This week I made the trip out to the west end of the city, where I finally fulfilled my long sought after dream to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
I neglected to consult a map to find the trees, so it was pure luck I happened to chance upon them during a momentary lapse in foot traffic.
It's a bit of a shame they weren't already falling as well, I think I'll be coming back when they do just to see it for myself. The trees are usually in full bloom for a week, so it won't be long until I can see it at last. It's certainly missing something vital without a few blossoms dancing slowly through the air.
I was very disappointed to learn from one of my parents' friends that last year there were people who climbed the trees, picked the flowers, and shook the petals down just so they could grab pictures. It's not like I can't understand their train of thought, but really, harming a living tree and ignoring all the signs around to leave them be? How distasteful.
Cherry blossom, or sakura trees are not native to the North American continent. The sakura trees here are of the Somei Yoshino variety, gifted to Toronto in 1959 by the Japanese ambassador. This specific breed was cultivated during the Edo period (circa 1700) and are now widespread throughout Japan. They are characteristically white (a surprise to me), sporting five petals and pink buds. 2000 trees were delivered in appreciation of the city accepting relocated Japanese-Canadians in the aftermath of the Second World War.
They weren't as pink as I expected.
This collection of trees turned out to be just a detour from the main group, which are collected on the east shore on a hill overlooking Grenadier Pond. It was a decent walk away, and it turned out to be a lot more congested than the small path I had come from.
The crowd was here to partake in a hanami (lit. flower viewing) festival. Hanami is an ancient Japanese tradition, originally for viewing plum blossoms but rapidly switched to the appreciation of cherry blossoms by the Heian period (circa 800). It is essentially just a picnic under the refreshingly bright petals of the sakura trees, though also often accompanied with drinks like sake in its home country.
The trees here were in a state of much fuller blossom, appearing much whiter due to the lack of any remaining buds.
Cherry blossoms are ripe with their own traditional symbolism. The blooming of the sakura coincides with the end of the Japanese academic year, giving it strong ties to graduation and the start of a new school year; strong ties to both bittersweet endings and rosy beginnings. It has a much older meaning though as a metaphor for the transience of life. Their rapid blooming and subsequent, beautiful demise reveal the ephemeral nature of our lives and our own unavoidable mortality.
Though honestly speaking, I didn't contemplate these notions as I strolled through High Park on one particular Wednesday.