Loveliest Of Trees, The Cherry Now

And suddenly, just like that, it is spring!  

Spring Break is an excellent tradition and this past week I celebrated it with my my mother and my sister's family here in Seattle.  We visited the butterfly house at the Pacific Science Center, popped in to say hello to all the animals at the zoo, took in the art at the Frye Museum, lunched at Pike Place Market, walked the docks at the Fisherman's' Terminal, played cribbage, and laughed and chatted during many happy hours in the kitchen while cooking, eating, clearing up and soon after cooking again.  I don't get to see my far-dispersed family nearly often enough, so every day I do get to spend with them I want to enjoy and savor each hour.

After they departed this morning to drive home to Idaho, Christian, Xavier and I took a walk down to the University of Washington Quad to see the 80-year-old cherry trees in their full pale pink glory.  The sun was warm and many families were making a day of it -- lunching on blankets, taking photographs and enjoying the outing.  In Japan, the tradition of cherry blossom viewing goes back many centuries and "hanami" is the word for picnicking under the flowering trees, known as sakura or ume in Japanese.  The fragile cherry blossoms simultaneously evoke the joy of springtime and the fleeting nature of beauty.  I thought of all the haikus written by Basho, Issa and other masters of the form.  Here are a few of my favorites from Basho (translated by Sam Hamill in his book Narrow Road to the Interior).

Among blossoming 
peach trees everywhere,
the first cherry blooms

All hundred thousand
homes in Kyoto empty--
cherry blossom time

Grass for a pillow,
the traveler knows best how
to see cherry blossoms

From all these trees--
in salads, soups, everywhere--
cherry blossoms fall

Blossoming cherries--
all week I've watched the crane
down from the mountain

Such a hangover!
Nothing to worry about,
with cherry blossoms

Between our two lives
there is also the life of 
the cherry blossom

Nesting white storks--
glimpsed through the leaves of
a blossoming cherry

Things beyond number,
all somehow called to mind by
blossoming cherries

The old cherry tree's
final blossoms are her last
cherished memory

Another timely poem also touches on making the most of the moment by wandering among the cherry trees, this time by the Englishman A.E. Housman.  Sometimes, amazingly, we need a reminder to "never postpone joy," as Joseph Campbell says.

Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow. 

~ A.E. Housman

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