It sure been a hard, hard winter
My feet been draggin’ ‘cross the ground
And I hope it’s gonna be a long, hot summer
And a lotta love will be burnin’ bright…
~ Rolling Stones, ‘Winter’
Happy Vernal Equinox, everyone! Well, everyone in the Northern Hemisphere; Merry Autumnal Equinox to the rest of you. Depending on your position on this half of our beautiful blue blob, in this neglected corner of the galaxy, at some point on March 21 day and night achieve a much-coveted equilibrium and we can officially kiss the Winter Blues goodbye.
(But tell that to Kate in Upstate New York. She just sent me this picture; her brother Dude is on his way over with a borrowed snow plough):
Almost makes me feel guilty about all my winter-related bitching on TGTW. Almost. In truth it’s been quite tolerable of late here in south-eastern Korea. I got back into my weekend rambling at last, modestly and usually aimlessly, after my return from the States and the subsequent melancholy. There’s no way I’ll match the hundred-and-something walks I managed last year, and I’m saving my money now so won’t be doing much travelling in this country, but I’ve set myself the target of five miles each workday and 10 each Saturday and Sunday. I never leave home without my trusty GPS!
Here’s a shot from a few weeks ago, a drab and meandering urban stroll that took me to downtown Gimhae and ended up chewing up several hours of dirty roadside, raggedy rice paddy and, finally, the small mountain of Imho-San before the return leg — 16 miles in all:
Apart from the kinder temperatures and bluer skies, there are two more sure signs that Spring has emerged in Korea. One is the preponderance of mugwort harvesters. On just about every embankment, roadside verge and river bank lately you see them — usually older women but sometimes husbands and children are recruited — squatting on the grass with scissors or knife, stuffing plastic bags with this rather unappealing-looking herb. Called ssuk (쑥) here, it’s used in soups, salads, medicinal cures and even pancakes:
The other sign is the flowers. I’m not exactly a clover-in-the-hair flower child, but I’m a mad gardener when I’m settled, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve longed for the return of colour and visual interest to the local landscape. I loved the Spring here last year but somehow most of my flower shots got buried in the blogging to-do pile. Let me remedy that this season, starting here, with a stroll homeward last week from N2 (“Hell Skool” last year but much improved so far in 2013 thanks to some major changes I helped institute).
The azaleas, very common in parks, on roadsides and wild in the woods, were emerging along the main drag…
..but it was “inland” (as I imagine it) on the long route home that the most welcome changes were underway.
I hadn’t walked this route much over Winter; the paddies were bare and boring, and on cold afternoons I just wanted to get home. In Summer it’s Dragonfly City, and I’ve wasted many happy hours here stalking them with my camera (must buy that macro lens this year). But right now it’s meihua time:
Translated either as Chinese plum or Japanese apricot, these fragrant white- and pink-flowering varieties of Prunus mume boom into bloom toward’s Winter’s end in China (where it originates), Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, preceding the larger and more iconic cherry blossoms that are just starting to open up in local streets. Their confusing nomenclature is further complicated by hybridisation: Wikipedia says there are over 300 cultivars in China.
I really enjoyed this walk home; the usual 45 minutes stretched, with photo stops, to twice that duration. Losing yourself and your worries in a viewfinder is deeply therapeutic.
The sun was sinking beyond the bumpy spine of Bulmo-San when I jumped down into a thicket of blooming plums, whites and cherry-reds, and emerged with thousands of burrs in my socks.
I like the way the flowering shrubs seem to reflect the image of hulking Mt Devastation, which I nicknamed last Summer after trudging through the road-building carnage scarring its base:
And this big hill (N2 is a mile or so away on the far side) I call Independence Mountain:
Another emblem of Spring here is forsythia — gaenari (개나리) to the locals — which adds golden swathes of four-petalled blooms to verges all over town:
Reaching my “river”, the Daecheongcheon (cheon is translated as “stream”; I prefer Daecheong Creek), I left the narrow road and went down to the bank. From here it’s a half-hour walk home, longer in photo season. I’ve griped about the condition of this waterway several times. They’re currently hacking at it with earth-movers and rolling a lot of boulders into place along its edges.
It looks like they’ve almost finished messing with it. I’ll have some more shots of this area soon, lest I be accused of exaggeration.
But for now, I was just about home, alone on the bank, with dusk trickling down the quiet valley, and I was grateful that some sweet, transitory beauty was surviving — thriving — in this most “un-natural” of landscapes.
More Spring next post!
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote