Last year, I missed the cherry blossoms. I didn’t think it would matter to me. The cherry blossoms are an awesome phenomenon that I’d seen four years in a row – missing one year was just a part of life.
But I did care.
There was just something so sad about not taking part in DC’s official “hello” to spring. Looking at pictures while I was visiting my family in Florida didn’t do the experience justice. For about two weeks, the District transforms into this mystical place that exists under a cloud of white blossoms. Petals float gently through the air every time the wind blows. It feels magical — there’s nothing else like it.
To make up for missing out, I was a little overeager with the cherry blossoms this year. I don’t think I was alone. With the peak bloom predictions waffling all over the place, It seemed like the whole city was whipped up into a state of cherry blossom fever.
Why shouldn’t we all be excited about the cherry blossoms? In addition to being beautiful, they’re part of this city’s rich history. In 1912, Yukio Ozaki, the Mayor of Tokyo, gifted the city with 3,000 trees. This was the second attempt to send cherry trees to DC. The first 2,000 trees that were sent in 1910 arrived diseased and infected with pests and were destroyed on arrival.
The first trees were planted that March by First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the wife of the Japanese ambassador. The city was immediately taken with the trees, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. From the “Cherry Tree Rebellion” to an attack by angry beavers, there have been some rough moments in the trees’ history. Over one hundred years later, cherry trees can be seen throughout the city, but, despite the huge crowds, my favorite spot to view them is at the Tidal Basin.
My first trip to the Tidal Basin this year was a little premature. Sireen and I decided that we needed to see National Parks Adventure at the Natural History Museum (for the record, we didn’t care for it, so feel free to skip this IMAX).
After the movie ended, it was still kind of early in the day and we were both in the mood for a short walk to the Jefferson Memorial. With March’s unseasonably warm weather, we were also kind of hoping that some early blossoms might be starting to appear.
- Green color in buds
- Florets visible
- Extension of florets
- Peduncle elongation
- Puffy white
Walking around, it looked like many of the trees had hit the second stage of development, but it was too early for anything truly beautiful. Luckily, the magnolias were in full bloom, so we were still treated to some nice spring-like sights.
Things started looking up a week later. The trees around my apartment and office were starting to sport some early blooms, and the itch to try to see the blossoms came back again in full force.
On Wednesday, I didn’t have any plans after work and the forecast was perfect. Thinking ahead, I packed my hiking bag and boots for a 4.5-mile post-work trek to the National Mall.
As I approached the Tidal Basin, I was surprised by the crowds. I thought that after work on a weekday would be an off time for blossom viewing, but I guess everyone else in town thought the same thing.
I arrived at 6:30 pm, which didn’t give me a lot of time to maneuver around the crowds before sunset. I managed to make my way to the Jefferson Memorial and snap some awesome shots. After that, I was too tired from working, pushing through crowds, and walking to go any further. I headed to Farragut and grabbed public transit to get home.
That little taste of the cherry blossoms was good, but it wasn’t enough. Peak bloom hit on Friday, and I knew that I wanted to go back one more time, but I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to make the trip.
Matt, one of my close friends, was in from out of town that weekend, and on Saturday, I headed down to Dupont to have brunch with him. When we split up, it was still kind of early, the weather was perfect, and I was within walking distance to the cherry-blossom action.
I brought my cameras to brunch on the off chance that Matt would want to check out some trees (he didn’t), so I was ready to walk over and shoot some photos. The big question: Did I really want to brave the insane number of tourists swarming at the Tidal Basin? Yes. Definitely, yes.
Before I could stop myself, I started walking. As I made my way down Connecticut, I spotted more and more people making the journey with me. The cameras on these other people —unbelievable. I had no idea that there were so many people out there with tricked out photography equipment.
As I approached Constitution Avenue, I was shocked by the number of people out on the Mall. I’ve experience cherry blossom season before, but the masses and masses of tourists seemed like way more than normal.
Considering I was walking alone with a mission in mind, it was hard to take a deep breathe and reign in my frustration with everyone blocking my way. It’s easy to forget, but for some people, coming to DC and having the opportunity to see the cherry trees in bloom is a once in a lifetime experience. Yes, as a DC resident, I do find navigating around tourists frustrating. But when I pause to remember what it felt like the first time I walked around the Mall and stood in the shadow of the monuments, it’s hard to be annoyed with all the people who just want to enjoy something that I now take for granted.
That didn’t change the fact that the masses of people were creating a hazardous situation for drivers on the roadways around the Mall. There’s no way to get to the Tidal Basin from the Mall without crossing over Independence Avenue. It’s a surprisingly busy street considering it goes through the middle of tourist country.
