I met a soul brother of Jim Drescher today. Jim and Margaret Drescher are stewards of Windhorse Farm in Nova Scotia Canada. An old growth forest which has given birth to many enterprises that nurture the earth. They know the forest gives life. I met Masahiko Haga today. He knows the forest gives life. And I dedicate this little blog to the Dreschers and Haga-san.
I am in Japan finding the places in the disaster area to start Future Center work. More on that later. Today I was in Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture, the northern most of the three prefectures most affected by 3.11. In Otsuchi all the the leaders of City Government were in City Hall when the tsunami came. They all died that day. Two thirds of the city was destroyed. With a population of around 20,000, more than 2,000 are living in temporary housing. That’s just a little context.
When the tsunami hit Otsuchi on March 11, 2011, it hit with unbelievable force. Waters 50 feet high traveling at more than 60 miles an hour. In minutes so much was gone. In the harbor area where Haga-san lived, of 250 fishing boats, 1 survived. This was a community of fishers. They cannot fish without boats. When the last wave had come, Haga-san looked around. Town — gone. Fishing economy — gone. Friends — gone. Agriculture — gone. He turned around and looked at the forest and surrounding hills. And he said to himself, with the forest we can survive.
He spent most of his life as a car mechanic. But ever since he was a child, he wanted to work in the forest. It called to him. Unfortunately, one could not make a good living working in the forest and he had a family to raise. But eight years ago, when he turned 52, all his children had moved away and he asked his wife if he could learn how to work in the forest. This journey began then.
He talked about how all his life parents in Otsuchi told there children to leave. Go to a good university; get a degree; get a job with a good company. They didn’t know it at the time, but when they were sending their children away, they were giving up hope. They saw no future.
After the tsunami came, Haga-san said, everyone was the same. Rich people, poor people, people with college degrees, people without. We were all the same. Many of us didn’t know each other, even though this was a small town. But we lay on our pillows next to strangers in the emergency shelters with only candles for light. We lay next to strangers and we began to talk about our lives.
Haga-san said that because he was strong and because his family had all survived, he was able to join the search for other survivors. They kept finding bodies, he said, children, old people, people in the middle of their lives. It was four days before the national guard came to help. The first night, Haga-san was unable to sleep — he kept seeing the faces of the dead. The second night, he was unable to sleep — he kept seeing the faces. The third night, he couldn’t bear seeing the faces again, so he went outside to look at the many fires that were still burning. He was without hope. And somehow, looking into the fire, he realized he would dedicate the rest of his life to the memory of those who had died. He would build a new future for their decedents. He would build it with them.
And it was the forest that gave him hope. During the Tokugawa Period, Japan’s feudal age, Japan had perhaps the most advanced forestry management practices in the world. But when the modern age arrived, those practices were discarded. People began to cut trees and plant trees as quickly as they could. The result has been soil erosion into the ocean, depletion of the soil, and, of course, a decrease in what can be harvested from the forest as well. Haga-san said that we can learn from our ancestors how to live with and from the forest. And he began to build a NonProfit Organization that would do exactly that.
The forest teaches us how to live, he said. It can bring us a livelihood until we can fish again. The forest can sustain us.
As I listened to Haga-san, I found myself thinking about Jim Drescher. I told Haga-san I had a friend I hoped would come to meet him some day. And I told him a little of the story of Windhorse Farm. When I described the retreat space that has grown up at Windhorse, he got a big smile on his face and said — me too. And told me of his plans to start a learning center here, on this mountainside.
Like so many others, Haga-san is a ordinary man. He says he does this work for those who will live in 100 years. They will see the benefit. I challenged him. I said, I think there is more. I think the way you are living your life is of immediate benefit to those around here. They see that you have found the courage to work with what you have to make a better life now. I turned and looked at the young woman who was running a chain saw, an elder patiently showing her the way.
It is the quiet heroes like Haga-san who will invite others to create a new Japan. They do it with actions and few words. They live as a source of possibility.
What an honor to meet him.