Just off to the side of the well-traversed pathways leading to and from the Lincoln Memorial, rests a memorial to those DC residents that lost their lives in World War I. Press cameras don’t set-up here, crowds don’t protest here but we’ve seen several weddings and numerous engagement photo shoots here over the last few months (including one with the wedding party dressed as super heroes).
Perhaps it’s the quiet of this spot, wedged in between protest alley and the windy speeds on Independence Avenue from Hill workers roaring by, that draws the newly in-love and those ready to commit. Perhaps it’s the aura of honor and dedication that radiates from the patinaed dome to the glow that emanates from within as the sun bounces off the well-worn marble. Perhaps it’s just logistics — it is resounding beauty in a beloved city, with easy parking across the street at the MLK, where one can celebrate for a few moments without a crush of other humans from places near and far.
These seagulls found the last remaining ice floating on the Tidal Basin for a rest and some fishing. It may be tough to see but one of our gull friends had just plucked a live catfish out for breakfast — only to find the gulls from each side of the iceberg jumping onto his part of the berg, casting the whole flotilla to begin drifting precariously toward the sea wall. While we didn’t wait for the crash, we did observe that these squawking friends appeared unconcerned even though their perch was about to slam into a decaying concrete wall. Their eyes only see the sky above, when their beaks are not pecking frenetically into their subdued prey. Within weeks, this scene will burst with a frenzy of pink blossoms; but grey washes out all color — grey sky, grey water, grey birds.
Late last fall I began posting photos on Instagram with the tag #morning view. Every morning we head out for a hike or long walk to start the day with clear minds, and check-in on the characters that we’ve grown accustomed to on these treks.
But at some point over the last month, as I struggle to write anything but lesson plans it occurred to me that my material was obvious: #morningview needed a plan too. Since we’ve been unable to travel during the Pandemic, our roaming has and continues to be much closer to home than usual — but the amount of material within 50 miles of home is immense. So I thought to myself maybe I should write what I see everyday, instead of waiting for those bigger trips; it’s rare a day goes by that I don’t take at least one photo so here we go. For now, I’ll start where we are and work backward to the beginning of the year. Fingers crossed, this project will have a bigger purpose soon.
Jefferson in the Mist: February 3. Freezing fog, ice on the Tidal Basin.
Cold and damp to the bone day, but hovering around freezing as we head out for this trek. Some days we have a particular route we want to take on these outings, or a particular goal. For this day, it was all about capturing the fog as best we could as it hovered on top of the monuments. It’s easy to see the the swirling and shifting patterns in the ice – that moment, or many moments over the last few weeks where time stood still and this usually fluctuating basin for the Potomac and snapped it into place. For weeks on end the water moves with the tides that roar up and down the Potomac; but for now time is suspended while the sheet of ice captures all that moves.
Dense fog encircled the Jefferson on this day and I think back to a few times I’ve been stuck in airports due to freezing fog like this — because it’s hard to hear the usual soaring upward roar of jets taking off from nearby National Airport (I will always use the original name). Jets may well be taking off for that sunshine above the clouds, but silence reigns on this day. Our usual helicopter friends from Marine One to Eagle One and news choppers are also silent – no whirring, thwap thwap just above the tree-line, as visibility is below zero. On this day, silence is omnipresent – except for our shrieking at the awesomeness of the ice (wishing we had some sticks to poke it) and witnessing the suspension of time.
On the the blessings of living in the megalopolis of the DC to NYC corridor is the possibility of visiting beautiful sites mere hours of days apart. On Christmas, the opportunity presented to visit Calatrava’s Oculuson the World Trade Center site and just days later, the Best’s Temple for Burning Man at the Renwick. While I didn’t seek out each site for any sort of spiritual experience, both left me with pause given we are working through the season of rebirth, renewal — and new beginnings.
The Temple as well as the Oculus honor those that we mourn and desire and the eyes are naturally drawn skyward — which for the Oculus brings a rush and multitude of layered memory. Calatrava’s soaring design is meant to embody just that — a bird flying from the hand of a child. The innocence of that image is felt — and the color in the evening, resembles the sky on that day most of us remember clearly — a day that started like most other fall days. The bird metaphor embodied in the design, one can hope is that the spirits of those lost are now free and while evil struck, a return to innocence is possible.
For the Temple, the fresh and fragrant smell of balsa wood also elludes to hope, while reverent lighting provides a moment of heavenly breath. Visitors’ messages to loved ones link the Temple to the site of the Oculus where messages were left for days and months after the fall of the Towers — perhaps it is the written word that provides a moment of renewal in our belief that those we love are not truly gone from our grasp — that memories are closer than we think.
