Monday, February 20, 2012

Words for Snow

We put the dog in the station wagon and headed over the bridge for a walk around the Tidal Basin on this sunny President's Day. It was busy but not crowded as we circled by the new MLK memorial, through the FDR, and past the Jefferson on the newly re-opened promenade. As warm as it has been, the cherry trees showed no sign of abnormally early blossoming, and for that I was glad. I don't know exactly what mankind is doing to the climate, but I worry.

Of the four short documentaries we saw yesterday the one that stayed with me most was called The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossoms. The film opened with horrific footage of a black wave relentlessly pushing inland, scouring away every car, every building, and every person in its way and tumbling them along as it moved toward the camera. The movie continued as a story about the unimaginable loss incurred by the survivors of the March 2011 tsunami until it took a rather skillful turn to the tradition and symbolism surrounding the cherry blossoms.

Who knew that the Japanese have identified ten separate phases of bloom and have a word for each? That the annual return of the blossoms is a treasured symbol of both renewal and endurance? That the countless petals that combine to create such a wondrous spectacle are considered representative of the innumerable and anonymous citizens whose efforts make Japan the nation it is?

In light of such awareness, it can't be a surprise that there are thousands of haikus written about sakura, or the cherry blossom season. Here is one by Issa:

Live in simple faith...
just as this simple cherry
flowers, fades, and falls.

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