It may be, a recent visitor to this capital said, that Washington seems filled with despondent, disgruntled people. No humor, sparks of enjoyment, the price of all those burdens to bear. Power does weigh heavily, after all.
The trouble with that visitor's observation is simple enough. She hadn't been talking with the right people in Washington. Like Roger Sulcer, or any of his crew.
In Good Friday, long before the rush was beginning, Sulcer was already hard at work doing what he loves to do best. His tree crew was toilong away round the Tidal Basin, prunning and spraying the Japanese cherry trees. His turf crew was scattered about the downtown area, tending lawns damaged from a harsh winter. His planting crew was busily engaged in the city's parks, preparing the flower beds.
"I hate to single out one crew," Sulcer was saying, "but the planting crew is a highly dedicated group of employes. For example, the pansy bed that you saw coming across the bridge - well, they take great pride in that.They just take an exceptional pride."
Already, he said, they have planted 180,000 tulip bulbs in the central downtown areas. All by hand, all spaced evenly, all planted exactly at the same dept. Sulcer himself was speaking proudly now.
He was sitting in his office overlooking the Washington Channel, not far from the Jefferson Memorial, whose grounds he also is in charge of tending.
Roger Sulcer's formal title is Superintendent, National Capitol Central. He's been a U.S. government employe for 21 years, all that time wearing his National Park Service uniform while working in Washington.And while this may momentarily be Jimmy Carter's Washington, I'm sure the President would agree that on this Easter weekend, at least, the city belongs to the Roger Sulcers. They don't grapple with the momentous questions of state, and we don't watch their lights burning brighly into the night of some world crisis. But they provide the civilizing touch, the labor and care that make Washington the most beautiful of world capitals. They are as indispensible as they are anonymous.
One of the more poisonous aspects of American life today is what appears to be the growing public conviction that Washington is an unworthy place - a capital where nothing works, where corruption, indolence and inefficiency are the rule, where true national values are ignored. That's the widely disseminated view of the politicians who campaign against the city all the while hungering to be part of it.
In face, whatever the state of Public or political morality, and whether people are right or wrong about the way Washington works, there's been one constant fact about the capital during the years I've lived here: It has become ever more beautiful, and nowhere more so than in the parks that are now beginning to fill every lunch hour in the spring. And it has been the despised and abused federal government that made this possible. Those dreadful "temporary" buildings that pockmarked the Mall and created the sense of a slum in areas along Constitution Avenue are gone. The parkland has increased. Thanks to the public support of such people as Lady Bird, who has ever own Washington monument in the flowers that burst forth along the Potamac each Spring, the park service has managed to an extraordinary job with relatively few people and not much money.
The most glorious area at this time of year, of course, borders the Potomac and holds the cherry trees. Once that area was a dismal swamp, a breeding place for mosquitoes and weeds standing in sight of the White House. The government reclaimed that land and, through a major feat of engineering, transformed it into a park celebrated for its beauty throughtout the world.
For the last 66 years those flowering cherry blossoms have been an ornament of the city, and a joy to the nation. Most of the original trees planted around the Tidal Basin in 1912 are now dying of old age, with less than a third of the originals still living. But even now the government is in the process of perserving the clonal lines for some of the grafted propagations from two trees planted long ago by President Taft's wife and Viscountess China. The hope is to use the new shoots to replace their dying counterparts.
From the look of those limbs Friday along the Potomac, the annual ritual is about to occur again.
You can be sure that Roger Sulcer and Company are hard at work to help the process.
Sulcer's spring work is just beginning. In mid-May, his people will be planting the annuals, the marigolds, scarlet sages, dahlias, snap dragons, geraniums, and begonials that will next adorn the area. Then, there will be more trees to plant, more lawns to manicure on the 1,050 public acres under his care in the center of Washington.
There are no slow seasons; the job is demanding. But Suncler can't imagine doing anything else. He exudes a quite pride.
"I feel we're producing good quality work," he says, "something that the visitor who only sees Washington once in a lifetime can be proud of. The tulip library, for example, on Maine Avenue - it's just amazing the amount of people who became fascinated when they see that, the layout, the different species there are,."
If you ask Sulcer what he would need to do a bette job - more money, say, or more manpower - he at first looks surprised. Neither of those, he finally says slowly. It's time that he needs most.
"I always find we justdon't seem to have enough time," he says. "It seems that the season is upon us before we've even really prepared for it, although we make every effort. There's always that feeling that we need just a little bit more time."
As for himself, he finds that each year looks a little different. "I've never grown tired of it," he says. "I don't think you could talk to any of us and find anyone who says they get tired of it. I'm always trying to do something a little better eacy year.
"It's like our planting some additional cherry trees around the Tidal Basin. Well, every spring you can look back and see what you've accomplished. You can measure it."
When the spring finally reaches its peak in Washington, Sulcer has personal ritual of his own.
"It's always a thrill to me," he says, "to go up to the top of the Monument and look down on the vista from the Capitol when the turf is green and all the flowers are out. It's always fascinating. And then you feel within yourself what small role we did play. We were part of it.