Cherry blossoms

“The bud is on the bough again,
The leaf is on the tree.”
— Charles Jeffreys, The Meeting of Spring and Summer

This year, for the first time, I noticed something about the blossoming cherry trees.  When the blossoms first appear, there are still no leaves on the trees!

Cherry tree at Green Lake

I discovered this when I contemplated painting cherry trees, and because I find it difficult to paint white things, I looked for green leaves to break up the massive sea of white.  But I looked in vain.  There were no leaves to be seen.  I thought that was odd, since I had never remarked upon the bareness of the trees once the blossoms fell.  I was determined to watch and see when the leaves would appear.

In the second week of bloom, I saw tiny tree leaves start to appear any the ends off the branches.  Over the next week, they leaves grew substantially.

I now see that when the cherry trees lose all their blossoms, they will be clothed in new green leaves.  Spring is rushing ahead.

Fallen cherry blossoms


Yoshiko cherry trees in bloom, University of Washington campus

A Prayer in Spring
by Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees. . . .

Finally!  The cherry blossoms are in full bloom at the University of Washington.  I took these photos on the Quad this morning:

The floating world; upside down reflections in a rain puddle

Some people travel all the way to Japan to view cherry blossoms, but we in Seattle are fortunate to be able to experience hanami in our own city.  Another way to see them is via books.  I saw this book of Japanese prints with cherry blossoms at the library:

Cherry Blossoms by Freer/Sackler Smithsonian Museums


“Viewing Cherry Blossoms,” attributed to Katsushika Hokusai


“Snow, Moon, and Flowers,” by Takahashi Shotei


“Avenue of Cherry Trees,” by Yoshida Hiroshi


“Spring in Mount Atago,” by Kawase Hasui


“Spring at Kintai Bridge,” by Kawase Hasui


“A Courtesan Under a Cherry Tree,” by Katsushika Hokusai


“Crow Perched on a Flowering Cherry Branch and Full Moon,” by Ohara Kosan

“What a strange thing!
To be alive
Beneath cherry blossoms.”
— Kobayashi Issa

My watercolor sketch of cherry blossoms



Time to Break Out

March 27, 2017

Magnolia buds

Magnolia buds, just about to break out into blossom

by Maya Spector

It’s time to break out —
Jailbreak time.
Time to punch our way out of
the dark winter prison.
Lilacs are doing it
in sudden explosions of soft purple,
And the jasmine vines, and ranunculus, too.
There is no jailer powerful enough
to hold Spring contained.
Let that be a lesson.
Stop holding back the blossoming!
Quit shutting eyes and gritting teeth,
curling fingers into fists, hunching shoulders.
Lose your determination to remain unchanged.
All the forces of nature
want you to open,
Their gentle nudge carries behind it
the force of a flash flood.
Why make a cell your home
when the door is unlocked
and the garden is waiting for you?

Cherry tree, about to blossom soon

Here in Seattle, it’s too soon for lilacs.  But with our lat spring, we await the blossoming of the cherry and plum trees.  Any day now!


“Every week, some unannounced low pressure front trundles in from the Pacific.  They come like a parade of newly widowed aunts.  All of them have weepy tales to tell.  They stay too long and are soon indistinguishable from one another.”
— Bill Richardson, Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast


Cherry trees in the rain, U of W campus



This is Spring in Seattle!



Sandhill crane migration, Nebraska

The Sandhill Cranes of Nebraska
by Billy Collins, from Aimless Love

Too bad you weren’t here six months ago,
was a lament I heard on my visit to Nebraska.
You could have seen the astonishing spectacle
of the sandhill cranes, thousands of them
feeding and even dancing on the shores of the Platte River.

There was no point in pointing out
the impossibility of my being there then
because I happened to be somewhere else,
so I nodded and put on a look of mild disappointment
if only to be part of the commiseration.

It was the same look I remember wearing
about six months ago in Georgia
when I was told that I had just missed
the spectacular annual outburst of azaleas,
brilliant against the green backdrop of spring

and the same in Vermont six months before that
when I arrived shortly after
the magnificent foliage had gloriously peaked,
Mother Nature, as she is called,
having touched the hills with her many-colored brush,

a phenomenon that occurs, like the others,
around the same time every year when I am apparently off
in another state, stuck in a motel lobby
with the local paper and a styrofoam cup of coffee,
busily missing God knows what.


