Wraiths of powdery snow blow in translucent veils across the surface of the dark asphalt as I drive Sora home from school this evening. Now, one year ago, we were crossing the mountains trying to stay ahead of the cloud of radioactive fallout that was blowing across the Kanto plain from the devastated nuclear plants in Fukushima. The snow which falls here today is just snow, beautiful and quiet, just snow. It adorns the trees and covers the lantern with the broken leg that I rebuilt in our garden. Our garden. Somewhere safe for the children to climb trees, have snow fights, play chasey.
This winter has been long and cold, and though I have made plans, schedules are beyond my control. I take each day as it comes, do what I can, try not to stress over what I cannot do. I remind myself to take time to breath, to take notice of the ephemeral beauty of the world around me, live in the moment.
The ice on the puddles in the morning form growth rings as they freeze and expand, freeze and expand. There is a simple, subtle beauty that nature creates. We humans tend to over work our art, making art about things, instead of making things like nature does; it is what it is. I have always been saddened by humanities insistence on separateness from nature, as if we are somehow exempt from its rules. We are not; to the contrary, we are the product of nature, dependent on nature, part of nature itself, conscious and aware, looking at itself and striving to find meaning. That is why we find such beauty in the world around us, if only we have eyes to see, and why we all recognise the same fundamental beauty of, say, a sunset, regardless of the superficialities of race or creed. We all share a common understanding, and it is that which I strive to express through my art.
Whether it is the snow on our cobblestones or the wood stacked for the stove, there is beauty there for those who choose to look for it. Now, more than ever, we must understand that. We can no longer afford to squander the earths resources in profligate consumption. We must husband this world so that our children and theirs have a healthy and beautiful world in which to live.
It is not a matter of if there is an earthquake, or tsunami, or typhoon, but when there is. Nature has extremes, and they will occur. Just after the earthquake, after I had evacuated my family here to Minakami, a radio announcer in Australia asked me "What do you think about the nuclear power disaster?""I think they were stupid to build a nuclear power plant on a beach in an earthquake zone," I replied. Now, a year later, the fear of radiation contamination still lingers. As we walk around the supermarket we check where the food is from, knowing that there is a great deal of difference between "no detectable radiation" and "within safe limits". Yes, there are still earth tremors, aftershocks, everyday, but if we build wisely we can live peacefully. The radiation, however, is an insidious poison that will accumulate in your system if you are not constantly vigilant. We are constantly worried for the children, and strive to keep them safe.
The discovery of 40,000bq/kg of radioactive Cesium in ash from wood stoves in Nihonmatsu city in Fukushima Prefecture has raised the issue of radioactive materials in fire wood and charcoal for food preparation and domestic heating, but also for the fire wood, charcoal and wood ash used in the production of ceramics. Potters are asked to not use ash that they have prepared themselves until it has been tested, and to only use materials and firewood that has been checked and declared safe. Controls of the source and route of firewood and charcoal, and the disposal of domestic wood stove ash are being strengthened. The acceptable limits of radioactive Cesium are; 40bq/kg of dry fire wood and 280bq/kg of dry charcoal. The wood we have used over this winter has been under cover, either inside the green house or inside this building, since before the earthquake, so we are safe for now. Our future wood supply, however, must be carefully controlled and tested. Even here in Minakami we are requested to take the ash from our stoves to the town office, though they have no plan as to how to deal with it yet. Japan is inundated with radioactive waste.