§ It’s early spring around Washington, DC. Walking along the Potomac River I see hundreds of white, purple, blue, and yellow wildflowers—too many types for me to identify, unfortunately. I recognize daffodils and chicory, and the few early dandelions… the plants that have had practical or aesthetic value to me. There’s a beautiful poem about daffodils. Chicory and dandelions are edible. Ask me about something I couldn’t eat as a child and I’m usually at a loss.
Farther from the riverbanks, there are red mulberry buds and the beginnings of magnolia blossoms. I don’t believe I ever noticed mulberries blossoming before this year—I only know the buds belong to mulberries because I know which trees I’ve eaten mulberries from. It’s been nice to become sensitive to the passage of cycles and time in one place. I’m not sure it’s possible to sense that without stillness. Despite growing up around mulberry trees, I’d not know their cycles if I hadn’t been passing the same few specific trees, week after week, for long enough to observe those cycles. Unless that kind of familiarity builds, I usually only see what affects me directly.
It’s possible I could know how they work by studying mulberry trees, and I imagine many botanists and arborists could be shown a mulberry tree in some arbitrary season and identify the species and seasonal context. But then, there’s a direct affect between botanists and all plants, whereas I don’t have more than a passing knowledge of plants. Just a knowledge of the plants I’ve passed enough to be affected.
§ Flowering plants grow in ubiquity on the Earth. There’s a special stand of them here, though: the cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin. The trees were a gift from Japan in 1912, and the Tidal Basin itself was built in the late 19th century as a water management tool. Since then the Basin has filled and emptied twice a day with the tides, and the trees have bloomed once a year with the seasons. It’s a nice clock of sorts, providing clear demarcation from “moment” to “moment” in high tides, low tides, and peak blossoms, although those moments are irregular in length.
I try to take a walk along the tidal basin each year when the cherry trees are blooming and I’m in the area. It puts me in my place to walk along the track of a clock keeping deep time. Japan and the United States have gone from friends to enemies to friends in the intervening century, and the trees continued to bloom. Cicada broods have come out of the ground and returned—Brood II will be out this year after 17 years. And my life has seen its own changes of somewhat less magnitude and somewhat more eccentricity.
The Tidal Basin is a good clock to synchronize with. I’m sure there are many other deep time clocks, but certainly not many people who take time from them. I couldn’t say with certainty that I do myself—only that I’ve passed through the trees, and the people who pass through the trees, and observed a little. It’s fortunate that a city like Washington, where inhabitants can sometimes lose touch in the noisy confusion, have at least the option to take similar walks.