Meghan Cox Gurdon: An enchanted evening amid the cherry trees

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

"Give me the stick, that is not a toy," a man was saying as he bore down on a girl in a pink dress who was toddling across an expanse of lawn with a cudgel in her hand.

"Put it in the woods with the other sticks," the child's mother called from a nearby picnic table.

Turning to see her approaching father, the child unwittingly swept the stick dangerously close to a woman sitting on a picnic blanket. With a quick movement, the man nipped the object out of the girl's hand and smiled his apologies.

"No problem," the woman said, returning the smile.

Almost everyone was smiling. The early evening air was soft and warm, and cherry trees had burst into pale pink bloom all around. Children ran about, chasing each other and laughing. Parents lolled on blankets, exuding deep contentment. People strolled by on the road, breathing in the fragrance. Cars crawled past, their occupants goggling at all the beauty. The only people not smiling were two young lovers under a nearby tree, who were busy smooching.

"Yuck!" said a 7-year-old.

"Shhh," said her 11-year-old sister. "They'll hear you!"

It seemed unlikely that the pair could hear anything but the thumping of their own hearts -- and why not? Is there anything more romantic than kissing under a fully flowering cherry tree in the drowsy slanting sunlight of a perfect April evening? No, there is not.

Some parties had brought dogs. A big blond animal was leashed to a tree beside his family; he nuzzled the grass like a big blond lamb. A smaller black animal patrolled the perimeter of his pack's picnic blanket, his white muzzle and rocking gait showing his advanced years.

"Mommy, come take a picture!" shouted a small child who was straddling a tree limb.

"Get down from there!" someone else's father called to a different child. "Mommy said no climbing!"

"This is the best picnic ever," said the 11-year-old. Surveying her own family's spread with satisfaction, she named the delights: "Strawberries, grapes, fried chicken, baguette and chocolate cookies. Heaven."

"You forgot the goat cheese," said her mother.

"Ugh, that's just wrong," said the 13-year-old.

In Japan, for centuries, people have been picnicking beneath flowering cherry trees -- which froth and fade so swiftly -- in a bittersweet recognition of the ephemeral nature of beauty, and of life. No such whiff of mortality seems to tinge the picnicking in this country. Life's transitory nature is not something Americans are known for relishing. (As the English are wont to note, in the United States, death is your own fault.) Here, we bring our bread and cheese and sit beneath the blossoms because they're just so darned beautiful.

"Mommy, come take a picture!" the straddler was still shouting,

Mommy finally looked up. She had been feeding spoonfuls of something mysterious to a baby in a pushchair. She gave the child in the tree a happy wave.

"Coming honey!" she called. She had a cherry blossom tucked behind one ear. It was that kind of evening.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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