Local Customs


Deep breath.  Drop your shoulders.  Close your eyes and lift your face to the sun and the gentle breeze.  Inhale deeply and bathe in the scent of hyacinths, daffodils, the first cut grass of the season.

Finally, after a long, grey Winter, it’s Spring here on my Bit of Earth.  Just downtown, in my Shining City on a Swamp, the cherry blossoms have exploded in clouds and clouds of palest pink all around the Tidal Basin.  You can sit on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial and try to drink in the beauty, but it’s always too much.

I’ve always loved going to see the cherry blossoms at dawn, when there aren’t too many people there.  Maybe a few brides having pictures taken and one or two families or couples spreading out picnic breakfasts beneath the blooms:  champagne, bagels and lox, strawberries and clotted cream.  One or two skaters or joggers.  And the “peace the early brings, the morning world of growing things,” as Diane Hildebrand wrote.

But I’ve been there and loved them at twilight, too, having a picnic in the newly-hot sunset with Son and DiL and I’ve been there and loved them late at night under a close-enough-to-touch Full Moon above the Jefferson Memorial, feeling magic creep up from the soil, soil covered with blossoms like a drifting snow.  I’ve been there and loved them the first Spring after my broken ankle healed, when Son, DiL, and I walked around them –me pushing my weak leg farther than I should have done —  and then walked to Old Ebbits for oysters, and bloody marys, and brunch.  And I’ve been there and loved them in the actual snow, when a sudden cold snap sent flakes of snow and pinky-white blossoms cascading to the ground, indistinguishable in the ecstasy.  I once flew home from a business trip and got my cab driver to drive me around the Tidal Basin so I could watch the snow make poetry out of every blossom-covered branch.  Finally, I let him drive me home, but I could have driven around and around for hours.

Our cherry trees were a gift from Japan.  They have a long and storied history and have often been championed by Washington’s women.   In Japan, they have parties, called hamani, to celebrate when the cherry blossoms bloom.  People drink sake, eat dumplings, hang lanterns, and sing and recite poetry.  But the main activity is to admire the cherry (or sometimes the plum) blossoms.  Some years, we get a beaver, here, in Washington, D.C., who goes after our trees and then the Park Service has to find him or her and move them away from this national treasure.  One year, shortly after Pearl Harbor, misguided Americans tried to chop down the cherry trees.  But most Springs, they bloom unharmed and an entire city turns out to admire them.

Are there special plants, trees, or animals that signal that Spring has finally come to your area?  How do you celebrate them?

Picture found here.

5 responses to “Local Customs

  1. Bees in the ground ivy! (I know it’s an invasive non-native, but it blooms before anything else that the bees will visit.) The violets are blooming, too, purple and white and white-and-purple; the snow-on-the-mountain is coming up, and the rhubarb . . . a bird is singing to beat the band down in the wild side of the yard, and I have flung open all the windows and the storm door. Soon there will be pine pollen over everything, but for now it is gloriously early spring!

  2. Hereabouts (southern Oregon) it’s when the Anna’s Hummingbirds – who hang here year-round – quit the feeder and go for the real food. Also, the return of the Buzzards from their winter sojourn in Mexico. They showed up a couple of weeks early this year. Perhaps an omen?

  3. Well, funnily enough, it’s usually the crab cherries in the Puget Sound region that are the early harbinger of Spring. Normally, they bloom about the middle of February- can you believe it? (There is a reason why I live out here.) This year, due to the weird weather, they were several weeks late, but are finally here in all their delicate glory. It is good to be reminded that renewal always does come, and that the hour before dawn is the darkest, making the return of light and warmth all the more marvelous.


    hecatedemeter wrote: > a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ WordPress.com Hecate Demeter posted: ” Deep breath.  Drop your shoulders.  Close your eyes and lift your face to the sun and the gentle breeze.  Inhale deeply and bathe in the scent of hyacinths, daffodils, the first cut grass of the season. Finally, after a long, grey Winter, it’s Spring h”

  4. The cherry trees in the Quad at the University of Washington come from the same batch as yours in DC, or so I have heard: they were deemed too sickly to ship further, but have grown into very beautiful trees. When I was there this week the Quad was full of people enjoying them, many Japanese but also many others. It does my heart good to see people celebrating something entirely noncommercial–cherry trees, lunar and solar eclipses, salmon runs.

  5. Lenten roses, aka hellebores, are the first flowers, usually in February and their pink, rose, and white blooms are lovely. Bless the first flowers.

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