in memory of dead tsubaki


There’s nothing quite so terrible as coming back home after a month-long trip only to find that one of your favorite trees of all time has been totally eradicated for no seemingly good reason at all.  This particular camellia tree (椿 — tsubaki in Japanese) was one of several planted along the sidewalks that border the road between my house and the university where I teach.  The area where the tree was planted is pretty nondescript — there’s a convenience store, some anonymous apartment buildings, tons of powerlines, a busy roadway, and a side entrance to the university.  The camellia trees that were planted here were just about the only redemptive moments of beauty along this particular strip of road.  I’ve lived in this neighborhood for over four years and I’ve always looked forward to those times of the year that the camellias come into bloom.  This particular tree especially, located at the top of the stairway that leads out of the university, would flower so profusely that in relation to it’s dull concrete surroundings it would almost resemble a torch when the sun would shine in from behind it.

Walking over to the Family Mart and seeing the bare strips of earth where the camellia trees had been (now lined with orange cones and impromptu fencing), I thought immediately of the scene in the Fellowship of the Ring where Samwise looks into the Mirror of Galadriel only to see the decimation of the home he’d left behind:

`Hi!’ cried Sam  in  an  outraged  voice.  ‘There’s  that Ted  Sandyman a-cutting down trees as he  shouldn’t. They didn’t ought to be  felled: it’s that avenue beyond the Mill that shades the road to Bywater. I  wish I could get at Ted, and I’d fell him!’

But  now  Sam  noticed  that the Old  Mill had  vanished,  and  a large red-brick building was being put up  where it had stood. Lots of  folk  were busily  at work. There was a tall red chimney nearby.  Black smoke seemed to cloud the surface of the Mirror.

‘There’s some devilry at work in the Shire,’ he said. ‘Elrond knew what he  was about when he wanted to send Mr. Merry back.’ Then suddenly Sam gave a cry and sprang away. ‘I can’t stay here,’ he said wildly. `I must go home.  They’ve dug up Bagshot Row, and there’s the  poor old gaffer  going down the Hill with his bits of things on a barrow. I must go home! ‘

Apparently camelias were considered signs of ill omen by certain samurai because the bright red camellia flowers that fell from the trees and littered the ground reminded them of decapitated heads.  Too bad it was the trees themselves that ended up beheaded this time.

Update — September 11, 2009: Apparently the camellia trees were cut down because of some sort of insect infestation that’s sweeping Osaka (all of the camellias on campus got cut down too).  I’m not really an expert on insect infestation, but it seems to me that perhaps slightly less drastic measures might have been taken.


2 Responses to “in memory of dead tsubaki”

  1. 1 harllyn

    Know just how you feel – our local Council sprayed the back lane with ’round-up’ and killed my brother’s 25 year old sasanquas and many more smaller trees. Our climate and water also takes the lives of our camellias – temp between -5 c to 48 c and water heavy in salt.
    Good luck with any further plantings.

    • 2 Trane DeVore

      I’m sorry to hear about the local city council killing your brother’s trees with Round Up (nasty stuff!). It does look like they’re going to replant some sort of trees along the sidewalk, but I doubt they will be camellias. Luckily for me there are tons of camellias all over Japan, so I’ll still be able to see plenty. I’m just sad that this particular set of them had to go.

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