Ballet-slipper pink, wedding-dress white, purest cameo; blossoms are crowning the streets of Vancouver in this, the enchanted season.
In our time, flowers of the cherry, plum and magnolia have never bloomed so profusely, luxuriously, endlessly. Trees of akebono, amanagowa, grandiflora, kiku shidare, pieris japonica, pendula, stellata, taihoku, yoshino: mellifluous names, luscious as their blossoms.
In the fullness of sun, the absence of rain and non-occurrence of wind, fragile petals have lingered on and on for days.
Could there be a better time, thirteen months into a pandemic, for looking up?
A better reminder of patience than observing the tight bud of a magnolia unfolding, leisurely, into a teacup of petals: varicolours of porcelain pink; inside, milky white?
“But I can’t see anymore,” my mom says when I describe the clusters of shell-pink blossoms adorning our street.
You may remember Sakura, a post in which we mentioned Cherry Blossom Epiphany, 3,000 haiku selected, translated & explicated. In this book for springtime, Robin Gill presents Japanese haikus from centuries past, many with various translations. Daily, I have been reading a selection of these haikus to mom, each of us choosing our favourite translation when more than one is offered. Here’s an example from Chapter 1, “Waiting for the Bloom,” in which Robin offers his variations of a poem by tantan (1673-1761) on the Japanese custom of making special trips to see particular cherry trees.
wanting to see them
in the morning, i sleep
with the blossoms
a real blossom trip
leaving at night
to see them in the morning
Mom, unfussed by her fading memory (and asking, almost daily “Do we have cherry trees in Saskatchewan?”), especially liked “fuzzy recollection” by saigyô (1190). She prefers the second translation.
takes a spring mind
but who recalls
their age when first
swept off their feet?
our true love
for flowers flows from
a spring heart:
how old was I when
i first fell for them?
She liked this poem, also by saigyô, in the chapter “Babushka, or Old Dame Cherry,” its philosophy very much hers.
ever forgets about
so wait calmly and
just let life go on
Yesterday, Magellan walked over to the VPL to pick up a book I had on hold called The Sakura Obssession. In it, Hiroshi Saitô, Japan’s ambassador to the United States in the 1930s, is quoted comparing cherry blossoms to roses:
There is earnestness in the rose, but animation in the cherry. The rose holds to life till the very last, while the cherry makes light of death and dances down in the breeze.
The rose with its thorns stands for rights, while the cherry for duty with its unobtrusive colour. The rose is individualistic and self-assertive, the cherry is to be enjoyed in clusters, each flower losing its individuality in the making of the whole.
But the cherry and the rose have one thing in common: beauty, which is a joy forever.
In the chapter “Late Cherry,” four translations were presented for an undated poem by ichiyo. Mom couldn’t decide between these two. Your preference?
the late cherry
would stay a spell longer
in spring’s bed.
not yet ready
to let go of her spring
the late cherry.
The title of today’s blog and its last words come from “The Enchantment Season,” a poetic tribute to the ephemerality of cherry blossoms in The New York Times by a young American woman of Japanese descent named Hanya Yanagihara.
The pleasure of seeing a cherry tree bloom is the sorrow of knowing it will soon be over. To be in the presence of one is to be humbled before nature, and moreover, to be welcoming of that humiliation. A sakura is the human life condensed into the period of a week: a birth, a wild, brief glory, a death. It is to us what we are to the sweep of time—a millisecond of beauty, a memory before we are even through.
The quintessence of the enchanted season, what the Japanese call wabi-sabi, appreciating beauty in nature that is imperfect, impermanent, incomplete.
These are the days for to look for beauty, to hold fast the memory, to be enchanted.
Abe, Naoke. The Sakura Obsession. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. Subtitled “The Incredible Story of the Plant Hunter Who Saved Japan’s Cherry Blossoms,” Naoko tells the story of Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram. From ten wild species more than 400 flowering varieties had been cultivated in Japan over 1,200 years, beginning in the eight century. A philosophical desire for cultural homogeneity led to the horticultural sameness in the twentieth century; seven of every ten specimens of cherry trees in Japan were Somei-yoshino. Because they are clones, the flowers of this tree bloom together and only survive for eight days, or less. Thanks to the reintroduction of ancient species in Japan and around the world by “Cherry” Ingram, Japan (like Vancouver) now has a kaleidoscopic cascade of soft-pink and gossamer-white blossoms that stretch the hanami season to two months. A renaissance of cherry blossoms.
Gill, Robin D. Cherry Blossom Epiphany. USA: Paraverse Press, 2007. The Poetry and Philosophy of a Flowering Tree, a Theme in Praise of Olde Haiku, with Many More Poems and Fine Elaboration—well-fingered are the pages of this 720-page volume during the enchantment season.
Hanya Yanagihara. “The Enchantment Season.” The NYT Style Magazine. November 17, 2019.
For more info on Vancouver’s Cherry Blossom Festival, connect here. And to see the video “In Full Bloom,” drone shots of Vancouver in blossom season, click here.
Gorgeous, thanks yet again! The only blossoms here near Saskatoon that I notice are crocus and dandelion as of earlier in April. Dandelions get a bad rap, I love the bright faces.
We will soon have lilac, plum, pear and many other native plant blossoms here. The grass flowers are not as noticeable, but very important. The North American phenology networks are reporting early blossoming of lilac, for example, by weeks compared with decades ago. The Japanese are also reporting much earlier blossoming times, for example.
Today in Steveston, the first lilacs, still tightly budded but a few mauve florets unfolding. Dandelions! So agree with your attitude and this year they seem brighter than ever, their yellow heads of “hair” so thick.
Spring indeed is the time for renewal, what better way to showcase the arrival of spring than exhilarating photos of “Mother Natures”offerings.
So nice to see the returning birds and waterfowl, both the colors and sounds to awaken ones senses from a winter of almost colourless solitude.
Next we await arrival of the new growth from the animal kingdom along with the awakening of those that slept the winter away.
Cheers for spring👍👍👍👍👍
Today, the grizzly bears on Grouse Mountain, Grinder and Coola, emerged form hibernation: do you have a sixth sense or what?
Such lovely photos! And texts. How lucky you are to have a cherry blossom season.
TY. Yes we are lucky. Vancouver was even mentioned in the book The Sakura Obsession.
Beautiful pictures! A real tribute to spring. Your post brought back memories of the Japanese blossom parties you used to host in Calgary – such good times!
How great that you reminded us of our June blossom parties for 60 people in Calgary in our Japanese-style backyard—in writing this, both of us had completely forgotten about them!
Love the blossoms and the pink snow that follows the weeks of blooms. So lucky to live here and get to enjoy the beauty…
how still it is
the sound of petals
sifting down together
Absolutely gorgeous! You never cease to amaze us each Sunday morning. Thank you for 300 blogs and your love of travel shared with family, friends and strangers.
Lovely to hear from you Carolyn. This is our 296th blog so we do need your creative suggestions for the 300th on May 23…