By Sandra Carey Cody
This time of year, I think most of us yearn for spring and look for signals of the renewal that the season promises. We all rejoice in the sight of the first tiny shoots of green that poke through the soil. We delight when a wren couple chooses to raise their family in the house we left for them. The cherry trees blooming in our nation’s capital is another symbol of spring – a special favorite of mine.
Every year there are dozens (maybe hundreds, even thousands) of photographs of the cherry trees in bloom, but no matter how artistic and original some of them are, the image that sticks in my mind is the first one I remember seeing. It was the picture on the award they used to give to kids who had read a requisite number of books during the school year. For every five books we read, we were given a small, rather plain certificate – not, in itself, a very impressive document. The real prize came after we had collected five of the small certificates: an award with an imposing dark blue cover and, on the inside, a photograph of the cherry trees in full bloom and a large certificate with our name written in flowery script and the words “Reading Achievement Award”. I still remember how I cherished those awards and how proudly I presented them to my parents, who in turn showed them to aunts, uncles, and grandparents while I pretended modesty. The cherry trees in bloom were a tangible symbol of the intangible reward I gained for doing something I loved. As a child, I had no idea that they are also a symbol of something much larger.
I was an adult before I learned the history of how the cherry trees came to be planted in Washington, D. C. In 1912, (more than 100 years ago!), the people of Japan sent 3020 cherry trees to the United States as a gift of friendship. According to the story I read, President Taft’s wife and the wife of the ambassador from Japan planted the first two cherry trees. (These two original trees are still standing today near the John Paul Jones statue at the south end of 17th Street.) The cuttings were grafted from trees growing along the banks of the Arakawa River in Tokyo. From that small beginning, thousands of cherry trees, all gifts from the Japanese government, were planted around the Tidal Basin.
During the Second World War, Tokyo lost scores of cherry trees in the allied bombing raids; after the surrender, horticulturalists took cuttings from the trees in Washington and sent them back to Tokyo. Years later, some of the Washington trees died, and Tokyo sent cuttings back across the Pacific.
I love the ebb and flow of the story of humble tree cuttings being exchanged by two proud nations. It inspires me to know that a gift of friendship survived a terrible war and became the centerpiece of an annual festival in the capital city of one. (The 2018 Cherry Blossom Festival was celebrated from March 20 through April 15.)
Those first cuttings have become a symbol of the season of renewal and, for me, they are still a symbol of the rewards of reading. It seems a fitting combination.
Sandra Carey Cody is a presenter at PSB Writing Center, a contributor to the Journal and blog, and a PSB volunteer. Sandy is the author of the Jennie Connors mystery series (Left at Oz, Put Out the Light, Consider the Lilly, By Whose Hand and Lethal Journal), as well as two novels set in Bucks County (Love and Not Destroy and An Uncertain Path). She has a blog entitled the Birth of a Novel https://birthofanovel.wordpress.com/ in which she interviews authors, posts reviews, and shares random thoughts, usually related to writing. Sandy can also be reached at http://www.sandracareycody.com