Sandhill cranes in Nebraska, flying above the Platte River


Sandhill crane

Last year at this time I was journeying to the Platte River in Nebraska to see the migrating flocks of sandhill cranes feeding for their long journey north.  I am so glad that I made the effort to witness this migration at least once in my life.  Natural phenomena like the sandhill crane migration are a mystery and a wonder and bring to new life a word like awesome.

I don’t always make the time to seek out these great spectacles of nature.  It’s not just a matter of limited time, but of financial considerations and prioritizing this type of travel.  This winter, for example, I did not drive north even once to see the flocks of snow geese over-wintering in the Skagit valley.  I have seen them several times in the past, but it is my loss not to have seen them this year.

As the seasons cycle, we have many chances to stop and enjoy Nature’s unique offerings.  We can take the time to notice, or we can get wrapped up in other things and miss out.  The words of Billy Collins’ poem point this out.  Missing out happens with regrettable regularity.

Spring seems to bring a succession of opportunities in my immediate local environment.  Just now the Yoshino cherry trees are blossoming on the University of Washington campus.  I did make the effort to see them once again.  How lucky I am to be able to do this!


Cherry trees on the quad at the U of W campus





















Today is the Spring equinox.  How we look forward to Spring!  But this year I am contemplating the words of Alan Watts, who reminds us that we should be living and appreciating the Now.  Not always looking forward to better days tomorrow.  Not always striving to improve ourselves because we are dissatisfied with who we are this moment:

“How long have the planets been circling the sun?  Are they getting anywhere, and do they go faster and faster in order to arrive?  How often has the spring returned to the earth?  Does it come faster and fancier every year, to be sure to be better than last spring, and to hurry on is way to the spring that shall out-spring all springs?”
—  Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity:  A Message for an Age of Anxiety

Watts published this in 1951.  How appropriate his words still feel today.
















Sculptures in the VanDusen Botanical Garden

Sculptures in the VanDusen Botanical Garden

I have gardens on my mind, in part because things are blooming like crazy in Seattle right now.  But also because I just read a wonderful book, The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour by Donald Olson.

pacfic nw garden

In this book, Olson describes 60 gardens worth seeing in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia.  By my count, I have visited just 21 of the gardens on his list.  And since my husband and I were making a weekend getaway to Vancouver, B.C., we made a special effort to check out one of Olson’s recommendations.  He said, “If you have time to visit only one garden in Vancouver, make it VanDusen.”  And so we did.



The highlights of the VanDusen Botanical Garden were, for me, the Hon. David C. Lam Cherry Grove on the great lawn which we caught in full blossom and the sculptures.  There is something especially lovely about seeing sculptures placed in an expansive garden setting.  I think they bring an element of surprise as you meander along the paths.




I imagine as more flowers reach their bloom time, this garden becomes even more of a showcase.  Still, on this late winter visit, we caught magnolias, camellias, and some early rhododendrons in bloom.




The VanDusen Botanical Garden is home to a wonderful variety of trees.  There are small lakes, formal gardens, theme gardens, and meandering paths.  And even a maze!

Giant sequoias

Giant sequoias

Reflections in Shaughnessy Lake

Reflections in Shaughnessy Lake

Korean Pavilion

Korean Pavilion

Garden maze

Garden maze

This destination is certainly worthy of a return visit.


Yoshino cherry trees in bloom on the University of Washington campus

Yoshino cherry trees in bloom on the University of Washington campus

“Since every variety of tree and plant comes into bloom in its own time in one of the four seasons, we prize the timeliness and rarity of the blooming of each. . . . Now what we call hana or ‘flowering,’ what we call ‘interesting,’ and what we call ‘rarity’ are not three separate things but really one and the same.  But all flowers eventually are scattered, none stays in bloom.  And it is precisely because it blooms and perishes that a flower holds our interest as something rare. . . . to know the flowering is first of all to know that nothing abides.”
— Zeami, from Kadensho, translated by William LaFleur

“Death is the mother of Beauty.”
— Wallace Stevens

Mother and child, cherry blossom viewing

Mother and child, cherry blossom viewing

Cherry blossom viewing carries with it a Japanese sensibility, the awareness of the ephemeral.  It is heartening to see such a diverse group of people enjoying the magnificent blooming cherry trees on the University of Washington campus.  These Yoshino cherry trees are a natural wonder.

The Quad at the University of Washington

The Quad at the University of Washington

Blossoms shimmer in the sunlight

Blossoms shimmer in the sunlight

Gnarly bark

Gnarly bark

Photographing a fallen blossom

Photographing a fallen blossom






Another blossoming tree on the U of W campus

Another blossoming tree on the U of W campus