Close Up Yet Far Away
Back in my junior year of high school, in a complete fluke of middle-childom, a near-total stranger gifted me with $876 in order for me to travel to Washington D.C. on a school trip. Unlike some people who journeyed with me, I’d previously flown on an airplane, but I’d never been on the east coast of the United States. The dozen or so students from my high school met up with students from North Carolina and we found ourselves swept into locations to this day I may not even recall. I remember walking for at least twenty minutes, perhaps longer, into the Pentagon, for a meeting with representatives of the various branches of the armed services. You can imagine a significant-size group of wonky, politically minded teenagers facing a panel of fruit-salad clad men during the height of the Cold War brought a lot of questions we wanted answered.
I remember Capitol Hill Day, when we watched the House of Representatives debate the expenditure of new ICBMs, but also taking a back seat as Edwin Meese made his first appearance in front of the Judiciary Committee. House? Senate? I forget. I remember touring the Art Museum and enjoying lunch. I know we met with our Senator. We saw the Air and Space Museum – the old one – we visited Arlington National Cemetery, and saw the original pandas. A medical professional from John Hopkins gave a wonderful presentation that, for me, may have doubled as an extra nap. We became natives on navigating the subway system, even though we also utilized chartered buses. On our last day we could see whatever we wanted to do on our own. All told, I’ve forgotten more than I remember about a really remarkable week.
“This is a real treat,” an entomologist recently described the hatching of billions of cicadas on the middle-to-eastern regions of the United States. Not everyone shares his enthusiasm for the scheduled, seasonal arrival of the noisy flying creatures. People do like to schedule their vacations around the changing of the leaves in New England where leaf peeping brings in waves of autumn tourists. In the early months of the year, a visit to the Channel Islands National Park will allow viewers to enjoy the wildflowers in shades of yellow through purples. And not to say all insects are icky, as people visit Pisgah National Forest in late May and early June just to see the fireflies. Then there is the Cherry Blossom Festival.
We didn’t plan it. We just happen to be in the nation’s capital when the cherry blossoms open up. On our one free afternoon, I find myself hoofing it all over the city by myself – a high school student alone in the city – visiting the spots that I want to enjoy again, without the rush of tour buses and schedules. I wander along the Tidal Basin, surrounded by the pink tinged blossoms, not even remotely planned, yet serendipitously savoring their peak beauty. Beyond buds yet still clinging to their branches, I happen to glimpse their beauty at the perfect moment, simply because I wander off where I want to go. My friends all decide to use their free time to shop in Georgetown. I wonder if that experience still speaks to them forty years later the way the cherry blossoms still remind me of my early independence and appreciation of the timely, sometimes fleeting, beauty of nature.