CALIFORNIA'S PREMIER BIRD SITE!
PETALS ON THE METAL
Today's a rare day of blue over London. April's an the ever-changing month of cold, sun, clouds, wind, calm, warmth, flux. Yet it's raining daily. Petals are falling from dozens of cherry trees lining streets around Telegraph Hill. These petals are white, pale pink, cherry pink or watermelon. As you walk, even in still air, a petal may fall before you, then further along the street another. Colourful petals puddle in this London desert of cement and asphalt. Along the curb or edging the sidewalk where it abuts a brick garden wall are small drifts of the pink and white petals. A car that hasn't been driven for a day wears a pink fringe on windshield wipers and along the top of each door.
In this warming season each nickel-sized petal quickly loses its moisture but keeps its color. Walking past a small drift of cherry petals you create a swirl of color, ebullient and ephemeral. A slight breeze can send petals cartwheeling down the sidewalk, pink motion across the drab flat gray. Nature's confetti.
Around the first corner east of our house on Musgrove Road you can turn into stubby Troutbeck Road. It's a block long and empties at the far end into busy, bus-fumed New Cross Gate Road. Usually Troutbeck's just a short cut to the grocery store and the train station of New Cross Gate. Most seasons its modest faux-Tudor Victorians aren't memorable. They have tiny stained glass windows in the doors, some vaguely decorative roofing tiles and a pediment beneath the peaked roof that pretends to be Tudor with plaster and timber. Most are well-maintained but none would be accused of either elegance or spaciousness. But, if you’re ever in London in April, I'd advise you to make the trip to New Cross Gate, then take a slow walk down Troutbeck, this street of genius. There are no trout, no sign of a beck ever having flowed here, but there are cherry trees. Alive. Blooming. Here your eyes can behold a spectrum of pink flowers I imagine to be unmatched in the world. It's the genius of nature aided by long-forgotten tree planters. Some cherry branches have back-lighting, others are partially shaded, still others get direct full sun. Blossoms cluster densely. New, small leaves add a moist green counterpoint. Normally I find a wisteria and its dangling "grape clusters" of soft blue flowers to be the best spring can offer. Along Troutbeck there's a venerable wisteria that grows up one side of the front door, across the top, down the other side and all along the front of a modest brick house. In another month this vine will be the star plant of all Troutbeck. Today its humble blooms are lost in the glow. Some of these trees appear to be covered with exploded popcorn, others are deeper in color like grenadine or pink hand lotion. Even the sky and the white trim around Troutbeck house windows seem to reflect these cherry tree pinks.
The trees themselves cross generations. The brick houses on Troutbeck date to the 1890s. Some of the older trees are contemporary, their thick trunks gnarled and twisted. These thirty foot tall ancients are next to some smaller, newer trees, all at twenty foot intervals on both sides of the street.
I can't describe it aptly. I'm not sure even Monet could paint it properly. Ebullient. Ephemeral. Effulgent. Evanescent Excellent. Exhausting, of the whole dictionary. If William Morris made Troutbeck cherries into a wallpaper, only a young girls' nursery would seem appropriate. And it would need huge south-facing windows. In the full spring sun this street has color nobody could paint or photograph. The petals on the trees have a vivid, vital texture that imbues their color with...well, with being alive. You cannot walk this street in this brief season of flowers without smiling, inwardly in the English manner, of course. Perhaps a Mozart or a Renoir could find some way to express the proper feeling. The rest of us can only aspire to appreciate, to stop and gawk, then to recall.
All around Telegraph Hill this is a season of whites and pinks. Petals adorn the homely dark green plastic trash bins, the cars, the sidewalk, tops of the brick walls.
When they are dry these petals fill your hand with the weight of a soft breeze. They are disembodied discs of color. When damp they have the smell of damp oats, no honeyed perfume, no sweet scent. Their color, their glowing mesmerizing color is enough to draw the insects when the petals are still on the tree. Up in Telegraph Hill Park petals even drift across the tennis courts, making those bright yellow tennis balls look so tacky, so un-subtle. Earlier this spring the yellows of daffodils, dandelions and forsythia and winter jasmine dominated the more barren landscape. But now is the season of pinks. And on the top of Telegraph Hill is the most pure pink--a medium-sized, fifteen-foot cherry tree between two white blossomed forty-foot behemoths. Our neighbour, Gillian, said her mother came to visit her and harrumphed about being hauled to this unremarkable park. Once on Telegraph Hill the elderly visitor couldn't miss the magnetism of the humble hump of raspberry sorbet on black limbs. Upon seeing this perfect cherry tree the mother insisted on sitting in its shade, in its pink under-glow beneath the umbrella of cherry blossoms. She had her picture taken thus. She and the tree feeling so alive.
Perhaps the most impressive cherry tree hereabouts is the one on Ommaney Road near the Pepys Road end. This grandparent tree is about thirty feet high and fifty feet across the spread of its longest limbs. It is the grenadine color. On one side its branches cross the entire narrow street, on the other it arches well past the sidewalk, over a garden wall and shades much of that garden. The houses here were built in the 1880s and that tree must have planted at the same time. If it is that old it may have been the first in the area, or at least on that street because it is twice as big as any other on Ommaney.
None of this beauty has affected our external lives, of course. Noise from jets headed to Heathrow is daily. The milkman comes every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to leave bottles from his small flat-bed truck. The garbagemen come every Wednesday to empty or forget our "refuse bin" as we call them here. The mailperson passes and stuffs things through our mail slot in the front door. Bridget barks, always successful in scaring off this annoying would-be intruder. The lilacs are just beginning to open their white and purple buds. The plane trees tower over all else and now are showing some small bits of green on their fingers. In the distance you can hear the passing South Central Trains rumble over the worn rails in the gorge below New Cross Gate station. In the gutter along Musgrove I find a mildewed official notice form the Lewisham Borough offices:
"London Borough of Lewisham...
Thanks to nearby Goldsmith University and the general housing crunch and the high real estate prices around London, these old brick Victorians make a neighborhood on its way up. I doubt the cherry trees will notice.
The tree is aware of other matters. "I am tree I live my roots push fibers into the smallest crevice where the moisture lies and my branches stretch and slowly move out to the open air and the sun and the chloroplast in my leaves swirl and purr and out flows the life and energy from sun and water and air and I live despite the dog's acid puddle by my trunk or the little kid who slams into me on his bike and I shade them all even the nasty cats who digs around my roots or the slug who slimes my trunk or the drunk who leaves his beer can on my little patch of bare soil but I am alive I live I live the wind it moves through my leaves and the black bee bumbles around my flowers like a buoyant ping pong ball and pudgey Woodpigeon comes to eat some of my flowers but I live yes I live and I have millions of flowers and I live longer than generations of Woodpigeon and it rains and I live and the sun shines and I live and the nights are foggy or clear or windy and I live and yes I live the Robin flits through my leaves and whispers his presence while the Blue Tits come and take away some of the small creatures who live who get on my bark and I live and I live and the Blue Tits fly back up to their nest under the eave and my petals drift and float and form small soft mounds and then the Tits are back and picking pecking gorging on the aphids and caterpillars and children go by singing yelling and dogs come sniffing at earlier messages from earlier dogs and yes I live as my green world and my green leaves and my green soul lives and it may be cold again some time but I live and I live yes I live."
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