CIR Diary – Sakura

Now that cherry blossom season is fully upon us it finally feels like spring in Mito (or is it because it feels like spring that cherry blossom season is upon us?;). With the parks and roadways bathed in the soft light emanating from the pink snow-coated black boughs it becomes easy to forget that just last week we were overwhelmed by wind and rain and cold. The ground is already peppered with the fallen petals, preparing for the gloriously tragic sakura showers that will herald the end of the single week that these beautiful blossoms are visible. It’s easy to see why the Japanese like to use the cherry blossom as a metaphor for transience and impermanence, such as when comparing them to the life of a warrior, but in a modern world where very little retains a solid structure for very long it somehow holds more meaning.

Without getting into a long discussion of the consumeristic aspects of sakura culture in Japan, it is interesting to see how the cherry blossom as a symbol experiences the same death and rebirth as its namesake with every year. This year, I’m sure, they will be used as a metaphor for the earthquake recovery, but next year, who knows? At any rate, for me they currently serve as a joyful reminder that I have survived the long, cold (literally and figuratively) winter.

In the same vein, the forget-me-nots I planted last fall somehow survived along with me, despite being out on my balcony for the entire winter and going through the typhoon in October. From almost invisible seeds they sprung up into friendly little blue and purple faces peering curiously from the ends of long wobbly stalks, reminding me somewhat of baby giraffes. In my delight at their success (despite my almost total lack of assistance) I was inspired to finally splurge and attempt to build the balcony garden of my dreams.

First off, I invested in seeds, figured out what soils and fertilizers the instructions required, went back to get planters and trowels and gloves (oh my!), and finally summed up my courage and went to purchase the soil. I say courage because I have no vehicle, and I needed to psyche myself up to push home the big bags of dirt on the back of my bike.

The people who sold me the soil were a little askance at my lack of automated transportation, but were very kind and took the time to tie the two 25kg bags of mixed soil and compost to the back wheel of my bicycle with plastic cord. After that I was on my own. I hadn’t even gone 100m before the pain in my arms and shoulders started, and it soon became clear by the growing difficulty in maintaining a straight trajectory that despite the shopkeepers’ best efforts the bags were starting to slide over to the side I was walking beside. With frequent pauses to stretch my aching limbs and try to hip-check the bags back onto the center of the back wheel support I had made it halfway home when it looked like I was in serious trouble.

Fortunately, I happened to be passing a construction site where the guys were done for the day, and one of them called out to me and offered his assistance. Grateful for the help I attempted to not get in the way as he called over a couple other men to help him try different ways of stabilizing the bags. After attempting to increase the balance area with a manga book, attempting to shift the weight, and reinforcing the crumbling cardboard box, he eventually settled on tearing off and re-tying the cord. Within 5 minutes they were done and seemed to wave off my effusive thanks with little concern, so I was back on track.

The bags were as steady as stone now, so all I had to contend with was the growing weakness in my muscles and the stoplights along the way. By the time I was in sight of my apartment building I was already internally rejoicing when the unthinkable happened: taking a corner too sharply I watched in horror as the whole bike flipped over despite my frantic attempts to hold it up, leaving me standing by the side of the road with an overturned bike as comic relief for the passing traffic.

Once again I was rescued by a kind-hearted stranger (while I don’t depend on it, I do whole-heartedly appreciate it). He nicely refrained from laughing at my ridiculous predicament and through our combined machinations we managed to get the heavily overloaded bicycle righted and pushed the last 20m to my parking lot, upon which he also disappeared with a quick wave at my thanks. After spending 8 long months being completely ignored by the surrounding community, it was nice to know that people could see me and were kind enough to help.

You know the rest of the story; hauling and planting and watering. It’s been nearly two weeks since the first set of seeds went in and I’m still waiting for anything to sprout. It seems ironic that now that I am actively watering and checking on the seeds every day they refuse to sprout, when the forget-me-nots appear to have managed just fine without any intervention. But I suppose I should be patient; just because they haven’t sprouted yet doesn’t mean they won’t. For the sake of all the kind strangers who took the time to help a random white girl carry home nearly her own weight in dirt on the back of her bike, I sincerely hope they do. I hope my plants will be like sakura, proof for us all that trials and difficulties can be overcome with the help of those around you, and that persevering has its rewards.

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