I always think of summer as being high tourist season, but in Washington, DC, the annual Cherry Blossom Festival garners even more attention. Predictions of the peak bloom dates are updated daily, and there are multiple webcams that can be used to monitor the blooms… or the crowds.
The cherry trees themselves were a gift to the City of DC from the City of Tokyo in 1912. That was actually the second batch of trees; the first gift of 2,000 trees arrived in 1910 but were diseased. The 3,000 trees that were sent two years later were established by a planting ceremony in which First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador each planted a tree on the north bank of the Tidal Basin, which is the small body of water on which sits the Jefferson Memorial. Over the years, additional gifts have been exchanged including flowering dogwood trees sent from DC to Tokyo. In the 1980’s grafts from the DC cherry trees were sent back to Japan to replace trees that had been destroyed in a flood.
I was visiting home in Connecticut during the originally anticipated peak blooming season, but some cold weather slowed down the progress until I returned. I had great ambitions of walking the Tidal Basin on the Sunday I came back, but when I checked out the webcam, there were so many people! I just didn’t have the energy to fight the crowds, so I decided to take a rain check.
On Wednesday of that week, I figured that I would leave work, walk down the Mall, and go see the cherry blossoms after work. Unfortunately, I didn’t depart until after 7:00, and by the time I had snapped some spring pictures around the Capitol, it was dusk when I reached the Washington Monument. So much for getting good pictures. I mentioned my unsuccessful visit to our office manager the next day, and she pointed out that rain was expected on Thursday night which would bring down many of the blossoms, so if I could possibly go that day, I really should. I managed to leave work promptly at 6 PM that night, walked down the Mall, and joined the flow of visitors who had arrived to celebrate spring.
There are actually multiple cherry tree species planted around the Tidal Basin area, so there is variation in bloom time and the exact color and structure of the blossoms. Peak bloom time is when 70% of the trees are in full bloom, and because the flowers appear before the leaves come out, the trees range from white to pale pink. A strong breeze had kicked up during my walk, and petals were falling like snow. The driver of a UPS truck traversing the area was challenged to keep the storm of petals out of his face as he drove through.
On Saturday morning, my boon companion, Maggie, and I met to go to the spring garden tour at the White House. Apparently some of the fellow Fellows picked up tickets in advance, but Maggie and I found great success with our strategy of arriving right as tickets were distributed so we were part of the first group allowed in at 9 AM. Having read all the signs when we did the fall garden tour, we strolled and chatted more on this trip and we collected fewer stories. I was aware that since we have twice been inside the building, I mentally cross-referenced the garden views from inside with the garden views from outside.
We also knew the best spots to take pictures, and once again, the crowd was in good spirits, and we happily traded photography services with other cheerful attendees. My sister has suggested that when traveling in a foreign country, it is important to know the words for yes, no, please, thank you, and “Do you speak English?” Apparently in the next rank of importance is, “Will you take our picture?” although holding up a camera and gesturing to your group seems to impart the same meaning just as effectively. I am growing accustomed to hearing a wide variety of accents from other countries all around DC, and the tour was no exception.
Another difference between the fall and spring garden tours was that the Washington Monument is now nearly enveloped in scaffolding as work commences to repair the damage from the earthquake over a year ago. Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden also displays the vigorous starts of spring in contrast with the mature overgrowth of late fall.
After the tour, Maggie and I discussed several options of what to do before our different commitments at noon, but we ultimately decided that we should celebrate the gorgeous day by walking across the Mall to see the cherry blossoms again. After the rain, the blossoms were less dense, but the trees still displayed a lovely pink tint. The ground was covered with fallen petals, and we could identify the high tide mark of the Tidal Basin by looking at the pink and white demarcation.
After circumnavigating the Tidal Basin, we walked back to the north side of the Mall, and I enjoyed watching the several hundred people who had collected to do yoga at the base of the Washington Monument. Certainly on yoga videos there always seems to be some kind of special background, so I figured this was the Washington Live version.
I suspect that yoga was not quite as relaxing that morning as usual since the group was a very short distance away from the Cherry Blossom Parade, which was just too wonderful not to stop and watch for a little while. We missed the Cherry Blossom Court of the princesses from all the states and territories, but we did get to see quite a few marching bands, all of which sported the year’s cherry blossom logo on their drums. I was also proud to be able to share with Maggie that according to one of my girls, the plumes in this band’s hats are generally referred to as “bottle brushes” by the kids, and if the plumes aren’t in their hats, then all the uniformed students look like a convention of bellhops.
In addition to the variety of balloons that were included in the parade, I had a special fondness for these lasses at the end of the group. I suggested that they reminded me of cake toppers, and then I announced to Maggie the Southern native, “I think they must be from Maine!” She’s gotten so accustomed to me that I’m not sure I even got an eye roll out of it. I think I’ll have to try harder.