Washington Post


Spring, Taking Washington by Storm in the Sunshine

By Paul Hendrickson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 14, 1998; Page D01

Ah, Washington. Thank you, you wretched old power-diseased and self-absorbed and cruel-hearted thing. You're such a beaut. Your spring has arrived in an almost orgasmic burst. A spring such as this has to be hell on allergy sufferers. But, boy, is it luscious all the same.

Spring always seems to explode in Washington, but this year the exploding is too much -- almost. That air, like a thing silky on the arm, as if it had just floated down from Alaska. That sky, as if it belonged to New Mexico, as if a ceramic potter had fashioned it after days of madly mixing colors. And all those leafed-out tulip poplars and pear trees and cherry trees and apple trees. And all those lilac bushes to try to get whiffs of while walking the dog early in the morning. And all those regal beds of tulips in the downtown public squares.

And lawns. Wasn't it but last week when the collected yards of Washington were yellow and patchy and scraggly things? Now their aromas, after a new mowing, are enough to make a grown man get down on his knees and sing hymns to tall fescue and the miracles of Milorganite. (That's a fertilizer.)

Did you happen to see the moon on Sunday night? About 9 o'clock it began to roll up fat and pearly. It was pasted up there like a big dinner plate at an embassy party. It's as if the moon too wanted to get in on the richness of spring 1998 in Washington.

Wouldn't it be a cruel thing to be a resident of Washington and have to be out of town in mid-April? No city in the world does springtime like this one. No city is able to produce so much natural beauty so suddenly. This is not a scientific statement of fact, just an emotional reaction to what's been going on for the last several weeks -- no, the last several days.

These last few days -- say, from Saturday to yesterday -- must amount to the epicenter of the 1998 bursting. This is the middle of the middle of the middle. It's not possible to have it any better than this, is it? And to think, it happened on a holiday weekend. What did we do so right to deserve this?

Somehow, it's as if we missed a reel of the movie this year, as if we overslept. Because suddenly everything became gorgeous. So is it El Niño that's been perversely responsible for the bountifulness? Was it the winter we never had? Maybe, but who wants to sit around trying to analyze a gift.

Just days ago, or so it seems now, the trees of Washington were winter sticks, gray above the rooftops. Only a fortnight ago, or so it seems now, the daffodils were the only things up from the cold earth. Baseball was that longed-for thing happening on little green napkins in Florida. And now: azaleas and dogwoods all at once. The tulips and lilacs. The Little League diamonds in the lush parks, clotted with kids who believe they're going to grow up and get to the bigs, just like Cal.

The late Henry Mitchell, who used to write word-luscious gardening prose for this newspaper, once wrote that "to go from winter to summer you have to pass March." Did we pass March this year? Of April, and April in Washington, Mitchell once said: "We are not born to a guarantee of a voluptuous bonbon-type life, you know." He went on: "You do, even in paradise, have to come in from the rain and of course from high glory as well, and scrub the dog's food bowl and get back to the office." Yes, a reminder that the rag of summer will soon enough come.

It must be some kind of awful compliment to the taming of man that tens of thousands of Washington office workers could climb into cars and onto subways yesterday -- on Easter Monday and Passover Monday -- and actually show up at their jobs. Yesterday was just one of those cerulean days.

A reporter walked around late yesterday morning and there seemed such a sense of ripe possibility. In McPherson Square there were two crescents of perfect yellow tulips, one on either side of Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson. He sat on his horse with a couple pigeons on his head. On one side of the square, waiters in starched white aprons were setting out tables on the sidewalk of a French restaurant called Gerard's Place. They laid the plates and cutlery under blue umbrellas. Next door, a worker at Bird's Florist wheeled a pushcart of cut flowers to the sidewalk. It could have been happening at a moveable feast called Paris.

A square away, at Farragut, you could sit on a bench and listen to people talking of the weather as they strode by. "Yeah, supposed to be warm again Thursday, 76, with a dip in the middle of the week." Well, not always the weather. "Yeah, I come here to gaze at women." Bike messengers ganged under trees and tossed water down their gullets from bottles they carried in holsters on their 18-speed bikes. Across the way, people lined up at the Orioles store to try to get tickets to coming games. The grass in Farragut was freshly mowed and people luxuriated in it. From the middle of the square you could look northward, up lower Connecticut. Connecticut Avenue in spring is Washington's Rialto. There was a double-decker bus stopped in traffic. On its side was painted, no kidding, Cloud Nine Couchways Inc.

The square is named for the Union naval commander who said -- at the Battle of Mobile Bay -- "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!" Adm. Farragut had pigeons on his head yesterday, too. And he too didn't seem to care.

Down in Lafayette Square, across from the White House, the waves of red tulips were stunning. Chess games were going crazily on concrete tabletops. A father walked happily by with a child on his shoulders. Somebody swung a plastic CVS bag as he walked, singing loudly. As always, the advocates of causes were out in force. One such advocate walked around with a sign: "Ban All Nuclear Weapons Or Have a Nice Doomsday." But he didn't seem angry or agitated or full of winter gray. He was smiling.