Lunch was yet another practice session with chopsticks. My goal was to pick each bean out of the bean with bacon soup and put it into my mouth. Both cats watched with great amusement as I navigated the chopsticks to grab a bean. Two beans in, my anchor chopstick lost its bearing and floated around inside my hand while the maneuverable top stick pivoted sideways and the bean flew to the floor.

Lunch was yet another practice session with chopsticks. My goal was to pick each bean out of the bean with bacon soup and put it into my mouth. Both cats watched with great amusement as I navigated the chopsticks to grab a bean. Two beans in, my anchor chopstick lost its bearing and floated around inside my hand while the maneuverable top stick pivoted sideways and the bean flew to the floor.

I should be a pro. A few years back, the Nikaho delegation gave me a box with 5 cool sets of chopsticks. In the kitchen drawer are eleven pairs of chopsticks, three modified fork sticks and one chopstick helper designed to keep two chopsticks together while giving the impression you know how to use two pieces of wood to hoist food past your front teeth.

Whenever the opportunity arises, I will accept the offered slender wands, pull them from their wrappers and snap the chopsticks apart. I then wait until no one is looking to begin my feeble attempts to grasp noodles, pieces of meat or veggies. Fingers and forks are at the standby.

How do the pros do it? Three videos later, I had been educated in the fine art of holding chopsticks. One chopstick remains steadfastly embedded within the hand, the other is manipulated with the tip of the thumb and forefinger. The first video concentrated on positioning the bottom chopstick between the webbing of the thumb and ring finger before inserting the top chopstick between the top of the thumb and index finger. The person’s long slender fingers had manicured fingernails. The second video was demonstrated by a man with short stubby fingers. He got directly to the point. Grab the top stick between the thumb and index finger. Slide the bottom stick through the hole between the base of the thumb and index finger to just past the third finger. This was indeed easier. The third demo was by a lovely Japanese lady who kept trying to figure out how to show her hand to the camera as she held the chopsticks. Both the first and third videos employed the base of thumb and ring finger for the immobile anchor chopstick. I found using the third finger better. Four beans later my fingers were beginning to tire of the experiment and told me to just get a spoon and eat the soup.

My chopstick obsession may be connected to trips to Japan on Sunday mornings. Speaking of Japan, last week I was in the Shawnee Japanese Peace Garden (JPG) transplanting trees.

Tuesday afternoon was challenging. The redbud, offspring from the redbud near our house, had been destined to be moved two years ago, but drought intervened. Last year was another dry winter. This year the tables turned, the rains arrived and the time had come to extricate the tree from its deeper English metal bathtub home shared with purple irises. The soil was cold, sticky and wet. Digging or pulling the tree roots while moving the iris rhizomes around inside the tub was ridiculously difficult, but many of the roots were salvaged. The root ball was placed in a plastic sack.

The five-foot-tall framework of slender stems was propped against the bench across from the teahouse. The hole was tediously excavated. The shovel entered the ground and the clay adhered to the metal. Both sides of the shovel had thick layers of gummy soil which had to be scraped off with great effort after each scoop. We then remembered the previous hole had been made by an augur corkscrewing its way down through drier soil.

Finally, the hole was ready. Tree roots were spread within and clods and balls of mucky soil packed around the redbud support system. The surface was covered with leaves and mother soil from the bath tub with a few irises thrown in for good measure. Well, maybe the irises will live if everything else abandons ship!

Wednesday evening was time for the mimosa. This tree had conveniently popped up in a 2-gallon pot. Albizia julibrissen (mimosa/Silk Tree) is its Latin name. Italian nobleman Filippo Albizzi presented the Chinese tree to Europe in the 1700’s and the tree found its way to the US in 1745. Now it grows in over half our country. Young trees begin with one main trunk but add branches as they age. The fast-growing but short-lived drought tolerant tree produces aromatic fluffy flowers very attractive to hummingbirds and pollinators.

Moving the potted single green stem to the JPG was simple. The mimosa was planted at a site where two pine trees had given up the ghost as saplings. In the biting wind we watched an insane fitness group warm up and begin their run around the track. That’s dedication. Since the mimosa was a container-grown tree, I hope this ornamental non-native will survive and thrive. It shall be good company for the other mimosa in the JPG.

Last Sunday morning I toured Kamioka Japan, an old mining community in the mountains of central Japan. For one hundred years zinc was extracted from the mines which closed in 2001. Now one can ride a mountain bike along mine railroad tracks. If hungry, visit the Funatsu Shoyu Miso Company. Soy sauce and miso are fermented in traditional cedar barrels and shipped all over Japan.

Yamanomura village is higher in the mountains and known for their daikon radishes. This area often drops below zero (degrees F) and receives substantial snowfall. The large daikons, over a foot long and 2 inches in diameter, are harvested in autumn, cored and placed on long dowels to freeze and thaw throughout the winter. This develops flavor. The radishes are then soaked and prepared in meals or fried in oil and sprinkled with salt and eaten as snacks.

The people living in this community put up with the hardship of isolation and tough winter conditions. “The harsh climate makes us kinder and more considerate to each other.” “I love living here and I’ll continue living here arguing with my husband!”

The thanksgiving harvest festival celebrates the abundance of each year’s crops. With the villagers were the fourteen school kids who participated in the Lion’s Dance. Mythical beasts chased away the wild animals threatening the crops.

Bill Bryson, author of humorous types of books, was born in Des Moines. When 26 years old, he moved to the UK. Bryson once quipped: “….I find chopsticks frankly distressing. Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent……any number of useful objects……haven’t yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?”

Practice makes perfect. Tonight I shall once again bring out the chopsticks to dive, scoop or clamp onto supper. The turkey leg might be a challenge.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.