Photo by Maija Yasui
HOLLY Yasui, Minoru’s youngest daughter, stands at the legacy stone next to the Hood River Library, just off Oak Street, near Fifth Street, in the Georgiana Smith Gardens.
July seemed to melt into August this year, with its relentless heat. The thickening dust of a thousand tractor wheels pulverizing the earth in the race to harvest perishable fruit filled the orchard air with a thick layer of particles. Little relief could be found in the eerily still nights with nary a breath of fresh air to ease the blistering heat.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, smoke from fierce forest fires across Oregon and as far north as Canada blanketed the Gorge, smothering the oppressive heat to the valley floor with the weight of a hundred horsehair blankets piled onto a feverish child. I sought some sense of beauty in this scorching summer solstice, but even the fiery sunsets that once painted the horizon with their blood red glow were obscured by the smoke’s density.
The heat was intolerable even for our farm families, who seem to enjoy summer temperatures in the 80s much more than I, perhaps a nod to their heritage in a south of the border climate. When the temperature pushes into the 90s and past the century mark, neither man nor beast, regardless of climate of origin, is comfortable for extended periods of time.
We fed our farm families throughout cherry harvest, trying to provide respite from that which we could not control. We started picking and packing early, ending before noon, long before the afternoon heat reached its peak. As fans blew the hot air around us we sang songs, danced a little salsa, and held daily raffles to keep spirits high. I recognize all too well that I wear the backpack of white privilege among this community of Latina ladies and dare not complain of the other tasks that must be completed before the sun sets. Whether consulting with the State of Oregon or completing the business end of farming, pickers tallies, writing checks, documenting inspections and food safety requirements, all these tasks can be done in the luxury of an air-conditioned home, office or vehicle.
The cherry market was fickle this year, with little demand for smaller cherries. We will wait until September to see if the revenue from this crop comes even close to covering the cost of picking, sorting, packing and marketing the cherries, let alone the preceding 11 months of production expenses. Although we did not have to worry about rain damage this year, without a single drop falling throughout all of July, Mother Nature wasn’t going to let us off the hook that easily. The extreme heat led to less marketable cherries that were not only smaller, but softer and prone to pitting.
The day after cherry harvest was complete, we welcomed family from Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles into our homes. The children of Shu and Phyllis Yasui had come to inter their mother’s ashes alongside their father at Idlewild Cemetery. As customary at all family gatherings, we shared the bounty of our valley, spring chinook salmon from the Columbia River, cherries, blueberries and peaches from our farm, huckleberries and mushrooms from the forests around Mount Hood and Mount Adams.
We shared stories of those who had gone before us, filling the youngest generation with the spirit of their grandparents and great grandparents, keeping alive the traditions that bring us together as a family. Old friendships were renewed and new friends made among the youngest family members. It was a joy to hear the raucous laughter of college student and kindergartener alike as they drenched one another with water bazookas and balloons in an all-out effort to beat the heat.
As the blazing sun, still masked by the smoke-filled skies, finally sank below the west hills, we gathered inside to listen to Sadafumi Uchiyama share his vision for the Minoru Yasui Legacy Garden that will soon embrace the stone now settled on the Hood River Library lawn adjacent to Oak Street.
Uchiyama is the curator of Portland’s Japanese Garden, but has created works as close to home as the Japanese Heritage Garden at the OSU extension office in Hood River, and as far away as Japan. He has worked extensively on the Osaka Garden in Chicago, the Shofu-en in Denver, the Shoun-Kei Japanese garden at Duke University in North Carolina, the Rolex Headquarters in Dallas, Texas, and the Northern Plains Botanic Garden in Fargo, N.D.
The family is truly honored to have Uchiyama design the garden surrounding the Minoru Yasui legacy stone, taking on oversight of its construction as well. His vision is meant to enhance the legacy of Minoru Yasui’s work in “justice for all.” It is a humble yet compelling design that draws people in to contemplate the quotes, and to search within themselves for the strength to carry forward their own fight for justice. It draws on the spirit of this ancient and massive stone created eons ago by the flow of the Columbia and explosive power of the mountains surrounding the Gorge. The sheer weight of the stone evokes a sense of permanence and the need for future generations to engage in this eternal quest for justice honoring all that inhabit this planet. While Minoru Yasui’s life was dedicated to seeking justice for mankind, people of all gender, racial, ethnic, social, religious and cultural beliefs, the stone represents an even broader reach, encompassing animal, plant and environmental issues as well.
It has been a pleasure getting to know the Uchiyama family in this shared venture. We are honored to include them as a part of our extended family. I will share more of the development of the legacy garden in the near future, after the library foundation and board have a chance to see the conceptual drawings. It is our hope that many of you who share a passion for justice in any of its many configurations will join in the development and future maintenance of this unpretentious jewel soon to be located in the heart of our community.
The library foundation has graciously agreed to accept donations for the garden. Contact the foundation at Hood River County Library Foundation, PO Box 1582 Hood River, OR 97031 or make donations through their website at hoodriverlibrary.org/foundation.