Washington, DC, is a city known for burning people out, yet trees appear to weather the hot air in our nation’s capital better than our politicians. The beloved cherry trees that serpentine through parks and along the Potomac river are still going strong after 100 years. In 1912, Tokyo gave DC 3,000 trees and wished a nation in its infancy purpose and prosperity, so this year, Washington celebrates its 100th anniversary of being home to these trees. These trees have seen leaders come and go–FDR telling us not to fear anything; Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to crowds on the National Mall; Nixon’s famous farewell before boarding a helicopter. When the trees puff out this month and look like swirls of fluffy pink cotton candy, Washington will look like Woodstock–colorful and crowded; who says Americans don’t care about the environment? We treat our cherry trees like rock stars.
Official cherry blossom viewing time is expected around March 24-27 this year, and the monthlong festival of pink blooms kicks off with the spring equinox on March 20. This festival attracts thousands of people from everywhere–even Japanese tourists, who have their own beautiful cherry blossom trees. Walking through the parks is not a picnic. You are shoulder to shoulder with locals and tourists as everyone shuffles along looking up at the trees clicking their cameras. We lived in Washington, DC, from 2000 to early 2004, and were amazed by the moment-to-moment news coverage leading up to cherry blossom season. Tree photosynthesis was reported like a major league sporting event. The stakes were high and the outcomes unclear. What if winter dragged its heels? News anchors would interview anxious botanists about the risks snow posed to the fragile blooms. Or if spring sprung early, the trees would bloom prematurely, and would anyone be there to see them? News anchors would interview anxious hotel owners praying Mother Nature would dial down the unpredictability.
If you’re looking for a fun long weekend, DC is the place. During the cherry blossom festival, the city hosts what was formerly known as the Smithsonian Kite Festival, which is magical and great for kids. What’s also great for families is that the kite festival is held on the National Mall, which is surrounded by Smithsonian institutions offering free admission to see dinosaur bones, Native American artifacts, and paintings by Mary Cassatt. The Smithsonian is as impressive as it sounds with 19 museums scattered across the city. We once ran into Angelina Jolie taking her boys through the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which is filled with models of airplanes and rockets suspended from the ceiling.
Our last visit to Washington, DC, was in April 2008, when Anna was still a preschooler and Angelina had only four kids. Much has changed since then, and we’re due for a return. We have our favorite places to eat: Rockland’s Barbeque on Wisconsin Avenue, just across the street from Whole Foods and a short walk from the National Cathedral; Old Ebbitt Grill, a classic Washington DC haunt that’s been dishing up beef, oysters and pretty much any form of animal flesh since 1856 (DC is a carnivorous city, in every possible way); and for the non-carnivorous crowd, Sticky Fingers Bakery in the delightful Adams Morgan neighborhood, a great place for vegan cupcakes.
Besides the food, Washington, DC, is wonderful for walking, much like Paris. I would love to see the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, although my favorite is the Jefferson Memorial overlooking the tidal basin. He has one of the best views of the trees and I imagine his statue stepping down from its pedestal and walking among the cherry blossoms during the middle of the night when the crowds have gone, perhaps thinking what a remarkable, dynamic, messy, beautiful place America is.