Saturday, December 08, 2018

One man, set free

I saw him out of the corner of my eye. A middle aged man, wearing the ubiquitous white paper mask, backpack slung over a black pea coat. A perfectly normal-looking Japanese man, except that his eyes were closed and his hands outstretched, swaying in time with this live Gospel choir performance in the middle of Sendai station.

Passersby stared at him, bemused expressions on their faces. The performers were too busy to notice; the small audience ignored him, or pretended to ignore him, hands folded, smiling placidly, tapping their feet almost imperceptibly.

Standing quietly in a row with the other audience members, I glanced over at him. I wondered who he was, how he of all people had been able to defy the unspoken rule that strong emotions be tucked safely away and brought out at only a few socially approved outlets, like at sports events or in a karaoke box. I felt embarrassed for him, and yet somehow awed. How was it that he paid no mind to the stares and sneers of those around him? Was he drunk? Was he lost in the music? Did he have a mental illness that lowered his inhibitions? Or was he having some sort of transcendent worship experience, all by himself, right in the middle of Sendai station?

Jealous tears welled up in my eyes as I realized that in this crowd of stoics, he was the most human of us all.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

(Im)Perfection

Fifty hours and thirty-one minutes until my next concert—Friday morning at 10:00, at the annual women’s Christmas concert at a nearby church. The last I heard, 142 people have reserved tickets out of a possible 150.

The program is a bear: the Rachmaninoff sonata, which is the most difficult piece in our repertoire by far for Shino, and the Beethoven fourth sonata, which, although not terribly difficult, takes immense concentration and precision, because the writing is sparse and every mistake can be heard.

This will be our first performance of the entire Rachmaninoff sonata; we’ve been adding to it bit by bit over the last two years. We were relieved to come to the fourth movement and find it not as difficult as the first movement, although there are moments which favor the composer’s gigantic hands over Shino’s small ones, and she has to be rather creative to get all the notes—including rolling chords that come in the middle of a quickly moving melodic line. (We’ve started calling this issue “the big hands problem.”)

Under normal circumstances, we might be inclined to put the Beethoven sonata first and the Rachmaninoff last in a program, but we felt it might be better to perform Rachmaninoff first, while we are fresh. I asked Shino if it was really okay to put Rachmaninoff in the program this time. “If I can play this, I can play anything,” she responded. (And, we confess, the beautiful piano at this particular church lit a fire under us to have the entire Rachmaninoff sonata ready in time.)

But while practicing yesterday, I started to panic and to second-guess the wisdom of our choices for this program. This transition is still rough, I thought. I still haven’t nailed that shift. This fast bit is messy. This melody is boring the way I play it now. If I mess up the counting during this rest, I don’t have the confidence that I’ll come in at the right time. And on and on and on. As a result, I kept practicing past that sweet spot where I’m warmed up and focusing well… into the place where I started making stupid mistakes because I was tired. I was out of time.

I feel this way before almost every concert—the despair that even though I’ve done my best to prepare, once again, this concert will not be perfect. I can comfort myself all I like with the assurance that no one will notice, but I will notice, and so will Shino. We are both painfully aware of our shortcomings as musicians.

Judith Glyde, my cello professor in college, gave me some excellent advice that I’ve never forgotten. The week before a major performance, it’s best to practice a lot early in the week, while daily reducing the amount of practice, with light practice the day before, and only warming up the day of the concert. Right before a concert, she explained, a performer is very susceptible to the effect of mistakes in practice. When you make a mistake right before a performance, even in a spot you usually get right, you panic, and hastily fix the problem… and then panic again when you get to that spot in the concert. So, although it seems counter-intuitive, it’s best to trust that you’ve done your best and practiced enough, and go into a concert well-rested and confident.

My life as a musician includes a constant letting go of the lofty ideal of a perfect performance. There is no such thing. It’s a paradox: I strive for perfection, knowing I will never achieve it. I can only practice so much. At some point I will always run out of time or energy or concentration.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could play this concert, enjoying every gorgeous moment of these two exquisite sonatas, not caring one bit if we mess up, or if anyone notices?

