They Grow On Trees

Washi Balloons

Art, Creativity, Poetry, SpiritualJenica HalulaComment

I heard an amazing story about Fu-Go. It is worth listening to Radiolab's episode on the subject. It is possible that the following post will spoil it for you, so feel free to go there first.

This is, however, not about the real Fu-Go story. 

This is a retelling, of sorts, in a world where swords have been beaten into ploughshares.  A place I long for.  A place that burst through in the protected, or perhaps cleaned up, corners of my brain. 

Washi Balloons.

In the style of Hokusai, of course.

In the style of Hokusai, of course.

A Japanese meteorologist climbed up a mountain. You can see him there. That is Mt. Fuji in the background. He brought a handful of big balloons with him, holding on tightly to them as they lifted him up, up the mountain. He was near the top when they slipped from his hand, up, up, up.

He watched him as they traveled freely up, as high again as the mountain, and higher still, until -- ZIP!  A wind caught them and they traveled west.  

He had discovered the westerly winds that we now call the Jet Stream. He wrote of his discovery in his language, but it was like a secret language to the rest of the world, and the Jet Stream remained a secret for a long time.  

But just because the details about something are unknown, it doesn't mean it isn't real.

It carries pollen and particles and other grown up things, adults would say. It's very strong and powerful, they said. It's very serious and we are uncertain what the ramifications are of this. But, his daughter thought, It carries balloons, too. 

His daughter and her friends, would spend every waking moment making Washi paper out of the bark of a Mulberry tree. They would get up early and work quietly in their rooms, so their mother would not yell, "I told you not to come out of your room until the clock says 6:30. Be reasonable." They would sit in a circle at recess playing hand games and making origami fortune tellers with the leftover edge bits of paper.

They made 9,000 paper envelopes.

35 pictured here.

35 pictured here.

"With what will we fill them?" The daughter passed a note to her friend at the end of class on Wednesday. "Besides hydrogen, I mean," she added. Studies always before play, of course. Good studies make the play more interesting.

"Let's fill them with notes." Her friend wrote. 

So they wrote notes. And then they ran out of ideas and their hands became quite tired and they still had 8,379 envelopes to fill.  So they began filling them with whatever little paper bits were lying around. Last weeks math test. A note from mother saying, please start the chicken at 4:30, origami fortunate tellers (but not the best one), stickers from Aunt Claire, scratch paper with a phone message Dad scribbled, and finally the note asking, "With what will we fill them?"

Having a dad who is a meteorologist is handy when you're trying to fill 9,000 flying envelopes with hydrogen, and its even more handy to listen quietly during dinner when he excitedly tells mother over chicken that if a weather balloon were to fly over the ocean, it would get so cold at night that the hydrogen would contract and the balloon would fall out of the West Winds and then land quietly in the ocean.  And then, its even more handy to have a mother who can respond, "Well, what if you attached sand bags to the bottom with clips that could tell the altitude, and the clip would would release the sandbag so it would fall down into the ocean just when the balloon got below the Winds.  This would give the balloon a teeny little bounce back up and into the Winds."

So the daughter and her friends filled bags with beach sand. Her friend would place one pretty shell in each bag and the daughter said, "You know no one will ever see that."  

"You never know who will see what," her friend responded, "And I see it, anyway, right now." She admired one pink clam shell as she placed it just on top of the bag and tied it up with a bow.

(Actual shell, from actual daughter, from recent trip to the beach)

(Actual shell, from actual daughter, from recent trip to the beach)

They released the balloons, watching them until they disappeared.  They never knew what happened to them, but not knowing doesn't mean something isn't worth doing.

And that is how some very small things came to travel halfway around the world. They guess that only 10% of them made it to land where other people lived. Only 1/3 of those that we guess made the journey have ever been found. So many of their notes were lost, but 300 is still pretty good for school girls, and paper, and sand, and air. 

(Be sure to check out radiolab.org and Katsushika Hokusai for many more beautiful things.)