My farming instructor and dance teacher are one and the same—Min Tanaka. Min has encouraged me to regard farming as both physical and mental training, similar to that of a monk assigned to practice mindfulness while cleaning or cooking. Min urges us to study our own bodies and the qualities of nature while we work the fields, and certain farming activities naturally become a reflection on movement.
When digging a fifty foot trench for potato planting, one becomes very conscious of the back and arms, the rhythm the tool makes as it hits the earth, the steps that the feet learn to render this motion efficient. With the sky as the backdrop, and without even intending to, a dance is formed in these repetitive actions. Fieldwork is a sensual rich experience. It provides material that later can be used in the creation of choreography.
For the potato harvest, one visits the same 50-foot row in late summer. One squats and plunges hands into the soil. Fingers seek out smooth flesh, understanding the difference between stone and tuber. Hands finding potatoes beneath the earth’s surface could be brought into a dance—our desire is to train the body to remember such sensations.
Between last year’s harvest and this year’s planting, I have been mulching my garden paths. We are surrounded by forests of Doug Fir, and I use sawdust from a neighbor’s lumber mill, which I spread onto sheets of newspaper. In the process of spreading out last year’s stories and dumping sawdust on them, I’ve come to enjoy the image of mulching with news.
Hillary, John, Sarah and Barack’s faces will be walked upon often. It is not the trampling upon faces of political leaders that I enjoy (though that image could make an interesting dance)–it is the notion of events, once current and now historical, being turned into the ground we walk on that captured my attention.
The suffering of war, ever-mounting evidence of a melting planet, the arc of hope that rose in our nation—first tentatively then triumphantly in Obama’s campaign and victory—as well as the countless happenings told on the back pages–obituaries, marriages, movie premieres, classified ads–all of these passages and transactions will dissolve in the winter rains. They will become soft and eventually, soil.
My daughter will scamper on the disseminated words. My knees will be cushioned by the pulp of history as I bend over springtime’s youth. In some way, in some time, the roots of the plants growing in the garden beds will make contact with the news of 2008. Perhaps in some future choreography, I will ask my feet to recall how it feels to walk on the paths of the past.
by Dana Iova-Koga