An invitation for “peach blossom bathing” in California’s Central Valley was intriguing. Do you bathe in a pool of peach blossoms? Or is it more like Japan’s “forest bathing,” which encourages people to spend time in nature and absorb the forest atmosphere? So, my husband Gerry and I registered for a session at the Masumoto Family Farm in Del Rey, just outside of Fresno for the experience.
Photo from Masumoto Family Farm Facebook page.
As we got closer to the farm, we began seeing signs of spring in the Central Valley with rows of flowering fruit trees backdropped by the blue sky. We had been to the Masumoto Family Farm twice before to pick peaches, part of their Adopt-A-Tree program that allows teams of people to vie for the opportunity to adopt a nectarine or peach tree and harvest the delicious fruit. We were accustomed to seeing green fruit trees laden with fruit, so the sight of delicate petals on trees was new.
The Masumoto family has been farming in the Central Valley for four generations now with the future of the farm resting on the shoulders of Yonsei siblings Nikiko and Korio Masumoto. The farm is really more of a fruit orchard where they grow certified organic nectarines, apricots, raisin grapes, and peaches. I first learned of it after reading David Mas Masumoto’s “Epitaph for a Peach,” in 2009, which lyrically chronicled a year of struggle that Dave and his family faced in trying to grow and market the heritage Sun Crest peach. But in the food industry, the Masumoto Family Farm had already established a reputation for quality fruit, selling to restaurants such as Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse as far back as 1993.
When we arrived at the farm, Dave and Nikiko greeted us and explained how to proceed. I had thought we would meander our way through the fruit trees, enjoying the peach blossoms in a meditative and reflective way, but the Masumoto family had been much more thoughtful about the experience. We were given a map that would take us on a curated path among the peach blossoms with stations and signs along the way. We had the orchard to ourselves with no other guests at that time so we could fully experience the blossoms and the nature surrounding them. They pointed to the first station and we were off.
Gerry Nakano scans the QR code. Photo by Dianne Fukami.
Not far from the house was a small wooden shelter with a mailbox attached to the side and a sign with a QR code, instructing us to listen to an audio recording. A nearby bench provided a vantage point to look out at the rows of pink-petaled trees as we listened to Nikiko’s voice talking about the agricultural roots and histories of the trees we were seeing, and then segued into recognition of our own family roots, reminding us to be grateful not just for the natural beauty surrounding us but also for the efforts and hardships our ancestors endured so we could be there to enjoy the fruits of their labor. We then had the option of taking a tag–similar to the numbered family tags that Japanese Americans were forced to wear when they were removed from their homes during World War II–and honor our ancestors by writing their names on the tags and placing them with others, hanging in the wooden shelter. It set the tone for the rest of our experience.
As Gerry and I walked thoughtfully along the path the Masumotos had created we stopped now and then to study and appreciate the vibrant blossoms and everything around them. Signs along the route urged us to notice the bees that pollinate the flowers and consider their role in the agricultural chain or notice the differences between colors of the blossoms. One sign invited us to take advantage of the plastic chaise lounges that had been strategically placed beneath the branches of the flowering trees, so that we could get a new perspective of what the blossoms looked like when viewed from below.
Photo by Dianne Fukami.
As we neared the end of the path, set apart from the trees in a relatively isolated part of the farm was a red pay phone booth, like the kind you see you in London. Marci Masumoto (Dave’s wife and mom to Nikiko and Korio) had gotten it from a friend. She had wanted visitors to have the same type of experience she’d read about in Japan; a non-functioning phone booth had been placed in the Tohoku region where a deadly tsunami killed nearly 20,000 people in 2011. The bodies of 2,500 people are still missing and will likely never be recovered. The symbolic phone booth in Tohoku was and is still being used for people to pick up the phone and talk to people who are gone or missed.
In our own country alone, more than 1-million people have died of covid and the impact to their families and friends can never be measured. After two years of covid quarantine and physical as well as emotional loss, Marci wanted to create a way to honor and assuage the sorrow and grief of people missing loved ones, who had passed recently or not. I walked into the phone booth hesitantly, knowing I wanted to talk to my mother who had passed in 2012, but not knowing what I would say standing in a red telephone booth in the middle of a farm in Del Rey, California. As I picked up the phone, fighting back tears, I chatted with Mom, giving her an update on my life and hoping she was at a good place too. In this era of covid, Marci had also thoughtfully provided sanitized wipes in the phone booth as well.
At the last station of our path, there were postcards with a peach blossom photo you could self-address and reflect on your experience. The Masumotos promised to mail them to you after you returned home so you could recapture those feelings. A month later I look at the photos of that day and get a warm glow. I remember the vibrant pinks of the blossoms, lying down on the chaise lounge and looking up at the sky from underneath the branches, the feel of the wind, and the smell of the countryside. It reminds me to hit the pause button on my own urban life and take a moment to just think and reflect.
Author’s Bio: Dianne Fukami is a journalist, documentary filmmaker, and retired educator. Her most recent project is the award-winning documentary, “Norman Mineta and His Legacy: An American Story.” She has also co-written a book and produced several documentaries about the Asian American experience.