FINDING SOLACE IN THE SOIL: GARDENS & GARDENERS OF AMACHE, JAPANESE AMERICAN PRISON CAMP
Bonnie J. Clark is a professor of anthropology at the University of Denver. Her new book Finding Solace in the Soil, Archaeology of Gardens and Gardeners at Amache (University Press of Colorado, 2020) traces six field seasons of her research and immersion into the gardening lives of Japanese Americans held at the Amache prison camp, which was active on the high plains of Colorado from 1942 to 1945.
With Amache already designated a National Historic Landmark, and with bills before both the US House of Representatives and the Senate to make Amache a part of the National Park Service, Bonnie joins Cultivating Place this week to share more about what it means to be a gardener and a human.
Since 2008, Bonnie and her team of colleagues and students have worked in collaboration with survivors and descendants of Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II to bring their stories to full life and light through the gardens cultivated by those imprisoned.
The smallest of the 10 prison camps around the US that held Japanese Americans during WWII, Amache was active from 1942 to 1945. In that time, a total of 10,000 people were held there making it, at the time, the 10th largest city in the state of Colorado. In our conversation, Bonnie describes more about the conditions of the camps and people trying to make their lives and gardens there based on both primary source interview and documents like photos, maps, letters and journals, and based on the analysis of their excavations and findings.
My conversation with Bonnie was longer than we could fit into our on-air discussion for the full 1-hour audio, including her sharing about the excavating of a saved jar of squash seeds and the full expression of dignity she finds in the unearthing of these resourceful, creative, nourishing and spiritual gardens, make sure to listen to this week’s PODCAST version of Cultivating Place.
You can follow along with Bonnie's continued work and Finding Solace in the Soil online at the University Press of Colorado., and on their Facebook page.
Photos courtesy of Bonnie Clark and Finding Solace in the Soil
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Thinking out loud this week:
In a moment in time when hate crimes of all kinds, but notably those perpetrated against Asian Americans is in the news regularly – I want to dedicate this conversation and episode to all of the Asian and Asian American gardeners and plantspeople in the world who have generously shared of themselves and their horticultural gifts and histories – and who continue to enrich our gardens and gardened world. We would be impoverished without them. I dedicate this to my online gardening and artist friend Christine, and to my second grade teacher Miss Ueno, on Lookout Mountain Colorado, and to the Kims, gracious neighbors and owners of Gelayo in Chico, CA. You make this place sweeter.
In other thoughts, yes - yes, to be an archeobotanist/or paleobotanist is a thing. A great thing. For the near and far past.
And we’re getting to this in the conversation, but I don’t think it will detract from your listening for me to remind you – all of you listeners, gardeners, garden lovers, and plant appreciators: Our gardens are an expression of our HUMAN DIGNITY. They hold our love, our pasts, our legacies. And there is no one way to express that dignity – as Rumi reminds us "There are one thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, there are 1000 ways to go home again." Home as signified by where we cultivate our plant companions.
Let’s celebrate and take good care of every one of us in the process. You know what I am going to say now: yep – together we grow better – our flowers, our vegetables, our reintegrating habitat, our soils, and ourselves.
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