Cherry tree thoughts

(Or maybe I should call it cherrypicking? Sorry. Sorry.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about fairytales again.

Weird as it sounds, I’d blame the weather for it. Spring is a time of transition in my mind. Maybe it is for the collective unconscious of the world — I would assume so, given everything, though I haven’t done enough reading in this category to be certain.

Here in my part of the pacific northwest, it’s been seesawing between jacket-wearing cold (the low 30sF) to light cardigan weather (mid 60sF) and undulating between gray rainy overcast and bright clear sun. In spite this, there are cherry blossoms in bloom all over the place. Around every other corner is a tree that looks innocuous and staid for most of the year, but right now — for this rolling one-month period — they’re covered in delicate little pink to white blossoms. There are places around my dayjob office where the sidewalks are carpeted with tiny petals. The trees outside my condo window, while not blossoming, are covered in tiny persistent pale green leaf buds.

Flowering fruit trees are some of my favorites, just to look at them, though I always find myself thinking about the stories that are connected to them. (All of this is Asian in nature, though I do know the story about the Virgin Mary wishing for cherries while she was pregnant.)

They’re tied to life and death — there’s the most prevalent one about how Japan views them as a symbol of the briefness and fragility of life, and the association with both fallen samurai and kamikaze pilots. Several stories talk about spirits that inhabit cherry trees, whether naturally being the spirit of said tree, or being a ghost that has taken up residence within it. A Japanese story that has reached some degree of urban legend status postulates that the pink color of the cherry blossoms come from blood spilled on its roots. (Some variations go as far as to state that a corpse is buried underneath a particularly red-blooming cherry tree.)

There’s a definite association with femininity and romance. You’d be hard-pressed to find a shoujo manga series that doesn’t utilize cherry blossoms to some degree throughout. Why not? They are lovely even in the middle of an urban landscape. I have friends who go to view the cherry blossoms at the university every year, and when as a student I saw plenty of couples canoodling, not to mention a decent handful of wedding pictures being taken. Not everyone knows the stories or the symbolism, and that’s fine. They’re still beautiful.

But the route I take home from work goes through parts of the International District that stand further removed from the downtown core. It takes me away from the former Amazon building and the big brand grocery store, where the shopfronts are weathered and worn down rather than glossy and bright. More cherry trees grow in this area, planted in street medians, along sidewalks, and in tucked-away little urban parks.

Most of these bloom very dark pink.

Not all of them, of course. There’s still plenty that are a more ethereal pink, that faint saturation point that tips between white and some other color. But compared to the trees I find on my walking breaks, I see a lot more darker pink trees.

Now, I’m not a gardener. My mom is. If one asked, she could talk a lot more about the composition of the soil, or the health or species of the tree. Maybe she’d know why this happens. It could be that they’re a completely different species of cherry tree. All I can tell through the window is the color, and the magnitude of petals on the sidewalk and street. Maybe the soil is different six uphill blocks away from my office. It could be differing amounts of light, or that people are pouring (or placing) different things on the roots of these trees. Honestly, it could just be idiosyncrasies in the tree’s own genetic makeup, the way that most living things aren’t exact copies of their fellows, even under the same growing conditions.

There are dozens of reasons why this could happen. But me, I keep finding myself looking out the window as we slowly roll by these trees and wondering, how many bodies? How deep down? If the color stays true year after year, does the supply need refreshing? Do the people under the trees simply fade away, absorbed into the tree’s life entirely? Or could it be that they maintain their own independence — as much as one can, at least, being a ghost and tied to a specific tree?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.

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