Budding History: On Nationalism and Cherry Blossoms
Through myth-making and symbolism, the natural world comes to stand in for potent human ideals.
The Lives of Others
Prunus serrulataPrunus pseudocerasus
Instead of snow, pale petals dusted the ground in January.
When the cherries bloomed again in March, the pandemic was upon us. Wearing masks and sunglasses, my husband and I strolled with our dog beneath the cherries along the Wall. We marveled at their pinks against the grey. This was a land marked by loss—but the trees stretched their roots beneath it, and scattered the path with petals, indifferent perhaps. It seemed wondrous that cherry blossoms could hold the weight of histories we’ve laid upon them, even briefly, before the flowers fell again.
Jessica J. Lee is a British-Canadian-Taiwanese author, environmental historian, and winner of the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature, and the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writer Award. She is the author of two books of nature writing: Turning (2017) and Two Trees Make a Forest (2019), shortlisted for Canada Reads 2021. Jessica has a PhD in Environmental History and Aesthetics and is the founding editor of The Willowherb Review. She is a researcher at the University of Cambridge.
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It took me years before I realized that I’d built my notions of beauty from the stories of a distant land.