Harvest Time!


As October draws to a close, it’s harvest time. It’s fitting that the first poem of the Hyakunin Isshu poem anthology talks about this:

秋の田の Aki no ta no
かりほの庵の kariho no io no
苫をあらみ toma wo arami
わが衣手は waga koromode wa
露にぬれつつ tsuyu ni nuretsutsu

This poem was composed by Emperor Tenji (626 – 671) and commemorates the fall harvest of rice each year:

Coarse the rush-mat roof
Sheltering the harvest-hut
Of the autumn rice-field;
And my sleeves are growing wet
With the moisture dripping through.
(Trans. University of Virgina)

The poem, the only one of this theme in the anthology, describes a lone villager guarding the harvested rice overnight without sleep, to protect it from thieves or animals who might be hungry, while his sleeves grow moist from dew that seeps into his humble thatched hut. It’s hard to imagine sometimes that Mankind has been harvesting crops year after year for so many centuries.

My wife, daughter and I love to go to the Farmer’s Market in Ballard here in Seattle almost every Sunday. Besides the excellent food and week’s worth of seasonal, regional crops, it’s a fun way to spend time with loved ones, and Baby never fails to get some ice cream. For me, it’s a nice way to connect with nature. After all, it’s easy to forget where our food comes from here in the city, and to forget the hard work that goes into making it grow.

It reminds me of a certain quotation from the Dune series of novels:

A Fremen dies when he is too long from the desert; this we call “the water sickness.” -Stilgar, the Commentaries
(from Frank Herbert’s “Children of Dune”)

Sometimes, I wonder if being in the city too much leads to a kind of “urban sickness” too. It’s nice to commune with nature sometimes and get back to our biological roots. Sometimes I feel it would be nice to own a farm myself someday, where one lives a life of good honest labor, and the problems are more straightforward. “Sweet are the uses of adversity,” as Shakespeare said.

Modern, urban conveniences leaves one without any real challenge, apart from avoiding crime and finding a place to live, but leaves one strangely empty at times. For people stuck in an office or menial job all day, there’s nothing to create or tangible to strive for. I think this is why sometimes I find myself fascinated by life in a Buddhist monastery: where one combines honest work to maintain the monastery with a wholesome Buddhist atmosphere.

But for now, it is enough to gather at the Farmer’s Market with people from all across the state, taste wholesome natural foods, and to enjoy the crisp autumn air. Like the ancient farmers epitomized in Emperor Tenji’s poem, we owe a lot today to those people who work each year to grow our food, and their tireless efforts.

This is why, in Japanese culture, people say itadakimasu before eating, which means to receive, but with a more humble tone than the plain verb morau. It’s a habit we try to instill in our little one too, who’s learned it well. If kids can’t be raised to appreciate their food, then we as parents will fail to teach our children humility and gratitude, two important virtues in life.

So here’s to the farmers of the world who make it all happen, both past and present! Thank you!

P.S. Photo taken by me yesterday while at the pumpkin path at Craven Farm near Seattle. Daughter, wife and I had a great time. :)

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