Cherry Blossoms

(This column was first published in the April 26, 1999 Buffalo News.)

    I recently spent three weeks in our nation's capital where I finally had that experience that so many of you had as high school students on class trips to Washington: I witnessed the Cherry Blossom Festival.

    I first toured the area around the Tidal Basin at the end of March and found only a few pear trees and magnolias in bloom. Surely the stark, apparently budless cherry trees needed another month before they too would blossom.

    This was, of course, dead wrong. The scene changed rapidly and the District of Columbia Parks Department announced that April 7th would be the day of maximum color.

    To avoid commuting traffic my brother, who lives in Alexandria, and I drove over before dawn on that day and crossed the 14th Street Bridge just at the time of sunrise. We saw no sun as the sky was overcast and a light drizzle of rain fell.

    We turned down Ohio Drive toward Hains Point.

    And there they were, a spectacular sight. Tree after beautiful tree lined the parkway for at least two miles. It might have been still better seeing those lovely blossoms in bright sunlight, but that morning the extra sparkle that the water drops gave them made the trees dazzling to me.

    I searched my mind for something with which to compare them. Perhaps a receiving line of debutantes in pastel evening gowns. Or possibly those bright splashes of color by French Impressionists like Manet and Monet or in England by a late Turner canvas. Sorry but the real thing accents the artificiality of even those metaphors.

    We continued back to the Jefferson Memorial. I stood at the feet of the giant bronze statue looking out at more of those wonderful trees, already surrounded by hundreds of other mesmerized tourists.

    We next crossed over the entrance to the Tidal Basin to visit the F.D.R. Memorial, another exhibit bounded by cherry trees. With all the war memorials and presidential monuments in Washington, you would think that another could not be distinctive. Not true. This new memorial is well worth visiting.

    It was still early and I was almost alone at this monument to President and Mrs. Roosevelt when I witnessed a sobering activity. Within a few feet of a Roosevelt quotation that read, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little," a derelict waded through an ice cold pool picking up coins. Despite times that are so good for so many of us, far too many others have been left behind.

    Clearly we observed the cherry trees in the nick of time. Just days later several beavers shared newspaper headlines with Kosovo. They downed nine Tidal Basin trees including four cherries. Every TV newscast included interviews with people who had seen the beavers and in one case a cameraman got a shot of one of the animals swimming just offshore. Of course the response to that situation there is as divided as is the response in Buffalo suburbs to their deer dilemma. Half of the people want the animals removed to protect the trees; the other half want the critters left absolutely alone.

    I left Washington impressed by the beauty of the cherry blossoms. But we on the Niagara Frontier have many more fruit trees blossoming each spring than there are in our nation's capital. And the local trees are not just an adornment; they will later provide delicious cherries and apples, pears and peaches as well. I like ours better. -- Gerry Rising