Saturday, April 19, 2014


People are always asking me: Hey, Jon Spruce, enjoying the weather?

It sure is pretty to think so.

In all actuality, this is my busy season, not much time to enjoy the weather.  This is the time of year when I need to rise up the ranks, get my name out there as a contender for champion tree-hunter.

Spring?  That’s when I can really make my bones.

And it all comes down to flowers.

Funny, isn’t it? 

Years and years of steady watching, months and months of mindful observations, miles and miles under my feet and on my car and yet my whole reputation rests on those bright, brief modified leaves we call flowers.

It’s almost too much for one set of eyes but, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to do it alone.

Like the old folk song says, help is on the way.

And the best help this time of year?

That’d be the truckers.

That’s right.  The biggest help at this time of year is usually found high up in the cabs behind the big wheels of all those trucks making traffic here in the city.

I’m talking about Bakemark and Aramark, Samuels & Sons and J. Ambrogi, Cintas Uniforms and W.B. Mason, plus all the other gypsy pilots navigating the Philly grid and barreling down the highways.

Best set of eyes in the entire city.

There we go.

All set now.

This morning, I dug out my old short-wave radio and, using a bit of good old fashioned Yankee know-how, I added a state-of-the-arts wireless antenna, hooked it up to these new-fangled Bluetooth headphones…

…and then plugged in the two-way microphone.

Okay, all I got to do now is find the right station, adjust the squelch and speak clearly into the mike.

Jon Spruce is back on the CB.

Breaker, breaker, this is Jon Spruce over here in Phillytown.  Need some assistance, boys.  Who’s out there?

The next part is easy.

Just lean in and try to catch some chatter on the only free press left in the United States of America: the citizen’s band radio.

Spruce, you old scallywag.  Is that really you?

Shiver me timbers, that voice is a real blast from the past.  That’s Goldberg, my old co-pilot.  I didn’t know he was in town.

Alive and kicking, Spruce.  Surprised to hear you too.  I always pictured you still keeled over in El Paso.

El Paso?  Oh man, I spent a bad week there one night.  Goldberg always did have a long memory.

Hard to forget, Jonny boy.  What’s your emergency?

Need some flowers for the blog, chief.  What are you seeing out there?

You’re a lucky son of a gun, always have been, Spruce.  I just passed some willows blazing away in Penn Park by the river.

Willows?  Goldberg always did have a soft spot for willows but I don’t know.  I’ve already covered the willow.  I need flowers, not willows.

Quit your griping, Spruce, and get down to the river before it’s too late.  You’ll thank me later.

Monday, April 7, 2014


Citybillies, it’s confession time.

The rumors are true.  I’ve sold out.

Jon Spruce has officially signed on the dotted line.

For two years now, I have meticulously and courageously hunted down and archived the kingdom of Philly trees but, behind the scenes, hidden from view, I’ve been bombarded and assaulted with endless requests for sponsorship.

Landscape crews and tree services, nurseries and greenhouses, fertilizer companies and seed catalogs, you name it.  Non-profits and charities, all good causes.  Philadelphia institutions like Aramark and Tastykake, Sunoco, Comcast, Action News and Lew Blum Towing, all knocking down my door.

All asking for a piece of the pie.

For the last two years, I’ve always had the same response.

Hold the gravy.

Until now.

I’ve finally found something that I can hang my hat on.

Citybillies, it’s hanami time and there’s no better way to spend it than participating in the Subaru™ Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia.

What is hanami?  It means flower viewing in Japanese and it refers to the annual blossoming of the cherry blossoms, the sakura.

This event is so anticipated that even the Japanese Meteorological Agency tracks and charts the sakura blooms throughout the whole island.

They call it the sakura zazen, loosely translated as the cherry blossom front.

According to the map, the sakura are currently flowering in the southern part of the island, blazing their way from Kagoshima through the old capital of Kyoto and, by the end of April, they will have reached the northern tip of the Aomori Prefecture, land of apples and wild horses.

Some people call it the pink tide.

I long to see it in person.

Hanami has been on the calendar for centuries now, observed and celebrated by emperors and farmers, royalty and peasants, city rats and country mice alike…

…immortalized throughout the ages by songsters, dancers, poets and painters, including the great 18th-century printmaker Katsushika Hokusai…

…who famously depicted the brief sakura in the foreground of Japan’s most exalted marvel…

…the ephemeral floating world of early spring balanced against the immovable permanence of Mount Fuji itself.

Now that’s my kind of yin-yang.

Here in Philadelphia, we’re less than one week away from our own hanami.

Hold on to your hats, citybillies, and get on up!  The sakura are marching, cherry blossoms about to set the city on fire. 

In anticipation of the event, I floated over to the Shofuso Japanese House…

…and then to the nearby cherry tree avenue that connects the House to the Mann Music Center.

I’m getting nervous.

Less than a week away from the big bash and the guest of honor is hardly making a peep.

Just my luck.