Yesterday I took a lunchtime stroll around the National Mall to get a look at the preparations for the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival. It’s always more fun walking with friends, so a half-dozen folks joined me in the Enid A. Haupt Garden, just south of the Smithsonian Institution.
Our route took us west along the National Mall to just past 17th Street NW, where we slanted southwest past the Washington Monument to the Floral Library, which as of yet still lies dormant. Walking clockwise along the shoreline of the Tidal Basin, we saw that the visitor tents were up, preparations were in progress, and all the little blue paddleboats were tied up awaiting the throngs of sure to arrive next week. The only thing missing was the blossoms – while the trees are budding, none of them have yet begun to bloom.
Emerging from the path near the Japanese Lantern Statue marking the first cherry blossom tree planting, we headed north through the World War Two Memorial to have a look at the state of affairs in Constitution Gardens and its pond, with similar findings. Green leaves have appeared on the weeping willows, but a few days of warmer weather are needed to prompt most of the other trees into bloom.
Heading back east through the mall we encountered the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America‘s “Storm the Hill” display of 1,892 flags, representing the number of veterans that have died so far this year as a result of suicide. (From a Veteran’s Administration estimate of 22 veterans per day, not specific to any given war.) It’s a disturbing statistic, and the result of a long-perpetuated stigma associated with seeking help for the normal reaction to the trauma of combat. It’s a Catch-22 situation: as long as a service member doesn’t seek help, everything is supposedly fine. But seeking counseling and is considered an admission that something is wrong, and can lead to administrative relief from duty. While there are supposed to be no repercussions for seeking treatment, being relieved from duty for any reason isn’t exactly career-enhancing, and a deliberate, deadly silence is the result. The military is trying to improve the situation, but some politicians, as I have written about previously, are actually seeking to make matters worse, by proposing legislation to curtail the Second Amendment rights of any veteran who seeks treatment. What a great choice for our veterans: suffer in silence, or ask for help and be deprived of your right to defend your home and family.
Getting back to the original purpose of yesterday’s walk, while it was a beautiful day, it was also apparent that a few consecutive days of warm weather are going to be needed to coax the buds into bloom. That, with a dismally rainy forecast for the coming weekend, seem to be pushing any cherry blossom-related activities well into next week.