Monday, April 07, 2008
There comes a time about three months after the official onset of winter — after months of freezing temperatures, early sunsets, late sunrises, barren trees, and drab, colourless landscapes — when, finally, the first signs of spring make an appearance.
The tiniest buds begin to emerge along seemingly lifeless stalks. Trees take on the electric, green sheen of fresh, new leaves. Pruning shears see the light of day after a long winter’s sleep. Birds wing back north. Abandoned porches and stoops buzz with signs of life again. Neighbours linger to talk for longer than it takes to exchange pleasantries. It’s a heady time when memories of snow, ice and slippery sidewalks recede to the background, and when unruly lawns and the hot, humid days of summer are too far off in the distance to ruin the party.
In Washington, D.C., these last days of winter are tinged with just that little bit of extra excitement — the region goes under a “Bloom Watch” (rather than a flood watch or a storm watch, for a change), and waits for the National Park Service to announce exactly when the 3,000-odd cherry blossom trees in the city are expected to bloom.
Over a period of two weeks around the end of March and the beginning of April, delicate flowers burst out of these trees in a profusion of pink and white petals. Most of the cherry blossom trees (these are the non fruit-bearing kind) are located near and around the Tidal Basin, close to the monuments on the National Mall, their concentrated presence creating a dramatic sensory overload. Leaves, if any, are tiny at this point and are lost in the thick cover of the blossoms.
Forecasting peak blossom time is far from being an exact science, of course, with the finicky weather having the final word, but the yearly ritual gets its due attention as everyone — from the Mayor of Washington to the media to the local businesses with an eye on the tourism dollars — gets into the act. Park personnel bemoan the squirrels that ravage the trees and implore the public not to pluck the flowers off the branches. (There was one memorable year when beavers, not native to the area, took a liking to the trees and merrily chomped on the trunks. Park officials went into a tizzy until they devised a way to trap the rodents.) Reporters camp out near the trees, zoom in on the buds, and, year after year, recount the story of how the trees came to Washington.
This year, luckily for the locals and tourists alike, the blossoms are expected to peak during the two-week Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington’s annual springtime celebration commemorating the arrival of the cherry blossom trees to Washington from Japan almost a century ago. A gift from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the people of the United States — following a few failed attempts by local residents to transplant and grow cherry trees in the Washington region — that first gesture paved the way for more exchanges between two countries intent on building and solidifying a relationship. World War II promptly put an end to the niceties, but the Festival returned to its rightful place on Washington’s social calendar in 1947. In a poignant twist to the story, Japanese horticulturists arrived in Washington in the early 1980s and returned home with precious cargo — cuttings from the trees that comprised their original gift — to replace their own trees that were lost to a flood.
The rest here.