story by Julia Steele
photos by Jack Wolford
Mayumi Oda appears in her driveway like an apparition, all in white—long white shirt, long white skirt—in the darkness of the late night. She’s slight but strong and completely self-possessed. Immediately she takes charge (“Park here. Follow me. Watch your step. Meet my brother.”), and within minutes I’m at her kitchen table with a hot cup of roasted twig tea, a bowl of apple bananas from her garden and the most beautiful sugar I have ever seen—ornate, leaf-embossed crystal cubes from Japan.
“You’ll sleep in the yurt,” Mayumi tells me as we drink tea, “and in the morning you’ll meet the others who are here now: a student of mine from Japan, her boyfriend who’s building me a pond, a young Russian woman, an African-American woman who’s a costumer in New York, my son and his girlfriend, a man from Africa who comes to work in the garden and a Chilean who sleeps in his truck.” She laughs, more at herself than anything. “It’s a full house,” she says, and she grabs a flashlight to lead me out onto the land. We walk through thick, vog-laced air filled with the sounds of crickets, dogs and coqui frogs and come to the yurt, which is vast and spartan, a giant circular dome with a lone sleeping bag lying in the middle of the floor like a life raft. Mayumi hands me the flashlight and wishes me goodnight, and I crawl into the bag and fall asleep.