Fumie's Sphere

Insights into the worlds of winemaking and nature

Against All Odds: A Message at the Beginning of My 25th Year April 2, 2013

Filed under: At The Winery — Thorpe Vineyard @ 12:07 pm

Early Days

girl-scientist1When I was graduating from Elementary School, all the kids in the class were instructed to write down what they wanted to be in the future for the year book.  Many girls wrote down “Bride,” which meant that they wanted to be a good housewife and mother.  About 40 years ago in Japan it was a very appropriate wish.  Boys usually liked to be a policeman or firefighter.  It was also a respectable thought that they wanted to help keep the community safe and sound.

I wrote down “Scientist.”  I was fascinated by the accomplishment Marie Curie had made in the field of science during the last two years in elementary school.  She was my idol then, and still is.  However, I don’t really know what the rest of the class thought about my answer.  I was an odd bird hanging around the little school library reading about the scientists and explorers who made great discoveries in the world.


During the years in Junior High and High Schools my scientific curiosity switched from chemistry to earth science.  I acquired a small secondhand telescope and mastered how to swing it around under the light-polluted night sky of Tokyo.  Eventually my main interests shifted from astronomy to meteorology as I had to know about the weather to observe the stars.  It was probably as simple as that.

It was also the time period when another part of me developed the sincere appreciation of poetry and classical music.  I started to get associated with many school mates who I otherwise wouldn’t have even gotten to know.  Perhaps the funniest thing was that I could never belong to either one of the two groups alone.  I was again an odd bird that flew around the sciences and the arts, never really settling with one.

meteorology-icons-thumb24467101So when we, the High School kids, had to decide what to major in college, I couldn’t figure out what would be the best for me.  It was one of the, if not “the,” most important decisions we all faced in our lives about 30 years ago in Japan.  There was no “undeclared” major if we wanted to go to a college.  We MUST have an intended field of study to actually decide which college to attend.  Then we spent most of our school years studying to take the entrance examinations to colleges and universities hoping that we would be successful to be admitted to one of them at least.  There was hardly a second chance, and perhaps it was also true to our lives in general.

As this can be easily imagined, I couldn’t choose which way to go for a long time.  But eventually I picked meteorology merely to find that there was just one outrageously competitive college that exclusively taught it in Japan in those days.  Moreover, the college was only open to boys.  I was disappointed.  I turned my attention to go to the US.  While I stayed in Japan for another two years or so primarily studying English, this Meteorology College finally opened its door to girls.  But by then I was past their age limit so I was ineligible to take their test.

Oswego, New York

I came to the State University of New York at Oswego in September 1983.  Many people asked me why SUNY_Oswego_logoOswego despite the fact that there are so many colleges in the US which teach meteorology.  I always answered, “I expected to see a lot of interesting atmospheric phenomena up on the shore of Lake Ontario.”  And this Lake has kept up to my expectations for all these years.  Additionally I wanted to live in the country since I grew up and lived in one of the biggest cities in the world for over twenty years.  Cities are fun, but I always dreamed about the starry night right outside the window.  One quiet night I went grocery shopping.  I walked across the Oswego River and saw the stars reflecting on the calm water from the bridge.

When I started my freshman year, I was just about the age of regular seniors.  There was a friendly jargon at Oswego called “non-trads,” a shortened form of “non-traditional students.”  A traditional student starts his/her college right after high school and graduates in 4 years.  If anyone who didn’t quite fit into this scheme, they were called “non-trads.”  Incidentally, I got married during the third year which made me even more “non-trad” as well.  Then I wound up getting into the wine business another two years later — now I was older, married and had a business besides being a college kid.  I must have been an extraordinary “non-trad” in those days’ standards.

There were four girls besides me out of perhaps 40 or so students in the Meteorology Program when I started.  And there were no other foreign students, either.  I took the two-semester music course for my humanity distribution one year that later on was found out to be a fairly sophisticated musicology lecture.  The very first day the professor asked the class if any of us was a “hard science” major.  I didn’t understand what “hard science” meant so didn’t raise my hand.  No one else did.  Later on she told me that meteorology was a “hard science.”  Well, I learned a new term to describe me.  But I enjoyed the demanding course that was a mixture of the intensive readings of the Western history and appreciating the good classical music.   Overall it took me nine years to get the degree as I was part-time most of those years.


Thorpe Vineyard, the Little Winery on the Great Lake

It was the summer of 1988.  The small winery called Straubing Vineyard in the Town of Huron in Wayne County was purchased by my family purely by chance.  I was the only one who opposed, but my vote was totally disregarded by the rest.  So Straubing Vineyard became Thorpe Vineyard.  Wayne County has always been known for its apple and other tree fruits production, but there weren’t any other commercial wineries or vineyards to my knowledge then.  When I felt the necessity to discuss the vineyard and grape management as well as wine and winemaking, I learned to ride down to the Finger Lakes.  One time I was asked which Lake I was from.  I answered “Lake Ontario.”  That’s correct; it’s not a Finger Lake.  I still remember the surprised look I got.


Thorpe Vineyard

A few years ago my friend and I were supposed to meet at the Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva to attend a winemakers’ seminar.  As he was not familiar with the location, I tried to give him the instructions where to find me.  He chuckled and said, “You know, you are easy to spot around here!”  I know I’m a female Asian among mostly Caucasian male in the wine and grape industry in upstate New York. The situation is still pretty much the same as my college days when I was often the only girl among 10 to 20 students in the classroom.

Invitation: Now and Beyond

When I look back, I’ve lived most of my life against so-called stereotyped ideas regardless where I am.Fumie Thorpe in the Lake Store The environments were not always accommodating.  I have, however, noticed the slow but sure changes taking place in the last decade or so, and they have given me some optimism.

I used to feel awkward when I heard the term “diversity.”  I couldn’t figure out the focal point of the word.  However, I’m now starting to see that it could deliver the unity to the whole picture.  It is like the entire world coming together by accepting all the diversity inside.

So here I am, the odd bird putting a few different components under the same roof again this year.  It was the Sunset Tasting last year; as I wanted to share the gift of the glorious sunset over the Lake while the visitors enjoyed the wine that came from my vineyards.  Fortunately many people joined the evenings, and we saw the green flash once.  The success encouraged me to plan the Starry Starry Night four times this summer.  I will talk about the Mythology of both West and East while showing how to find the constellations.  We’ll get out beneath the shining stars to realize what our Planet has to offer, and to learn how to embrace our Universe that holds us within.


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