BY DIANE CHIANG

A single petal whirls in mid-air, a final hurrah before the fall. Click, click, click. Snap, snap, snap. The quick shutter release captures a blossom, then another. Cameras drawn, tripods steadied, photographers shoot. Another petal falls and I catch it before it hits the ground.

In Japan, locals and tourists travel every year to view cherry blossoms. Flower watching, or “hanami”, lasts for two consecutive weeks in different parts of the country from March to May. Flower watching celebrates the end of short days and winter blues.

Across the ocean thousands of miles away, throngs of tourists and locals travel to the University of Washington and the shores of Lake Washington in Seattle to appreciate the beauty of blossoms from bud to fall. For the third year in a row, I make the trek to watch the rise and fall of flowers and life itself.

In 1976, Japan gifted a thousand cherry trees to Seattle as a gesture of goodwill. In the late 2010s, the University of Washington received another 18 trees, and the school courtyard remains a popular site for wedding photography. The flowers even have their own watch guard who announces their arrival on Twitter and Facebook.

Standing under the shade, I study both people and flowers. Friends, families, and lovers admire the mosaic of flowers overhead. Squeals of delight fill the air. The dappled light cuts through the cherry trees and speckles its flowers. The dense crowd underneath ebbs and flows, a metamorphic glob contained only by the flowers overhead.

I cut past the crowd to find a quiet corner under a tree. With so much activity, do we watch the trees, or do they watch us?

Cherry blossoms bud, bloom, fall within 14 days. Clusters of green buds sprout from twigs. As the bud grows in size, the tips flush pink and then a deep magenta.

Each blossom chooses when to open. The temperature must be right: early morning frost harms the flowers and warm weather shortens the bloom. When it finally opens, the blossom is a shade of brilliant white.

A child is sitting on his father’s shoulders, dazzled by the flowers. Joy spreads across his rosy face. A few feet away, a young girl in lipstick red kimono poses for photos. Bystanders can’t help but steal a few candid shots.

After peak bloom, one petal will begin to fall, then another. It flutters in mid-air, a final moment of glory before meeting its end. The trees shower blossoms on the flower viewers. Time slows down enough to appreciate each individual petal wafting away.

Sometimes the cherry blossom falls whole, revolving as it plummets downward. On the ground, it will fade, but petals that slink onto hair and clothes will live through one more moment of delight.

An elderly couple enjoys each other’s company under the trees. Their silhouettes join as one.

Cherry blossoms mimic life condensed in two weeks. The blossoms are beautiful because they are temporary. In an attempt to find permanence in something temporary, we think capturing these moments makes them last forever.

Photographers swoop in for a shot. Viewers take out their camera phones and snap away. Drones hum overhead. Viewers want the flowers to bloom just for them.

We claim things for it to be exclusively ours, but the irony of capturing a moment of beauty is that it loses its place in time. Life is a series of single moments. To pause one single frame without the others before and after is to lose the arrival and the departure—the entirety of a journey.

Some travel for a destination. Some travel for companionship. Some travel to chase the ephemeral and elusive to capture it.

Yet taking a journey is an effort to surrender oneself to the elements that are uncontrollable. We want to only remember the best parts, but the bad and the ugly make the good even more delightful. The line at airport security, the crowded cabin, the delayed flight—they make the destination even more worthwhile

The scene of the cherry trees, the falling petals, and the sunlight dappled flowers are trophies of one’s patience. Many make the trip every year just to see the blossoms. And yet, even if no one is there to see it, the seasons will change every year and the blossoms will fall.

