The buds on our Ginkgo biloba tree are starting to open, revealing the tiniest of tiny green leaves. Having been born and raised in the Midwest, where winter can drag on seemingly forever, I’ve always anxiously looked forward to the first signs of Spring – forsythia blossoms and green buds on trees. Even now, living in a mild climate, my husband and I celebrate the vernal equinox with champagne. For us, the first green buds on trees are a reminder – an anniversary of sorts.
It all began sixteen years ago. I was a single high school science teacher living in Michigan and my week long Easter Break was fast approaching. Desperate for a change of scenery but low on funds, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to drive east to Pennsylvania. An odd choice, I know, but a one page magazine article about Longwood Gardens spurred my curiosity. The acres of gardens, meadows and woodlands, along with the lush conservatory, seemed to be just what my winter weary soul needed. And so, without doing any additional research whatsoever (did the internet even exist back then?), I simply decided that the Brandywine Valley sounded like a lovely place to spend my vacation.
When I described my plan to my best friend, he pointed out – very diplomatically – that while the gardens certainly sounded interesting, they couldn’t possibly hold my attention for five whole days. I had to admit, he made a good point. And then he mentioned that Washington D.C. wasn’t that far away. Suddenly, a plan began to take shape – the White House, the Smithsonian, the National Air and Space Museum. Cherry blossoms. Suddenly it didn’t seem like a week would be enough. And just like that, we decided to go on a road trip. Together.
Our drive began well enough; we were happy to be leaving cold, dreary Michigan behind. Happy to be headed somewhere … different. The miles flew by as we talked and listened to music. I’ll never forget the excitement I felt when I began to see trees with green buds. And then I fell asleep. Several hours later, I woke up to snow. Suddenly we were driving though a blizzard. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Later that night, when we finally pulled into a hotel parking lot, we were exhausted but happy. We were laughing and taking pictures of his snow covered car. I’m looking at that those pictures (film, not digital) as I type this story. We look so young, and so very much in love.
On April 1st, we woke up to find the snow starting to melt. We spent all of that day exploring the Brandywine Valley and Winterthur. Our pictures show meadows and lawns studded with blooming forsythia, rhododendron and the occasional daffodil. Here and there, in the shadows of trees and on north facing slopes, the ground is still covered with a thin layer of clean white snow. The following day, we visited Longwood Gardens. We took pictures of beautiful hellebores ( also know as Lenten roses), blossoming witch hazel and flowering trees. Patches of snow still cover the ground, but they’re noticeably smaller. The photographs we took inside the conservatory feature delphiniums, clivias, lilies and orchids. Our smiles are enormous. That evening we had dinner at a romantic little tavern. I wore my favorite blouse, the one covered in tiny blue flowers – similar to a Liberty of London print. Throughout dinner we talked about our hopes and dreams for the future. We shared bread pudding for dessert.
The next day we drove to our nation’s capital. Our room at the historic Hotel Washington had a view of the White House – if we stood on the tips of our toes. The temperature was mercifully warmer, warm enough for us to wear shorts. We visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum as well as the Museum of Natural History. We were in heaven. Afterwards, we visited the National Archives and together, we read the Declaration of Independence. The following day we woke up extra early and at 5:00 am we were in line for tickets to the White House. As the line moved forward, ever so slowly, it became apparent that we might not get tickets. People began giving up hope, but we decided to stay. Much to our delight, our patience was rewarded. We scored some of the very last tickets and at noon, we visited the White House. Afterwards, we walked around the Ellipse, admired the cherry blossoms near the Tidal Basin and walked from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where we watched the sunset – holding hands.
On Saturday – the final day of our vacation – we woke up early and walked the length of the National Mall, from our hotel (on Pennsylvania Avenue at 15th Street) to the Capitol. After taking a one hour tour, we raced back to the hotel to grab our bags and check out. But we just weren’t quite ready to drive home. So we found street parking and spent the next four hours wandering around the National Gallery of Art. And then, at four o’clock in the afternoon, we drove home. Actually, my best friend – the love of my life – drove all ten hours home. He even let me take a nap in the backseat. At sometime around three in the morning on Sunday, he dropped me off at my apartment. It had been a wonderful vacation and more importantly, I discovered just how compatible we truly were. My best friend was turning into my life partner. And when I woke up that morning, there were green buds on the trees.