March 16, 2012
For behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along! Song of Solomon 2:11-13
Is any time of year more delightful than the first hint of spring?
By now, most of us have tasted a bit of warmth, and seen early flowers poking their way up out of the ground. Spring blooms, with their vibrant colors, are such a pleasure after a barren winter!
For me, the greatest harbingers of spring are cherry blossoms. And yes, the cherry trees planted around the White House and the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. are part of the National Park Service: the National Mall and Memorial Parks’ Cherry Blossom Festival comes under its jurisdiction. The peak bloom dates are usually later, but thanks to warmer temperatures, the trees are beginning to flower already, so prime viewing is now March 20-23. National Park Service activities are scheduled for March 24-April 15, and its partner, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, has activities throughout Washington March 20-April 27.
This is the centennial of the first planting of the trees, a gift of friendship from the people of Japan. The first batch of 2,000 arrived in 1910, but were infested with insects and had to be burned. In 1912, 3,020 cherry trees in twelve varieties arrived, bug-free, and First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador ceremonially planted two of them on the Tidal Basin’s northern bank. They still stand there today, several hundred yards west of the John Paul Jones Memorial, near 17th Street, S.W., and marked with a plaque. You can read the entire story here.
(I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Newark, New Jersey’s massive collection of cherry trees in Branch Brook Park. They bloom in mid- to late April, and the park’s Cherry Blossom Festival is very popular. When Mimi was a baby, I pushed her in her stroller every year among the beautiful blossoms. And I’m proud to say that Joe and I added to the over 4,000 trees a few years ago by having one planted in memory of his mother.)
Cherry blossoms don’t last long, unfortunately. One minute they’re buds, the next moment they’ve popped in a gorgeous array of pink and white petals, then suddenly they’re littering the ground like snow. No wonder frequent updates are issued as blooming time nears, so we can catch them at their peak!
And no wonder the Japanese believe the delicate blossoms symbolize the beauty and brevity of life. Wasn’t it just yesterday I was a kid, we ask ourselves. Where did the time go? Moses pondered this as well. “The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength,” he wrote in Psalm 90:10. “They quickly pass, and we fly away.”
Cherry trees, like trees everywhere, must be meticulously maintained and carefully pruned in order to flourish and thrive. So do we. You just can’t achieve the latter without the former. Fortunately, we humans have a Master Gardener who longs to tend to us so that His joy may be in us and our joy may be full (John 15:11). But unlike the short-lived cherry blossoms, our blooming is life-long and eternal (Psalm 16:11).
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along!” King Solomon adjured his bride, calling her to join him outside as a gorgeous spring day beckoned.
It’s an echo of God’s voice, calling us to delight in His company, not just for a season, but every day of the year.