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East Wind Melts the Ice

A Memoir through the Seasons

Liza Dalby (Author)

Available in North America

Paperback, 352 pages
ISBN: 9780520259911
February 2009
Writing in luminous prose, Liza Dalby, acclaimed author of Geisha and The Tale of Murasaki, brings us this elegant and unique year’s journal— a brilliant mosaic that is at once a candid memoir, a gardener’s diary, and an enlightening excursion through cultures east and west. Structured according to the seasonal units of an ancient Chinese almanac, East Wind Melts the Ice is made up of 72 short chapters that can be read straight through or dipped into at random. In the essays, Dalby transports us from her Berkeley garden to the streets of Kyoto, to Imperial China, to the sea cliffs of Northern California, and to points beyond. Throughout these journeys, Dalby weaves her memories of living in Japan and becoming the first and only non-Japanese geisha, her observations on the recurring phenomena of the natural world, and meditations on the cultural aesthetics of Japan, China, and California. She illuminates everyday life as well, in stories of keeping a pet butterfly, roasting rice cakes with her children, watching whales, and pampering worms to make compost. In the manner of the Japanese personal poetic essay, this vibrant work comprises 72 windows on a life lived between cultures, and the result is a wonderfully engaging read.
maps of time

1 . east wind melts the ice
february 5 through 9

2 . dormant creatures start to twitch
february 10 through 14

3 . fish swim upstream, breaking the ice
february 15 through 19

4 . river otters sacrifice fish
february 20 through 24

5 . wild geese head north
february 25 through 28

6 . grasses and trees sprout
march 1 through 5

7 . peach blossoms open
march 6 through 10

8 . golden orioles sing
march 11 through 15

9 . hawks become doves
march 16 through 21

10 . swallows return
march 22 through 26

11 . thunder sings
march 27 through 31

12 . first lightning
april 1 through 5

13 . paulownia blooms
april 6 through 10

14 . moles become quails
april 11 through 15

15 . rainbows appear
april 16 through 21

16 . floating weeds appear
april 22 through 26

17 . pigeons flap their wings
april 27 through may 1

18 . the hoopoe alights in the mulberry
may 2 through 6


19 . little frogs peep
may 7 through 11

20 . worms come forth
may 12 through 16

21 . cucurbit flourishes
may 17 through 21

22 . bitter herb grows tall
may 22 through 26

23 . waving grasses wither
may 27 through 31

24 . grain ripens
june 1 through 5

25 . mantids hatch
june 6 through 10

26 . the shrike begins to shriek
june 11 through 15

27 . the mockingbird loses its voice
june 16 through 20

28 . deer break antlers
june 21 through 25

29 . cicadas sing
june 26 through 30

30 . the crowdipper plant flourishes
july 1 through 5


31 . hot winds arrive
july 6 through 10

32 . crickets come into the walls
july 11 through 15

33 . the hawk studies and learns
july 16 through 20

34 . rotted weeds turn into fireflies
july 21 through 25

35 . earth is steaming wet
july 26 through 30

36 . great rains sweep through
july 31 through august 5


37 . cool wind arrives
august 6 through 10

38 . white dew descends
august 11 through 15

39 . the cold cicada chirps
august 16 through 20

40 . the raptor sacrifices birds
august 21 through 25

41 . heaven and earth turn strict
august 26 through 30

42 . rice ripens
august 31 through september 4

43 . wild geese come
september 5 through 9

44 . swallows leave
september 10 through 14

45 . flocks of birds gather grain
september 15 through 20

46 . thunder pipes down
september 21 through 25

47 . beetles wall up their burrows
september 26 through 30

48 . waters dry up
october 1 through 5

49 . wild geese come as guests
october 6 through 10

50 . sparrows enter the water and turn into clams
october 11 through 15

51 . chrysanthemums are tinged yellow
october 16 through 21

52 . the wolf sacrifices the beasts
october 22 through 26

53 . leaves turn yellow and fall
october 27 through 31

54 . insects tuck themselves away
november 1 through 5

55 . water begins to freeze
november 6 through 10

56 . earth begins to freeze
november 11 through 15

57 . pheasants enter the water and
turn into monster clams
november 16 through 20

