There was snow on the ground the day we arrived.
But just twenty four hours later, the sun is out and ambitious cherry blossom saplings have ventured delicate petals of pink and white into the Washington air.
Residents and tourists who have descended on the three block radius of historical sites in the city react to their shy appearance as if nature has boldly announced the arrival of a long awaited Spring, and flashing cameras gather along the winding path from the World War II memorial past the Washington monument and to the Lincoln Memorial to capture the petalled beauty of buds and flowers.
And as my own camera zooms out and zeroes in, the light pink colour of the flowers on the spindly grey and brown frame of the cherry blossom tree are perfectly framed in a sky of summer blue.
I stand beside an American of Japanese origin, and united by the activity, we smile at each other in between clicks. I realise for the first time how poignant the Japanese friendship gift of cherry blossom trees to the Americans is and the symbolic impact of their placement around a monument that is laden with wreaths that commemorate the fallen in so many wars: the first world war, the second world war, the Vietnam war and the Korean war.
Washington’s shops however more than make up for nature’s hesitation in announcing Spring and store front windows everywhere – in Georgetown and at Dulles airport – are in full pink and white regalia. Large cherry blossom stickers cluster on the glass fronts; paper and plastic blossoms stand in bunches in window corners; mannequin feet hover on a carpet of blossoms; and souvenir shops profile the pink flower in jigsaws and bookmarks.
Children too are dressed in soft pink and white. Everything urges the city to embrace the lightness of Spring and shrug off the weight of Winter.
But the eagerness of the saplings that stand in the needle shadow of the Washington monument is not matched by the more mature trees that ring the World War II memorial.
The pink and white petalled delicacy of cherry blossoms will in a month’s time drape the monuments of hard stone and metal and soften the sorrow of war with the forgiveness of nature. The flowers on boughs will commemorate the fallen like the dark green metal wreaths that hang above every named state. And the beauty of the flower laden trees, when they burst into glory, will honour America’s sacrifice in the struggle for freedom, liberty and an end to tyranny.
A fountain stands between the stone ballasts on the right and left of the world war two memorial – one represents the Atlantic and the other the Pacific – and it bubbles quietly as it remembers the country’s veterans. A black POW flag flutters alongside the coloured stars and stripes. And despite the rumbling of traffic just metres away and the whining of police and ambulance sirens that seem to define Washington DC, the memorials – even without the cherry blossom shroud – are blanketed in thoughtful silence.
I tighten my jacket around my neck against the chill of the evening wind. Regardless of how the city – and I – seem to be willing Spring into being, it has not yet arrived for Washington’s cherry blossom trees.
Two weeks later, the cherry blossoms had come and gone. Green leaves had replaced delicate pink flowers.
But I caught a couple of stragglers on the lawn next to the Washington monument – enough to fulfill my desire to see DC’s cherry blossoms.