Our host Caroline Pover is brilliant at slipping into the Oshika Time Zone and in the coldest months of the year gets a superhuman amount done by zeroing on whatever she can do to restore some semblance of normalcy to the lives of people whose villages have vanished in the ‘shinsai,’ the tsunami that followed minutes after the greatest earthquake Japan has recorded in a thousand years. The scale of the devastation is hard to comprehend. The unspoilt forests that rise above an empty harbor are a rare vision of primordial beauty with a tragic underside. Nobody will go near the water. None of the former home owners are allowed to rebuild their properties on the seafront. Nobody wants to swim in the waters that still contain lost, missing, unaccounted for bodies. It’s impossible to imagine what these small fishing villages looked like before March 11, 2013. Caroline reserved a block of time Sunday afternoon for wonderful folk singer Kristin Ormiston and me to do art and music with the locals of the Ohara community–anyone with an inclination to join and time on their hands.
Since this is peak mekabu harvesting season anyone under 70 is down by the sea clipping the crunchy edible parts of this special wakame from the stem. It’s awesome how they work in the most bitter temperatures. The weather had turned arctic cold and windy and none of the residents felt at all inclined to venture out of their temporary housing. So Caroline got into her car, picked them up one by one, and drove them all over to the Ohara town center, the only gathering spot for miles and miles, the only meeting place spacious enough to set out a long row of tables.
The elders entered shyly, tentatively, laughing at the silliness of it all. ‘I haven’t ever painted!` said a feisty lady of 87. She sat still while the others around her picked up paint brushes and dipped them into small pots of paint in whatever color caught their fancy. Gradually she picked up a brush. By the end of the session, she pulled me over to show me the beautiful mandala in front of her. ‘Next time, I’ll join. I want to continue painting with you,’ she said. I promised her I’ll come back for I realized this journey eight hours north to a remote peninsula sparsely populated with these very old people were embracing me like one of their own. There is much for me to learn here about rebuilding life, a triumph of the spirit in the worst possible conditions, and as I stepped back onto the bus winding back to civilization, passing a pastel orange and blue sunset, I thought to myself how mysterious life can be on the surface of things. A story is about to unfold but I have no idea where it will take me or the resilient old folks in the area surrounding Ohara bay. I just know that this is the first chapter. Thank you Caroline Pover for making it happen. Thank you Kristin Ormiston for lugging your guitar up in the most intense windswept conditions. And thank you Genesis art workshop participants for helping me raise the funds for the art supplies, community donations and travel expenses for his and forthcoming trips up to Oshika Peninsula.