By Vita Forest
On a Saturday full of wind and bluster, we journeyed out to the Auburn Botanical Gardens for the Cherry Blossom Festival. On Friday the winds had been so strong that powerlines had been blown down, a fence at the local tennis club toppled, and at sport, the kids had thrown their hats in the air to see how far they would fly before they landed.
I feared the blossoms would have been blasted from the branches, scattered like pink confetti over a suburb or two, but when we arrived, we could see them, still firmly clinging to the trees.
We went by train, my daughter Lucy and her friend Bianca, and a bunch of sketchers, backpacks full of paper and pencils and paint and ideas. We talked expeditions past and future, we made plans, we swapped stories.
When we arrived at the garden, the wind was blowing and the pink flags were flying. Pink was the colour of the day – pink blossoms, pink flags, some pink hair, even the volunteers wore fluoro pink vests instead of the more usual yellow.I was remembering my last trip to the gardens a couple of years ago with a busload of Year 1 children – here is where we did origami, here is where we took a photo – on a bridge over the water – and not one child got wet. Here is where Marvin barrelled across the stepping stones without knocking anyone over.
We had learned about Hanami – the festival celebrating the viewing of the cherry blossoms and here we were experiencing it ourselves in Sydney. It is all about being in the right place at the right time – the trees only bloom for two weeks or so, blink and you’ll miss it. In Japan they give updates on the progress of the blossoms on the nightly news (“buds opening”, “flowers starting to appear” etc) and even display weather maps charting the display of colour. It is about being in the moment, that ephemeral moment when the blossoms open and world turns pink. Strange then to see so many visitors at Auburn with their selfie-sticks and iPhones – as if they will only see it all later after they have posted it on Instagram. I was not immune to capturing the moment myself – look at all these photos…We walked over an arched bridge and watched as a volunteer sprinkled bread from a bucket. The water was full of the open mouths of carp fighting for what the geese didn’t get first. We strolled along the cherry blossom avenue noting the way the sun shone through the blossoms and a few happy bees trundling over the flowers.
The sketchers peeled off, finding places by the lake, by a zig-zag bridge, near the moon gate, so close to a cherry tree she could hold a twigful of it to study and draw and protect from the wind. The wind! The wind that followed us around the lake, climbing the rocky steps to a lookout, ruffling the undulating hedges that resembled the sinuous body of a dragon, splaying the fringing needles of a conifer into star bursts.I sat on a hill, a little removed from the cherry blossoms and watched the world go by with my sketchbook. I noticed the way the wind sent the bundles of pine needles flicking and sparkling. I noticed how the magnolia flowers swayed majestically on their strong vertical branches, I noticed a sweet looking toddler with two fountaining pig-tales stumbling about the slope, under the careful eye of her father.
I drew trees and saw how the base of each pine tree was set in a tiny pool of mulch. I drew a line of cherry blossoms, noticing how the trunks were gnarled and twisted before the tips of the branches thinned and reached skyward. I drew mounds of grass, thickly planted and arranged in tight, round clumps.
And then I drew people – people with their selfie sticks, people with their iPhones, occasionally people just chilling under the trees, seeing life in real time with their own eyes. It was the perfect time to be in the moment to feel the wind and the sunshine, watch the flocks of birds wheel over the lake, hear the throb of the Taiko drums in another part of the garden.
So much in “the zone” was I, I did not see Lucy and Bianca sneak up behind me, was not aware of them until Lucy leapt at me, causing an unplanned scribble on my page. They danced on the hillside behind me, did walkovers, stole snacks from my backpack. They had visited the tiny zoo and had seen a peacock, an albino wallaby, an emu, but not the wombat. The wombats were hiding away in their cosy burrow out of the light and the wind. When the girls had eaten all the snacks, they were off again. Off to catch the sumo wrestling just about to start in another part of the garden. Later they explained the rules to me and demonstrated the hand motions of the winners and the bowing etiquette before a match started.
We regrouped and shared our sketches; pages of blossoms and lakes and bridges and trees. And after a lunch of gyoza dumplings by the lake, our little visit to Japan in Sydney was over. It’s fun being a tourist in your own town.