with a big yard, something not easy to come by here in Brooklyn. We built garden boxes to grow our own edibles, sprinkled some flower seeds around the open soil and planted a young weeping sakura tree for our daughter. About two or three weeks ago, we sowed some of our first seeds and bulbs — leeks, potatoes, chard, scallions and a mix of wild flowers, to name a few.
Every day, we go outside to inspect the soil.
At one point, about a week and a half into planting, my husband was worried nothing was going to grow. Nothing seemed to be emerging from the ground. Of course, that thought was squashed within milliseconds when he realized that those seeds were only in the ground for less than two weeks. Certainly we weren’t going to see anything! Nature isn’t like hi-speed Internet. You don’t just plug in “potatoes” in the search bar and expect a potato plant to show up overnight.
While we both knew that our plants weren’t going to appear like an Amazon Prime package, the brief thought that there was no visible progress being made in our garden reminded us of our disconnect from patience and from the natural world. So many things about our day-to-day lives can be so rush-rush, and with our nine-month-old baby in the mix, where does the time go?
Smartphones, laptops, wi-fi and all things speedy and techie are a stark contrast from our garden. When you go out to the yard, you have no choice but to slow down, breathe, think, peruse with your hands behind your back.
Now it’s been about three and a half weeks since we started planting. In the last few days, sprouts are poking out, vines are starting to scale upwards and ground cover is spreading out. It’s been calming to see growth. It’s brought me back down to earth.
I step out into the yard once or twice a day. Sometimes I circle around the yard in the morning before I rush off to work. Sometimes I visit it as soon as I get home. I suppose it’s starting to become like a little oasis or Eden, a place where I can escape and find some kind of solace.
I have just received a box of seeds in the mail from a Japanese American seed company that has been operating since the early 1900s. About an hour ago, I threw some shiso seeds into the soil and dropped a few Japanese cucumber seeds into the ground. I have other veggies I’m saving for the fall, things like mizuna, gobo leaves and daikon. I am excited to try and grow foods from my culture and eager to share them with my daughter.
I think often of the Japanese American farmers who made a living off of the land and think about how much farming and gardening played such a big role in our settlement in America. I hope I have the green thumb they did. I think about my father, the chef, who helped instill in me a deep love for good food. I think about my grandmother, who used to go out into our backyard, hunch over and pick all the snails out of the bushes.
Our garden, though so new, has not only allowed me to create something organic but has also allowed me to reflect about my past, my culture and my roots. As the last sakura petals fall off the tree to be replaced by green leaves, I thank spring for being a season to reflect in this way.
Mari Nakano can be reached by email at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.