David Mas Masumoto: Books Worth Savoring

I serve myself the best peaches while walking my fields. I roam over the furrows and through the grass, searching for the golden amber shades of the ripest fruit. Often just the tip of a few fruit will have gone soft as I wait for the majority of the field to ripen for one of our rounds of picking.

In the morning or evening, when the sun is at the horizon, the soft light enriches the color and the ripe fruit seem to glow, their juicy tips beckoning. I stop, pick one, and sink my teeth into the flesh. The juices burst out and the nectar explodes in my mouth. “This is ready,” I say to myself as I make plans to start picking the field the next day.

—David Mas Masumoto, Harvest Son: Planting Roots in American Soil , (W.W. Norton, 1998)

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In addition to rave reviews from literary critics across the country, David Mas Masumoto has one other rare commodity that most writers would kill for.

Quiet. Lots of it.

Tucked away in a secluded rural area south of Fresno, California, the organic peach and grape farmer-turned-author writes in a 90-year-old farmhouse surrounded by vineyards and orchards. There are no ringing cell phones or pagers in his 80 acres of fields, and he aims to keep it that way.

In Masumoto’s view, a fast pace of life is not always a good one. “Rushing from one thing to another, we lose sight of the art of living,” he says. And much of what he’s learned about the art of living has come through learning the art of farming.

Good farming, Masumoto notes, requires an appreciation for aesthetics. Nuances of color and texture. Changes in light and temperature. Subtleties that cannot be noticed while on the run.

It’s Masumoto’s observance of these fine details—and the lyrical descriptions he uses to bring them to life in his books—that have won him acclaim as today’s unofficial poet laureate of the American family farm. His book, Four Seasons in Five Senses: Things Worth Savoring (W.W. Norton, 2003), embraces the role of the master farmer as a true artisan, crafting delectable works of beauty with the aid of nature.

Through his writing, Masumoto has also discovered many parallels between the tasks of an author and farmer.

“Writing by its nature is very individual and private, and so is farming. And there’s a point where your stories go from the private to the public—just like sending your peaches and raisins out into the world and not knowing how they will be received,” he says. “Gaining knowledge of writing is a gradual process; most people have a slow learning curve. As with farming, writing needs seasons to grow and ripen.”

Masumoto’s growth as a writer took a winding but ultimately rewarding path.

After undergraduate studies in sociology at UC Berkeley, a master’s degree in community development from UC Davis, and additional studies at International University in Tokyo, Japan, Masumoto decided to return home to work on his family’s farm and began writing. It was there that his many interests converged.

“I think my education allowed me to view farming a little more creatively,” he says. “It made me realize that there is a rural culture, just as we have ethnic cultures, and that the role of a writer in that community is very important. It provides a voice to the community, capturing history and stories, and documents how family farms are changing.”

Whether giving a voice to a community or sharing the insights of a farmer’s way of life, Masumoto uses his gift with words to engage the senses.

Nurtured with the same care that produces golden amber peaches with nectar that “explodes” in one’s mouth, his books are literary works worth savoring.

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