The weather dominates island life as it does prairie living. On San Piedro rain and wind and fog are a daily issue, especially for the fishermen, for all the fishers are men. Is it safe to venture out? Is it safe to stay fishing when dense fog arrives?
When I grew up on the farm I looked to the West out my bedroom window every morning for an indication of the day. At breakfast my Dad would tell me what he had heard on the radio would be the day’s forecast. Through the summer the question was whether it would rain or would the sun and wind shrivel the grain. At the same time too much rain would reduce the honey crop.
As I read of the gill netters of San Piedro leaving harbour each evening to fish through the long dark hours of night I thought of getting up on the farm and spending long hours during the day riding a tractor up and down a field.
The fishermen have hours to think as they wait to see if they catch fish. I had the same hours on a tractor. There were no distractions. Unlike today there were neither radios nor phones nor computers on the tractor. Fisherman or farmer there was nothing to do but look at the sky and think on life.
While Carl Jr. and Kabuo are fishermen the issue between them is land. The island is as perfectly suited to growing strawberries as Saskatchewan is for raising wheat. Both men want to move from the sea to farming. The white and Japanese farmers who reside on San Piedro are deeply attached to their land. It is a relationship I experienced growing up on our family farm. I believe it starts with the hard work needed to grow crops. It continues with the tension of the weather. It ends each year with satisfaction in a good harvest or disappointment over a failed crop.
Katsue describes her love of the land:
And she knew that Kabuo wanted what she wanted, a San Piedro strawberry farm. That was all, there was nothing more than that, they wanted their farm and the closeness at hand of the people they loved and the scent of strawberries outside their window ….. She understood the happiness of a place where the work was clear and there were fields she could enter into with a man she loved purposefully.
By the time I was an adult I knew every foot of our 160 acres. I had ridden over and walked on all the land. In the strawberry fields of San Piedro that knowledge of the land is even more intimate. Much of the farm work was done by hand.
When Etta Heine, a bitter widow, sells her family’s land, including the 7 acres her husband had agreed to sell to the Miyamoto family and almost been paid in full before the Japanese internment, it is far more than a breach of a commercial transaction. The Miyamoto family has been betrayed. Nine years after WW II ended the resentment endures.
In Snow Falling on Cedars the major male characters – Kabuo, Carl Jr. and Ishmael, the local newspaper editor – all saw combat as members of the American military. Each was left scarred and somewhat distant. The wives of Kabuo and Carl Jr. vainly try to break through the aloofness of their husbands to release them from the pain of their memories.
My father did not serve in World War II but many men and several women from Meskanaw were in the armed forces. Some had a reserve on their return that never faded in the decades after the war. One, in the language of my youth, suffered from “nerves” for the rest of his life over what he had endured.
Both San Piedro and Meskanaw, where I grew up, were self-contained communities. The sea isolates San Piedro. For Meskanaw there were no highways in my youth and significant distance, for those days, to larger centres. The residents of each community know the families of their neighbours for generations.
What happens to those relationships in time of war on San Piedro Island is addressed in my next post.
Guterson, David - (2016) - Snow Falling on Cedars (1995)