This morning I got up early with my family and headed to the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, to participate in DC’s yearly pagan spring festival: communing with cherry blossoms and thousands of people from around the world.
photo by me
It is what I imagine an east Asian spring festival to be: lots of cameras, picnics, even some girls in kimonos.
If you detect irony you are wrong. I love this rite of spring and never miss it. It is one of the few times that I see DC melt before the awe of simple natural beauty.
I think the symbolism of the Cherry Blossoms is very important. The trees were given to the US by Japan as a token of friendship. Of course that wish went south when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but since WWII Japan and the US have been deep friends despite fierce economic competition in the 70s and 80s.
Today, more than 100 years after the trees came from east Asia, this act of goodwill from Japan is remarkably vital. Even though many of us jaded Washingtonians have seen the cherry trees do their thing for decades, we still get giddy and drop everything when they bloom. We have a big Cherry Blossom Festival every year that goes on for weeks and closes streets.
In 1912, when the trees were delivered to America, there was much optimism about what government could do to make people’s lives better. Many beautiful monuments and works of art were created in the early 20th Century, from the Lincoln Memorial to the WPA public art in and outside government buildings. The DC area, my home, has more of these “public goods” than nearly every other city in America; it is the capital after all. We enjoy the National Gallery of Art for free, as well as the the Memorials, Capitol and White House.
Outside of Washington, does our society and government support enough public art and natural beauty, the kind that knits us together like the Cherry Blossoms do each year? Sadly, unlike our peer countries in Europe and Japan, “public goods” that uplift and ennoble are often seen by anti-government types as wasteful. Think of congressmen attacking the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and slashing funding for public fine and performing arts. Last summer the National Park Service (NPS), like everything else in government, was hit by sequestration cuts.
I really hate it when National Parks are underfunded. The best “brand” that the government retains is its National Park system. That brand should be burnished. People from all over the world travel to visit our natural wonders, and the designation of a special place as a National Park makes a destination even more compelling. Everyone I know deems visiting a National Park both enjoyable and ennobling. Why isn’t making our NPS the very best a priority? It would surely pay for itself, in public good if not economic benefits. And what of the ennobling communion with nature and people that I saw and felt today at the Tidal Basin?
another photo by me
For me, each visit to the Cherry Blossoms is made even better because of the people. Today I overheard someone complain that photography was difficult because of “all the random people” that ended up in her pictures. I love the random people! In our (supposedly) church and state separated country, walking around the Tidal Basin with people from all over the US and world is the closest thing to Civic Church that I can think of. Let us build an America and world with more shared places of beauty, and let us share them with each other.