Hanami, and Just After

After the clamor and crowd of hanami (cherry blossom viewing) has dissipated and people have eased back into their spring routines, everything changes under the blossoms, for the better.

 

It’s not that I don’t like hanami parties. I do. Sitting under a blazing white tree with good friends, not to mention thousands of others with their knee-to-knee circles of friends, is a kick. What’s not to like about workaday hassles set aside, worries, deadlines and obligations ignored, and sitting, eating, drinking, talking and looking around? Just resting your carcass on the solid earth for a couple hours resets your priorities, the mind-boggle of sharp-white, light-pink, dark-pink fluttering overhead. When a blossom falls in your cup, you just drink it down.

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But I still like it better when the party’s over, after the drinking, clinking, hollering intensity of mass hanami partying is silenced, the trash is carted off, and you are alone with the cherry blossoms, looking up at them by yourself. Then, they evoke other feelings altogether.

 

The colors of the trees become subtler, and more varied, once the blare of white-pink is gone. On many trees, the fading pink and red mixes with the emerging green, creating, from a distance, a psychedelic glimmer. The red shifts to green shifts to red as the breeze jiggles the leaves. The red of some late-blooming sakura catches the light so strongly it smolders like neon.

 

The petals hang around, too. If the weather has been dry, the blossoms, light as cotton, blow into wind-catches, piling up in a corner, or sticking on the wet of a puddle. In front of my house, where I park my bike, the blossoms trapped by the wind create a royal carpet for a couple weeks, a good send-off every morning.

 

Then, my favorite part is when the little red things come. The sepals that enclose and protect the flower are dark, full red. They support the blossoms, holding them in place and prodding them to bloom. After the blossoms fall, these secondary red sepals tumble down in profusion. Their little red after-blossoms float down to layer a thick carpet of red on top of the quickly dissolving white.

 

The few days where the wind blows strong, the blossoms dance through the air. But later on, when gusts of wind still project a few late-falling blossoms, they become more rare and more precious. The early blossoms are for turning outward in socializing, but the later ones become a reminder of your inner world, and how beauty comes to you on unexpected gusts, if you can just pay attention.

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Weeks after the peak of blossoming, I see smaller, spread-out groups of people hunkering down under the late blossoms for quieter parties. Groups of housewives with their children, nursery school teachers with kids in matching hats, and retirees in hiking costumes take over from the brash, go-to-it parties of the students and office workers.

 

I wonder if these groups love these late-blossoming trees the best, like I do. I guess they do, since the office workers are already tucked back into their cubicles, spreadsheets and emails, while we late-blossom-lovers are still outside digging the show.

 

One day last week, at sunset, I watched one group, all housewives with small kids and a circle of mama-chari (mother’s chariot) bikes. It was at dusk and they chatted amiably as they put away the plastic containers of food, recapped the pet bottles and folded up the tarp. They looked pretty pleased with themselves to have snuck in one last hanami party. Around them, all was green, except for this one last tree still freeing thick pink petals onto the ground.

 

And as they got everything packed to go and were about to ride away, the sun dipped under the horizon, and the rays, catching some fluke of atmosphere and cloud formation, turned the sky pink. It was too pink to ignore. They stopped and waahh-ed and looked around, as did I, amazed. They started fumbling to snap a cellphone photo with one hand, keeping the other on their kids plopped in their child seats.

 

All of us stopped and looked, the entire park bathed in pink, glowing pink, the earth seemingly holding the moment for us, until the color spectrum then slipped back to the typical orange-yellow-red of an average summer sunset, and it felt like the hanami season was, at last, over, sadly, expectedly, until next year.

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