“The blooming cherry tree is the most ideally, wonderfully beautiful tree that nature has to show, and its short-lived glory makes the enjoyment the keener and more poignant” – Eliza Scidmore
Eliza Scidmore is a woman behind Washington DC’s cherry trees. She was born to a family of adventurers on October of 1856 in Madison, Wisconsin. Since her early age, traveling became a major focus in her life. She attended Oberlin College for a short time and then moved to Washington DC. At the age of 19 she was already a journalist working for a Washington newspaper. The money she earned from the job allowed her to explore the world.
In 1886, she traveled to Japan to visit her brother. That visit became a turning point in her life. She fell in love with the country and its culture. In particular, she became fascinated with cherry blossoms and traditional festivities called hanami. She loved the idea of people gathering under the trees to celebrate arrival of spring. For Japanese, cherry blossoming is a metaphor for life. It is a reminder how beautiful and fragile life is and how little time we have to enjoy it.
Fascinated with the tradition, Eliza developed a dream of bringing cherry trees to Washington DC. Soon after her return from Japan, she started to petition to plant the trees along the Potomac River. It took almost 30 years for her vision to become a reality. Her initiative was finally recognized in 1909 by incoming first lady, Helen Taft. It was incorporated in city’s plan to create Potomac Park. The plantings of cherry trees took place in 1912 when 3000 trees arrived from Japan as a gift of friendship to the people of the United States. Since then, Eliza’s dream comes alive annually with National Cherry Blossom Festival – the USA’s greatest springtime celebration.
This year, after long Pennsylvania winter and no signs of warm up in the forecast, I decided to take a trip to Washington DC. and join the celebration. I picked a perfect sunny and warm day when blossom was at its peak. For my stay, I chose Willard Intercontinental Washington – classic and elegant historic hotel. As soon as walked in, I knew made the right choice. The grand lobby welcomed me with beautiful architecture and splendid flower decorations. The hotel staff was accommodating and very friendly. (Willard is a luxury hotel but I did not break my budget. I used my IHG Rewards Credit Card anniversary night and stayed for free.)
I did not get to enjoy the hotel for long. I quickly headed to Tidal Basin – the most picturesque Washington’s location for cherry blossom. I knew, it would be crowded there but what I saw was rather shocking. There were thousands of people there! It was too crowded for my liking but I quickly shifted my initial disappointment into positive thought – It was exactly was Liza Scidmore imagined, people coming in numbers to celebrate the arrival of spring!
Then came another surprise. I was expecting the trees to be pink but majority of them are not, at least at the stage I witnessed. They look mostly white with just a delicate tint of pink. They are beautiful nevertheless. Grouped close to each other, they create almost heavenly atmosphere. When it gets windy, their petals are gently floating in the air, imitating a snow fall. For those who prefer intensely pink trees, there are some, but they gather the most crowds.
I circled the basin at least three times and found beauty everywhere. My favorite spot was around Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial where almost every tree has its own unique dramatic shape.
I returned to my hotel for supper. It was still warm, so to prolong this summer-like day I opted to eat outside at Café du Parc. I was not very hungry. I ordered an appetizer and expected it to be tiny, it was a French cafe after all! To my surprise, it turned out to be a meal. It consisted of two thick slices of pâté, colorful pickled veggies, two different kinds of salami, smoked pork, some fancy mustards, and variety of toasted breads. Everything was very tasty, but way too much for me . What was left, I took to my room for breakfast. It worked perfectly, since my plan was to get up at 4 AM and head to the basin again for sunrise. (This meal was $18.00. I paid with my Barclay Arrival Master Card. Because it was my hotel’s restaurant I charged the meal to my room. This expense falls under travel category, therefore I will be able to erase it with my points).
I was very proud of myself for getting up on time. I left the hotel at 4:30 and marched rather quickly toward to the basin. I have to admit, it was scary walking at this hour. The streets were empty, but when I arrived at my targeted area people were already there, mostly serious photographers with their heavy tripods and equipment. They were probably thinking, why did you lady got up so early and came here with your toy camera (Sony Alpha 5000)? Oh well, my philosophy is different. I do not want to focus on solely taking pictures. My goal is to enjoy the moment, and hopefully take same good photos along the way. With today’s good cameras, I believe that probability works in my favor if I snap a substantial number of pictures, some of them might turn out good! Despite other people around me, I experienced perfect solitude. Watching the sun rising over Washington’s famous monuments, while standing under the canopy of beautiful cherry tress, will stay engraved in my memory for a long time.
By the way, some of my pictures turned out great, at least to my taste!