With the allure of the trees just a street crossing away, tourists were practically jumping in front of cars to get to them faster. The drivers were cranky and tired of being stuck in a traffic jam. Honking polluted the air. It’s a miracle I didn’t witness anyone getting hit by a car.
After braving the traffic, I finally made it back to the Tidal Basin for more pictures. The difference of just a few days was huge. If I thought the trees were impressive on Wednesday, it was nothing compared to Saturday. Fluffy white blossoms stretched around the Tidal Basin as far as the eye could see. Turning right in the direction of the MLK Memorial, I started walking and snapping.
I’m slowly getting into photography, and I was very, very focused on what I was doing. I was trying to get the perfect shot, waiting for a girl who was doing the “I’m holding the Washington Monument” poise to put her arm down, when I heard, “Nikki!”
I constantly think I’m hearing my name since a lot of girls’ names end with an “I” sound. I figured I was imagining it. But just to be safe, I turned around.
Standing behind me was one of my college roommates, Dina, and her husband, Mauricio. I hadn’t seen either of them in at least six years, and here we were having a chance meeting in a sea of thousands of other people. I don’t know odds, but I would imagine that it was way, way more likely that we would have walked right past each other without even realizing it. They were visiting DC from Texas, and we had an amazing opportunity to stand around and catch up for a bit.
After leaving them, I made my way through the FDR Memorial and crossed Ohio Drive heading toward the Jefferson Memorial. Through the trees, I spotted what looked like a news truck for ABC 7. Since I watch ABC sometimes, and I have an intense love for local news, I had to look around to see if I could spot one of their reporters. Richard Reeve and his cameraman were standing nearby watching an entertaining family from Quebec get the perfect Washington Monument shot (I lost track of the number of people trying to “hold” the Monument). I guess he caught me staring, because after speaking to the family, he brought his cameraman over to me for a brief interview. I told them where I was originally from for them to use in a “people come from everywhere to see the cherry blossoms!” montage. I tried to find the footage later in the weekend, but I did not succeed. Hopefully, I made it on the air!
I was thinking about the day and all of its goodness as I continued my walk around the Tidal Basin. I found an area along the water slightly less saturated with tourists, and I was walking kind of aimlessly as I appreciated the day.
And then I fell in a hole.
One minute I was walking, minding my own business, and then, hole. I’m not 100% sure what happened. When I looked down, my left foot was covered in dirt and fully submerged in a hole. I obviously wasn’t paying attention when it happened, but I suspect that there was a weak spot in the ground and my weight caused it to collapse.
I was a little freaked out, but otherwise fine. Of course, now that I knew about the hole, I was kind of trapped. I couldn’t in good conscience walk away and risk someone else falling in it. Even as I hovered over the hole debating what to do, two people actually tried to walk around me and almost fell into it.
I looked around for help and spotted a young park ranger walking toward me.
I ran up to him, “Hi!” I said with excessive cheer, “Can you come with me? I have to show you something.”
I think I startled him. Maybe that’s not how most people talk to strangers in uniform? Regardless of whether or not he was put off by my poor manners, he followed me down toward the water.
Pointing to the hole, I explained the situation. He agreed that the hole was quite large and deep and that I had done the right thing dragging him over. He added in frustration, “It’s just that the Tidal Basin is crumbling. We put these barriers up to keep people away from this section, but that doesn’t stop them when there are cherry blossoms.”
He was completely right, the Tidal Basin is eroding. It’s easy to miss it when the Mall is filled with people, but in the offseason, all of the problems with our national treasures are on display.
Even after six years in this city, when I see our nation’s monuments my heart speeds up with joy. When I see their cracks, it plummets with disappointment. We’re fixing our monuments. Slowly. The Reflecting Pool has been repaired. The cracks in the Washington Monument were fixed. Lincoln will be undergoing renovations soon. But other parts, like the Tidal Basin, are visibly coming apart. It’s tragic.
I watched as the park ranger took photos of the hole and radioed someone to come help him. Confident that I’d done my part, I continued on my way.
I thought about continuing on to Hains Point. Unlike the Tidal Basin, it was probably empty of people. But I was exhausted and I was already pushing it with the shoes I was wearing. I entered the throngs of people trying to head back to the Washington Monument. It was pretty intense, especially on Ohio Drive going toward Maine Avenue, where the crush of people forced us to walk single file. I hung in there and eventually broke free from the crowds and made my way back home.
This week has been filled with blustery winds and rain, and the cherry blossoms have been slowly blowing off the trees. With the blossoms gone, it’s always a little bit of a letdown. Sure, other flowers will blossom as we speed toward summer, but there’s nothing quite like being under the cover of DC’s cherry trees at peak bloom.
Want to help make the National Mall great again? Consider making a donation to the Trust for the National Mall.