Forty-nine hours and fifteen minutes until my next concert…

At our last concert. If you look closely, you will see that we're about to start the first movement of the Rachmaninoff sonata.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The View from the Peak

Sipping my coffee, I stared out at fog. “God, we really want to go hiking today,” I prayed silently. “Please let us get to the top.” Another billow of cloud rolled across the deck of the little rest hut at the top of the ropeway. Our goal was Asahidake, a relatively short hike for a short autumn day, but still a significant climb to the tallest peak in Hokkaido.

“Well… we could try walking around the lakes and see if it clears up?” I suggested. Keith nodded in agreement, and we zipped up our rain coats and headed out into the fog. Maybe we would keep climbing if we felt like it.

At Full Moon Pond, we spotted a patch of blue sky, and by the time we got to Husband and Wife lakes, a startlingly clear view of the side of the mountain. We could almost see the peak, which reflected back out of the dark water. Just past Mountain-View Lake, a blue streak appeared between layers of clouds.





We decided to climb. I had this weird confidence it was going to be clear when we got to the top. This was going to be amazing.

My confidence grew as the fog kept lifting, always just a little bit ahead of us, as we climbed. We saw a hiker with red backpack disappearing into the fog above us, then reappearing, then disappearing again. At the sixth station, a bit of sun lit up the side of the mountain, and in the valley below, the mountain shrubs’ autumn foliage flamed red.



Then, between the seventh and eighth stations, the fog stopped lifting. The strong wind came up over the ridge, pelting us with rain. “If this keeps up, we’re going to have to turn back,” warned Keith. Just before the ninth station, we passed a young woman in a rain slicker on her way down. “How was it? Did you make it to the top?” we asked. “Yeah… it was cold. I couldn’t see anything!”



But we kept going, holding out hope for a clear view from the top. Only 100 meters left to climb. We’ll make it, I thought. We can’t give up now!

We turned a corner and found snow on the ground, probably from last night. How much longer? Who knew? We stumbled on through total whiteout, with rain falling sideways. We guessed that the temperature was close to freezing.

We came over one last ridge, and the trail flattened out. Was this the top? It didn’t clear up. In fact, it started raining harder. We found the top-of-mountain signpost, took our selfies and then immediately turned around and clomped as fast as we could down the mountain. I couldn’t feel my legs, but I was sure that my knees would pay for this rough descent once they thawed.


We emerged from the fog below the sixth station, and shortly after that met a guy attempting the climb in tennis shoes and a jeans jacket. “You’ll never make it dressed like that,” we warned him. He smiled and thanked us, then kept going.

Heavy rain turned to downpour the last few hundred meters. We arrived back at the top of the ropeway, dripping wet, miserable, and chilled. What was this all about? Where had all that confidence gotten me?

I can certainly say that after all that, lunch (steaming hot curry-rice with local vegetables) tasted amazing. During the course of lunch, my legs thawed, and I discovered, as we took the stairs to exit the restaurant, that indeed, my knees had not appreciated our style of descent. We headed straight for the onsen to cure our weary muscles and joints.


By late afternoon, we were back in our hotel room, and I was already wearing pajamas. My clothes were hanging to dry in front of the heater. Keith looked out the window. “It’s sunny!” he exclaimed. “I’m going back out!” I whimpered something about wet clothes and stairs, but after seeing sunlight on the yellow maples and red Japanese rowan trees outside, I threw my clothes back on and limped down the stairs and out into the parking lot.


There was Asahidake, flaming red and glorious in the evening light, and not a single cloud.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Came Early

I sighed, gazing into the empty vegetable drawer. Three days after the earthquake, the power was back on, and so was the water. The freezer was full of freezer-burned meat that needed to be eaten quickly. We had plenty of rice, a few eggs, and even a little bit of milk, but no vegetables.

I hungrily searched the garden. A few tiny leeks, a handful of herbs, an abundance of parsley, some stunted carrots; hardly enough to make a meal.

But I was not yet desperate enough to brave the lines of stern-faced housewives at the grocery store as they snapped up every scrap of fresh food before I even got through the door. What would happen, I wondered, to the people who really were desperate, who didn’t have our well-stocked pantry, or who had lost everything in their freezer? How could they compete with the others who were panic-buying simply because fresh food had become scarce?

