Katie and Matt Gilman by the family cherry tree in 2011. (Courtesy of Laura Fox)
April 13, 2012

Much has been written this spring about Washington’s cherry trees, a gift from Japan a hundred years ago. I, too, have a story about a cherry tree that signifies the passing of time.

I am sitting on my deck enjoying the April sunshine and the pleasure of being enveloped in a blizzard of pale pink petals, sheer as tissue paper and soft as butter. This Kwanzan cherry tree, now long past its 25-year life expectancy, is what made me fall in love with our home. The tree had large, gnarly roots that could be seen above the soil. My husband and I were similarly looking to put down roots in a small, friendly neighborhood.

Year in and year out, the towering tree puts on a show in our back yard. Regardless of how cold or snowy the winter, the tree, with its double-blooms, is steadfast in spring. It has become the yardstick by which I’ve measured my children’s growth. From 1986, I have a picture of baby Matthew, 6 months old, nearly swaddled in blossoms. Four years later, there’s one of Matt forcing a smile underneath the tree while trying to hold on to a squirming baby: his new sister Katie.

I treasure the pictures of them as infants in the arms of grandparents under the pink canopy. I see them as toddlers, holding hands and squinting as the morning sun shines in their faces. There are pictures of them climbing the tree, so proud of their achievement. I was even able to cajole them into pictures during their teen years, when it was obvious that they would rather be doing anything but having their picture taken together by the tree.

Like many Arlingtonians, we decided to add on when we outgrew our house. Our one nonnegotiable requirement: The addition could not harm the cherry tree, which by then was like a member of the family. Now it’s practically been invited inside. Because we sit at the top of the hill, with the first floor of the house high off the ground in back, a new backyard deck became like a tree house, the broad branches of the cherry tree shading it from the afternoon sun. The windows of the new second-floor master bedroom look out over the top of the tree. In the spring, it’s like looking out on cotton candy.

So again, this year, I take time to enjoy the fleeting joy of my cherry tree — and make plans to gather my kids for one more picture against a backdrop of pink blossoms.

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