Well, it’s summer, and I can’t resist reading about gardening, farming, and food. I just finished David Mas Masumoto’s “Heirlooms: Letters From a Peach Farmer” (Heyday Books, 2007). This text has beautiful watercolor illustrations by Doug Hansen. The book is actually a collection of letters in the form of essays that were written by Mas Masumoto for the Fresno Bee in California’s Central Valley. His first collection of these essays resulted in the book “Letters to the Valley, A Harvest of Memories” (Heyday Books, 2004). “Heirlooms” is a continuation of these letters, each one written to a personal friend, family member, or someone in the Central Valley. These are poignant, distinct, fresh, uncommon, and resonant letters  meant to be read and reread over time, slowly, with reflection and thought. This is my kind of book!

David Mas Masumoto is a peach farmer in the Central Valley of California and he writes about his organic peach farming experiences in an exquisite book called “Epitaph for a Peach“. Read more about Mas Masumoto and his family farm at http://www.masumoto.com/. His website tag his that he is author-farmer-father and he illustrates these essential qualities in his writings. He is not just a father to his own children, but he is also a figurative father, writing as if he is teaching many children the benefits of slowing down in a fast paced world, and of taking time to think and reflect. These are important messages in world that is constantly driving us forward and not encouraging thoughtful reflection.

Mas Masumoto’s books are filled with memorable quotes that are worthy of “putting in your pocket” to pull out for the rainy day moments, viable to chase away the blues.  He stresses the importance of writing, and of writing the good old-fashioned letter, especially starting with “Dear so-and-so.” How often do we get letters that say “dear” and how they speak to you with slower language and heart-felt meaning. I’ve often heard the art of letter writing is becoming lost in this electronic communications world. I have a few close friends and relatives that writing and receiving letters from has become a special occasion, one to be cherished, and the letters or cards to be saved. Saved for what though? Possibly for a book one day or essays or for posterity?

I especially enjoy and appreciate when Mas Masumoto writes about the land, the rivers, the challenges and joys of farming the land, and especially about his peaches. He writes about peaches in a way that feels like art, feels like something to hold on to in a dusty corner of the memory, and nourishes the mind, body, and soul. Who really would have thought that a peach description could be so sweet, so sensuous, so loving, so complete?

My first memory of a peach is when my father was still living, and I was growing up in rural Illinois. I was probably 4 or 5 years old and I greedily eyed the pretty pink peach I was to have for dessert. I bit hard, and I mean HARD, down into that peach and all of a sudden, I was struck by both exquisite sweet flavor and a pain in my tooth! I had bitten all the way through the peach to the stone and it knocked one of my baby teeth loose! I think after I wiped my eyes when the tears of pain had ceased, I still finished that wonderful little peach. And, I never forgot the lesson of stone fruit – there’s a stone in the middle! I still grew up enjoying all stone fruits though – peaches, plums, apricots, pears, apples. Maybe that’s why I enjoy reading Mas Masumoto’s books so much – they bring back a special memory of childhood – of the simple pleasures of being young and the only cares were playing and eating sweet things, and in my case, also of reading!

Here are a few of the quotes that I found a resonance with:

Letter writing is slow and forces you to commit your thoughts to words. Written words are revealing, they capture self-expression much differently than a conversation. Page198

So my children, I’ll need your help to leave behind a memory and keep alive a story of significance. Page 177

Farm memories are buried in the land, and dreams live in these fields. Page 176

Kids, take our porch with you, wherever you go, to the places you will grow to call home. Page 47

Mas Masumoto also writes of the importance of community supported agriculture (CSAs), local food sources, slow food, farmer’s markets, and fresh, in-season food. He writes about farming and its importance to support local agriculture and local growers. He writes of the “terminal optimism” that farmers have. He writes of the summer and of the winter and his favorite memories growing up. He writes of being a Boy Scout in one of the poorest troops in CA. He also writes of immigrants: immigrants in the past came to America and could start new with the homestead act. Today’s immigrants enter the states far behind that they have to work so hard just to catch up. He writes of the importance of stories, histories, and remembering the past. He says, “Stories help place experience in the context of history.” (page186) And that “stories help legitimize experience.” (page187) He goes on to say:

Stories allow lives to be told, the how and why and not just the when and where of history. People exposed to stories can elevate their understanding of the whole, instead of basing their judgment on  a few bits and pieces of information and innuendo. (page 187)

Mas Masumoto also writes of his Japanese heritage and of growing up shortly after WWII and the Japanese internment camps. He writes of his mother and father, who taught him to work hard, live well, and love his family. He writes of caregivers and those who are caring for ill parents and spouses and the hardships that accompany this. He writes passionately about education and the importance of funding education for all, so that everyone has an opportunity, a chance to learn and make a difference. He writes about loss and racial issues, yet he writes with hope, optimism, and humour.

I hope I have demonstrated here how David Mas Masumoto’s writings are at once reminiscent and hopeful. I highly recommend all of his books and writings. Visit his website to learn more.

Another book that I read several years ago was “The Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm” by Stanley Crawford (University of New Mexico Press, 1998). I read this book around the same time as “Epitaph for a Peach” and I suppose that’s when my interest in local food and sustainability was heightened. Growing up with a garden during much of my youth, I really enjoyed reading about working the land, making a living from the earth in a sustainable and kind way. I highly recommend Mas Masumoto’s books and while you’re at it, pair up with Crawford’s “The Garlic Testament.”

My rather large stack of books has not shrunk and I am happily enjoying a new book titled “The Lace Reader” by Brunonia Barry (coming out August 2008, Harper Collins). I’m only about 40 pages into this and I’m being swept off my feet. Stay tuned…. Happy Reading!