A farmer asked Chiao Chou, ’Teacher, I have heard that you have personally seen Nan Ch’uan. Is this true or not?’ Chou replied, ’San Mateo produces big turnips.’

Blue Cliff Record, Case 30

Last week we were stopping wars, a pretty thrilling business. This week we are pulling up big San Mateo turnips, which may not seem all that fascinating. After all, the tastiest part of a steamed bowl of turnips with butter and salt may well be the butter and salt. Yet there is something about the utter simplicity of things, including turnips, that can be deeply satisfying.

These have been hot days this early spring in San Mateo. My vegetable garden is packed with already large root vegetables: beets, carrots and radishes. In the morning these last few days, I have gone into the garden to water the plants and cool them for the coming afternoon heat. The sight and sound of water slapping against the thick clusters of vegetable leaves in warming morning air somehow resonates with me. It reminds me of my father, a gardener himself years ago.


It is the utter simplicity of the big turnips of San Mateo that makes it so. Fortunately, we do not have to go far to find them.