When I first drove to Manzanar in the winter, I was struck immediately by the sheer immensity of the place. The Owens Valley is a vast remote configuration; the plane of the valley floor seems to go on forever. On the western edge there is the southern Sierra Nevada. Topping it all is an intensely blue sky. The tableau suggests a limitlessness…almost as though there was no end to the captivity.
Walking out on the site in winter, it is cold, the air is dry, and the land seems almost devoid of life. It was a harsh place to send 10,000 urban dwellers mostly from coastal California.
There is a deep incongruity here…that this place of immense beauty and wildness could also be a place of captivity.
Walking out in Manzanar in the spring, one sees that life is coming back to the place. In the midst of the vastness, one sees the wildflowers, leaves on the trees, and the wild shrubs sprouting their light green. There is a bit of color where there had been almost none. It is the color of life… Walking around, I feel that the people who were taken to Manzanar were aware of nature’s life cycle there. Deep in my heart, I hope that this life cycle in which they lived offered some measure of comfort.
There was an outdoor theater in the northern part of the Camp. Here you see the view from it, looking northwest to the Sierra. I imagine that it gave a sense of the larger beauty of things. The raw beauty and power of the high desert and the southern Sierra Nevada reflected the appreciation of beauty, as well as the tenacity of the people who were taken to Manzanar.
“I can now understand how an eagle feels when his wings are clipped and caged. Beyond the bars of his prison lies the wide expanse of the boundless skies, flocked with soft clouds, the wide, wide, fields of brush and woods—limitless space for the pursuit of Life itself.”
Kimi Tambara, Minidoka, from the National Archives
As I continue to walk around Manzanar, I hope my photos and reflections, and especially the commentary of people who lived there, will bring this place to life for you.
Grace and peace,