Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring Is Just a Basin of Cherries

It’s been two years now that we’ve lived in DC and three cherry-blossom seasons, but this was the first time I got myself down to the tidal basin during their (this year creepily early) peak flowering.

I admit it; I was completely enchanted, so much so that I took some typical monuments-and-flowers shots of the kind I usually scoff at.

I’m not necessarily proud of having taken the photos, but I’m not ashamed to acknowledge how very taken I was by the blossoms. There’s something amazing about them—first, their profusion, so that as you approach them it looks as if banks of rose-tinted clouds have settled in vast lines, floating right above the water.

But even more than their numbers, it’s their astonishing, contradictory delicacy that’s so appealing: that on these dark, gnarled, rigid boughs and trunks this gauze, this fragile lacework, should float, like gossamer veils trailing from tough, pruny old ladies.

That fragility and flexibility—the petals trembling, the branches leaning almost into the water of the basin—seduced me completely.

I wasn’t the only one, either; even at 9:30am on a Wednesday, the path was well-traveled by tourists and intense-looking people with cameras. It was also positively filled with birdsong, mostly from the starlings singing their lusty little hearts out in the cherry trees. It appears to be a popular nesting ground for them, and so intent were they on sex that they didn’t seem to mind at all the voyeuristic photographers aiming lenses at them.

Do the starlings favor the cherries simply because their thick branches and sometimes-hollowed trunks provide plenty of space for nests, or is there some part of them that, like us, delights in the profligate, fleeting beauty of the blossoms? After all, birds do show aesthetic preferences in their choice of mates—and, in some species, of nest or decorated bower. Who’s to say that they don’t also have an eye for beauty when they choose nesting sites?

Or maybe there are just plenty of crumbs left by the visiting tourists and picnickers with which to stuff demanding fledglings.

Either way, it was a somewhat magical morning, and I’m glad I managed to visit at a day and time when I was still sharing the view with more starlings than humans. Whatever the birds’ visual preferences, they’re a lot more restful—and prettier—to be around.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


biobabbler said...

oh, jeepers, please go ahead and feel free for taking those photos. There is no shame in enthusiastic appreciation for the magic of biological breathtaking beauty. =) LOVE your photographs and your amazing description of the froth and the gnarled.

AND, I might add, the photos of the much maligned starling looking wonderful in his spring finery. The last shot is an angle I've never seen of starling, revealing the shape of his bill base, much like the nose of a star-nosed mole.

Too cool. And I DEF. think your argument re: aesthetics and birds, why wouldn't they extend beyond plumage??

=) LOVELY post. Muchas gracias.

Anca said...

I just read an article in the Audubon (last issue, not current one) about birds and aesthetics. We need to scale down our arrogance. Every time we come up with a criterion about what only we do, we find out in time other animals do it too--speech, gesture, facial expressions, using tools, and now aesthetics. Maybe they haven't invented writing, but on the other hand they haven't invented nuclear weapons either.

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

Thanks, Biobabbler! I had never thought of starlings as being similar to star-nosed moles, but now I will never *not* think that... :)

And, yes, I do think it's a shame that people should pick on starlings themselves when, as usual, it's our fault they came here, and besides, they're quite beautiful and they make gorgeous vocalizations.

And to both of you: Yes, I honestly do think there are aesthetics appreciated by species other than us that may or may not align with ours but are no less valid. After all, if pigeons can distinguish between the works of different impressionist painters, they may also prefer one artist to another...

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