“Finding Solace in the Soil breaks new ground in its informed discussion of camp gardens and equally of the process of archeological reconstruction—a means still uncommon for exploring the recent past. Bonnie Clark’s novel methodology and collection of data leads to persuasive findings.”
—Greg Robinson, Université du Québec à Montréal
Finding Solace in the Soil tells the largely unknown story of the gardens of Amache, the War Relocation Authority incarceration camp in Colorado. Combining physical evidence with oral histories and archival data and enriched by the personal photographs and memories of former Amache incarcerees, the book describes how gardeners cultivated community in confinement.
Before incarceration, many at Amache had been farmers, gardeners, or nursery workers. Between 1942 and 1945, they applied their horticultural expertise to the difficult high plains landscape of southeastern Colorado. At Amache they worked to form microclimates, reduce blowing sand, grow better food, and achieve stability and preserve community at a time of dehumanizing dispossession. In this book archaeologist Bonnie J. Clark examines botanical data like seeds, garden-related artifacts, and other material evidence found at Amache, as well as oral histories from survivors and archival data including personal letters and government records, to recount how the prisoners of Amache transformed the harsh military setting of the camp into something resembling a town. She discusses the varieties of gardens found at the site, their place within Japanese and Japanese American horticultural traditions, and innovations brought about by the creative use of limited camp resources.
The gardens were regarded by the incarcerees as a gift to themselves and to each other. And they were also, it turns out, a gift to the future as repositories of generational knowledge where a philosophical stance toward nature was made manifest through innovation and horticultural skill. Framing the gardens and gardeners of Amache within the larger context of the incarceration of Japanese Americans and of recent scholarship on displacement and confinement, Finding Solace in the Soil will be of interest to gardeners, historical archaeologists, landscape archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, and scholars of Japanese American history and horticultural history.