Nothing is more exasperating than coming up against what can only be described as sheer bloody-mindedness. Someone has described it as having to face and deal with an “irrational no.” It’s like the slamming of an idea for the sake of slamming it, and who of us have not faced this in some guise or other?
The remarkable story of Eliza R. Scidmore is a wonderful example of having faced this kind of attitude and won. She was a writer and photographer, and on returning to Washington from a trip to Japan in 1885, had a vision to plant cherry trees on the newly dredged land reclaimed along the Potomac River. She felt it would not only bring beauty to the city, but also hide the old dump heaps caused by the dredging. She faced rebuff after rebuff in the form of what one can only describe as sheer bloody-mindedness. One key official of the city complained that, “Boys would climb the trees to get at the cherries and break all the branches.” When Eliza enlightened him that the trees bore only blossoms, not cherries, he huffed, “No cherries! What good is that sort of cherry tree.?”
What do you do with that kind of response? Imagine where we’d be if it always got its way? Well, it didn’t with Eliza. She bravely soldiered on and eventually was able to plant 90 little saplings.
When the city of Tokyo heard about this they sent 3000 flowering cherries as a gift, many of which were planted around the Tidal Basin, so that they, in Eliza’s words, “Might be reflected in the water.”
Today, every spring, thousands of cherry trees planted around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., burst forth in pink-and-white blossoms. They are a much-anticipated tourist attraction, the focus of a multi-week festival and a nationally known phenomenon that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. What most people don’t know is that the idea for planting the trees came from an ahead-of-her-time woman named Eliza Scidmore.
Why am I sharing this with you? Simply because today I feel the need to celebrate the presence of people like Eliza R. Scidmore in our world, and the triumph of imagination and beauty over dullness and bloody-minded resistance.