If I were to choose my favorite month for cycling it would be May because May is the month when the hawthorn is in bloom.
I try not to take life for granted but too often I don’t appreciate things until they have passed.
Mono no Aware is the Japanese term which describes the gentle wistfulness, or the melancholic appreciation of the transiency of things.
Hanami is the Japanese term for cherry blossom viewing. These two go hand in hand as viewing the cherry blossom, which blooms so briefly in spring, is appreciated so much more because of its transience in a way that would be missing if it was always there.
But we have a native tree that would give the cherry blossom a run for its money.
It is the humble Hawthorn.
It was in the month of May when Penny and I finally found a day when both of us were free and we head off to cycle the Achill to Westport Greenway (Co Mayo) in search of Hawthorn blossoms and to practice Hanami .
After doing the ‘two car thingy’ (A technique I wrote about in a previous post) we arrived in my car at the starting point.
‘WILL YOU BE WEARING A HELMET?’ Penny shouts to make herself heard above the rattle (She has opened the boot and is trying to disentangle her bike from mine).
‘I WILL NOT!’ I shout back, pausing from my task of taking the panniers out from behind the front seat. ‘I’VE NEVER WORN ONE IN MY ENTIRE LIFE, AS YOU WELL KNOW, AND HAVE NO INTENTION OF WEARING ONE TODAY!’
I shout so that she is also able to hear ME over the clattering of handlebars and metal mudguards but more because I am appalled that she would even suggest that I owned such a thing.
‘OK OK! she laughs ‘Keep your hair on’
At this stage She has extricated her bike from the clutches of mine and leaning it against the wall turns to me.
‘I wont wear one either so’
She watches me, daring me to look surprised.
I am surprised, shocked even.
The last time we cycled together on the Greenway, not only did she insist on wearing a helmet but a ‘High viz’ jacket as well. I remember thinking that if she fell off her bike there wasn’t much to hit her head off except some sheep wire. And that maybe she needed to wear high viz so that the sheep could see her coming.
‘Great’ I try to look as though its not important one way or the other but secretly I’m delighted ‘Now you will be able to feel the gentle spring breeze in your hair.
(Nagokaze = the Japanese term for experiencing the gentle spring breeze)
Suddenly I am struck by a wistful longing for those days long ago when cycling were simpler.
Before helmets. Before fear.
Back then (could it be almost forty years ago) I cycled the wild Atlantic way (before it became famous) from Donegal to cape clear island without once worrying about falling.
My bike was a single speed black raleigh, complete with a small wooden bicycle cart (I had bought the cart in Holland the previous year whilst on a cycling trip in Europe).
This cart was of an ingenious design.
When not carrying my accoutrements (tent, spare clothing, pots and pans, Kelly kettle) the base could be taken out and used as a table.
And the sides, having a hinge at each corner, meant the remainder could then be folded flat for easy storage.
Looking back it was a much weightier affair than today’s versions, but I knew no better as, with the breeze tossing my (unhelmeted) hair, I cruised down those Connemara hills, my feet off the pedals, the cart rattling gaily along behind.
Once when heading across the bog road to Scriob, (a road which undulated in such a measured fashion that the momentum of sailing down hill would almost carry you up the next hill without pedalling) the safety bolt loosened from the hitch on a down hill stretch and the cart disengaged.
Passing me out, it landed in a ditch upside down.
Luckily the only damage was a dint in a saucepan but I took more care after that by adding a loop of bailing twine around the hitch.
That was the only accident I can recall.
Suddenly I understand Mono no aware.
‘Come on’ A voice wakes me from my daydream.
Penny has my bicycle out too and wheels it over.
I buckle on my panniers and fix my picnic laden basket on the handle bars.
The traffic is heavy as we cycle up the main road and we are happy to take a left turn away from it and along a small gravel lane. We continue to climb slowly until finally it turns again before flattening out.
Then for a while it runs, not only fairly level, but straight as well, giving us the opportunity to look around.
To the left the boggy fields bank easily down to the sea, where the ruins of abandoned cottages lie.
‘Aw look! Aren’t the colours gorgeous?’ Penny points to the swathes of purple and pink rhododendrons dotted here and there.
The colours ARE gorgeous and I wonder is there a Japanese term for admiring things guiltily.
These invasive plants that thrive in our gentle soft rain were brought in by the Victorians and planted as exotics in the grounds of many estate houses and have now run a muck, causing huge ecological problems by threatening our native species which cannot compete for space against them.
But Penny loves them.
Brought up on the bare boggy mountains of mayo she see’s the purple and pinks as uplifting and striking.
We have the track to ourselves and we cycle along easily, stopping here and there to admire the small orchids growing along the road side and in a damp field, the pink of the ragged robin.
The ditches are full of primroses.
‘We’re Hamani-ing already’. I say
‘Save it for the hawthorn’ Penny says standing on her pedals and sniffing ‘I can smell them’.
Sure enough as we round the corner, there they are, in full bloom. Bent into shape by the prevailing northwest winds, they are spread over a field of ancient potato ridges which run down to the shore.
We catch a glimpse of water between their gnarled trunks.
Penny spreads our picnic on a nearby seat.
‘This is how they do it in Japan! They have picnics and wine while viewing the blossom’.
‘Did you know that the leaves of the hawthorn are edible’ I say. ‘In fact they are very good for you and are a known tonic for the heart’? One up for our sturdy hawthorn blossom’!
‘Except’ she replies ‘The leaves AND flowers of the cherry blossom are edible also and more famously too. There is a wide variety of treats using sakura (cherry) leaves and blossoms. From being incorporated in Wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) to Sakurayu (cherry blossom tea)’.
‘We better chew on a few hawthorn leaves so’ I sigh resignedly ‘Mustn’t let the side down’.
We pick some of the young green leaves and insert them between the two halves of our baguettes french which already contain spinach and smoked salmon.
They taste good in the sandwich, a tougher texture than the spinach but with a pleasant nutty flavour.
Penny draws a line at making hawthorn blossom tea but I pop a few in my cup and pour some boiling water over them.
The tea has a lovely scent.
‘Here’s to Hawthorn blossoms’ Penny raises her glass.
To Hawthorn blossoms’ I echo her.
We sit for a while without talking and sip our wine, admiring the view, the blossoms, the gnarled trunks of the trees, the way the light defines one side of each potato ridge.
The air is so clear.
The fragrance of the Hawthorn envelopes us.
It’s beautiful and serene and all those things that I cannot find the words to describe.
There is another Japanese term.
Yuugen translates as An awareness of something in nature that triggers feelings too deep and mysterious for words.