David "Mas" Masumoto

December 21, 2013

David Mas Masumoto: Why New Year's matters

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Omedeto Gozaimasu (Japanese)

Ein glückliches neues Jahr (German)

At the end of every December, I begin to reflect about the prior year. Time seems to have raced by, I blur one past year with another and suddenly I find myself thinking of prior decades and not just the years. I suppose this is wisdom with age or a curse.

Initially, I relive accomplishments, achievements, moments of joy and celebration. My thoughts then regress to disappointments, mistakes and regrets. With winter's shorter days and long, cold (very cold this December) nights, remorse outweighs satisfaction. An uneasiness settles in with the outside fog and chill.

That's why I look forward to the new year.

Farmers have always employed a simple technique for survival during this time: We continue to convince ourselves that we have another year to get things right and make things better. If you look inside old farmers, you'll find they're full of "next years" — part of a spiritual belief system that overshadows bad weather, poor prices and the sometimes brutal physical work.

Why else would we work so hard for so little return? A wonderfully foolish sense of optimism tricks us into one more try.

So I greet New Year's Day with a sanguine smile, a chance to redeem myself for the stupid mistakes and the bad situations that impacted my life and livelihood.

Goodbye to the memories of missed irrigations during a summer heat spell or the grapes of 2013 that looked sweet but then dried into not-so-great raisins.

Adios to a peach market that soured by July and August. It turned so bad that farmers yanked out acres and acres of trees.

Sayonara to a dry, dry year with little rain and diminishing water supply. Although I doubt my goodbye wave will make much difference in 2014; I fear we might be in a decade-long drought or worse. (Of course, silly me, I did some research and discovered stories about 100- year droughts that were commonplace).

I have learned to stop looking backward. A new year is about to begin.

Immigrants always amazed me — how did they view the new year? Did they miss their homelands during the holidays, especially since it's a traditional time for family? Yet I believe they welcomed the new year, notching one more year of survival in an alien country and another opportunity every January to establish themselves in their newly found land.

My grandparents arrived in America as teenagers, full of dreams. Then came the Great Depression followed by World War II and the evacuation from their homes. They never planned to go back to Japan — California was their home. A new year meant exactly that: a restart and a restoring of faith and hope.

Looking backward carries another danger. How do we calculate success? Material riches seem to be a simple enough measure. I can generate an annual scorecard. But this can overshadow the other aspects that do matter: health, family, community, the human ties that make a full life.

The curmudgeon side of me may then grumble, "It's all downhill from here." I begin to believe that I've peaked and there's not a whole lot I can change about life. Besides, I'm too old to change.

But a new year reminds me life is always changing. Aging is all about change. Impermanence is life. Celebrate.

Can it be that simple? Do I live a better life by being a better person? Will I play a small role in helping my community realize its potential? Is the Valley posed for great things ahead?

New Year's Day reminds of the value of time. No matter what has happened, we have a new year to fix and repair, excel and enjoy. Time is on our side, an annual renewal, a chance for a do-over.

And perhaps those with the least time may be in the best position to understand the joy in every moment of time. That's the spirit of the new year for me. That's why I'll keep telling people "Happy New Year" for weeks to come.

Feliz ano nuevo (Spanish)

Chuc mung nam moi (Vietnamese)

Kul 'am wa antum bikhair (Arabic)

Nyob Zoo Xyoo Tshiab (Hmong)

Eutychismenos o kainourgios chronos (Greek)


Or simply, Happy New Year, my friends.


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About David 'Mas' Masumoto

David 'Mas' Masumoto

Award-winning author and organic farmer David Mas Masumoto of Del Rey writes about the San Joaquin Valley and its people. Email: masmasumoto@gmail.com.

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