Archive for April 17th, 2007

The Vancouver region has more trees than any other North American city. This fact is never more obvious than in early spring, when thousands of ornamental cherry trees start to blossom.

Younger, white blossoms come first. Some years, they come as early as mid-February, but mid-March to early April is more common. Whenever they come, after the winter’s dark days and constant rain, they are a shock to the eye, an extravagant explosion of life, all so unexpected and so seemingly symmetrical in their thousands that they leave me breathless with admiration and surprise. It’s hard talking about them without sounding trite, but they always seem such a revelation that finding suitable words to describe them is as difficult as it is urgent.

This first wave brings people out by the dozens. One of the most popular spots is the the Burrard Street Skytrain station, where the trees arch over about a walkway of about sixty yards. There, especially on weekends, you can always find a couple of dozen people, often in couples, often Japanese in origin, strolling back and forth and snapping dozens of pictures.

Then, gradually the other trees come out, the west side of the city up to a week ahead of the east: next the younger magenta ones, then, just as the blossom season seems over for the year, the gnarled old trees of both colors. In dozens of streets, the ramshackle houses of the east end are suddenly obscured for a couple of weeks by the trees that line their sidewalks. In Centennial Park on Burnaby Mountain, people amble the tree-lined walkways that line the cliffs overlooking the Deep Cove and Belcarra. For a couple of weeks — maybe a month in good years — everywhere you go in the area, your eyes are ambushed by a profusion of color that has stood dormant and forgotten for most of the year. You’ve need the brain-damaged soul of a hockey enforcer not to notice and feel blessed.

Then, as suddenly as they came, the blossoms are gone, replaced by leaves as the year goes deeper into spring. Sometimes, a high wind sweeps them away in a day, and we are left on with a carpet of blossoms half an inch thick in the streets and gutters, looking around in amazed dismay at a brief display made even briefer by a freak in the weather.

Nobody seems to know why Vancouver and the surrounding cities are so full of cherry trees. I think it’s become the region was settled by three garden-mad cultures: the Chinese, the English, and the Japanese. In the last few years, a Cherry Blossom Festival has started up in minor imitation of the famous Japanese festival. And a few years ago, David Lam, the former lieutenant-governor of the province, was talking of donating another thirty thousand cherry trees to the city of Vancouver.

I don’t know what happened to Lam’s offer, but it met with almost universal approval on the streets. In recent years, the existing cherry trees are part of what makes us locals so smug when we talk to less fortunate friends in the wilds of Calgary and Ottawa.While they’re still trudging through dirty-gray snow and nursing a thousand yard stare that is the first sign of cabin fever, we’re shuffling along kicking up blossoms, having shoved our winter coats to the back of the closet for the next eight months.

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