Enjoy the Blossoms Without Sight-Sneezing

By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, April 2, 2006

One of the noteworthy things about the Internet is that it lets you experience the world and, indeed, significant pieces of the universe, without having to actually experience it.

Think back to the moving work of a young John Travolta -- fresh from his triumphant run in "Welcome Back Kotter" -- as an immuno-deficient teen in the 1976 made-for-TV classic "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble."

The Internet lets all of us live in our own bubble, bypassing all those nasty, messy, real-life sensations, such as floating along a canal in Venice, walking barefoot through the freshly cut grass of your yard or sitting ringside at a prizefight. Instead, we can log on, read, listen and look without having to touch or smell. Or be touched or smelled, for that matter.

If you are the unhappy combination of allergy sufferer and cherry-blossom fan, the Internet bubble is your salvation.

Web Watch directs the sneezy, the wheezy and the generally congested to the Web site of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org . (What, they couldn't come up with something longer?)

As my friend Sam, who recently moved to Washington and wanted to visit the cherry blossoms but is respiratorially incapable of doing so, wrote, the Web site "was just like the real thing -- except for the smell and the hives and the closing throat and watering eyes and did I mention the hives?"

According to the comprehensive site, the blossoms peaked Thursday. But don't let that stop you. It's not like they all jumped off the trees on Friday. ("Time's up, boys! We're outta here!")

The Cherry Blossom Festival is a nonprofit organization, though the Web site has plenty of ads for sponsors, from Target to Comcast to Metro. The site lists blossom-related events that run through next Sunday, describes the varieties of cherry trees, has a map showing where they're planted and so on, in English and Japanese, a tip o' the cap to the nation that made a gift of the first Tidal Basin cherry trees in 1912.

What the site doesn't have so much is, ahem, actual pictures of the cherry blossoms.

But don't despair -- Web Watch has that answer, too.

Go to http://www.webshots.com , the community photo-sharing site, and type in "cherry blossoms Washington D.C." Up pop 61 pages, or 1,216 photos, of our blossoms, a-bloomin' like crazy. My favorites are the totally random pictures of people you don't know standing in front of the trees.

For more pictures, the National Park Service provides a Web cam at http://www.nps.gov/nacc/cherry/ , so the really, really, really patient (or bored) can watch live footage of the trees.

If you especially love cherry blossoms and you've had your fill of them at the Tidal Basin (or, and here's a little Washington secret, the Kenwood neighborhood of Bethesda), and you've got extra cheddar burning a hole in your pocket, you might want to go to their source. At http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2011.html , you can see the best times and places to see the national flower of Japan blossoming in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and a number of other cities.

The tradition of hanami , or "flower viewing," inspires this site to lyricism: "From a distance, the trees appear as beautiful clouds, while the beauty of single blossoms can be enjoyed from a close distance."

Finally, if all this talk of flora -- even virtual -- is starting to make your nose tickle, here's a parting gift: http://www.pollen.com , a comprehensive site for spore sufferers, including an updated map of the highest- and lowest-count cities in the United States. And, yes, as you suspected, the Washington region is in the nation's hot zone for allergy sufferers.


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