Pink clouds of spring

Pink clouds of spring

Cherry blossoms

Pink clouds of spring

Waking up from the dreary winter slumber, I had wondered why we had to go all the way to the Tidal Basin to watch the blossoms when we could do it in our own yard. True, there may be cherry trees in our yard and it might also be true that it is in peak bloom now. Take a good look at the beauty and try to multiply that by a factor of 4,000. It is hard to visualise, right? If we can’t beat the crowd, it is time to join the crowd and experience the beauty!

Spring! It symbolises and fuels hope. Spring time is one of Washington DC’s finest moments. Of the many spectacles that are witnessed in the nation’s capital, perhaps The National Cherry Blossom Festival is the only natural one. The Tidal Basin is a partially manmade reservoir adjacent to the Jefferson Memorial and the Roosevelt memorial and is the focal point of the National Cherry Blossom Festival held each year. Not many trees can boast of an entire festival dedicated to them. And as if it to justify it, this famous harbinger of spring has brought forth an explosion of colourful clouds of baby pink and white. The entire area is decked in strings of natural pearls and swaying flowering bowers.

The trees in the Tidal Basin area originated as a gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the US from the people of Japan. The original trees were planted in 1912 by First Lady Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador. Another generous gift of 3,800 Yoshino trees were given by the Japanese government to Lady Byrd Johnson in 1965. The renowned National Cherry Blossom Festival had its inception in this simple gesture of friendship between the two countries. 

Yoshino Cherry is the predominant variety encircling the Tidal Basin. They produce a profusion of single white and pink blossoms that in mass create the effect of white clouds. The Akebono Cherry is another variety that provides an attractive tint of pink. The Kwanzan blooms a few days later and bears clusters of clear pink double blossoms. Far fewer in number but conspicuous in its beauty is the Weeping Cherry. On its drooping branches, it bears cascades of pink flowers and sways in the wind.

Cherry blossoms, sakura, as they are called in Japan, are one of the most exalted and celebrated flowering tree. They are indigenous to the Himalayas and to many parts of east Asia. Cherry buds are early bloomers, blossoming on bare, leafless branches weeks before most other trees wake up from the winter slumber. The entire tree gets covered with blossoms before making way for the leaves. Their short blooming period of two weeks is characteristic of the ephemeral nature of this ethereal beauty. They exemplify the transient nature of life, a potent symbol equated with the evanescence of human life.
This celebration of life dates back to the Japanese Heian period when the Japanese nobility sought to emulate the practices from China, including the social phenomenon of hanami or ‘flower viewing’. The hanami tradition continues to this day in Japan where they pay close attention to the bloom forecast and turn out in large number at parks, temples and shrines with family and friends to hold flower-viewing parties.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a two-week annual festival, America’s own hanami. Since the bloom is not only a weather-dependent natural phenomenon, but is also short-lived, determining the date of the festival and its planning poses a challenge for the National Park Service. The festival dates are decided upon consultation with the regional horticulturalist who gives a forecast based on scientific calculations and weather patterns.

What is the best way to witness the phenomenon — blossoms can be viewed at dawn or under the moonlight; while running or walking; during a bike safari or a photo safari; from a paddle boat or yatch; with sushi or sake? That is the question you will have to answer yourself!

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