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 Banff Mountain Book Award, 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 and Two Trees Make a Forest, and co-editor of the essay collection Dog Hearted. Jessica has a PhD in Environmental History and Aesthetics and is the founding editor of The Willowherb Review. She teaches creative writing at the University of Cambridge.
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I added it to the list of things off-limits: questions about the past, the wars, why my grandparents had fled China for Taiwan. Why eventually they left that place too.
It took me years before I realized that I’d built my notions of beauty from the stories of a distant land.