Sunday, February 19, 2012

First Plum Blossom!

The first plum blossom in our backyard inspired some haiku thoughts:

Spring makes a bargain
With the cold air of a bright day:
First white plum blossom.

Buson, when dying,
Hoped for plum blossoms of
Eternity's dawn.

Where every morning
Is the first morning and the
Blossoms never fall.

Buson, the cherished 18th century Japanese poet and painter, is said to have composed his final death-bed poem hoping to see the first iconic blossoms of early spring before he died and comparing them to what he hoped to see after he died.

Perhaps he was making up for an earlier verse with a less transcendent message:

"In nooks and corners
Cold remains:
Flowers of the plum."

(Translated by R. H. Blyth)

It's true that a large part of the haunting beauty of the fragile white flowers that spring suddenly from dead branches arises from their vulnerability and fleetingness. Storms may come; there might be frost. The brave new blooms could be littering the ground as quickly as they appeared.

But they also hold a promise of more beauty to come. Slow, hidden processes are coming to fruition and even though the petals may fall, life goes on and, perhaps, like a poet's prayer, merges with eternity.

That's why, although there have been blossoms all over town for several weeks -- flowering cherry, quince, tulip magnolias -- the first pale plum flower in our own backyard stopped me in my tracks. It's a surprise even when I know it's coming. Usually I'm not looking for it but just happen to notice it while walking by with other tasks in mind.

Something always impels me to note the occasion. I used to jot it down on my calendar. Now I take pictures with a digital camera that records for posterity the date and time.

According to my informal data of the past several years, the first plum blossom appears sometime around Valentine's Day, mid-February, when the seasons are shifting back and forth from day to day. The data is very informal since the "first blossom" is the one that I happen to see -- i.e. it's more or less at eye level, not way up on the high branches.

Let the record show that the first plum blossom of 2012 was photographed on February 17.

First blossom of 2011: February 13.

First blossom of 2010: February 7.

That's as far back as my photographic evidence goes.

Each year this momentary "first" seems more momentous.

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