Weekend Festival in Bloom | Celebrating Tulips and Cherry Blossom Trees
There is something so refreshing and revitalizing about spring. So much life awakens from the throws of winter, and I am awakened too. Every morning I wake to explosions of color, to the permeating floral fragrance that greets me as I walk to work, and the awesome extended hours of daylight. By far my favorite season. April 22nd-23rd I experienced a wonderful celebration of culture and beauty on the backdrop of spring blooms. I attended two historic festivals, Saturday in Skagit Valley and Sunday in Downtown Seattle. Each brought to light a new appreciation for the beauty of nature, culture and the history that founded it.
Skagit county Tulip Festival
Skagit Valley is home to an array of waterfront towns, farms & fields, and inviting places such as La Conner and Bellingham. Another popular place of the Valley to visit is Mt Vernon, about an hour north of Seattle. They have a great mix of restaurants, shopping, and historic charm in their downtown area and within about a 20 minute drive, you will come to the fields of the Roosengaarde. The most charming impression of flowers I ever beheld.
My senses were overwhelmed in the best way possible by this festival. As my aunt Millicent and I made our way to the fields, our arms stretched out of the slow moving car to capture the first peek with our phones and then throughout the expansive grounds, color smacked me in the face. Again in the best way possible. It was incredibly impressive the way the gardeners planted the different bulbs, the mix of species intentionally placed to create a beautiful display. I loved how design was involved, how they paired complementary colors like purple and yellow together and different shades of red to create an impacting statement. I felt peace and awe, the inspired landscape design was an encouragement to truly recognize the amazing landscape around me.
The Tulip Festival was commissioned in 1984 by the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce to provide a more comprehensive experience for those people traveling to see the tulips and grew from 3 days to a now 30 day timeframe. This was to ensure that people could see the tulips in full bloom sometime during the festival, which in years past, was possible to miss when only held for a few days. Now in its 33rd year, the Tulip Festival is a great celebration of the Valley's annual tulip harvest as well as a supporter for the agricultural community of the Skagit Valley.
After purchasing the $7 ticket you come to the gift shop straight ahead and to either side are open areas spotted with tulips. There is a lot of flexibility in navigating the area, with large areas of grass to make your way at your own pace, which was great. I never felt constricted. The vastness of space that these tulips inhabit, the stretch of color that goes for hundreds of yards, sends your eye toward the white capped mountains of the Cascades, and you can't help but feel rejuvenated. There are hundreds of species, and the variance in size, color, texture, stalk, and leaves made for a lot of photos. Possibly too many.
There is never a time like standing in a floral field to inspire a career change to botany. If for nothing else than to name the flowers, here were some of my favorites.
With such rejuvenation also comes hunger. In close proximity to the fields, they have a stand where they sell burgers, hot dogs, and other typical festival fare. Millicent and I shared a bag of kettle corn, which hit the spot in a way that only melted sugar & salt can, and enjoyed talking under the crowded tent. I felt a little constricted here but it was great to sit in the experience with so many different people. I saw some bad-ass bikers and cute babies, a family eating a delicious homemade stew out of their crockpot, and just enjoyed the general hum of conversation at the large community picnic tables.
We then made a stop into one of the gift shops, which offered a bushel of tulips for $5 each and you could choose among a few different species, colors including white, purple, red, and yellow. I couldn't decide so I made a healthy compromise and bought two.
Our experience at the Roosengaard was beautiful, and I would certainly recommend it. There are also so many other areas where you can view the tulips, and do so by pretty much every mode of transportation; bus, car, taxi, bike, even walking. The whole month of April is when the festival is held and covers all of Skagit Valley so you can see blooms from La Conner to Mt. Vernon. Weather here in Washington is of course an unpredictable beast so I recommend dressing in sturdy boots that can handle mud and in layers. At the time of our visit, billowing winds and tickling rain were a part of the experience and an appreciable one too. I loved how the distinct rich color of the tulips stood their ground against the fiercely windy and muted gray sky.
It is also good if you plan to attend on the weekend, to leave early as to avoid crowds, but don't be deterred if you can't or if you happen to get stuck in a 2 hour freeway shutdown where the only way forward is to go backward as people hang out on top of their cars (yes, that did happen, not a theoretical scenario. Normally such an event would add horrible stress, but it meant I had more time with my aunt so no complaints). We got to the fields around 12, a good 2 hours later than we intended, but the staff of the Roosengaard were very organized and guided cars easily through the lot. We probably spent 20 minutes getting both in and out of the parking area. Wind, rain, and traffic could not stop us from experiencing the beauty. So worth it.
Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival
In 1976, Takeo Miki, former Prime Minister of Japan, gifted Seattle 1,000 cherry trees in commemoration of America's bicentennial and the long friendship between the Japanese and residents of Washington state. With such a gift was the initiation of the festival, which remains the largest and oldest of its kind in the Northwest. There is a lot of dark history between Japan and the U.S. from WWII, but thankfully there has been a great amount of reconciliation, which you can see with this festival.
It was a day of immersive education and enlightenment. The Japanese culture is fascinating and rich, the attention to detail and craft so perceptive and engaging, I was incredibly inspired. I really couldn't get enough. Within a two hour period, my friend Janna and I were introduced to calligraphy, a tea ceremony, a gyudon beef bowl and adzuki bean brownie, kimono dressing, floral arrangement, and a myriad of beautiful music performed in the armory of the Seattle center.
Chado / Tea Ceremony
I have a new appreciation for tea after witnessing a part of the Chado. I read in the North American Post, a Japanese-American publication provided at the festival, that tea was served in Japan as early as 729 AD. The first seeds were brought to the country by a monk who spent two years in China and over the centuries the Japanese developed the process of drinking tea into a unique and in depth ceremony that captured four essential principles: Harmony with people and nature, Respect for others, Purity of the heart and mind, and Tranquility. The Omote Senke school held the demonstration on Sunday and it was beautiful to watch. There was no action or movement that was guided by impatience, only by thoughtfulness. But it is challenging! I grew some gumption after watching Janna participate and it required a lot of discipline to hold myself in the right manner (I have terrible posture), handle the bowl of matcha tea correctly, follow the mannerisms precisely, and all the while really hone in on the principles. I will not claim to have succeeded, I'm pretty confident I set my bowl down in the wrong direction*, it was nonetheless a great experience to take part in. I was really proud of Janna, she did so great.
*When your host places the cup of tea before you, they do so with the design toward you so that you may appreciate its beauty. You take time to turn the bowl slowly in your hands, noticing the detail, and once you've finished your tea, you set the bowl down with the design facing out to signify the completion and thanks to the host for their offering.
Shodo / Calligraphy
Shodo is the art of writing as an artistic discipline and is one of the most admired arts practiced in Japan and extends abroad. There is a chapter of the Beikoku Shodo Kenkyu Kai in Seattle, the oldest chapter in the Northwest. The group was established in May 1996 as a non-profit Japanese Calligraphy Association. The artists at the festival made the process look so easy as they moved their brushes fluidly across the paper. It is amazing because little details play a huge part; the pressure of hand against the paper and the weight of the lines convey different meanings and are definitive of different styles.
Ikebana / Flower Arrangements
Ikebana is an art that requires a disciplined training and understanding of the natural growth patterns of plants and their seasonal changes. Every arrangement displayed by the Ikebana International Seattle Chapter 19 was amazing, some bold and ornamented with multiple flora and intricate bases, while others were soft and simplistic. The art dates back to the 6th century when offerings of flowers were an integral part of daily ritual. The Seattle Chapter encourages participation where you can be involved in demonstrations, exhibitions, tours, workshops, study under the direction of various school masters, and even be able to place your work at the Seattle Art and Seattle Asian Art Museum. I want in.
Yukata / Kimono Dress-Up
Set up by the Seattle-Kobe Sister City Association, the experience of Yukata was so fun. You got to choose among a dozen beautiful kimonos with an obi of your choosing, parasol or fan, and then one of the volunteers dresses you. Yukata is a summer Kimono, made of a lighter material, often worn for summer festivals. On the festival website they mention the Yukata is not as easy to wear as western clothes, and I would agree, I had no choice but to shorten my gait unless I wanted to fall over. But the way the fabric felt, tight to my figure, the wide flowing sleeves leaving me feeling graceful and strong, I welcomed the adjustment. And I particularly loved the print (my new favorite flower that starts with a T).
I learned that cherry blossom viewing is called Hanami, a reminder to celebrate life. Every year as the pink petals weave with the breeze, it prompts an appreciation for all that we have, monetarily valuable or not. I walked away from the festival grateful that I could have the opportunity to learn more of a culture so integral to Seattle. I loved how the Japanese culture is so mindful and attentive to the subtleties of life. The strokes of brushes, the slow pour of hot water, the delicate folds of origami, there is intention behind every action. It is an attitude I want to adopt. So the next time I make tea, I will take a moment to notice. Notice the cup in my hands, its pattern and color, the tea leaves expanding in the diffuser, the steam and aroma rising to meet my senses. I am seriously inspired! Can you tell?
Any opportunity to visit nature or to visit a new culture, is a trip worth taking. There is so much to learn and the benefits of such knowledge are great, should we be willing to accept them and take even a moment to appreciate them. I believe we should.