Hanami … sort of …

“In winter say the snow-bound, she shall come with the spring…”
-Kahlil Gibran

“…Why do the blossoms scatter
with such uneasy hearts?”
-Ki no Tomonori

“One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs…”
-Wallace Stevens

I’ve blogged previously about the cherry blossoms around Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin. Hanami is definitely in my Top 5 Annual Things I Look Forward To, and it’s become something of a clock for me, except that it ticks in deep time rather than by the minute. There are lots of cherry trees in Baltimore (where I now live), to be sure. I live a few blocks away from at least two small groves that I know of. I haven’t seen any as sublime or spectacular as the Tidal Basin, though.

Now that I live in Baltimore, about an hour’s train ride away, it’s more of a trip for me to go see there each year—and I usually make the effort get there. This year, though, it may not be worth the trip.

Unfortunately, this year, they started to blossom a bit early, and a seasonal frost has come along this week: snow, sleet, freezing, and basically all those wintry things that harm delicate plant parts, all literally days before the projected Peak Bloom. This year the blossom-viewing will probably not be so spectacular.

The experts say it’s not a total disaster yet, but a lot can still happen between now and the end of frost danger. I’m very sad about the whole thing. Earth is fragile systems, and this is one of my favorites.

Pictured, above & below: cherry blossoms in southwest Baltimore thawing after a mild blizzard.

Breakfast on the Last Day

The world I live in has been ending since I was a toddler. Between religious eschatology, environmentalism, and domestic instability, I developed a very close relationship with “the end.”

As a child I had this imaginative vision (among others, of course) of myself as an old man hoeing a row in some field. Gabriel and Heimdall blew their horns somewhere, and between God, Zeus, silver spaceships, and the melting icecaps, it was all going to end tomorrow. It was all over the news, but since I was busy, I didn’t hear about it.

Some cherubic entity (an angel or a plucky child, I’m a little fuzzy) came to inform me and was perplexed when I shrugged and continued hoeing. “Just because the world is ending tomorrow,” I said, “is no damn reason for me or anyone to stop doing what I need to be doing. People still have to eat dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow.”

I like to think I’ve become less of a crotchety old man since then. As an adult, of course, I’ve struggled with despair and bitterness, and I’ve realized many are just ready to give up and drop out. It hurts but I can’t really fault anyone for that. Everything in the past, all the past truths and structures that make those of us alive today who we are, is washing away in fits and floods, and it’s really hard to live through that and not feel bittersweet about the loss of what we were taught was good and perennial. That’s hard to watch, and I can’t fault someone for closing their eyes and withdrawing.

I still feel an immense mono no aware (sensitivity to transience) and a tremendous uncertainty about what happens next. When I see the echoes and remnants of our shared human past, I long to inhabit the social institutions and walk the paths that once seemed so permanent, even as I know they are not for me, nor perhaps anyone in the future. I still feel painfully aware that everything and everyone I care about could come to an abrupt end.

And so in that uncertainty all I can think to do is keep my eyes open and wash the dishes since people will probably want dinner later.