Actually, it’s more like summer. It was 82F here in NJ today. Last week it was still in the 40s during the day.
With spring comes the annual blossoming of the cherry trees. We’re lucky enough to live near Branch Brook Park (which not many people outside of my circle know about). Branch Brook Park is a Frederick Law Olmstead park (he of Central Park fame), as well as a county park. It’s huge, and traversed 3 or 4 towns.
The best thing about this park? The cherry trees. Yeah, Washington, DC is known the world over for its cherry trees and cherry blossom festival, but Branch Brook Park puts Washington, DC to shame. There are over 4,000 cherry trees, representing a huge number of varietals. It’s the largest collection of cherry trees in the US.
Growing up in Maine, I was completely clueless about flowering trees until I moved to Japan. And my first spring there, I thought I was living in a magic world–plum blossoms, then peach, then cherry. Spring was the most beautiful that I had ever seen it. And Japan knows how to celebrate their blossoms–with Hanami.
Hanami (flower-viewing) is typically done while the cherry blossoms are in season. It’s a party where you sit under the trees and admire the blossoms. Families do hanami; friends do hanami; companies even do hanami. In fact, in most companies, the lowest level employee is sent out on the mankai (full bloom) day to secure the “best” tree, lay the tarp, and then wait there until nightfall for his coworkers. Somehow the trees are lit with lanterns, and there are karaoke machines galare, and food carts. It’s just a festival of fleeting beauty, good sake, great food and fun.
When the Mister and I moved to NJ in 1993, I read in a local paper about the cherry blossoms in Branch Brook Park, and we went out, the two of us, for Hanami. The next year, we dragged a few friends and brought a picnic. A year later, with Thing 1 in tow, a few more friends and a lot more food. Then we moved to our current home, just a 10 minute drive from the park, where we met some other Japanese-American couples, and the Hanami celebration grew and grew and grew. In 2004, Thing 3 was born April 15 (2 weeks early). It was a Thursday, and we had already planned and started preparing for Hanami that Saturday. I was released from the hospital Saturday morning; Thing 3 was 30 hours old and she made her debut at Hanami 2004.
By 2010, Hanami had become huge–sort of a drop-in pot luck for 65-70 of our friends–anyone who wanted to show up was welcome. It was always so great to welcome people from past jobs, past schools, past lives, and throw them in the mix with the new coworkers, new friends, new lives. There was always plenty of food and drink. The kids loved it (there was plenty of space for scootering, bike riding, kite flying and frisbee throwing); adults loved it (what’s not to love about sharing food and drink amidst falling cherry blossoms).
But in 2011, the weather sucked. The blossoms barely bloomed because of a late cold snap and then some rain. And in 2012, they bloomed and then fell mid-week because of a wicked strong wind. Disappointing, but, hey, that’s life. But we’ve missed it.
This year, we’ve resolved to host Hanami no matter what. Thing 3 counts on it as a precursor to her birthday. The Mister misses cooking for 2 days. I miss catching up with many of my peeps that I had only seen at Hanami.
Helping me out this year is the Cherry Blossom Cam. I stalk it almost daily, and soon enough (because of the good weather), I’ll be on it almost hourly.
Finger are crossed for cool mornings, warm days, no wind or rain for the next week or so.