The warm early autumn breeze carried the fragrance of yakiniku from somewhere in the neighborhood. Perhaps someone else had partially-thawed meat to use up. Our neighbor across the street stood on a ladder trimming his pine tree. Other than the grocery store, our neighborhood was a haven of peace and serenity. I sighed with regret over the beets and Swiss chard that I planted in the spring, which had been choked out by weeds in our absence over the summer. If only we had been able to plant a garden this year. I thought of our friends with large farm plots, starting to feel jealous.

Then it dawned on me that in Hokkaido in the autumn, no one needs to go hungry. The abundant vegetables in the fields don’t care one bit that there’s been an earthquake. Scarcity was an illusion that had grown in the minds of the self-sufficient. But I had no need to rely only on my own resources, and neither did anyone else. I could ask for help. What if I asked my farming friends? There was no bread in the stores, either, since there was neither milk nor eggs. I can make bread without using either. Why not make a trade?

So we asked. And our friend arrived in our genkan with a huge box of potatoes, a bag of vine-ripened tomatoes, a bundle of green beans, some eggplants, and the largest kabocha I had ever seen. “No need to return the favor,” he said, smiling. That night we ate a feast, and we continued to feast for a week.





I delivered a bag with two little loaves of fresh sourdough bread to his wife at church the following Sunday, tears in my eyes as I hugged and thanked her.

Lord of the Harvest, we give you thanks for your mercy to all of us here in Hokkaido. By your grace, the earthquake happened in autumn. No one went hungry, and no one froze. And we thank you that you welcome us to ask for help.

(By the way, we saved one pie's worth of the kabocha and froze it for our Thanksgiving pie.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Winter Salsa

This recipe was inspired by a huge amount of cilantro in my garden, snow in the forecast, and the need for appetizers for Thanksgiving dinner. Also, persimmons are in season, but tomatoes are not. And persimmons look like tomatoes, so it should work out, right?

Winter Salsa


Ingredients:

  • 3 persimmons
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 green onions, minced
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced, with additional adobo sauce added to taste
  • Large handful of cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • Salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Peel and cube the persimmons as you would do with tomatoes in “normal” salsa. 
  2. Fire-roast the peppers using your method of choice. I cut them in half and grilled them in my fish grill, but I am guessing most of the people who read my blog don’t have a fish grill. Allow the peppers to cool, remove as much of the skin as possible, and dice. (Or raw peppers are fine.)
  3. Heat the oil in a frying pan. Fry the onions over low heat, stirring frequently, until they are caramel brown, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and green onions and fry them for another couple of minutes. (Or, once again, you can skip this step if you like the flavor of raw onion and garlic. I don’t.)
  4. Put the persimmons, peppers, and onion mixture in a large bowl, and season to taste with chipotle pepper, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Enjoy!
On top of tonight's dinner...
Persimmon trees lose their leaves before the fruit falls off.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The Last Flight to Fargo

This last July, I made a quick trip to visit some friends in Boston. My final day there, after an idyllic morning reading a novel at my favorite chocolate shop and then visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, I headed to the airport to fly to North Dakota, where Keith’s entire family (eighteen people) were gathering for the weekend.

Friday night in the summer, the airport was a mob. I got one of those fun "boarding passes" where your seat is assigned at the gate. So, I went to the gate. Except it wasn’t the gate, even though the computer screen said it was. I waited in line for twenty minutes only to be told to go to customer service. No one was there. I glared at my phone, refreshing the flight information every thirty seconds. I emailed Keith. “Pray I make my flight. I don’t have a boarding pass, and there’s no gate for the flight.” “Yikes,” wrote Keith.

About half an hour later, another gate was assigned. I waited in that line for twenty minutes, only to be told that that wasn’t the gate either. “So where is it?” I exclaimed, exasperated. “We were supposed to be boarding ten minutes ago, and the flight is still marked ‘on time.’” The gate agent gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look, and picked up the phone. After several minutes on hold, he set the phone down. “Actually, this is the right gate,” he said, business-like manner returned. “I just didn’t know.” Huh. “What do you suppose our chances are of leaving on time?” muttered the man behind me in line. “I’d say zero,” I muttered back. The gate agent handed me the long-awaited boarding passes and I shuffled away to search for a place to sit down and wait.

