By Sumaya Agha
Japanese culture has revered the cherry blossom for centuries. Among the varying interpretations of the flower’s symbolism, it represents the beauty and fragility of life, as the blooms only flourish a short few weeks every year.
I understand this. Cherry trees lined my quaint neighborhood streets in the Pacific Northwest’s Portland. They brought the city alive, almost to another-worldly state. And then they were gone.
Hiking today on a new section of the Abraham Path, between Rosana and Burqin, we hiked up the Canaanite Tel Ta’anek, and then began sauntering through almond trees in bloom, so reminiscent of springtime cherry blossoms. It is early February and even without the needed rains this winter, the hike was green, and the contrast of verdant grass highlighted the clouds of white almond flowers. This was my first time up and personal with the native trees’ blooms.
Our guide, jolly Abu Jameel, walked our multinational group through a field covered in limestone slabs, speckles of red poppies, periwinkle cyclamen, and sparsely placed blooming almond trees. They are really beautiful, and ephemeral like the cherry tree.
Wondering if the almond blossom had a similar following as cherry blossoms, I looked up “symbolism of almond blossoms.”
They are mentioned in the bible. Vincent Van Gogh used the blossoms to represent new life, the life of his newborn nephew. The astounding Lebanese singer, Fairouz, sings about the “shalabi girl under the pomegranate tree,” her eyes are the seed of the almond blossoms, she has “almond eyes.”
Symbology of almonds and their tree is evident, but I found little for almond blossoms. Maybe it’s just not written down, maybe it’s in the villages, in stories and legends. Maybe it’s just not on the Internet. (I’ll search for the symbolism of the blossom in historical texts and from the source–the people.)
What I did find out, not surprisingly, is that the almond tree and cherry tree are related, from the same genus, Prunus. They are stone fruit. The almond that we all know is not a “true nut,” but the seed of its inedible fruit–although in this area the un-ripened fruit is eaten (I tried it once, I didn’t take to it).
The Levantine fruit and nut trees and their edible delights are legendary. My own father, who hails from the Levant, has a passion for these trees that I never understood–he feels connected to the trees. He walked through almond trees in bloom every year of his childhood.
In this region there are mosaics that date back to Byzantine times, with imagery of fruit that is widely prevalent in agriculture and cuisine today: pomegranates, figs, olives, lemons, and almonds (okay, seeds). Maybe there is a mosaic out there of almond tree blossoms. I might have seen it and didn’t realize what it was, but next time I will know.
For centuries the products of these trees have been ingredients in delectable and artfully displayed cuisine that is shared with friends and strangers alike. The variety of native trees and their fruits, nuts, and seeds are such an engrained part of this region’s history and culture that they are in songs and in old mosaic floors, used as vehicles for stories and bridges to interaction and friendship.
I may or may not find significant historical symbolism of the almond blossom. No matter–they are a sign of spring to come; they inspire friends and strangers to share walks together; they are a precursor to their autumn seed, which has provided for this region and been a part of perpetual tables of hospitality for centuries. As it’s cousin, the cherry blossom, they are full of meaning, and beautiful in their moment.