Balmy temperatures and sunny skies brought three seasonal Washington traditions into full bloom yesterday at the Tidal Basin: the famed cherry blossoms, the people viewing them and the cameras recording it all.
As the mercury hit 80 degrees, the blossoms -- sometimes pink but yesterday appearing mostly white -- opened so bountifully that the National Park Service's chief horticulturist declared yesterday the official first day of peak bloom (70 percent open or greater). This was three days earlier than the most recent prediction, which itself was several days earlier than once thought after an unusually brutal Washington winter. The peak was forecast to end April 10.
"We've had quite varied weather," said Park Service spokesman Bill Line. "But that has not affected the cherry blossoms in a negative way" because recent night-time temperatures have not dropped below 40 degrees too often.
So the crowds came, not overwhelming but bigger than recently.
"It's gorgeous; there's nothing like it," said Elaine Vincent, a waitress who lives in Foggy Bottom.
"I've been watching the war on the cable news nonstop. This takes my mind off it," Vincent added, zooming her camera for a shot of a particularly lush branch of blossoms with the Jefferson Memorial in the far background. "It's really peaceful out here, and sometimes we lose sight of the fact that Washington offers something more than politics. It's a release."
People took paddle-boat rides, had impromptu picnics, lay in the sun and jogged with their dogs.
"I'm playing hooky from work," admitted software salesman Chapin Henry, who was taking pictures of wife Claudia and daughter Katherine, 41/2 months. Recent transplants from Seattle, the Henrys were proudly wearing shorts.
Line stressed that people should refrain from picking the blossoms or risk a fine of as much as $500. But that word hadn't reached Soohyun Ahn, 4, and her brother Yongwhan, 5. The children had pulled down a small branch and were waving it in the air while their father snapped away with his camera.
"I want to get a spring shot," said Dongchoon Ahn, 37, a visiting scholar from South Korea.
Alan Schriber also was lining up a photo of his son Ari, 14, with the cherry trees and the Washington Monument in the background. With Ari on spring break from his Cincinnati high school, the pair were supposed to go to Paris until Ari's mother objected because she was concerned about international travel.
So Ari was pulling off his Reds baseball cap so his father could get the proper picture. The teenager was perhaps the only one indifferent to the trees.
"Whatever," he said with a shrug.