What the land gives
On the plains of southeastern Hokkaido, among a paradise of fertile farmland and forested mountains, farmer and skier Jin Ishibashi prepares a way for life to come to him. Walking his fields, he sows seed into the earth by hand, encouraging a bounty where none exists. He bends and lifts and bends and lifts and, in this way, marries his body to the land.
“I don’t mean to brag, but I do feel young for a 50-year-old. I’m really enjoying this slightly rough-and-tumble nature,” Jin says.
Laughter roots itself in his throat. His weathered eyes have learned to read seasons and weather, mountains and soil. He trusts the cycle of Nature, preparing his fields in April and May, planting in June and July, and harvesting from September to November.
“From start to finish, there are so many things I have to do myself,” he says. But come the first snow, Jin exchanges hoe for skis and the deep, dry powder of Japan’s far north.
“I ski,” he says. “I ski everywhere.”
His voice is made from summer-fresh tomatoes and sweet corn, and it grows into spindrift and wind through pines. All this to say, Jin harvests a kind of optimism that comes through labor and love, an uncommon variety of joy that thrives because of the interplay between mountain and lowland.
“I’m working with the seasons, not moving with time like people in the city,” Jin says. He measures time in sprouts and blooms, long approaches to summits and meandering rides back to the snow-covered farmland below. From farm to slope, Jin gives roots to the earth. Skinning between Manchurian ash and arctic pines, he finds connection — to land and self. With each run, he grows moments.
His choice of telemarking, much like his determination to work his fields by hand, allows him to come closer to the land. “With telemark skiing, you can walk and ski. You can do everything casually, which is very appealing.” It’s a joy of labour and, for Jin, telemarking feels like a deviation from the traditional path. “I have to continually adapt to the terrain. I open myself up to the vastness of this place.” With close observation and open senses, Jin sees the land anew every day. He observes its intricacies.
Among mountains, savoring the tracks he lays, new lines fruiting before his eyes, Jin understands: “Skiing itself has no meaning. But skiing is what makes my life worth living.” It’s his way to connect the current flowing through his body to the here and now.
From eking out a modest fare on his farm to pursuing the joy of the mountains, Jin follows the cycle of Nature and lays the foundation for his life. The view from the top, the weaving between trees on a ride back down, the back-aching work of harvest time—that’s meaning enough.
Of course, there’s the future. There’s the questioning of decisions. There are hard times. “I don’t know what comes next. But I know I’ll be crushed by fear if I’m constantly worrying about what’s next,” he says. “So, I work up a good sweat and pursue the now.”
“In the mountains, when I’m climbing my own route in the middle of nowhere, I’m happy. I feel good. I think, ‘This is it!’”
The snow will melt. Planting season will return. “It’s all a part of the colour of life,” says Jin, and there’s a need for constant tending.
“Nature isn’t that easy. If you are not careful, the weeds will swallow everything,” Jin says.