While the Temple is set to come down on January 5, there are still a few days left to experience the installation but the Oculus offers a permanent destination for reflection.
Growing up, I heard repeatedly that whatever you were doing at midnight on December 31st would set your path for the year. When added to the fact that I was born on January 1st, the amount of pressure auto-built into those two days was immense, literally from day one. Then I decided to get married on December 31 as well (it seemed celebratory at the time), and it’s a complete pressure cooker. Not to mention, most of my favorite restaurants are closed on New Year’s Day.
Now that I am solidly in middle age, I still feel this trifecta of the holiday squeeze. We’ve tried to move any celebration, minimal as it is, of our anniversary away from the end of the year landmark which is a step. For New Year’s Day, it’s best to focus on what is available — though since we no longer imbibe, and sobriety is now for the cool kids, it does seem a tad ridiculous that there is such a long list of closures on the first day of the year.
Taking all this into account, my truisms for ending this past year should serve me well into this new year as well.
Rely on Asian restaurants – always. Chinese, Thai, Indian — have several favorites and one is bound to be open on January 1 (much like Christmas). This year, City Lights of China in Dupont Circle opened right on time at 11:30 am — just in time for brunch with friends. Next, rely on tried and true institutions — there will always be a museum open, somewhere close by. This year time at the Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum — and the piece above reminds me of my own olden days of New Years gone by on the town (Karen LaMonte’s Reclining Dress).
Stick to the basics when it comes to activities — what do you really love? What is the one place that offers solace? For me, it’s the East Potomac Golf Course. It’s where I met my husband, played endless rounds with friends in my 20’s and it’s where my kiddo had her first golf lesson. It’s no country club, but it is gold. We really should’ve gotten married here.
Midnight — well that’s all bonk. On the years I’ve been fast asleep it didn’t predestine me to great sleep the following year; the years I’ve been out late champagne-ing with friends didn’t necessarily predict a year filled with bubbles. Now we hygge on the last night of the year — carpet camp-out, appetizers from Trader Joe’s and possibly too much pie. This year, I did forget to light our TJ cedar candles; and don’t think I don’t miss black dresses, stockings with runs and the champagne — because I really do and I hope this kind of celebration circles back. But for now, it’s hygge.
I am not too old. For all of us at midlife, squeezed between generations, career changes and concerns over college savings it is completely daunting most days to figure out how to get all the laundry done and ponder anything new. My own vow (not resolution, I don’t believe in those) is to remember every day that I am not too old to have what I truly want whether it’s a PhD or a book deal — it’s all about the focus and most importantly, eliminating obstacles. A fresh decade awaits – as Oprah famously mentioned several years ago — we’re going to be 50 (or any other age) regardless.
Summer in the DC area can be described in one word: stifling. It is hot, but more importantly incredibly humid. Nearly every day you can look to the horizon and see the pillar-like clouds begin to form sometime in the late afternoon — which means it’s nearly certain that a storm will race through at some point, and we’ll have to watch the sky carefully if we really want to head to the pool. On this particular August scorcher, the sky is completely covered, thunder is beginning to roll in the background and the columns of spiky storm clouds are gathered — it’s like the DC-summer storm trifecta.
The only thing you can do, should you be trapped in or near the city during the summer is seek out those spots that have some sort of breeze or some sort of tree cover. The gardens at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown provides just such a respite — lush gardens with plenty of trees, nooks and crannies to hide out in for awhile and a FREE museum that is filled with Byzantine and Pre-Columbian treasures in a remarkably well-cooled and designed space. My suggestion is to visit the garden first, sweat, and then head inside to enjoy the chilled air so that you can brace yourself for a quick run to the bus on Wisconsin Avenue before the late afternoon storm cracks its first lightening strike.
The heat may be unrelenting when walking the gardens (and picnics are prohibited), but the garden will draw you in from the Orangery (with orange trees) upon entry to the garden-of-delight swimming pool and surrounding grounds that make you wonder just whom you know that is going to have a party here that you can attend. With this beautiful thought foremost in your mind, you’ll be ready to wander down the short staircase to visually melt into the sunflower gardens — that appear at once wild, yet English in the neat rows but overgrown in a completely French manner.
Escape to the flowers, even with unbearable humidity that bears down on your skin with its weight and oppression — the flowers remain hopeful. Fall is coming.