Raking the Surface (Manzanar 4)

Day 4

Independence, 46F-25F

It was supposedly 14F at 8:30 as we drove to Manzanar, but I didn’t feel it. Today, I had pancakes and maple and brown sugar oatmeal. It was warm at our final day in Manzanar as we raked the other side of the firehouse. We had put the tumbleweeds and debris into the wheelbarrow, which we struggle to move across the sand to a forklift shovel to empty it into a truck.

IMG_8392Raking uncovered a metal bottle cap and a spark plug. Metal remains were so common, but not knowing what the other object was, I showed the spark plug to our always radiant Manzanar park ranger. He found it worth keeping.

Maybe… it’s an artifact.

Sowing Seeds

Then, the forklift ceased working and we sowed seeds on the desert around the firehouse. One package was called “Desert Tortoise Mix,” a mixture of annuals, perennials, and grasses.

  • Castilleja exserta, Owl’s Clover
  • Eriogonum fasciculatum, California Buckwheat
  • Lasthenia californica, Goldfields
  • Salvia columbariae, Chia
  • Sphaeralcea ambigua, Apricot Mallow
  • Stipa hymenoides, Indian Ricegrass
  • Stipa speciosa, Desert Needlegrass

Afterward, I started getting small dotted hives on my hand. I was probably allergic to the grass seed.

The Spirit

Later, we began shoveling near the wall of the firehouse to landscape it with gravel. We joked about the book Holes. We were here to dig “holes.” Digging trenches soon created warmth enough to wear only a shirt in the cold weather.

I spotted a beetle and many shards of glasses. Later, we had oranges and German Christmas cookies. When I walked to the main building, I spotted a big black crow enjoying the shade of an employee’s truck. It was the first bird I’ve seen on site. I walked closer to take a photo and then saw it fly, flapping its large wings to the nearest utility pole. The spirit of Manzanar remains and I’m only raking the surface.

On the surface, I found a red granite rock that I really liked. When I asked our foreman, he said that it probably came from the Sierra Nevada.

Through filling the gap with gravel from the site near the mountain, they found pieces of glasses and ceramic. One of those collections of ceramic made a bowl.

Finally, we had lunch. I had a regular ham, tomatoes, cheese, and lettuce sandwich that I had made earlier and Austin cheddar cheese crackers. Classic.

Soon, our work around the firehouse was finished and we began our tour around Manzanar.


We went by car and stopped by four different ponds including Pleasure Park, a larger pond park with two large bridges. It had a temple-like structure and what seemed to be a turtle.

The ponds were delicately constructed with consideration of rock placements. They had to select the boulders and bring them from the mountain. Each family was given a bag of concrete (each month?), and they had pooled their collection to build parks for the community.

Being at Pleasure Park, now renamed Merritt Park, was peaceful.

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Peace and Harmony

Apparently, they had drawn flowing water from the mountains to create the right sense of serenity. The ponds are truly a great treasure in the camp.

“Ten thousand live, ten thousand stories,” said our foreman.

The children-those under twenty-finally found friends and a community that accepted them. Those who were older–there were many who were above fifty–of course, saw it as more than a summer camp.

Personally, I enjoyed the site and loved the ponds. It was a place of inspiration. Yet I can imagine being torn by the sense of lost.

In the deepest of strife, the Japanese Americans strove and successfully made their life better. They let go and kept moving forward, making the best of what they had: the laborers (their gardeners) and more.

People might look back and shrug at it because the camp only lasted three years, but it was more than that. Their rights, their life were in the hands of the government, literally. They didn’t know when it would end and when they got out, they were not allowed in California. They had no stability in their future. It was a wonder that sickness did not break out in the cramped space. The community they made is an accomplishment.

With the park rangers, I was able to learn much more, such as what they meant by “ponds.” It wasn’t just a small layout of rocks.

It was art,

meticulously set to show the serene beauty and bring

peace and harmony.


Remaining Spirits

We got to the cemetery. There were only about fifteen graves (most weren’t buried there), ritual offering circles, a pet cemetery for their feral cats, and little things left for the monument, including cranes.

According to the park rangers, they don’t ever throw away or remove the cranes. If the paper cranes flew into the wild, it was left to perish on its own. The paper cranes are so spiritually symbolic for the dead that they are not allowed to touch them. Most paper cranes were tightly wrapped around the poles.

Despite all, despite the nicer administrative office area and the haunting Manzanar war relocation center sign, a strong sense of harmonious spirit exists.

Humankind can be better than this. At first, we wish to forget. Then, when our souls mature, we start realizing how important to not repeat the darkness of history and to preserve our lands and who we are. Their heart may have suffered, but their spirit cannot be broken.


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