Sunday, April 17, 2016

Garden of the Absurd: Silly Fruit on the Cherry Tree

It started a couple of years ago, and now I've come to expect it. I'm resigned to it, I told myself. The Japanese weeping cherry tree that we planted in part because of the beautiful white blossoms ballooning around it like a shapely white skirt during its all too brief flowering season has turned into a garden party for birds who tear off the blossoms before they fully open and toss the drop of nectar inside down their gullet. This practice, amusing and no doubt satisfying some primal urge for the birds who do it, essentially denudes the tree of blossoms before that picturesque white fountain effect comes to pass.
            Anyway, the flower buds began to show early in April this year following a warmer than average winter. Then came the Sunday snow morning that melted during the same day. Then came the Monday snow that kept up all day and sat on the buds and on some half-open blossom. After this, some of the blossoms had that washed out appearance a rag or some small article of clothing gets when it sits in a puddle all day.
            The snow disappeared, the weather normalized, the white buds and half-opened blossoms began to dry out.
            Then came the birds. I watched them perch the umbrella shaped nexus of branches at the top of the tree, get comfortable, tie their napkins under the necks, take out the cutlery, grab a blossom in their beak and toss it into the air. I watched the ground beneath the tree fill up with discarded blossoms.
            No white cherry tree bloom time appears likely this year.
            I opened the window of my study and yelled at the birds. This kept them away about two-three minutes. Maybe half a minute after the second or third time. Even then I had to get really extravagant in the vocalization department to get the last bold fellow off the tree. It was a finch, with a lot of brilliant dark pink color around the head and neck. A prince among finches.
a natural leader. I noticed no birds on the tree until he came along and set up shop. Then a few others quickly followed.
            I walked to the bedroom, opened a window (temperature 'moderate' for April) and gathered tiny gravel pebbles to throw at the birds when they next appeared.
            The plan is I stand guard in my bedroom, with the window open, in April, ready to throw pebbles at birds. This is ridiculous, I decide, after thought. Similarly, I can go outdoors and stand next to the tree, ready to wave my arms and scare away the blossom marauders the moment they arrive. But then I wouldn't be sitting at my desk pursuing immortality at my keyboard.
            Another sensible plan goes down to a minor flaw.
            So then, because the other choices were ridiculous, and also because I have taken to shaking a bamboo leaf rake at the birds during my frequent forays outdoors to discourage them, I decide to build a scarecrow version of myself shaking a rake at the sky.
            This fantasy lasts even less time than it takes to relate. How can I make an effective scarecrow unless I decide to stuff myself?
            So then (no appetite for stuffing) I come up with a brilliant flash of inspiration. I will turn the tree itself into a scarecrow by tossing the rake on top of the still near-blossoming weeping cherry tree. Surely the birds will be frightened by the rake, an obvious man-thing, and realize that the man is probably just about to appear and wave his arms and frighten them muchly, and so they will keep away from the tree...
            This worked, the first time at least, for about an hour.
            Then the red-necked finch came back and found a comfortable perch on the tree right next to the rake's bamboo flanges, if not right on top of them, and went to back to work on the blossoms. His followers promptly followed.
            I decide the problem is an insufficiency of rakes. I find two other, smaller leaf rakes, and manage to toss them on top of the cherry tree as well, (The tree is now feeling very foolish.)
            But this plan almost worked. It kept the finches off the tree for a little while, as long as I punctuated my day with visits to the tree about every half hour or so in which I stood next to the tree, jumped up and down waving my hands exuberantly back and forth, and shouting extravagant threats at the top of my lungs. Somehow the neighbors have still not called the police.
            What really happened is that most of the blossoms were by now consumed. The tree wore its crown of rakes on the center of its blossom-bare scalp, and the white flowers opened on the lower, weeping branches, where presumably it's a little less comfortable for a bird to stand and peck.
            And so our cherry tree had its annual spring semi-blossom.
            [Top photo, tree with rakes; second photo last week's tree in semi-bloom. Below, for comparison, the tree in previous years]
             I do not think that Basho, or the other Japanese poets who worshiped the spring ritual of the blossoming of the cherry trees, would be much impressed.
            To seeker a more enlightened view of cherry blossom time, some three-line poems by the classic poet Basho on this season in Japan, gathered from the internet:

Between our two lives
there is also the life of
the cherry blossom.
If I had the knack
I'd sing like
Cherry flakes falling

The oak tree stands
noble on the hill even in
cherry blossom time

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms
Kannon's tiled temple
roof floats far away in clouds
of cherry blossoms
  (Kannon is the Bodhisattva of Compassion)

From all these trees –

in salads, soups, everywhere –
cherry blossoms fall
How many, many things

They call to mind

These cherry-blossoms!