Now on to the Cherry Blossoms

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It’s not an exaggeration to state that cherry blossom season in Japan is a Big Deal.  A VERY BIG DEAL!  The Japanese celebrate their beauty in every conceivable way.  Hundreds of trees are illuminated in temples and shrines in the evenings. Lively picnics are held with friends and family under the flowering trees.  Copious amounts of sake are consumed. Food is adorned with cherry blossoms, special foods and drinks are made, and pink is the color of the day.  Very old trees, hundreds of years old, become revered and famous.  Their branches are supported and they even have their own cherry tree “doctors.”

The first time I viewed the weeping cherry tree in Maruyama Park, I wept.  Its presence was overwhelming.

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Forecast maps put out by the weather service and others are eagerly awaited. They project the dates of the first blooms of sakura in each part of the country.  It’s undeniably the dream of every international tourist to be in Japan for cherry blossom viewing (hanami).  Myself included.  Sites tend to be very crowded, but everyone is in very good spirits and its relatively easy to go off the beaten path.

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My two previous visits to Japan in April missed their target. We were too late.  Unusually warm weather in mid March encouraged the flowers to bloom early. At their peak, a strong wind shattered the flowers. There’s a message there too, Life is fleeting.

This year I’m taking no chances.  I’m arriving a full week earlier than I did for the previous Aprils when I disappointedly arrived at the tail end of the season. Many years ago, when my visits did coincide with the blossoms, the experience was transcendent.  After a visual high like that, it’s a short step to wanting to repeat it again and again.

The first bloom in Kyoto, ascertained by looking at a particular tree each year, showed its color yesterday.  I’ll be arriving in Kyoto in 3 more days. That means, if we’re lucky, we’ll have at least a week of unfolding blossoms across the city, some early, some late, all splendid.20 petals100 petals 5 petals  Factoid:  The number of petals on a cherry blossom range from 5 to over 100.

This year, I’m ready to inhale their delicate fragrance, nibble pink sweets, wear petal pink nail polish and wrap myself in a generous light wool shawl that was dyed with cherry blossoms an absolutely exquisite pink.

The Scent of Lilacs

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The scent of lilacs preceded my husband’s entrance into the kitchen, as he returned from the farmer’s market with two bunches of lilacs in his hand. I immediately buried my nose in their voluptuous flowers. I was flooded with a delight that dated back to childhood, when I’d discovered a large vacant lot that was ringed with old lilac trees.  They were the sentinels of this long forgotten homestead, its home long gone, but it’s blossoms keeping watch and reappearing each spring as a reminder that someone lived here once upon a time and no doubt loved these flowers as much as I did.

During my middle childhood years, their scent drifted to greet me each May, on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, when I’d arrive to pick as large a bunch as I could manage to carry home. I anticipated the pleasure of this day all year. The timing never failed. Tucked  in between the standard lilac trees, were a few trees of the rarer white lilac and several bushes of French lilac that were a deeper raspberry purple with a more intense fragrance.  lilac tree

Their woody stems snapped easily in my hands making them very easy to pick.  It was always a challenge to know when to stop picking and pull away.  I’d decide I had enough, then return to pick yet more.  Just one more piece of candy. Not only was their pale lavender color a favorite of mine, but their deep green heart -shaped leaves set the flowered cones off to perfection.

I always expected someone to appear to chase me away, but no one ever did.  There was added delight in this, making it my own secret stash. It seemed as if I was the only one who knew or cared about their existence.  I easily convinced myself that the lilacs  were waiting for me each year to revel in their beauty.

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I’d somehow manage to get my foraged treasure home and then fill most of my Mother’s antique china and glass vases with water and thirsty lilacs. I’d carefully carry each vase down a long flight of cellar stairs where they’d rest until it was time for me to bring them upstairs to usher in Mother’s Day. My Mother always seemed pleased with my efforts, never questioning where I’d gotten them. The flowers would fill our house with fragrance for a few wonderful days.  Like cherry blossoms, their life is fleeting.

Adding to the lilac overload, each spring into summer my Mother wore a cologne called White Lilac , created in 1932 by Mary Chess.  It was the perfect dusty, romantic, evocative scent that children love to have their mothers wear.  When the time came to sell the house,there was still an old bottle of White Lilac on her chest of drawers that had to be disposed of. That was one of the hardest items for me to throw out, but it was decades past prime time.

white lilac

Lilac perfumes went out of popularity decades ago, so although I searched, I never could find anything that measured up to White Lilac, until about 4 years ago. I was browsing through the perfume counter at Barney’s in LA when a saleswoman asked if she could help me.  Just so she’d leave me alone, I inquired if she had anything with a lilac scent.  She immediately picked up a bottle of French cologne that was directly in front of me called en passage.  It stopped me in my tracks. It was waiting for me.  I’d never spent so much money on a bottle of cologne, but there it was and I had to have it.  I’ve almost emptied it, even though I wear it only in the spring.  The pleasure it brings me is worth every dollar I paid.

If only this blog had a widget for scratch and sniff!

 

 

Rediscovering Spring

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Each year of my life I rediscover Spring.

The insane energy of it.

The intoxicating scent of it.

The seductive beauty of it.

The wonder and exuberance of it.

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Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. Rainer Maria Rilke

Each year, Spring becomes my favorite season for as long as its promise lasts.

Before its flowers fade.

Before its green changes from brilliant to subdued.

Before its birds have found their mates.

Before the scent of orange blossoms vanishes.

Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

For more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

-Mary Oliver

Now, each Spring may be my last, but hasn’t that always been true?   Would we know spring without winter? Can we know life without death?

Dew Evaporates
And all our world is dew…so dear,
So fresh, so fleeting”
Kobayashi Issa

In a few short weeks, I’ll travel to Kyoto again.  If I’m lucky, my trip will be timed with cherry blossom season (sakura); perhaps, the most extravagant celebration of spring on this earth, but one, like life, that is fleeting and unpredictable.

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“Soaring in white clouds, The cherry trees are in full bloom, Every branch bending with loaded blossoms. But the wind is ceaseless as the peak is lofty, And day after day falls the spring rain; The flowers have scattered from the upper sprays. May the blossoms on the lower branches neither fall nor lose their beauty, Till you, who journey, grass for pillow, Come home again !”  Mushimaro, 8th Century