When I first visited Okinawa, the thing that made me truly feel I was in the south was seeing the royal poincianas and deigo (Erythrina variegata) as the burning sunlight pierced my body. Both species are flowering trees. As though to make themselves as intensely appealing as possible to me, they put out cool blooms under the glaring light. When I saw those trees, my first thought was, “I guess trees wear flowers, too.” Even though I’d seen blossoms on cherry trees and magnolias before, they didn’t have the same intensity for me.
I make my way to Yaeyama every year. And the island I’ve spent the most time on is Yonaguni. There are three settlements on Yonaguni: Sonai, Kubura, and Hikawa. Once you’ve made it to the top of the hill on the way from Hikawa to Sonai, there’s a huge deigo in the middle of the road. The road splits in two to avoid the tree, and the two sides join again once you’ve gone past. There are huge burls all over the knotty trunk. I once tried to wrap my arms around its circumference, but the rough burls dug into my body, and I still remember how strange it made me feel.
Though in some years I wind up on Yonaguni three or four times, I’ve yet to see the blossoms on the deigo trees planted just outside Hikawa.