Feeling less than cheery about D.C.'s cherry trees


WASHINGTON - This is the story of a recent trip here to look at the famous cherry trees and take in the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which is like Super Bowl Week for cherry-blossom aficionados, only with less partying.

As you may or may not know, the festival commemorates the gift of 3,000 cherry trees given by the mayor of Tokyo to the people of Washington in 1912.

"Someday," the Japanese mayor predicted in a note accompanying the gift, "hundreds of thousands of people will descend on your fair city to admire these trees, creating horrendous traffic gridlock, vast parking shortages and a litter problem of staggering proportions. Enjoy."

Well, the mayor knew what he was talking about, because a festival spokeswoman said that more than a million people turned out to see the cherry blossoms over the past two weeks.

(By the way, the trees will be at full bloom for another few days, if you're interested in coming down. Take the Metro. Or plan on parking somewhere in North Carolina.)

Anyway, as my wife and I joined the masses ringing the Tidal Basin to ooh and ahh at the trees, we made a startling discovery: Just as there are wine snobs who can't just drink the stuff without droning on and on about how it hits their palate and how it moves them, so there are cherry-blossom snobs who feel compelled to share their comprehensive knowledge of horticulture and deep emotional insights with the rest of the world.

Thus we had the disturbing experience of overhearing too many snippets of conversation that went something like this:

"Now here you have the Yoshino cherry, a hybrid, the blossoms white and sultry. There are some Akebonos around, but the Yoshino ... I don't know, it never fails to stir my soul."

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Blah, blah, blah.

Give it a rest, pal.

I bet even the people at a Friends of the Cherry Blossom cocktail party would edge away from someone like that.

My own feeling on cherry trees is this: If you've seen one, you've pretty much seen them all.

Understand, this is in no way meant to minimize the breath-taking beauty of the trees, the panoramic vista of a blanket of pinkish-white blossoms outlined against an azure sky on a perfect spring day, etc.

All I'm saying is, if you enjoy looking at a cherry tree, looking at 3,000 of them does not necessarily make the experience 3,000 times better.

As we live in an age when people increasingly must be told how to behave, interspersed here and there among the cherry trees were big signs that said: "Please leave the blossoms for others to enjoy."

So naturally there were quite a few people snapping off twigs and handing them to their kids, or furtively slipping them into their backpacks.

This, of course, is the American way for some of us now, the I-got-mine, you-can't-tell-me-what-to-do attitude that has endeared us to so many around the world.

As I mentioned to a cop working crowd control, the guardians of the cherry trees would have been better off posting signs that read: "Please feel free to de-foliate the trees and spoil things for all who come later."

Then people would have thought: "Well. Now I won't even touch the stupid things."

Naturally, as this was an outdoor festival with hundreds of thousands of people crammed into a busy, confined area, there were the usual dopes who brought along their dogs.

I have always been mystified as to how these people think:

Let's see, going somewhere with huge crowds, lots of little kids wandering around, lotta noise, lotta confusion ... say, this would be a good place to bring ol' Rex.

As tends to be the case, the dogs in question were not little dogs, either.

These were not your beagles and Shih Tzus and cocker spaniels that you could sort of step over if you had to.

No, these were Dobermans and German shepherds and Newfoundlands the size of Chevy Tahoes.

These were dogs that, if they flipped out and lunged at the chicken sandwich a little kid was holding in one hand, would take the kid's arm and half his torso along with it.

At one point, I watched a frail senior citizen of about 75 try to step over an Irish wolfhound the size of a Shetland pony sprawled in the middle of a footpath.

Luckily, the beast did not stir and the man's leg was not severed at the knee, which would have put a damper on things.

Maybe next year they should put up a sign: "Please bring your large dogs so others may feel jittery, too" and that will take care of the problem.

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