I was assigned “zone 4” for boarding. Zone 4 seems to be my lot in life. It’s the last group to board the plane. The inexplicable thing is, I found my seat next to the window in the last row.

The departure time passed. I began to fan myself frantically. I had a short connection time, and Minneapolis is a big airport. We pushed back from the gate… and sat. “We’re just finishing up the refueling,” said the pilot. What were they doing all that time we were sitting at the gate? Twenty minutes later, we were stuck in rush hour traffic on the tarmac. Then bad weather changed the departure pattern from the airport, so again we waited. I started biting my nails. I was scheduled to be on the last flight to Fargo that night. If I didn’t make my connection, I would be the only one of the eighteen Olson family members to be absent from this once-in-two-plus-years family gathering, and Keith’s mom would not be able to say that everyone had been there… and it was all going to be my fault, because I had insisted on going to Boston.

My mind switched into frantic-problem-solving-mode. I could rent a car in Minneapolis and drive the rest of the way… for five hours in the middle of the night. No. Who was I kidding? Driving long distances in the daytime makes me drowsy. Someone could come pick me up? No… wouldn’t save any time, and someone else would end up missing the party too. I mumbled a half-hearted prayer, not really confident that God cared whether or not I made my connecting flight. After all, the tarmac was swarming with delayed planes. Why should I get special treatment?

Once we were airborne, I used the inflight wifi to email Keith. “I’m sure I'm going to miss my connection. What should I do?” “Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out,” came the response. I waited, still biting my nails. “Your connecting flight is delayed until 45 minutes after you arrive, and it leaves from gate F8. You should make it,” said the next email. 45 minutes… could still be pretty tight in the Minneapolis airport, when starting from the back row of the plane.

The nice people in the seats next to me let me get out first, and I filed down the aisle, out the door, to the jetway… what gate was this? I steeled myself for a sprint through the airport. F8, F8… I walked through the door into the terminal. Where was F8? I turned around. “Fargo,” said the reader-board above the door through which I had just walked. F8. This was gate F8.

The gate agent’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Welcome to Delta flight number 689 with service to Fargo, North Dakota. We’re experiencing a delay due to late arrival of the aircraft. There was a bit of weather on the east coast. We’ll begin boarding as soon as possible.” I laughed out loud in the middle of a crowd of grumpy North Dakotans.

“お待たせしました(Sorry for making you wait),” I whispered, confident that no one would understand my apology.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Chickens Move House

A cacophony of angry squawks and outraged clucking broke out next door. I looked up from my book. Mom, across the patio table, glanced towards our neighbor’s house.

“It looks like the chickens are finally moving into their new coop,” she observed, amused.

“I guess chickens don’t like moving any more than I do,” I said.

This was a momentous day. Our neighbors had been talking about the new chicken coop for the entire month since our arrival in Seattle. The old coop and chicken run was dilapidated, and a steady stream of rats came in and out, attracted by the kitchen scraps on which the chickens feasted. Making a new coop, however, was a big project—especially one this nice.

I went over to see the new coop. It was big, well protected from wild animals and the elements, and most importantly, painted red.

What chicken wouldn't want to live in a red coop?
The old coop
Our neighbors had set up a fence between the two coops, and chased the chickens out of the old chicken run and into the new one. But one hen stubbornly refused to move. She clucked aggrievedly as all the other chickens were herded away. No amount of coaxing or kitchen scraps could entice her to leave the familiar comfort of the old coop.

I didn’t see how our neighbors eventually moved the last hen. But a few days later, looking at the contented chickens in their new home, I never would have guessed anything had happened had I not overheard this little drama next door.


Friday, September 14, 2018

The Unexpected Sabbath

Last week was rather “exciting.”

On Tuesday night, the most powerful typhoon to hit Japan in 25 years came through the Sapporo area. I spent much of Tuesday bringing plants inside and securing things in the garden. Then I put in my earplugs and tried to sleep. The earplugs didn’t block out the house shaking, though.

