Click on photographs to enlarge
Like other residents of northern Virginia, I am wondering what happened to the winter, I like the winter but I love the fall. My friends and family consider me strange because I do not like summer. Even though the beaches are filled with beautiful women, I avoid them because I can’t stand the heat. This is probably because I am a polar bear stuck in a human’s body.
Nonetheless, the seasons come and go as God sees fit. I’ve always thought the personification of nature as a loving, nurturing mother humorous. Unlike my mother, Mother Nature doesn’t realize how much I despise the heat. Oh well, like the other women in my life, there is no way I am telling this one how to do her job.
Spring is here, and I have been taking lots of pictures. Of course, after I post these spring-related pictures I will need to take some pictures of motorcycles in order to get my Man Card back. Spring alters my mood — in a good way. However, I am sorry to say, Lord Tennyson, that my thoughts don’t turn to love — I am always in love. Let me clarify: In his poem “Locksley Hall,” he wrote, “[I]n the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
And then there is Robert Frost’s poem, “A Prayer in Spring”:
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.
Since I live in northern Virginia, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is a short metro-transit ride away. Since this is the 100th anniversary, I want to provide a brief history and the cultural significance of the cherry blossoms in Japan. I hope that my friend Hiromi and her husband will inform me of any historical or cultural inaccuracies.
In 1912, Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo gave a gift of 3,000 cherry trees to our nation’s capitol (Washington, D.C.). In March of 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.1
In Western culture, the cherry blossom conjures visions of Japan. In the 2003 movie The Last Samurai, Hollywood harnesses the power of this Western cliché when Samurai Katsumoto says to Tom Cruise’s character, “The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.” Long before Tom Cruise graced us with his presence (insert sarcasm), the Japanese were admiring cherry blossoms. In Buddhist tradition, the breathtaking but brief beauty of the blossoms symbolizes the transient nature of life.2
The practice of hanami (or yozakura) fills parks with thousands of people celebrating under the flowering trees. When I was living in Japan in the early 1990s, I had the privilege of attending the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival. I think Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa captures the communal spirit of hanami in his haiku:
In the city fields
strangers are like friends
Another haiku of his reminds us to live a simple life:
Live in simple faith…
Just as this simple cherry,
Flower, fades and falls.
The blossoms will be in peak bloom this week, and I plan to take Friday off work. In the last two weeks, I have already taken many photographs. Here are some of them:
1. History of the Cherry Blossom Trees and Festival, National Cherry Blossom Festival’s website.
2. Cherry Blossoms in Japanese Art and Culture, an essay by Stephanie Cargile.