Gris: Blossoms have been tardy to the party

March 19, 2013 

I sat at the front of a Cherry Blossom tour bus Tuesday morning and pointed out the windows at the bare Yoshino branches.

I wore a pink shirt and a tie with colorful blossoms. I told my group of 44 senior citizens from Griffin if they wanted to see blooms, they might want to get their cameras and take a picture of my tie.

Welcome to the Barely Blossom Festival.

I enjoy being a volunteer bus tour guide for the festival every spring. This week marks the 10th anniversary of my first tour group on March 21, 2003. I wish I had time to do more than one tour, but this is a wedding week at my house.

So Tuesday’s group from Sun City Peachtree, a retirement community near Griffin, was the only one I could schedule. It was propped between Monday night’s damaging storm and Wednesday, the first day of spring.

“Where are all the blossoms?” many kept asking me.

“Sorry, you will have to use your imagination,” I told them.

One of the challenges of hosting the annual Cherry Blossom Festival is getting visitors to visualize the beauty of these trees when they’re not in full bloom.

For all the wonderful festival attractions, the trees are the stars of the show. They are more than just a backdrop. They are the main attraction.

A few years back, I stared at the scantily-clad Yoshinos in Third Street Park and penned a poem, “Ode to a Cherry Tree,” with apologies to Joyce Kilmer.

I think that I shall never see

A blossom so welcome on any cherry tree.

We’ve waited and waited -- until we’re agitated.

Because our beloved blooms are much belated.

They are almost always in bloom on Founder’s Day, March 23, which was the late Mr. William Fickling Sr.’s birthday.

But a week on either side is a guessing game. The blossoms often arrive so early they are on the ground by the end of the festival. Or they can be fashionably late, tardy to the party.

At this time last week, I was convinced they would be out in full force by now. A few were starting to raise their heads and show their faces, always an encouraging sign.

However, those warm days were followed by some chilly nights, and I guess that arrested their development. On Tuesday, many were still sleeping in from their long winter’s nap, although the sunshine had them popping out later in the day.

The calendar took a funny twist this year, too, making it the earliest festival since 2002, when it also began on March 15.

Had festival organizers waited another week to cut the pink ribbon, it would have pushed the final weekend into Easter, and that wasn’t workable.

At times like these, I have had friends suggest I simply pass off a dogwood or Bradford pear as an imposter cherry tree to an out-of-town visitor. Just show them something blooming. They’ll never know the difference.

It might work on somebody from Rhode Island or Nebraska, but I don’t think my new friends from Griffin would have appreciated it.

Tuesday morning, the most talked-about tree on the Cherry Blossom Trail was not a Yoshino. It was a large pine tree that had fallen across the road on Oxford Circle during Monday’s storm, forcing our bus to take a detour.

Several members of my tour group also were impressed with the sight of palm trees growing downtown along High Street, some 182 miles from the ocean.

I’ve said many times Macon can be the prettiest place on earth in the springtime. We often focus so much on the cherry trees -- put all our blossoms in one basket, so to speak -- that we tend to overlook the other beauty around us.

It’s not just found in nature, either.

“Forget the blossoms,” a first-time visitor to Macon said to me during the tour. “I can’t believe the incredible architecture in this city.”

It’s there if you allow yourself to see it.

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or gris@macon.com.

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