The cherry tree still grows on the slope of a hill steeped in history, dirt, grass and ivy.
It has lived there through 30 years of Cherry Blossom festivals. It was around for more than 30 years before they were a twinkle in someones eye.
The tree resides in one of the citys most famous yards, standing guard at the white-columned house of the late William Fickling Sr. built in 1949. His grandson, William Bill Fickling III, now calls the place home.
Today is Founders Day, a time when the festival honors the man who was Macons Johnny Cherryseed on what would have been his 109th birthday.
Fickling was born March 23, 1903 -- nine months before the Wright Brothers went airborne and nine years before Americas first Yoshino cherry trees were planted around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.
The trees were a gift from the Imperial Botanical Gardens in Tokyo. The 100th anniversary of their groundbreaking is being celebrated in the nations capitol this week.
Macons own granddaddy tree is the lone remaining of the three original Yoshinos. And it probably deserves its very own historical marker.
It first appeared as a mystery tree, untagged and unidentified when it was planted by a gardener looking to fill some gaps in the yard. Fickling was fascinated with its beauty and by the fact it always bloomed around his birthday. It wasnt until three years later he was able to identify it as a Yoshino while on a business trip to Washington, D.C., to visit U.S. Rep. Carl Vinson.
The life expectancy of a Yoshino is typically 30-40 years, although an estimated 125 of the 3,000 trees planted in Washington a century ago still break into blossoms every spring. Although rare, Yoshinos in their native Japan have been known to reach their 150th birthday.
The Fickling tree, now with 63 rings under its belt, has more than doubled its expected lifespan in the Deep South. It has endured hot Georgia summers, ice storms, wind shears and wood-boring insects.
It has been chipped and chiseled by the years, perhaps living on borrowed time. That it has outlasted the others is a testament to perseverance, longevity and love.
It has thrived in an almost perfect ecosystem. It spread its roots in the sandy topsoil brought from the Ocmulgee River. Yoshinos grow best when planted on a slope, with proper drainage, and located in the shade of coniferous trees, like the tall pines that tower above it.
It was planted in the ideal spot, even though my grandfather might not have known it at the time, Bill said. It was serendipity. Of course, all of it has been serendipity.
Serendipitous, indeed. This is one of the three trees that begat all the others. Bill estimates more than 95 percent of Macons more than 300,000 cherry trees have come from the cuttings, grafts and propagation efforts of the original tree-o of Yoshinos.
Thats a large family tree.
Bill keeps a photograph of the family home taken in 1949, when his grandfather built the Ingleside subdivision he was developing on the old Bowman dairy farm.
The picture shows the Yoshino not long after it was planted. The young tree is not much taller than his dad, Bill Jr., who was a 6-foot-4 basketball player for Lanier High and later Auburn.
It is now some 30 feet high, and the original base is now a plump 7 feet in diameter. (Including an offshoot, the base is 12 feet.)
Bill III was born in 1956, three years after his famous mother, Neva Jane Langley Fickling, wore the crown of Miss America. As a boy, he would spend hours in the greenhouse tagging along behind his green-thumbed grandfather, who kept meticulous journals on the trees and their bloom cycles.
The senior Fickling may have been a real-estate developer by trade but he was a horticulturist at heart. He grew five varieties of flowering cherries on his six-acre estate and another 15-20 varieties at his 173-acre farm in north Macon on Rivoli Drive. A generous man, he gave away an estimated 120,000 trees in his lifetime to the community he so dearly loved.
During this years festival, the Fickling property has been putting on what Bill called a spectacular show. The dogwoods and azaleas bloomed early, and the more than 300 cherry trees were right on cue. The choreography came together at the precise time.
And the granddaddy tree is still rocking along. The wise old Yoshino. The patriarch of petals.
Bill will be sad when its gone.
Its a special tree, he said. And it will leave behind 300,000 daughters to carry on.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or email@example.com.