In an appalling turn of events, the chilly spring Tokyo weather reverted back to a winter scowl; just cold enough for the fingers to hold a revolution against trills, fills, and ornamentation. The guitar doesn’t even want to be played when it’s cold and damp. Like any cozy creature it would rather hibernate. Huck thought about turning on the heater but it was too expensive and he was too spiteful of the weather to give it the satisfaction. So in hopes that the air would heat up just a little bit he let loose Camaron de la Isla instead. How many months had he gone without listening to Flamenco? In just two months he’ll hit the two year mark since leaving Spain. What a wild ride with good friends through blurs of festivity. He put on the album, “La Leyenda Del Tiempo.” Just a few tunes in the warmth hit home.
In all fairness the sudden chill wasn’t so sudden at all. Cold winds and cloudy skies hung around for all of the cherry blossom festivals, and accompanied him to all three hanami picnics. As cherry blossoms spread out into a blaze of fireworks above the parks of Tokyo, large picnics of blanketed, jacketed, and sufficiently liquored Tokyoites huddled below. The cold didn’t really kill the buzz, thankfully. All around one would see bubbles being blown, scooters where scooters shouldn’t be ridden, frisbees flown, badminton birdies tossed, and crane shaped kites held fast by kids on the open lawn. A harmonica and acoustic guitar duo reading casually through some pop tune scores next to the fountains which just go on through the motions. A group of college aged girls rehearsing choreography. A human statue of, “The Madonna and Child,” looking longingly at the audience of passersby’s to volunteer as Jesus thereby completing the work. An array of selfie sticks floating around the park. A group of men in their 30’s opened a giant bottle of bubbly whose explosion sent the cork flying over to a group of women on the opposite side of the tree. New friends. The scene was business as usual. Tokyo wasn’t about to let cold weather dampen its spirits.
This year’s hanami picnics were, 3 out of 3, about saying, “Farewell,” and, “Safe journey” to those who were leaving Japan. What more beautiful time to say goodbye than during hanami? The springboard for new journeys felt right at home there. After all, who would make a fuss about the sky falling when it comes down so delicately and majestically, petal by petal? It really had that feeling around sunset. As the last drops of rosy sunlight seeped into the shapeless clouds, distinguishing between the flowers and the sky became increasingly difficult. Swoop. Swoop. They came down embracing gravity, but on their own terms and in their own time. Swoop.
This was the second time Huck had seen this brief magic cast over Tokyo; but looking back, listening back, 2016 would be the third year since he had first become acquainted with these blossoms and their stellar spring performances. As Camaron’s album finished up, Huck thought back on la Valle de Jerte in Extremadura, Spain. He browsed his music library, took out a book and got ready for bed.
He woke around 7:30, first thoughts: it’s Wednesday which means it’s Recycle-Day as well as the only day I’ve left to prepare for my meeting at the Embassy tomorrow for my passport renewal. His first actions: after getting cleaned up, he took out the recycle and took a walk. In stark contrast to the day before, sunlight claimed the skies this morning and while crossing paths with hundreds of commuters he observed the difference it made. Seeing Nakano’s main street fluttering away into washes of blossoms brought him back to the train of thought he’d begun the night before. La Valle de Jerte. It was cold, rainy, and should have been miserable. In fact, every year he’s been around to see cherry blossoms it was cold and rainy. That was just the nature of the season. He could still remember the trail leading from the main road up into the terraced orchards. Huck had never seen anything like it. There must have been thousands of trees in that valley. His boots picked up mud all along the way, and his jeans gathering as much rain water as they saw fit. Gorgeous beads of water jeweled the branches which helped weave light into the picture despite the cloud settling above the mountain range.
As Huck set foot by foot down Nakano-Dori he noticed clear cut shadows appearing on the sidewalk as the sun came around the high rises running down the avenue. Young college aged kids handed out flyers for gyms, eye contacts and the usual fare. All along the way, he remembered that walk. How the jewels clung to his clothes when he walked the thin terrace ridges towards the valley’s interior. The stillness in the mountain town below… The surprise and wonder that rushed in, being in the middle of all those white blossoms. The mixed emotions that he carried to the valley. The grief, the resolve. How simple events can become monuments.
He turned at an intersection just before Arai, back towards Nakano Central Park. The whirl of the world whizzed by in taxis, buses, bicycles. Green buds started to peek out reluctantly from the ginkgo tree branches. But his shoes sloshed a bit, and slipped up the steep soil inclines of La Valle de Jerte. The smell of rain, soil, and flowers held strong against the noxious clutter of Tokyo.
Back then, the trip into the mountains of Extremadura did so much to help sew up the grieving process and now walking through the pleasant streets of Nakano he felt just how far things had come. Two years since Jerte, three years since Polly’s last walk among the budding April flowers. The Huck now was looking back on the Huck then, proud that he stuck it out and kept his word. The peace and clarity that he enjoyed under today’s sunlight was thanks to that 25 year old kid living in Spain trudging up muddy terraces in the mountains.
In Central Park the breeze took a cast of white with it, which mixed into the flow of suits, blazers, skirts and heels. It felt entirely unreal, just watching this scene. Could he have imagined peace like this three years ago? Is that why this journey started in the first place? It’s hard to say. What could be said was that the initial cutting pains have been digested over time, in actions and inaction.
He decided to pinch himself. See how real this was. Pulling out his phone, he cued up, “The Girl in Byakkoya,” and plugged in his headphones. It brought back memories of the sunny morning memorial service where he and Riley performed a lively acoustic version. It brought back memories of how much Polly hated the film Paprika, which emphasized how much she loved this opening song. So bright and energetic, it wasn’t hard to see why it suited her.
The song finished, and he was still admiring the falling blossoms and their cooperation with the wind. He was still happy, still smiling, and this was most certainly still real. Each year since the first big farewell among the white crowned trees of Jerte in Spain, he had arrived at a happier, freer future and now he felt that momentum carry him into another year. As the lyrics in Camaron de la Isla’s “Leyenda del tiempo” go,
El tiempo va sobre el sueño
Hundido hasta los cabellos
Ayer y mañana comen
Oscuras flores del duelo.