Yi JieFang – TIME




Almond orchards once bloomed in Kulun, a parched county in China’s northern Inner Mongolia region. Villagers remember the orchards as lush and white, with petals that fell like snowflakes. When Yi Jiefang first visited Kulun in 2001, she was captivated by the thought of the now absent groves. The image reminded her of springtime in Japan, where she had lived for decades and raised her son. After he died in a motorcycle accident the year before, at the age of just 22, Yi left Tokyo and returned to China, bereft. She wanted to do something to honor the young environmentalist’s memory. He loved trees, so she decided to plant.


At the time Kulun County was under siege, its small farms swamped by waves of sand from the Gobi Desert. The sand swallowed land and seeped into the threadbare hotel room Yi had turned into a temporary base. Too late for orchards, the farmers told her—the earth was too far gone. “It’s like a body,” says Yi, now 65. “You can’t bring it back to life.”

Browse more images from this story