It's cherry blossom time in Washington, that special season that each year fills the hearts of tens of thousands of D.C. residents with the same emotion: ice-cold terror.
The trees themselves aren't the cause of it. It's the people that come to see the trees. Tourists now are everywhere, hundreds of them, drifting slowly in convoys, holding their unfolded maps in front of them like spinnakers.
They clog the Metro. They fill the takeouts. They stop you on the street and ask the same question, over and over.
"Where's the White House?" I always answer, as politely as possible. "That way. Just follow the big signs that say 'WHITE HOUSE.' "
I've had people ask me where the White House is while we were standing in front of it. Then they point at the Old Executive Office Building – a Victorian-era pile next to the West Wing – and ask if that's where Congress meets.
It isn't, just in case you were wondering.
When you first move to Washington the cherry trees seem a wonderful feature of the city. Their white-pink blossoms are a perfect complement to the limestone of old embassies and federal buildings.
Then you realize that you're getting a lot of time to admire that juxtaposition, because in April traffic at prime spots slows to a crawl due to pedestrians rushing across the street against the lights. They're always waving their cameras and acting excited, like they've spotted someone giving away fanny packs.
Plus, the whole philosophy of cherry trees is kind of involved. Their flowers last but a few days, their ephemeral nature reminding us of the fleeting glories of life, causing us to stop in our headlong rush to nowhere and remember what is really important, etc.
To which I reply, do I really need to learn life lessons from plants? That's what books are for. I don't have time to chat with nature in the middle of the workday, thank you very much.
Some say tourist dollars are worth the inconvenience. And it's true they pump millions into the local economy.
But Washington is unique in that, due to taxes, that money is already here! Trust me, folks – sending in a Form 1040 to the IRS isn't like sending kids to college. You don't have to visit it to see how it's doing.
I suppose it's true that the sight of the cloud of blossoms surrounding the Jefferson Memorial reminds thousands of locals of the ideals that brought them here in the first place. Also, it's a fantastic location for a date or a family picnic.
And here's a secret: Most Washingtonians have favorite cherry trees that aren't anywhere near the beaten path. There's a double-blossom pinkish one north of Ward Circle that's as wide as a parachute, for example. Kenilworth, in the Maryland suburbs, has a beautiful grove.
Which way to those special sights, you ask? Umm ... the White House is that way. Just follow the signs.
• Peter Grier is a staff writer in the Monitor's Washington bureau.