WHEN SAN FRANCISCO’S shelter-in-place order started on March 17, 2020, I did not feel as cut off from the world as many did. I already worked at home and maintained social connections primarily online. There were things I missed, of course, but as a person dependent on a BiPAP machine, a noninvasive ventilator, being outdoors in the open air was unsafe for multiple reasons. I tried to savor the simple things within my grasp and to dream about what I missed.
I don’t eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, preferring to focus on four main food groups: fat, sugar, caffeine, and carbs. But I make special exceptions for peak-of-the-season produce that is one of the dazzling gifts of living in California. That spring my friend Emily Nussbaum checked in with me after the death of my friend Stacey Park Milbern, and asked if I would like a homemade peach cobbler or pie. A week later, Emily dropped off a golden brown pie made with frozen peaches she saved from last season. The peach filling had the consistency of marmalade: gooey, warm, scented with cinnamon. It was such a sweet gesture of care in a time of sadness. It comforted me as many people collectively mourned for Stacey, a beloved friend, community organizer, and activist from the Bay Area.
Emily is a member of Peachful Easy Feeling, a team that adopted a tree at Masumoto Family Farm in Del Rey, three hours from San Francisco on land originally inhabited by the Yokuts peoples. Every summer the group harvests a single tree that can produce up to four hundred pounds of organic heirloom Elberta peaches. “Elberta is one of those old fashioned, creamy, buttery smooth peaches with a bright yellow flesh and a golden skin when ripe,” says the farm’s website, adding that they evoke “memories of a family tree in the back yard or eating one a long time ago.” Emily invited me to join their team, offering to pick and deliver some of the peaches to my home in August.
Eating a fresh Elberta peach is indeed a magical, spiritual experience. Its flesh is firm and brimming with juice, sweet yet not overly ripe or tart, and its skin is not too fibrous so that I can gobble it easily. Cool. Succulent. Luscious. When I bite into one, I am connected with the infinite cycles of life and death that produced this fruit, the hands that picked and packed it, and the family and farmworkers who nurtured it. I travel through space aboard USS Masumoto, destination: deliciousness. The pandemic contracted and expanded my unstable world, but tasting that peach took me through a wormhole of joy.
Emily brought the best of the summer to my indoor, socially distanced world. Our friendship is one of many examples of interdependence and mutual aid in the disability community. Pandemic notwithstanding, I wouldn’t have the energy or ability to spend an entire day traveling to the farm to help harvest. This knowledge and months of isolation weighed on me as I devoured this fruit with my parents. Ever since, we reminisce about those peaches as if they were long-lost friends we can’t wait to see again next summer.
Am I overhyping these Elberta peaches? Does it even matter as long as I felt pleasure and nourishment?
Am I overhyping these Elberta peaches? Did my salivating, Gollum-like desire for these precious golden orbs in a time of isolation intensify and distort my memories of them? Does it even matter as long as I felt pleasure and nourishment?
Peachful Easy Feeling first formed with Emily, her friend Kathy Wage, and the Takeuchi family. The Takeuchis know the Masumotos from the Japanese American community in the Central Valley. Kathy met Kayla Takeuchi through her work as a speech language pathologist. Kayla is a young autistic nonspeaking person who did not have the means to communicate until communication trainer Janna Woods introduced her to supported typing, a form of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). The peach team formed to honor the memories of Janna, and Emily’s brother Jonathan, who both died several years ago, as a way to come together and do something beautiful each year. Emily described eating a peach from the Masumoto Family Farm as “tasting the sun, the blossom that it started from, the bees that pollinated, the air, sky, and water.” The cycle of living and dying is a reminder that we do not exist as humans divorced from one another and nature.
These connections continued when David “Mas” Masumoto emailed me out of the blue last winter, without knowing my ardent passion for his Elbertas: “Thanks for all the work you do and your spirit. I’m an organic peach farmer (and a writer) and the stories you capture reflect the true ‘natural world’ we live in (and eat in an organic peach!).”
As we corresponded, I learned that David was working on a book about the life of his aunt, Shizuko Sugimoto, who was separated from her family because of her disability during the forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II. In the weeks that followed, he shared more about this intergenerational family trauma as I offered feedback on disability history, language, and culture. What an unexpected exchange of abundance and generosity between Emily, David, and me, between our intertwined communities and histories, between living organisms on this planet!
Nurturing life requires care and connection. Like an orchard in full bloom, nurturing stories requires care and connection, too. The people we love who are no longer alive—Stacey, Janna, Jonathan, Shizuko—are still with us, and our stories about them are seeds planted with gentleness and hope for the future.
Sometimes a peach is just a peach. Sometimes a peach is a cosmic portal to relationships that sustain and tie us to one another.
This piece is adapted from Alice Wong’s book Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life. Reprinted by permission of Vintage Books. Copyright © 2022 by Alice Wong.