Wednesday, Keith painted the living room ceiling. This had been on the to-do list for… oh, a year or so. I met a friend for dinner in Sapporo; I made my way home amidst a dramatic lightning storm as the typhoon bid us farewell. I was tired (no sleep the night before), so I went straight to bed.

And… no sleep for Keith and Celia Wednesday night, either. We woke up to the house shaking again—a large earthquake—shortly after 3 a.m. Thursday morning. As my cell phone’s earthquake warning blared, I fumbled around in the dark for the light switch. We stumbled downstairs on shaky legs to have a look around; the extent of the “damage” was that a few lightweight things, such as our rice cooker scoop, fell over. Earthquakes aren’t exactly uncommon around here, but this was big by Hokkaido standards, and the biggest we’ve ever experienced. This one was about 80 kilometers away, magnitude 6.7. (And since I was half-asleep and disoriented, I can’t really remember much about the earthquake itself.)


The power blinked off, then back on again. We went back to bed, but didn’t sleep much, since the aftershocks came one after another. After one large aftershock, the fan switched off, leaving us in stifling heat, so we knew the power had gone out again.

I got out of bed around 6:00, bleary eyed. I went to make coffee… and no water from the tap. I hadn’t bothered to fill up the hot water pot or top off the Brita pitcher the night before, as is my usual bedtime routine. Yikes. I checked the fridge: three jugs of water and iced tea would tide us over until the water came back on. And the gas stove worked. Coffee was back on the menu!

At about 7:00, I walked over to see if I could get us some more drinks at the convenience store. Cars lined both sides of the street, and even with the lights out I could see a line of people winding all the way around the store. I gave up and went home. I took quick look around the outside of the house, and I noticed we had lost a few more bits of mortar off our chimney, but I wasn’t sure if that had been caused by the earthquake or the typhoon.

Keith came downstairs into the empty living room. All the furniture had been moved into the dining room except for a tall bookshelf, earthquake supports removed for painting (the only time since we moved in). Keith looked up at the bookshelf. “That could have been bad,” he observed. But the bookshelf, and all the books, were exactly where we had left them. Seeing pictures of overturned furniture and broken roads from others on Facebook, we realized we had been extremely fortunate.

I had fleeting thoughts of getting work done, except that my laptop was where I left it the night before, in my bag, unplugged. With near-dead batteries on my laptop, not to mention dead tired, I wasn’t going to be getting much work done. Traffic lights weren’t working, so going anywhere would be a pain, gas was scarce, and we heard of roads messed up by the quake in some parts of Sapporo. So I responded to messages from concerned people, checked in with some friends, and then gave up on the thought of work.

It seems that most of our neighborhood came to the same conclusion I did. Plenty of people had been dispatched to help those in need closer to the epicenter, so the best thing for those of us in Ishikari to do was to help each other out and stay out of the way. Can’t work, can’t go anywhere, power’s off, nothing to do, and the weather’s great; SEIZE THE DAY. People milled around on the streets, while animated voices and laughter wafted out of open windows. Families and friends shared stories and pooled resources for meals. (It’s harvest season in Ishikari; it’s not like anyone was going to go hungry.) Children played outside, delighted at an unforeseen holiday from school. Eventually after we recovered a trickle of water, (after I filled up every jug in the house) I did some gardening, and saw others on our block doing the same. In a nearby park, amidst trees uprooted by the typhoon, Keith spotted a father and son together catching bugs. The atmosphere was altogether like a holiday, but with no TV to distract anyone from uninterrupted family time. I almost felt guilty for thoroughly enjoying the day. Almost.

Keith and I ate hotdogs on the patio as we watched the sunset. One by one the stars appeared in the cloudless, moonless sky, brilliant above the dark city. Neighbors stood in the street, looking up, giving expression to their awe in hushed voices. I fiddled with my camera, trying (and failing) to get a good shot. Keith, who has been memorizing various Psalms, recited:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him ruler over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all flocks and herds, and animals of the wild, the birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea, and all that swim the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

In the midst of a disaster, we had been spared—more than spared, we were completely unscathed. Joy at this undeserved grace and the glory of God revealed in his creation welled up in my soul—but it was a joy made complicated by grief, since 80 kilometers away, people and houses were lost in landslides. Does this mean we shouldn’t rejoice and give thanks? I think not. There is so much to be thankful for.

