Monday, June 09, 2008


I`ve now picked and packed more tomatoes than I`ve ever eaten in my whole life. Including ketchup.

I spent the last two weeks on an organic tomato farm on the island of Shikoku. I`ve now picked and packed more tomatoes than I`ve ever eaten in my whole life. Including ketchup. The farm, nestled against abrupt green hills is stone-throwing, shouting distance from an excellent surfing beach. Ironically I only really made it to the beach once in the whole time I was there, and I never found my way onto a surfboard. Nonetheless, a riteous good time. I worked in a hellishly hot greenhouse and a cave-like packing shed, I met wonderful people, and I took a mini-vacation to flee into the mountains.

I am realizing that this whole trip is so rich with buttery details and amusing anecdotes that I can`t hope to tell all, so some tidbits will have to suffice:

1>> Tomatoes.
Oprah Winfrey. Her voice fills my ears as I crouch, sweaty and slathered to the elbows with sticky yellow tomato sap. Oprah is telling me how I can live in and accept the present moment. I am in between long rows of enormous, carefully and organically tended tomato bushes. They are laden with pink and red globes, and it is my job to pick them. Pluck, snip, plop, into the tray.
The work starts early, 6:00, to finish before the greenhouse actually cooks the flecks of breakfast off of your soaking wet t-shirt. It also tends to go late, as it is the height of the tomato season, and no matter how much you insist, the bushes will not stop pumping out those lovely red fruits. I`m not forced to work these long hours, but do it out of a feeling of guilt and solidarity. The guy who runs the farm is kind and generous, an idealistic 30 year old who believes in organic and local food. He`s also in way over his head here. So he, a plucky Japanese volunteer named Ya-kun, and I forge onward.
Later, the tomatoes are picked and I am packing them into boxes. I put something with a beat into my headphones to accentuate the mechanical movements - pivot, weigh, puzzle the tomatoes into boxes. Four kilos to the box, no rolling, no bouncing. Sun glares through the few holes in the corrugated metal siding, or falls away to the pounding of thick, heavy, plentiful rain. When I take my headphones off, I can hear the surf.

2>> Zazen.
People kept telling me "Muri", unreasonable, there`s no way you`ll be able to hitch rides to the other side of those mountains. No one drives those roads dude, maybe you should do something else with your four days of freedom. I persevered in my dewey-eyed fantasy until a particularly persistant driver went ahead and made a new plan for me.
I am a bit dubious as he pulls off of the highway and onto a farm road, as I only really understand 30% of what he's saying, and don't really understand what's happening, but I get the feeling that he is trustworthy. I find myself at a temple. The old monk that runs the place smiles easily and hears nothing, to talk to him you must yell into his enormous ear. I am instantly at ease.

The smell is of rich, soft wood. I`m sitting cross-legged, alone in the meditation center. I am thinking intently about nothing. I have been well fed, on foods grown at this temple, and my head is full from hours of determined and labored conversation with the monks who are staying here, as well as my new trip planner. A shout from outside calls me to dinner.

I manage 20 seconds in the wood fired bath before the streams of pure burning lava welling up from below drive me out - naked and bright red - onto the wood floor. Later, on a thin futon in a big tatami-mat room, I sleep better than I have in weeks.


I'm done for now, but will leave you with two more morsels, I hope you will find them succulent.

First, a map of my travels so far: MAP

Finally, a warning we should all heed:
NEVER make a camp along mountain stream. More often than not, light rainfall at the top of mountain makes bleeding swollen stream. It's tergiversation is beyond our imagination.


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