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.
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。