Spring burn


March 6, 2023

Mid-afternoon I drove down the mountain, my mind turned in on itself, fully absorbed in anticipation of the meeting I was rushing towards. I came around the familiar bend at the end of the bamboo grove and drove straight into the blustering burn. It delivered me from my distraction right into the moment, what might be my favorite moment of the year.

This day comes to Mirukashi once a March and marks our turn into spring. Young men with torches kindle the tall grasses that line the roads and fields. Their elders stand high above, beside water-laden trucks, overseeing the operation. Smoke billows and black papery husks rain down. A cleansing fire scorches away the tangle of dead winter weeds around rice paddies and farmed fields.  It’s the agricultural version of clearing the cobwebs, of opening the shutters and letting the light in. Irrigation channels are burned clean; pathways that could shelter venomous creatures are rendered safely visible, all in preparation for the planting season. 

It’s a moment on the unwritten rural dweller’s calendar, people working the land, tapped into the seasons because their livelihood depends on it. The farmer plants his crops when the cherry tree at the edge of his field blooms, because it better indicates the season’s progress than any date on a calendar.

Yesterday the first ivory white magnolia petals broke from their fuzzy pods. When I see the magnolia bloom, I know that we stand at the threshold of full spring and it’s safe to store away my heaviest sweaters and coats. I know that a life lived outside the walls of heated homes and released from layers of down and wool seems imminently possible.

It is a season of great potential. The landscape is primed to rapidly transform. Fat buds line the tall wispy stems of the snow willow planted along the edge of our deck. The first momiji maple leaves have unfurled, as delicate and tender as a newborn’s tiny fingers and toes. Tsukushi horsetail will soon emerge and new shoots of watercress will fill in the streams.  

There is a feeling of stirring, simmering, quivering, brimming. An energy pulses just below the surface. This season is called Insects Awaken, but it feels like we are all on the cusp of a great awakening, insects, plants, and myself too.


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