The Patient Nature of the Japanese, the Patience of Japanese Nature

Although I’m no expert on travelling, I can imagine there are varying difficulties from place to place when it comes to making and keeping friends. I thought about this while I walked along a forest path flanked by woodland mounds of purple and green in Miharu, Fukushima.

A woodland slant filled with Erythronium.

A woodland slant filled with Erythronium.

Controversially regarded as a vulnerable species, Erythronium japonicum – katakuri in Japanese, generically known as trout lily in English – can take some years before it blooms and seeds. It’s also fairly needy, preferring slightly acid and well-drained soil and precisely the dappling light I felt that day in “Three Springs” (Miharu was gorgeously and aptly named for the three major trees that pop up sequentially in Springtime: plum, peach, and cherry).

An ume, or plum, blossom in Miharu.

An ume, or plum, blossom in Miharu.

When it comes to years of cultivating, however, the monolithic mother of cherry trees, Takizakura, or waterfall tree, deservedly takes the cake. She’s over 1,000 years old and attracts hundreds of thousands of nature-lovers each year.

Takizakura, mother cherry tree of Miharu.

Takizakura, mother cherry tree of Miharu.

While it’s unthinkable that the government and gardeners here would ignore such a threat, it concerned me – and my excellent guide and friend that day – that the cherry and plum trees lining the backroad to Mama-zakura are all infected with the same disease affecting those on Hanamiyama in Fukushima City. The same black rot that starts within and eats its way out.

A field of nanohana, or rapeseed, in Miharu. It's been studied for some years as a veritable bioaccumulator.

A field of nanohana, or rapeseed, in Miharu. It’s been studied for some years as a veritable bioaccumulator.

While everyone in the know about the quickly spreading disease here would love to see a cure-all rather than a cut-down-and-wait-and-see method offered by a plant pathologist expert, this is clearly something inevitable as well as something that will take some time to fix. Given the importance of cherry blossom viewing in Japan and the love of nature here, one can hope this fix will come before the disease sinks in too deep.

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Botanical Book Review: Hothouse, The Long Afternoon of Earth

“Where are your empty-headed heads, you creatures of the darkling plains? You have toads in the head, not to understand my prophecies where the green pillars grow. Growing is symmetry, up and down, and what is called decay is not decay but the second part of growth. One process, you toad-heads – the process of devolution, that carries you down into the green well from which you came…I’m lost in the mazes – Gren! Gren, like a mole I tunnel through an earth of understanding…Gren, the nightmares – Gren, from the fish’s belly I call to you. Can you hear me? It’s I – your old ally the morel!”

 

The first chapter was agonizing: the text was coarse, awkward, and unintelligible, and the names and descriptions silly and often beyond imaging. As the characters are split up or otherwise “fall to the green”, the reader finally follows a select few on an unceasingly violent series of mindless events. These few make a doomed but decisive venture and are about to return back to the familiar albeit danger-filled forest that is their home, when along comes the morel.

In Brian Aldiss’s Hothouse, or The Long Afternoon of Earth, we eventually are left with two main characters, who travel through a hostile environment overtaken by highly evolved plants; an Earth in locked rotation with a dying Sun forces plants to cleverly – and horrifically – adapt, while mammals are quickly driven to extinction.

The deep-throated Digitalis, or foxglove, reminds me of some hellish mutation that might be found in Aldiss's book. Not only that, but it's poisonous to boot.

The deep-throated Digitalis, or foxglove, reminds me of some hellish mutation that might be found in Aldiss’s book. Not only that, but it’s poisonous to boot.

Yattmur and Gren, both humanoid but from different tribes, meet sometime after Gren’s encounter with a sentient parasitic fungus, “Morel”, which latches onto his head and gives him intelligence. However, Morel’s true aim is to find more species like himself, use others to absorb all information he can, and reproduce anywhere and everywhere.

At first a promising guide to a way out of the steaming and murderous forest, Morel starts to control Gren, forcing him and, indirectly, Yattmur to do things they didn’t sign up for nor fulfilling his original promises in keeping them and the company they keep safe. Gren futilely struggles to fight off Morel’s grip on his mind, while Yattmur tries, with mixed success, to care for the friends they have met along the way.

In the end, Yattmur, along with Gren, return to the hot world not because she has to nor due to any kind of gross negligence; the morel’s machinations, schemes, and overbearing need to propagate and control is simply not the current she chooses to get swept up in.

The above quote by Morel, that treacherous and insular yet driven scum, is his last attempt to occupy Gren’s already diseased mind, who has escaped Morel’s mad schemes and for which he is no longer a vessel.

These writhing beauties, the photo of which was snapped at Miharu's famous herb garden, bring to mind Hothouse's Urn-Burns, plants that use the sun's rays to focus fires on their enemies.

These writhing beauties, the photo of which was snapped at Miharu’s famous herb garden, bring to mind Hothouse’s Urn-Burns, plants that use the sun’s rays to focus fires on their enemies.

Morel is a fascinating character among the many otherwise interesting but mindless botanical monsters mentioned in Aldiss’s novel. Yet, de-evolved as they were, as spoken by Morel himself, the humans become wise enough to leave his party in the end; Yattmur feels remorse for the deaths (all directly or indirectly caused by Morel’s selfish decisions) of those with which they crossed paths, whereas Gren is simply tired of the Morel’s tricks and literal mind control.

The clunky wording at the beginning becomes prosaic and plumbing towards the end, an end which is abrupt and hardly uplifting. And yet, the madness of it all, as they watch from a distant mountain the forest writhing in thick steam and lightning uncontrollably up toward the doomed Sun, can now be appreciated.

While sakura (cherry blossom) trees are meant to be beautiful, I've found myself comparing their contorting trunks and branches to those of the king banyan tree in Aldiss's work.

While sakura (cherry blossom) trees are meant to be beautiful, I’ve found myself comparing their contorting trunks and branches to those of the king banyan tree in Aldiss’s work.

It’s beautiful, foreboding, clarifying, unpredictable, and unforeseeable. Nevertheless, in a way thanks to the morel, we’ve found each other and have come out of the forest, only to go back in. But, as the saying goes, we’re all the wiser and more prepared for having done so.