Sunday, September 30, 2012

among the blossom

SEPTEMBER has heralded the beginning of spring. Time to throw off the mantle of gloomy winter hibernation and rouse oneself into the outdoors. All around the city there has begun a ripening, a springtime engorgement. Along the city streets, in local gardens, in public parks, on narrow traffic islands, trees are brightening with white and pink and lemon blossom. We are in the clutch of a seasonal change, which has crept up rather suddenly. I look up one morning and the trees along our street that have been lean and bare for so many months have fattened and beautified, as if overnight, dressing themselves in a floral outfit.
                                                WE don’t particularly celebrate this bursting of nature nor the power of seasonal transition in Australia, but with the volatility of a climate swinging from the desiccation of El Nino to the fecundity of La Nina recently, I think perhaps we should. The natural world has been severely affected these last few years through both drought and flood. With our shifting climate, we can no longer take such seasonal changes and vitality for granted. We should be relieved that our trees are able to bloom this year. In the summer of 2009, which brought the horror of Black Saturday, leaves burnt on their branches beneath the harsh sun and fell dead to the ground in a kind of apocalyptic pre-autumn. The crisp and dried out detritus we scuffed at our feet was not the kind to revel at. Trees and plants were so severely affected that the following springtime was a muted affair. A kind of rehabilitation of the wounded. This year perhaps we should stand beneath those trees and stare in wonderment and appreciation. Enjoy the beauty while we can.

                  JAPANESE cultural and artistic traditions seem to have always understood the importance of celebrating the transitions into spring and autumn, the images of which hold a prominent and deeply rooted place within the national consciousness. I have a miniature replica of the famed folding screen titled Kanpuzu Byobu, which I purchased in the Tokyo National Museum gift shop after being captivated by the real thing. Created in the 16th century during the Momoyama Period by Kano Hideyoshi, it depicts in stunning gold and red tones clusters of autumn-leaf devotees viewing the maple trees. The blooming of the cherry blossoms in March and April and the turning of the maples into a rouge landscape around October have manifested for hundreds of years in the storytelling of design. The iconography of the maple and cherry tree in bloom is found in pottery, hanging scrolls, washi, paintings, folding screens, kimono and obi design, and continues to appear today. 

During the various sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival) celebrations, locals and visitors to Japan alike are drawn to the beauty of this natural transition, this cyclical metamorphosis. In Kyoto, Hanami is a time of festivity to celebrate the cherry blossoms. The word means literally ‘flower viewing’. Crowds flock as thick as the blossom on the trees themselves to picnic and party beneath them. To view the blossoms and to mark the occasion of seasonal wonder.

                  ALTHOUGH the last fingers of winter still clutch at us during early spring in Melbourne, the warmth of the sun will continue to build and soon it will win out. The blossoms will fade with the growing heat. Why not lie back in the green grass and look up at the trees while they last.