The Monitor's View

To behold spring, and its blossoms

Nature is a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't event. Clear the schedule for a good look.

Perfect timing. This spring's cherry blossoms in Washington peaked at the start of the city's scheduled blossom festival. Such a rare coincidence of human plans and natural events only reaffirms the advice to revel in splendor and beauty – and to carpe diem at this time of year.

Henry David Thoreau wrote that "I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least, – and it is commonly more than that, – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagement."

Most Americans don't have four hours a day for such sauntering. They are far too busy for even one hour. Far too preoccupied for even a few minutes' spontaneous encounter with sublime beauty, as the winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for newspaper feature writing made clear.

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The prize was awarded this week to Washington Post humorist Gene Weingarten, whose muse wasn't nature but music, which can be just as breathtaking. Here's the gist of his piece:

Coming out of a Washington Metro subway one day, Mr. Weingarten noticed that commuters paid scant attention to a talented street musician. They probably wouldn't even notice Yo-Yo Ma if he were playing on his soulful cello, Weingarten thought. While he couldn't line up the famed cellist for a debut at the Metro, he did interest world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell.

So on a January day, at the peak of morning rush hour, Mr. Bell tucked his Stradivarius under his chin and gave it all he had for 43 minutes. And? A total of seven people actually stopped to listen.

It's not that we're unsophisticated boobs, incapable of seeing beauty, Weingarten concludes. It's that we're in such a hurry.

"There is something wrong with our priorities if we cannot be awakened out of the stupor of morning rush hour by something that we are never likely to see again," he told NPR.

Fortunately, spring is not a onetime event. It puts on a spectacular show every year, and if we are not too focused on getting our own show on the road, we can watch and applaud.

For those who work in Washington, that might mean rescheduling a business lunch to instead walk with a friend to see the pale pink and white cherry blossoms, strung along branches like a million popcorn garlands.

In northern climes, it could mean putting off the Saturday ritual of errands because the lilacs are bursting forth at the arboretum, while the ones in the backyard demand to be gathered into a huge armload so their scent wafts through every room in the house.

In Oregon, it might suddenly be time to walk the dog, and yourself, because a "sun break" has just opened up and both man and beast need to get outside and breathe in sparkling, rain-washed air.

In southern California, generous rains this winter laid out a rich rug of desert blooms. Maybe you spotted one you've never seen before, like the opalescent Blazing Star.

In her essay, "Seeing," Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard observes that "nature is very much a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't affair." It is, she explains, "one show to a customer." She knows that if she wants to see it, she has to keep her eyes open. And that can bring more rewards than planned for.

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