Thursday, September 11, 2014

Walking with Aunt Dot By Beth Kinsella Sakanishi


Years ago, when I was back in Rochester one time, I went to visit Aunt Dot with Jim. We hopped from subject to subject, happily talking our way from the present, to the past, and back. At one point Aunt Dot and I were talking about her fabled ‘green thumb’ and how she would love Japan with all its flowers, flowering bushes, flowering plants, flowering trees, some of which she would recognize (dogwood, azalea wisteria) and some native to Asia or Japan, or just needing a warmer climate than western NY, which she would not (bush clover, the ‘handkerchief tree’). 

I went back to Japan and had the good idea to put together a photo album of the things I saw blooming in my walks around the neighborhood. As I walked for about an hour or so, many days, at that time, I saw a good variety. I started it with the intention of doing a ‘calendar’ of flowers: photos of what I saw each month, with just a phrase or two to identify what I had photographed. 

But then I got sick and could not do those walks at all for a long time. So I never did finish the ‘flower calendar album’ for Aunt Dot. 

She must be up there whispering in my ear, though, because I have never forgotten the impulse and often think of it, and her, on my walks, which I have taken up again. 

I decided to start a sort of blog recently (just for me, really, and perhaps Mom and Dad), where I can explain to them what I see in my walks that range in all directions, through a varied landscape, month by month. I worked on an entry for August/September a few days ago, after thinking for days in a row, as I passed a certain temple, “I must take photos of those crape myrtle trees in bloom,” and then walking the ten minutes there, finally, and taking some photos. 

 Crape Myrtle Tree--Japan

The photos alone would not mean as much as if I explained different things about this temple area, so the few paragraphs I had in mind, became pages, and thus my ‘Masuo flower calendar’ was born, from the original idea for Aunt Dot. 

I thought of her the entire time I was taking the crape myrtle photos. They are a tree that originated in Asia, but my friend Rebecca, from California, knew them, so though I had never seen them before coming here, she had. The Japanese call them ‘saru suberi’ (‘saru’ = monkey, and ‘suberi’ = slippery) because, with its smooth bark, “even a monkey would slip down its trunk.”

They usually start to bloom sometime in August and are the perfect lacy, delicate texture and pale colors against the searing, bright blue sky, made even more delicious in September, when we start to get what I call ‘shredded clouds,’ wisps of white against a paler blue sky. The tiny blossoms of the crape myrtle can be pink, white, or a light lavender. One website I looked at called the last variety ‘Twilight lavender,’ which I rather liked. 

They are delicate blossoms, though, and since August and September are typhoon season, we sometimes wake up and after the strong wind and rain, find the poor crape myrtle blossoms spread across the entire road, a beautiful carpet of pastels against the black pavement or bits of color strewn across puddles. 

It is these small details I have kept track of in my head for years, in the album I continued to ‘make’ for Aunt Dot. There is a pilgrimage that Tim and I have been wanting to do ‘someday’ for years: it is 88 temples on Shikoku Island. The founding priest, Kukai, went to China in the 8th century, came back and helped popularize Shingon Buddhism in Japan, creating this 1200 kilometer pilgrimage route, among other things. When you walk it, you are advised to ‘walk with Kukai’ in your heart. I think that, when I am on my long walks, delighting in this or that flower or someone’s garden, I am really ‘walking with Aunt Dot’.

Doris and her Love of Plants!

--In an email, Beth added a few days ago: “Here’s to Aunt Dot! 
IF the weather cooperates — a big if at this time of year -- I will actually be in Kamakura on her birthday and part of my itinerary is to check out two temples that have bush clover blooming. Bush clover is another flower I have never seen and I discovered recently that this is because it is native to Japan. Even so, I had never seen it near me, and so look forward to seeing it at these two temples that are famous for having two different kinds (one white, one red). Aunt Dot will definitely be with me on that trip!”


Pat said...

Beth, Terrific story--thank you!

Aunt Doris, Happy Birthday today!! It would have been your 90th Birthday today. How I miss your smile and jokes and songs. I always knew you loved me.

Miss you,

CB/Mom said...

Yes, I too miss Doris! We were always close, being next to one another in age and being in HS at the same time. I will tell you that she taught me many things along the way!
She did live in California at one time and may have been acquainted with this tree, but she would be so pleased with this story! And flattered! She surely did have a way with plants!
13 years ago I was with her on her birthday. We camped before the TV and she bemoaned the fact that THIS had to happen on her birthday! I reminded her that at least, we were together! We used to have 2-3 weeks together in the fall at the cottage! Our adventures there I will have to write up sometime! I miss her most this season!

Julie riber said...

That is a beautiful tribute to Aunt Dot, Beth. I remember all the African Violets she grew. There were tons of them in every color imaginable. Just gorgeous.