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Maboroshi no Hikari (Bairs Creek Swimming Hole, Manzanar)
Maboroshi no Hikari (Bairs Creek Swimming Hole, Manzanar)
June 02, 2021

Several creeks connect Manzanar to the Sierra Nevadas. Prisoners engineer Bairs Creek, diverting part of it to create this swimming hole. The drought means that Bairs Creek is dry this year.

In the background, a different oasis: the lakes, streams and cool mountain air of Mount Williamson lure prisoners past the barbed wire and guard towers. In the early days of their confinement, prisoners risk being shot, to find temporary relief from the oppressive heat of the Owens Valley floor, and from the physical and psychological prisons that confine them. Eventually, the camp administration loosens restrictions. Sneaking off to the mountain becomes easier.

A few men and boys dub themselves the Manzanar Fishing Club, most go up the mountain to fish, but some prefer to paint and draw. Giichi Matsumura, the father of three boys and one girl, a mess hall cook, paints watercolors on the excursions. In the summer of 1945 he dies in a storm on the mountain at 12,000 feet elevation. It is impossible to bring his body back down to camp, so a makeshift grave is made on the mountain. A lock of hair and some nail clippings are brought back for a Buddhist service and for his widow.

The war ends, the family returns to Santa Monica.

In 2019, hikers rediscover the grave. Authorities contact the Matsumura family, there's a helicopter to retrieve the remains, a DNA test, and Giichi Matsumura's remains come home.

The Owens Valley is on Paiute land.