In that moment, I just listened.
I stopped in front of one of the trees, taking in all the details. Its imposing trunk stood far behind a low fence. Lines and grooves ran across the dark brown bark and revealed its age. The healthy branches stretched towards different directions, leading to the smaller vines and finally the blossoms.
It was a much bigger tree. But the fascination felt familiar.
As a child, I have always been fond of flowers and gardens. I spent many hours playing and picking apart the flowers in my grandmother’s yard in Davao.
I marveled at the fruits that grew from the trunk of her cacao tree. I admired the papaya tree fronds which reminded me of the tree star leaves in the 90s movie Land Before Time.
I would climb up the sprawling gumamela shrub that seemed like a tree to the tiny five-year-old me. I nimbly made my way through the branches to pick blossoms.
I also plucked flowers from the santan bush next to it, and linked them to make garlands and bracelets to wear for the day. One of my cousins taught me how draw out nectar from them too.
I was a flower maiden in my own right. The garden was my playground. There were no toys in our ancestral home. There weren’t any children my age, well except for my sister. Though an aunt and my then-teenage cousins lived on the second floor, my usual babysitters did have their own lives and romps to attend to. If I was left there for the weekend afternoon, the garden was the escape.
I made the gumamela my toys, pretending they were flower folk with the petals as skirts and the stems as bodies. I imagined them to be like whimsical characters from the cartoons I watched. I built dialogues. I narrated. Perhaps the grownups never understood the narrative they overheard. Perhaps they never will. But it never really bothered me.
Exploring the garden was a pastime I enjoyed in solitude. It was a pastime buried under the other pastimes I discovered over the next years of my childhood, only to be unearthed when I moved to Japan. I would head out to gardens, get lost in thought, then snap away with my camera phone. I followed the plum blossoms and camellias of early March, the cherry blossoms and baby blue eyes of April, and even the irises and hydrangeas of June. I didn’t mind the alone time. I guess my only problem was if there was a very scenic backdrop and I wished I could get a full-body picture with it.
“Sumimasen! (Excuse me)” called a woman from behind, her voice laced with a Vietnamese accent. “Sasshin, torimashouka? (Shall I take your picture?)”
I came out of my meditation. I turned to see a group of travelers, some of whom were dressed to the nines. The offer came from the woman with a smile on her face and a camera on hand. “Hai, onegaishimasu (Yes, please),” I stuttered in surprise and handed my phone. She toggled with it a little, took some photos, and gave it back. I took it as my sign to move on.
The clouds were slowly clearing up to reveal the rich indigo shade of twilight. I explored more of the wisteria groves the park boasted of. I discovered the double-flowered wisteria tree with puffy blossoms and filled the air with a delicate, floral scent. I saw the trellis of pink wisterias that trailed down like rain, its vines growing to nearly two meters long. Then I ended up in a slightly smaller but solitary trellis that was bathed in an ethereal purple light and invited another moment to contemplate.
The wisterias were all aglow as dusk slowly crept in. I walked to the park exit with a gallery full of whimsical trees. And a few pictures of me and hundred-year-old wisteria trees.
“In the pale moonlight
The scent of the wisteria
Comes from far away”
-Yosa Buson, In the Moonlight
Stephanie Puyod is an alumna of the BA Communication Arts program of the University of the Philippines-Mindanao.