Harper, San Francisco, 1995. List $20.00. Intro price $16.00 plus $3.95 S&H from Jessica's Biscuit, Box 301, Newtonville, MA 02160. 1-800-878-4264. Hardbound. 273 pages.
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)
Mas's story revolves around his efforts to save his family's orchard of delicious but hard-to-market Suncrest peaches now that the market for tree-ripened peaches has been largely displaced by those that ship and store well,the kinds that are firm, flavorless, and often the only ones available in major supermarkets.
In this deeply personal commentary, Mas invites us to his San Joaquin Valley orchard to visit while each season unfolds with its accompanying tasks, from planting cover crops to pruning, tilling and harvesting. The observations he shares are homespun and unpretentious, not gussied up and weeded,much like his organic approach to orcharding. Still this book is not at all a primer on fruit growing. Within the modest narrative, one may find the universal in the particular, the profound in the ordinary, prompting one dust-jacket reviewer to remark that the author has "a farmer's calluses and a poet's soul."
Informed peach fanciers will contend that although it is rarely rated among the elite of peachdom, the Suncrest is a fine peach, sometimes an excellent one. With the publication of this book, the Suncrest peach has been accorded the highest honors in the realm of metaphor. The author's use of word images is masterful, even evocative, in expressing what his beloved Suncrest peaches represent:
"In trying to save my Sun Crest peaches, I discover that they are more than just food, they are part of a permanence, a continuity with the past. People who enjoy my peaches understand what juicy, sweet ones taste like. Biting into one may send them back to the orchards of their childhoods and that warm sense of constancy of family found in their memories. Individuals leave for the city, but memories of farms stay behind to anchor personal family histories. My peaches find a home with these folks, a touchstone to their past."
For those of us who have lived among the orchards, Mas's work may serve as an indulgence in nostalgia. It is true that in recent decades, millions of family farms have disappeared through absorption by larger farms, urbanization or abandonment, but the author's story, his message, transcends the current state of affairs.
Mas engages in very little of the usual polemics. He alludes to the short-sightedness of agribusiness in general, but after all, producing food for people, either by vocation or avocation, remains a worthwhile and noble endeavor. Mas shows us a true passion for what he's doing: by selling his Suncrest peach crop to a baby food manufacturer, he has bought another year of life for his orchard and saved it from the bulldozer,
But it is through his writing that the soul of this farmer clearly emerges. We who grow fruit seem to recognize that what we do is something special,participating in the very process of creation engenders a sense of fulfillment that reaches beyond any satisfaction one might derive from material success in the corporate business world.
It is to this ancient art of fruit growing, where nature's promise and man's hand conjoin, that the author pays homage. As a fellow orchardist, I embrace wholeheartedly the author's effort and applaud the result. To the saying, "Everything in this world bears God's fingerprints," one might add, "much like the fruit-gatherer's fingerprints on a tender, tree-ripened peach. "