Closing my eyes, the cool, fresh air wakes up the neurons that my coffee hasn’t quite reached. I shoulder my gear and stuff my hands in my pockets. The reports tell me that spring is here, but the pre-dawn frost suggests otherwise.
Reaching the water’s edge I switch on my flashlight. The narrow beam quivers in my shaking hand. A quick survey of the scene confirms my suspicions – I’m far from alone.
I awkwardly tiptoe through the equipment strewn on the ground and the branches above. Tripods, backpacks and thermoses catch my shoelaces outside the weakening beam of light. I manage to contort myself and navigate the crowded walkway without tumbling into the Tidal Basin.
My haven appears in the form of a gnarly old trunk and a lopsided canopy of branches. The silhouette looked dreadful and a bit scary against the twilight, but it was perfect for keeping other photographers away. Crouching against the trunk I am able to elude the wind and thaw my fingers a bit.
The sky behind the Jefferson Memorial turns a dark maroon color as the sun stirs beneath the sheets of the horizon. A click to my right cuts through the darkness. For a moment I had forgotten that I am surrounded by people (who are strangely quiet, I might add).
A gentle breeze rustles the branches overhead. My eyes adjust to the growing light. The dark pool arcs gracefully in each direction, reflecting the colors in the sky above. Hundreds of twisted Cherry trees ring the shoreline, embracing the sunrise with fluffy plumes of flowers. It is beautiful.
The sky continues to illuminate. A ray of sunlight pierces the treetops and unleashes a cascade of flashing lights from every reach of the shore. I flinch momentarily, surprised by the silent volley of cannon fire. Backing off my tripod I take in the surreal moment unfolding before me.
I change my plans. There will be no stirring image of the Tidal Basin ringed with blooming cherry trees. Nor will there be a fluffy frame of flowers around the Washington Monument. The crushing crowds have rendered these shots impossible.
I pocket my camera and stroll the shore. I weave my way through drooping branches covered in pastel blooms. My disappointment lifts as I see the joy people express as they inspect the flowers around them.
Returning to my gnarly tree I take a closer look at the blooms it holds. Delicate petals in subtle colors create cheerful clusters of flowers around every branch. Better yet, these flowers are clustered around cylindrical buds on the tree’s branches, appearing to burst forth from them.
I compose a few photographs using the crystal blue sky as a backdrop. Looking up into the tree the illusion of bursting popcorn is heightened. Wonderful patterns appear, reminding me of the magic of the DC Cherry Trees.