That hussy. The brash magnolia overdressed from head to toe. Flowers on steroids. Mocking the flowerless sakura at High Park’s sakura grove. A wasteland where by now we should be able to anticipate an ocean, an universe in constellations of sakura. That demure poetic blessing from the sky which should be evident by now in the form of pink buds all over the approximately 2,000 trees that reside there.
Toronto’s annual Hanami at High Park where non-Japanese people turn up in kimonos with wine or sake in tea flasks to picnic under magic trees to be blessed,may or may not happen. Usually a certainty but this year only a dream riven with torment. The numerous false springs that were sprung on the trees this year seem to have left the sakura throwing up their hands to say — enough! We are not flowering but will give you leaves instead.
Thus delaying or possibly cutting back greatly the numbers of the large community of sakura devotees who congregate at High Park’s sakura grove making its annual pilgrimage. Only those who attend know its joy, its sweet pleasure where all cares are left behind in a bundle somewhere between home and long before arriving near the grove at High Park. A place where everyone is happy. Smiling. Light of heart. A kind of paradise which seems unreal.
A recent Toronto publication sacrilegiously referred to High Park’s Hanami tradition as “a gong show” which is entirely out of line. It was an ignorant insult to the participants as well as to the blossoms and their history. Each year there are many who turn up for a few hours for a very special kind of happiness. It is there for the taking like free cake on a counter. Delighted little children, lovers, old women in saris, and yes as I said, a few in kimonos and parasols. But not this year unless there is a sweet surprise waiting for us.
When I went to check on Friday evening instead of blooms the trees had mostly sprouted leaves. There were only about ten flowers and that only on one tree. One of the older trees, a favourite. Except for that there were none to be found and the pink buds which are the harbingers of sakura were nowhere to be seen except for about three or four with the blossoms which I was fortunate to find. There were white buds on a younger tree but likely they are fooling us, they will be popping out as leaves. Not sakura.
One of the two clusters of flowers that were spotted at High Park on May 6, 2016.
And the only buds that could be found on May 6, 2016.
The contrast of an empty sakura grove and the magnolia in full bloom was hard to bear. I turned my back to the imposing and obvious magnolia tree. The delicate and demure sakura, that sweet wind from heaven, that joy-giver was nowhere to be seen. May be they still might bloom in a day or two. May be not. I will return in a few days in search of blooms. And those white buds will prove they are really blooms or spread more heartbreak sprouting greenery leaving sakura devotees distraught.
I made my way home with the few blooms I saw locked away in my heart. Not the usual millions of blossoms but a number that could be counted on my two hands. I wasn’t distraught indeed I was happy to have seen just those few in perfect bloom. It is quite possible that these were the first and the last for the year give or take a few more blossoms scattered here and there and over the last few days and the days to come.
I arrived home tired and in darkness feeling rather strange. And when I opened the door there I saw a roomful of an entire ocean of sakura. My heart and my mind compensating for something that might not be, reliving the Hanami of previous years.
I brought sakura home with me to stay here where they can never leave and where they will never fade. Until I forget them after a few days and move on to some other flower or some other sweetness or loss or horror. To remembering that in the end flowers tell you about the transience of life and living things. Why it is never wise to cling to things but to always be ready to let go. And then you just might get rewarded with an apartment full of sakrua that only you can see making your heart as light as a delicate flower petal.
Sakura in bloom at High Park last year. May 9, 2015 a few days after its prime. You will see that there are hardly any leaves.
On May 6, 2016 the trees had no flowers but leaves. And only about ten or so flowers were seen on one tree.
Renuka Mendis, Toronto, May 6, 2016.