58 . rainbows hide
november 21 through 25

59 . heaven’s essence rises; earth’s essence sinks
november 26 through 30

60 . walled up and closed, winter takes hold
december 1 through 5

61 . the copper pheasant is silent
december 6 through 10

62 . the tiger begins to roam
december 11 through 15

63 . garlic chives sprout
december 16 through 20

64 . earthworms twist
december 21 through 25

65 . elk break antlers
december 26 through 30

66 . springwaters move
december 31 through january 4

67 . wild geese return to their northern home
january 5 through 9

68 . magpies nest
january 10 through 14

69 . the pheasant cock calls its mate
january 15 through 19

70 . pheasant hens brood
january 20 through 24

71 . the vulture flies stern and swift
january 25 through 29

72 . streams and marshes are frozen solid
january 30 through february 4

seventy-two periods of the year
in china, japan, and northern california
Liza Dalby is an anthropologist specializing in Japanese culture. She was recently a consultant for Rob Marshall's film Memoirs of a Geisha.
“With the keen eye of a naturalist and fluent language of a poet, Dalby demonstrates throughout her fascinating work how ‘Japan offers a way to appreciate fleeting seasonalities that we do not articulate nearly so poetically in the West.’ Her work, though, proves a remarkable exception to this generalization. Through it, she inspires her readers to be more aware of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of their natural environments.”—Southeast Review Of Asian Stds
“Part garden journal and part memoir, this book presents an intriguing new perspective-for Westerners at least-on the minute but inexorable seasonal changes happening every day.”—American Gardener
“Dalby seamlessly couples an artist’s adroit sensitivity with an anthropologist’s keen perception to create a singularly intimate yet universally accessible portrait of the natural world. “—Booklist
“Dalby meditates on the changes under way in her garden, tells stories from her years in the field and contemplates etymologies and linguistic puzzles. . . . The structure of the almanac supports the eclecticism of Dalby’s interests. She triangulates among the cultures and weathers of Berkeley, China and Japan, and presents a wealth of information. . . . Throughout, she demonstrates a principle well known to literary scavengers: one culture’s givens and clichés are another’s poetry.”—New York Times Book Review
“A delightful and fascinating combination of personal memoir and travelogue, insights into Japanese culture and literature, and descriptions of gardening, farming, and the natural world. . . .A beautiful volume.”—The Bloomsbury Review
"To read East Wind Melts the Ice is to slip into a time stream that is both as long and sinuous as history and as ephemeral as the present moment. Drawing inspiration from the thousand year old history of Japanese poetic diaries, and form from the ancient Chinese almanac that she uses to contain her musings, Liza Dalby has accomplished the seemingly impossible task of translating the sensibility of the Heian Court of 11th century Japan into the context of contemporary America. The result is a stunning chronicle of the beauty of time passing and an evocation of the transient and whimsical nature of all things."—Ruth Ozeki, author of My Year of Meats and All Over Creation

"I imagine Liza Dalby writing this book in an ancient library, a lion sleeping at her side, as in the paintings of Saint Jerome. As she collects and layers arcane and fascinating pieces of knowledge, she builds her own very personal almanac packed with the wonder of loving two cultures, the intense inner life of each season, and boundless curiosity of the scholar/child. This is a book to dip in and out of throughout the year."—Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun

"Liza Dalby's memoir of the seasons is as fresh and captivating as springtime. A very special book."—Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma

"This beautiful book awakens the senses. A journal, an almanac of the seasons, and a series of reflections on ancient Eastern Chinese and Japanese cultures, here you will find subtle observations of rain and heat, tangerines, mulberries and paulownia trees, crickets and doves forming a rich tapestry as they are woven with evocative fragments of history—stories of geishas, of salesmen who sold bulk fireflies, of the wood that was used for kimono chests, of emptiness in the tea ceremony. Like a lush garden, this book is meant to savor."—Susan Griffin, author of The Book of the Courtesans

Finalist for the 2008 Kiriyama Prize, Pacific Rim Voices

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