一片花瓣在空氣中盤旋,發出秋天來臨前的最後一聲吶喊。哢嚓,哢嚓,哢嚓。啪,啪,啪。迅速按下的快門捕捉了一朵又一朵花。拿出相機,支好三腳架,攝影師按下快門。又一片花瓣飄落,我在它落地前拍下了這一刻。

在日本,當地人和遊客每年都前往各地賞櫻。三到五月,“賞花”,或者說“花見”的活動,在日本不同地區持續兩周的時間,以慶祝短暫的白晝與寒冬的憂郁的離開。

而在數千裏之外的大洋彼岸,大批遊客與當地居民前往西雅圖的華盛頓大學和華盛頓湖邊,欣賞花朵從初開到雕落的美麗。連續第三年,我邁向了觀賞花朵與生命本身的興盛與消亡之旅。

1976年,日本贈送給西雅圖市1000株櫻花樹以示友好。在2010年代下半段,華盛頓大學收到了另外18棵樹,而學校的庭院也因此成為了熱門的婚紗照拍攝地點。甚至還有人守著這些花以便第一時間在Facebook和Twitter上宣布花期的來臨。

我站在樹蔭下,研究著花與人。親朋好友、親密愛人們欣賞著頭頂交織的花海,驚嘆的聲音不絕於耳。陽光透過樹枝,在花瓣上留下斑駁的光影。樹下人潮湧動,唯一能控制人群形狀的只有頭頂的花朵。

我穿過擁擠的人流,在樹下找到一處安靜的角落。這麼多的活動,到底是我們在看樹,還是樹在看我們呢?

櫻花從含苞到盛放、雕落只有14天。嫩綠色的新芽在枝頭成簇生長,尖端慢慢染上粉紅色,接著又變成深洋紅色。

每一朵花都選擇自己綻放的時間。合適的氣溫很重要:清晨的寒冷會傷害花朵,而溫暖的天氣則會縮短花期。終於等到花開時,它變成了一道亮麗的白色。

孩子坐在父親的肩上,被亂花迷了眼,粉色的臉頰滿是歡喜。幾尺之外,身著唇紅色和服的年輕女孩擺著造型拍照,旁邊等候的人忍不住也偷偷按下快門。

滿開之後,花瓣一片接一片雕落。在空中的飛舞是它在一切結束前最後的榮耀時刻。在落英繽紛中,時間也慢下來,給足賞花人時間去感受每片花瓣飄落。

有時櫻花整朵飄下,旋轉下墜。落在地面上的花朵會消逝,但飄在發絲和衣服上的那些則偷得多一刻的欣悅。

一對老年夫婦在樹下享受彼此的陪伴,他們的剪影融化在一起。

櫻花好似濃縮在兩周裏的生命,因短暫而美。我們試圖在瞬間裏尋找永恒,以為捕捉這些時刻會使它們永存。

攝影師為了一張照片而聚集在此,觀眾們也掏出手機拍照,無人機在頭頂盤旋。觀者們都希望花朵只為他們綻放。

我們以為事物只為我們存在,但是捕捉瞬間美麗的諷刺之處在於它遺失了這一時刻在故事裏的位置。生命由一系列瞬間組成,為某個時刻按下暫停而忽略了它前後的那些瞬間,就失去了出發與抵達——旅程的完整性。

有人為了到達而旅行,有人為了陪伴而旅行,有人為了捕捉短暫又難得的一刻而旅行。

然而,旅行其實是個人向不可控因素的屈服。我們只願記住最美好的部分,但正是醜陋和邪惡將美好托顯得愈發珍貴。在機場安檢的長隊,擁擠的機艙,延遲的航班——是它們讓終點變得更有價值。

櫻花樹、落櫻還有斑駁光影下的櫻花美景,是頒給忍耐的獎杯。每年都有許多人專程去賞花,然而,即使無人在場,季節依舊流轉,花瓣依然落下。


Diane Chiang is a Taiwanese-American writer who grew up feasting on cheap Chinese food in the 626 suburbs of LA. Based in Seattle, LA, and Taipei, she’s constantly hunting down food and travel stories for her site, The Gastrotourist.

Diane Chiang 是一位臺灣裔美國作家,成長在洛杉磯城外,區號626的郊區,吃便宜的中餐長大。現在居住于西雅圖、洛杉磯和臺北,她長期為自己的網站The Gastrotourist獵取食物與旅行故事。