‘Don’t be pretty little flowers decorating the hallways of life.’
——– Clementine Ford
There is a tree near my home which my mother has affectionately dubbed the pom-pom tree. It is a cherry blossom, but she loves the nickname because it is what her nan used to call them. The trunk is proud and sturdy, made of a rich, chocolate bark; its limbs delicately adorned with jade leaves and baby pink blossoms which decorate the lawn during spring. Sometimes, I walk through the street and they dance in the wind and tangle in my hair, and, for a moment, I am in the world of a fairy tale. I see myself as a child, my dark hair bouncing as I play with a magic wand. I stand before my mother and pop, both busily working in the garden, and wave the wand about frantically. Blossoms spurt from the wand and wherever they land, a tree grows and the three of us gaze in admiration as they bloom and grow sturdy in the ground.
The soil feels cool against my hands. The sun is beating down on my back and I regret not having put my hair up. It seems that the dark colouring of my hair is trapping the heat inside my head and I desperately want to plant myself in the soil. I am about five years old and in the garden with my grandfather. My nan watches from the kitchen window, claiming the heat is too much for her. I can smell the dirt, and the cool water in the can trickles over my fingers as I gently water the plant we have just tucked into the earth.
‘How long will this take to grow?’ I ask my pop.
‘It depends on how good we are at taking care of it,’ he replies.
I remember nodding as if it all made sense and I understood the complexity of that statement. The plum tree we planted together stood in the garden for many years. The life span of a plum tree is about fifteen years, but can be longer based on the care and love put into nurturing the plant. I cannot remember how old I was when I realised that it was dying. Indeed, I only knew it was sick when my pop told me that vines were creeping about the trunk, poisoning it and forcing him to cut it down.
My nan’s white hair glowed silver in the orange light of the naked bulb she kept beside her, so she could read her magazines and the TV guide easier. She was peeling a mandarin and storing the scraps in her apron pocket. After passing me a piece of the tangy fruit, she looked at me with watery blue eyes peering through oversized glasses and asked if I would like to hear a story.
I tucked my feet beneath me and rested my head against the couch, tracing my initials into the cream carpet and delicately outlining the floral patterns, still visible on the carpet to this day, as I waited for the story that would become a part of my own personal root system.
I like to imagine my grandmother in that moment, heart on the precipice of breaking, but resolving not to waste a moment of her life.
I watched her as she began to speak, the years falling off and the bloom of youth replacing her pale skin and hair. She talked with her arms, swaying them wildly to illustrate points and punctuate her words. I could see in these moments how much she had loved to dance. Her smile shone through as she told me how, after meeting my grandfather at a dance, they had arranged to go to the movies one week later. He was late picking her up, so she went with a friend instead – I like to imagine her in that moment, heart on the precipice of breaking, but resolving not to waste a moment of her life. Eventually, it all worked out as my pop arrived and stayed with her parents until she came home. Something in that gesture sparked love within her, and all I know is that they were happily married for over fifty years. An incredible feat for anyone, much less two young people who almost missed each other, like ships passing in the night.
Will I know when I have found a home in someone as my grandparents did? Or my own parents? Will I feel the love blossom in my chest like a flower in the spring? Or will it be more gradual, like the roots of a plant searching for water, far below the earth and out of view? Will I be able to discern between my head and my heart and allow love to break through the dirt?
When my nan passed away, I lost my desire to be in the garden. The smell of soil no longer made me want to bathe in it. I didn’t want to dance in the autumn leaves as they crunched under the soles of my feet. My roots lost purchase with the soil. I stopped blossoming.
One of my cousins has explored many places in the world and her favourite, by far, is Japan. I would like to see the trees in their natural environment one day and feel their power and soul magic, given their significance to Japanese folk tales. Many involve the spirit of a heroic figure inhabiting a tree, such as the tale of the devoted milk nurse whose soul inhabited a cherry kodama tree. She gave her soul to protect a baby she was caring for, and now it is said that the tree blossoms on the anniversary of her death.
I like to think that our cherished pom-pom tree has a soul. Perhaps it is the soul of someone so pure, the world was no place for them and their message to us is to embrace ourselves and love with our whole hearts. When the blossoms fall to the ground, and I walk through them, I can feel at peace knowing that someone is watching over me and guiding me, the spirit of those I have loved and lost.
There is another Japanese myth, describing the rivalry between a goddess and her brother. A goddess, Amaterasu, hides inside a cave when she fights with her brother, Susano-o. This act of hiding produces evil spirits that roam the earth and cause the world to sink into a blanket of darkness. Only when Amaterasu peers out of the cave does the light return to the world. I imagine that the battle between my head and heart is like this. To achieve equilibrium within myself, I need to balance the energies of both siblings and force my heart to never disappear into darkness. Only then, will I become the graceful tree much like my nan before me.
When the blossoms fall to the ground, and I walk through them, I can feel at peace knowing that someone is watching over me
My mum has always been one to carve her own mark in the world, even if she does not see it. Her hard work and dedication inspires me in a way I have never known. From her abundant kindness, coupled with the fearless love both she and my nan showered upon me, I understand what it means to be both resolute and grounded, with a compassionate balancing guide. All these internal strengths are difficult to see, but like a root system, they work far beneath the surface to keep me from entering a darkness that could easily consume me in my lowest moments. Recently, we were walking, and we passed the pom-pom tree. The last of the blossoms were falling and the wind picked one up and it drifted into her hair. She never noticed it, but I couldn’t help thinking how beautiful it looked. Her dark hair was the soil to feed the pale pink with striking detail, and her gentle nature was enhanced by the tiny blossom. For the half hour it was in her hair, I felt a kind of peace, as if the soul of the tree was with us and taking us on our journey for the night.
It wasn’t until I came home that I realised I had one in my own hair.
Last night I dreamt that I stood tall in a field of fallen blossoms. It had me thinking, and I realised something about myself that I had been denying for too long in my waking moments. I am the dark bark of the sturdy cherry blossom tree. I am the blooming pink flowers. I am the woman I am today because of the blossoms I have scattered in the damp, dew-stained grass.
I can still smell the frost in the air of my dream, the winter breeze blowing through my hair and whispering promises of a better future. I can feel the tingle in every inch of my being as new blossoms grow where the old ones have fallen away. I breathe in the air of hope and promise; when I shut my eyes, I can feel the warmth that tells me I will be a better person than the one I am today.