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.
“Teach this poem” lands in my inbox early each morning thanks to Poets.org. As the cold bears down on us here in the East, and while the clock may indicate that day should break soon, clearly even the sun is desirous of hibernation. As I click on my sunlamp, I am yet surrounded by the sights and sounds of darkness. Joon’s poem, “Between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice, Today,” today’s “Teach” installment offers a new way to think of the cold — wear it. As I ponder which coat to wear on my afternoon trip North, I will think of the cold as something I wear — like the season — but unlike one character within the poem that says the cold has “broken his windows,” I will wear my cold with joy, for it is the season I love the most.
I read a Korean poem
with the line “Today you are the youngest
you will ever be.” Today I am the oldest
I have been. Today we drink
buckwheat tea. Today I have heat
in my apartment. Today I think
about the word chada in Korean.
It means cold. It means to be filled with.
It means to kick. To wear. Today we’re worn.
Today you wear the cold. Your chilled skin.
My heart kicks on my skin. Someone said
winter has broken his windows. The heat inside
and the cold outside sent lightning across glass.
Today my heart wears you like curtains. Today
it fills with you. The window in my room
is full of leaves ready to fall. Chada, you say. It’s tea.
We drink. It is cold outside.
Thank you Poets.org for this winter discovery of Emily Jungmin Yoon.
Having just returned to DC from NYC, with some extreme indulgences into Chinese mango chicken at Our Place, we decided to wrap up mango month with our first trip to Mango Mango Dessert in the amazing Eden Center. This mango ice cream sundae, with its base of mango chunks, full scoops of mango ice cream topped with mango drizzle and sweet whipped cream was beyond the fruity beyond — almost too pretty to plunge a spoon into. Nestled on the outskirts of the Eden Center, Mango Mango is a sleek dessertery that offers everything from waffles and fruit to peanut paste soup (next up on the try-it list).
The beauty of Mango Mango is this — on a steamy spring afternoon, you can pop inside (not busy in the afternoon) and indulge in not only this creamy, dreamy fruit tower but also their not-too-cold A/C. One of the best parts of Asian cuisines, to me, is the incorporation of savory and sweet — fruit with chicken and garlic, fruit pastes that incorporate red peppers for pork — and the overall prevalence of the mango. In American cooking, the mango still seems exotic yet for Asian cuisines the mango is just about everywhere — Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese. Growing up on the West Coast, Asian restaurants were always part of our culinary vocabulary and now that we’re in the near South, it is wonderful to find these comfort foods in just about every neighborhood.
I’ve long been drawn to mangoes for their health boosting ability — their color alone is a mood booster and this dynamic yellow fruit often appears on super food lists. There are entire blogs devoted to mango love. A trusted source, the BBC, details the nutritional benefits of this delectable fruit from its vitamin content to its beneficial properties for the gut.
Health value aside — the mango is beautiful in color, texture and versatility — and readily available in summer in the U.S. But in those dark winter months…a bag of frozen from Trader Joe’s does just fine for a lovely even crisp, crunchy oatmeal top and butter to carmelize the mangoes for a tinge of chewiness. Love cobbler but don’t have any peaches? Mango cobbler is an apt substitute and just a tinge different, that here in the near South, would sure to be a $15 dessert at a newer restaurant. Warm or cold, a scosh of whipped cream on top completes the beauty of a mango dessert.
Winter never allows for much light — but here in the East, we’re lucky on most January days to reap what I call, “half-light” — a condition where the deciduous trees appear to let in more light and sound, but because of the sun’s position and earth’s rotation, we end up stuck with just a fraction of what we’d assume. Low-hanging cloud cover only further dilutes the weak power of our biggest and brightest star. For those of us that struggle through the gray with sun lamps, acupuncture, Vitamin D, bamboo socks and warm frothy drinks — half-light is one of the biggest blows to the psyche.
The in-between is the chasm — it’s as if, day didn’t quite care to break: day didn’t have the energy to combat the night, so it raised a limp arm with a not-so imperial wave of foggy fingers and simply cast a shadow over the hills — the poor valleys don’t stand a chance. But unlike fog with its eventual movement, half-light holds steady as a silent storm over the winter landscape — it holds no mystery, as it reveals nothing — again, unlike fog which often reveals the crispness of winter sun rays above. Half-light is the turtle of winter, yet it has no race to win…it exists only to plod and hold steady; it is the solstice equilibrium of partially day, partially not — the nowhere of in-between.
Emily Dickinson, one of my poetry idols, captured this feeling best. What is the meaning of this light? Is it the half-way mark between winter and spring? Life and death? Valley and peak? Love and despair?
There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are –
None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the Seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ‘tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –
The first snow of the year is most certainly the best — and it looks like this one may not melt before the next one arrives. We are lucky enough to live near a network of trails, that are often highly used for commuting as well as general meandering. Yesterday’s journal to the trail, brought Robert Frost’s poem to mind, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” as I had just taught this last fall — and it would’ve been so wonderful to do a reading live in the snow.
Snow is meant to give pause and as Frost notes, “He will not see me stopping here/ To watch his woods fill up with snow.” Those moments when no one is watching us take a breath – how delicious it truly can be, palatable, just a small break to savor beauty or silence or even chaos unfolding. Most often we believe the “snowy evening” to be ethereal when in fact it is really precisely, figure skater-like, chaos — from the careful landing of each flake to the swirling of miniature ground-touching wind, snow — while generally silent, makes its presence known in crevices we did not know existed just moments before. The jaggedy, often long cracks in the rock face often mirror that of the soul — where oh where, will the soft flakes land, and will we have eyes to see them?
Frost carefully notes, and repeats that his journey must continue — as every journey must. His horse has naturally, as a staid and true worker, questioned Frost’s pause to ponder and wonder — with the not so subtle reminder of his harness bells — harkening Frost back to the path ahead. “And miles to go before I sleep / And miles to go before I sleep.” The path, the promises — it’s all the same, and often feels never-ending. But the snow, glorious snow, offers those moments of reprise — the opportunity to observe peace and chaos existing side-by-side in simultaneous fashion and that loveliness exists within that chaos. Top the journey off with a short pour of Bailey’s after, and the day is near perfection.