Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Melted Ice and Withered Blossoms

Spring in Washington doesn’t just bring pretty pink cherry trees this year. It also brings cool, Swedish ICE to the waterfront in Georgetown.

That's how the House of Sweden (see photo) introduces its theme for the spring: Water and Environment. Sweden officially lists climate issues as a top priority and this exhibit and related programs offer education about and different views of the climate crisis.

The mention of the “pretty pink cherry trees” refers to April’s cherry blossom festival, centered around cherry trees given to the U.S. by Japan in 1912 and planted around the tidal basin on the National Mall.

The Japanese love of the cherry blossoms is due, in part, to their transience, symbolizing the transience of beauty, youth and life. Here in Washington, the “peak days” for the blossoms around the tidal basin are eagerly awaited and announced with due fanfare by the National Park Service. Tourists, joggers, bikers, and workers on their lunch breaks or playing hooky circle the tidal basin en masse, admiring the knobby, silver trunks and clouds of pale pink blossoms.

It’s quite something, really, for a city seemingly so immune to natural beauty, to celebrate a few blooming trees in this way. It’s the only “rite of spring” that we collectively have.

Yesterday I was in Georgetown and walked down to Sweden House, the new home of the Swedish Embassy, where earlier in the month they had arranged monumental sculptures made of Swedish ice around their sundial on the waterfront terrace. I figured the blocks of ice would have long melted away, but thanks to an unusually cool spring, they were still there and still quite large. The hot sun was at work, though, speeding up those molecules to the point at which gravity could pull them into the tanks below with the dripping sound of spring.

One tends to associate ice with coldness, hardness, barrenness and blankness. But in Norse mythology ice plays an important part in the creation of the world. Indeed Ymir, the first living being, is “born” through the contact of fire and ice. The outdoor exhibit at the House of Sweden certainly highlighted the creative potential of ice. Even after the forms of the scultures were melted beyond recognition, the ice was not at all blank or barren, it was patterned with interior cracks and bubbles, different colors, and, on the surface, different textures for touching. Illuminated by sunshine, it was more beautiful, and certainly more evocative, than any stained glass I’ve ever seen.

For us earthlings at this point in time, the life-giving, life-sustaining nature of ice has become apparent and even urgent. If the endangered polar ice is melted away, the predictable cycle that brings us the cherry blossoms, among other things, will be disrupted. And we will, belatedly, truly understand the meaning of transience.

Click on the images to enlarge.

Read my earlier piece on Climate Change in the North.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Spindlewhorl for commenting on the cherries. As I walk around Portland, Oregon, passing its many lovely blooming cherry trees, I often think of my family back in DC, with its cherries. This is a special spring, my 8-month-old daughter's first. She sits, perched in her backpack, taking everything in. Two days ago we paused at a tree with magnificant fluffy blossons, so she could wonder at them. To her amazement, her slight touch caused dozens of petals to flutter through the air to the ground. May she have blossoms for many years to come...