(A week on, things are mostly back to normal in Ishikari, except that milk is scarce, and the grocery store is less stocked than usual. We still have frequent aftershocks. Recovery efforts continue closer to the epicenter. Please pray for those who lost loved ones, homes, possessions, and a sense of safety. And we could all do with some uninterrupted sleep.)

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Daylilies, and the Art of Paying Attention

Shortly after we moved into Matsu House two years ago, I discovered a mysterious plant in our garden. Its leaves looked the same as irises, and its flowers like lilies, but with five or so buds on each stalk. There were lots of them, so I cut one and brought it into the house. To my surprise, by the next morning, the flower had faded, but a second bud was starting to open. I observed the flower, fascinated, over the course of several days, until all the buds had opened and faded, one by one.


I looked up the flower in my book of Hokkaido wildflowers. It’s called Ezo-kanzo, or Nikkokisuge when it is part of a flower arrangement for tea ceremony. I realized that it was the same flower we had seen covering an entire hillside on Rebun island several years previously.


See all those yellow bits?
I watched for it in eager anticipation at the end of May the next year, and it became one of my favorite flowers to display in my tea room.



In June this year, I said goodbye to my garden as we headed to the US for two months of home assignment. One evening at a friend’s house, while touring his garden, I saw familiar looking leaves and seed-pods. I turned to Keith. “Those look like…”

“Those are Daylilies,” our friend explained.

“Daylilies,” I repeated. “Because they bloom only for a day, and then the next bud blooms?”

“Exactly,” he confirmed.

It turns out I had seen Nikkokisuge flowers, which I now know to call Daylilies, before I ever went to Japan. I went to Boston, and found them blooming by roadsides in the suburbs. Then I went to North Dakota, and found them in the garden of almost every house, including the house where Keith grew up. They thrive even with winters colder than Sapporo’s, it seems, and they come in colors other than the orange-yellow variety native to Hokkaido.

In Southborough, Massachusetts 
In the garden at Keith's parents' house, after a rain storm
I had seen Daylilies, but I never noticed them. How many other lovely things am I missing because I’m not paying attention?

Friday, August 03, 2018

Parable of the Apple Trees

There is an apple tree in the backyard of the house where Keith grew up in North Dakota. He tells me that it’s about 20 years old, rarely pruned or cared for, allowed to grow wild.


Defying the wisdom that says pruning will make a tree bear more fruit, its branches are so loaded with ripening apples that they nearly touch the ground. No pesticides or fertilizers have touched this tree, but not an insect in sight.


How beautiful it must have looked in the spring, covered with pinky white blossoms! Even now, pale red of ripening fruit bursts against a backdrop of vibrant sage green leaves.


Apple growing in Japan, on the other hand, is an arduous process. Each apple is covered with a mesh bag to protect it from insects, and carefully turned to ensure even ripening. Thinned to only a few apples per branch, each large, shapely apple is intensely sweet with a perfect crunch.

Our apple tree in Ishikari is a spindly little thing, currently experiencing its second summer. Who knows when we will eat its fruit? We’re told it will take five, maybe seven years. We watched nervously this spring as one branch came close to breaking in the strong wind. Insects plague our poor tree, and torrential rains produce orange spots on its leaves.

Our tree, just starting to put out leaves this spring. It looked lonely, so we gave it some daffodils and shibazakura (moss phlox) to keep it company.
North Dakota apples, crisp and tart, can be had for free, in large quantities. In this town, even if you don’t have a tree yourself, surely you know someone who does. Japanese apples often cost more than 100 yen (about a dollar) each, even when they are in season. While in North Dakota or Washington, a person might eat apples every day, in Japan they are a special treat, to be eaten only when someone gives you one as a gift. Keith doesn’t like me to buy them, because he can’t stomach paying for something which has always been free.

I gaze longingly at the apples on this overgrown tree. If only our little tree could grow up to be like this one.

But it won’t. The climate, the soil, everything is different. Japanese apples are costly, hard-won, precious. But oh, are they ever sweet.