Washington DC

DC’s Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossom season Washington DC was very quite in 2020 due to pandemic.

COVID-19 cancelled the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC in 2020. There would be no party for the cherry blossom season Washington DC.

We all know that this is a year like no other. At the beginning of March 2020, none of us in the DC area (but really across North America) could have imagined how much our daily life would change due to the novel coronavirus.

Then COVID-19 irrevocably changed our lives.

Cherry Blossom Season Washington DC results in cancellation of public events due to COVID.

COVID Shutdown

So we work, eat and sleep in our homes and hope one day to resume our old lives. As of March 21, one-quarter of Americans must stay home as much as possible.Washington, D.C. will go into “lockdown” before the end of the month.

Connect with Nature

The one break I give myself is to go outside to exercise while practicing smart social distancing. Seven days ago (March 13), no one was out walking along the Tidal Basin at 7 am before sunrise. Yesterday it was a different story. There were a lot more people. But they spread out.

What draws me is the fleeting season of the cherry blossoms (Sakura). It turns my city pink for two short weeks in late March or early April.

Cherry Blossom History

Cherry blossom season Washington DC is a century-long ritual.

“The plantings of cherry trees originated in 1912 as a gift of friendship to the People of the United States from the People of Japan. In Japan, the flowering cherry tree, or ‘Sakura,’ is an exalted flowering plant. The beauty of the cherry blossom is a potent symbol equated with the evanescence of human life and epitomizes the transformation of Japanese culture throughout the ages.”—National Park Service

Hanami Season

This season is characterized by “hanami,” which translated means watching blossoms. This year there will be no Cherry Blossom Festival like years past. The CDC has recommended no gatherings above 10 people. This means the enormous crowds associated with the festival are banned. I will immensely miss the kite flying day. People fly their kites on the hills surrounding the Washington Monument.

I can almost hear “come fly a kite so high/up to the highest height …” Next I will see Dick Van Dyke dancing a jig like a scene out of the Mary Poppins movie.

Best Place to See Cherry Blossoms

But truly nothing can compare to simply walking or biking around the Tidal Basin. I did this four times in the last week to gaze on these ethereal trees. To see them dressed in their finest pink and white frocks as they bow and bend to the wind off the Potomac River is mesmerizing.

No matter how many photos I take, no matter how many trees I see, I somehow can’t absorb this annual miracle. Like a child who wants to run out in a rainstorm to play, I delight to be caught in a pink snowstorm.

Japanese Blossom Poem

There are so many ancient Japanese poems extolling the beauty of these ephemeral blossoms. “Without regret, they fall and scatter …. cherry blossoms,” wrote the revered poet Kobayashi Issa. I am particularly enamored by the poetry of Yosa Buson who was a Japanese poet and painter during the Edo period (1700s):

“As the moon-brilliance makes its Crossing, so Cherry-blossom shadows eastward slowly go.”—Yosa Buson

Cherry Blossom Season Washington DC

Wisely numerous people have cancelled their trips to Washington DC for this annual spring ritual. It is so important to practice social distancing and avoid any crowds. I can attest that there is a major reduction in those coming to walk the National Mall to see the cherry blossoms early in the morning.

I also think many people—both natives who have moved away from Washington DC as well as visitors—subscribe to the cherryblossomwatch on their Instagram feed or track on their website.

I did make a YouTube video on March 20 if you want to take a short virtual walk along the Tidal Basin with me. I visited at 7 am. I had to dart in and out of the groves of trees as well as walk along the wider paths to avoid close contact.

Time for Contemplation

Walking among the Japanese cherry trees is always a contemplative time for me. I find it so easy to lose myself in walking along (as well as stopping under) the sturdy branches of the Yoshino cherry trees.

Many of the trees are so old that they look like gnomes. Their trunks are hefty but their body is short. I can imagine then coming alive at night to revel after the humans retreat.

As a regular walker on the Tidal Basin, I love to watch the cherry trees change from their spindly branches, barren of color, in winter to glints of green as the first buds plump out in March. Next emerge the “florets” and the “peduncle elongation.”

Nearly 11 days earlier than last year, I saw full on puffy white as the trees hit peak bloom this year. It actually feels like summer in DC with temperatures hitting 80 degrees on March 20. Peak bloom begins this weekend when 70% of the blossoms open along the Tidal Basin.

Free Blossom Bus

The Circulator “blossom” bus is also back on the roads again, although there are quite a few less passengers. This year the Cherry Blossom Festival runs March 20-April 12, 2020 but there will be no public festival. The avenues on the National Mall are filled with the pink placards announcing the celebration.

But we won’t see the sky filled with kites flying high on The National Monument grounds. There will be no spectacular fireworks show on the Southwest Waterfront. And Constitution Avenue will NOT be packed with tourists and residents attending this festival.

But the trees are there. And they beg us to remember Nature’s gift to astound and delight. So I come at sunrise this week. White blossoms flecked in pink flutter in the air.

I stand under the branches of the sheltering Yoshino trees, sniff the air and catch a petal floating slowly to the ground, marveling at this floral ballerina dancing in the breeze.

Japanese Pagoda

The Japanese Pagoda, hewn out of rough stone, was placed on the southwest bank of the Tidal Basin and dedicated on April 18, 1958. “It was presented as a gift to the City of Washington, D.C., by the Mayor of Yokohama to ‘symbolize the spirit of friendship between the United States of America manifested in the Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce signed at Yokohama on March 31, 1854,” according to the National Park Service.

2021 Cherry Blossom Season Washington DC

It would be wonderful if our 2021 cherry blossom festival could return. My memories of the 2019 season make me smile. But most folks will probably be watching virtually, according to the experts.
“It seems increasingly likely that DC will still be under COVID-19 restrictions in spring 2021 while the cherry blossoms are blooming. So it’s shaping up to be a good year to follow along from afar from the safety and comfort of your home.” (CherryBlossomWatch)
I highly recommend CherryBlossomWatch on Instagram to watch current as well as past pictures and video posts about DC’s Japanese cherry trees. It is one of the best sites for people who can’t visit DC this year due to the novel coronavirus to see the beautiful blossoms!
Postscript: My favorite tree on the Tidal Basin is a spindly weird little tree located near the Jefferson Memorial. I love to visit it year round. I don’t really know how it is alive given that it has so few branches. But I think it so lovely and asymmetrical. And I marvel how it stands so strong as a beacon. Stay strong. Safe safe.

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