Posts Tagged ‘The Tidal Basin’

Photo Gallery of this Year’s Cherry Blossoms

The  much anticipated peak bloom for this year of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin has officially arrived.  The National Park Service originally predicted at a press conference on March 1, that D.C.’s iconic cherry blossoms would reach their peak bloom for 2018 between March 17th and 20th.  But after an unusually warm February, March was much cooler than normal.  In fact, March actually ended up being colder than February.  So although the cherry blossoms got off to an early start, their progress slowed considerably in the subsequent cooler temperatures.  So on March 12, the Park Service revised the prediction to between March 27th and 31st.  Then on March 23, they pushed it back again to between April 8th and the 12th.  Judging that 70 percent of the buds had reached the “puffy white” stage, the final development stage before peak bloom, on April 1st, the Park Service once again adjusted their prediction, and on April 3rd they moved it up to between April 5th and 8th.  And they were correct.  The blossoms are now in peak bloom.  But they will only be that way for a few more days.  And if the weather forecast of snow for Saturday is correct, they will be gone after tomorrow.  So hurry and get to D.C. if you want to see this natural spectacle.  But if you can’t, enjoy these photos that I took earlier this afternoon.

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  Here are some links to past years’ posts about D.C.’s cherry blossoms:
•  Cherry Blossom Stages of Development (2018)
•  The Indicator Tree (2018)
•  This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch (2017)
•  The Amur Cork Tree (2017)
•  The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin (2017)
•  Sunrise with the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms (2016)
•  The Annual Cherry Blossoms (2015)
•  The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin (2014)
•  The Cherry Trees Collection at the National Arboretum (2014)

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The Indicator Tree

There are approximately 1800 cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.  And every year the visual spectacle of their blooming draws tourists from all around the world. The most recent estimate by the National Park Service is that they will reach peak bloom between March 17th and 20th this year.  Peak bloom is the day when 70 percent of the blossoms are open in the trees around the Tidal Basin.  If the Park Service is correct, this year’s peak bloom will be quite early.  In the past, peak bloom has occurred as early as March 15th and as late as April 18th.

Because different trees can bloom ahead of or behind the average, the entire blooming period can last up to 14 days.  However, frost or high temperatures combined with wind or rain can shorten this period, which includes the days leading up to peak bloom. However, there is one particular tree that is consistently a week to ten days ahead of most of the others around the Tidal Basin.  Because of this distinctive trait, it has become known as “the indicator tree”, and it is used to get an idea of where the other trees will be in a week to ten days. It’s also one of the key pieces of the puzzle that the Park Service horticulturalists use in making their predictions.

There are no signs indicating which tree is the indicator tree. So unless it happens to be covered in blossoms while the other trees around it are not, you really have to know how to find it.  Here’s how: From the south end of the bridge on Ohio Drive looking towards the Jefferson Memorial, the walkway splits into two, with one path to the left going alongside the road and another path to the right, which then splits into two as it approaches the water of the Tidal Basin. The indicator tree is where the path to the right splits into two (MAP). It’s the first old-looking tree you come across and is standing right next to a large holly tree.

It’s not the most majestic of the old trees.  Not even close.  And it’s been severely pruned over the years. But for whatever reason, this tree can be counted on to provide advance warning of the much-anticipated peak bloom.

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped by to see the indicator tree. The tree seemed to be several days, or maybe even a week or more away from blooming.  Also, the weather prediction is also calling for colder weather, including possible snow or wintery precipitation later this week, which may impact the timing of the peak bloom.  So if my reading of the indicator tree is accurate again this year, the peak bloom may occur later and the Park Service’s prediction may have to be revised.

I am fortunate enough to be able to see the cherry blossoms every day, from the: initial green color in the buds; to when the florets are visible; through the peduncle elongation stage; and when the buds turn puffy white; and then, finally, when they are in full or peak bloom.  But if you aren’t as fortunate and are traveling here from out of town to see the blossoms, keep checking to see if the Park Service revises their prediction.  However, as it stands now, the park service says you should be here in D.C. starting on March 17th.  And since that’s St. Patrick’s Day, you should consider stopping by the Irish embassy and/or having a green beer and a Reuben at one of the city’s many Irish pubs while you’re here.

         

    
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

UPDATE:  On March 12th, the National Park Service revised its prediction for the cherry blossoms peak bloom, shifting it0 back ten days later than it initially predicted.  They are now saying peak bloom is likely to occur between March 27th and 31st.⠀

The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin

On this bike ride I rode back to the Tidal Basin (MAP) in West Potomac Park to enjoy the remaining cherry blossoms that haven’t yet been ruined, but soon will be by the rain storms that are being predicted to arrive soon.  And as I was walking around the Tidal Basin and passing by The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on the southwest bank of the water, I saw a rough-hewn stone structure about the size of a man located just a few feet off the sidewalk that surrounds the water’s edge.  When I went over to get a closer look and find out more about it I learned that it is a pagoda.

A pagoda is a tiered tower with multiple eaves, built in traditions originating as stupa in historic South Asia and further developed in East Asia or with respect to those traditions, common to Nepal, India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia.

The pagoda at the Tidal Basin is a Japanese one, which is directly derived of the Chinese pagoda, itself an interpretation of the Indian stupa.  Japanese pogodas can be built in many forms.  Some are built out of wood, and are frequently buildings.  But the vast majority of pagodas carved out of stone, like the one at the Tidal Basin.  Stone pagodas are nearly always small, and as a rule offer no usable space. If they have more than one storey, pagodas are called tas.

Like The Japanese Stone Lantern directly across the Tidal Basin, the pagoda was similarly a gift from Japan to the city of Washington.  According to a small plaque on the pagoda, it was presented by the Mayor of Yokohama and dedicated on April 18, 1958, to “symbolize the spirit of friendship between the United States of America manifested in the Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce signed at Yokohama on March 31, 1854 .”

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

This Year’s Cherry Blossoms Watch

On of the favorite local early-spring pastimes in the D.C. area is the “cherry blossom watch.”  This involves observing the progress of the Yoshino cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin as they approach “peak bloom.”  Peak bloom is traditionally defined as the day when 70 percent of the blossoms are open on the famous trees.  But because approximately half the blossoms on the trees were killed when unseasonably cold weather returned just as they were about to reach peak bloom, that didn’t happen.  Instead, this year definition had to be slightly altered.  Officials defined peak bloom for 2017 as the day 70 percent of the remaining blossoms were open.  And that occurred a few days ago.

As expected, the bloom this year was a little more subdued than usual simply because of the diminished number of buds that survived the weather.  However, the trees put on a beautiful show nonetheless.  Over the past few days since the peak bloom the blossoms have gradually been going from white to their iconic pale pink.  But the blossoms are also becoming quite fragile.  And with a prediction of one hundred percent chance of rain tomorrow, the rain will most likely knock the remaining petals off and blanketing the ground with so many petals it looks like blossom snow.

If it’s possible for you to get down here to the Tidal Basin by the end of the day today, you will still be able to see the last part of this year ‘s blooming cycle.  Otherwise, I hope you will enjoy the following photos that I took this year.  You can also see  my blog posts with photos of the cherry blossoms from previous years.

          

         

          

         

          

         

 [Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Temperatures warm enough to shed winter jackets, the Washington Nationals playing in Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, and setting the clocks ahead like we did this past weekend are all signs that springtime in our nation’s capital is on the horizon.  Another sure sign of spring’s imminent arrival is when the dark spindly trees lining The Tidal Basin begin sprouting their green buds, hinting of the florets that will soon become the world-famous pale pink or white cherry blossoms that annually attract so many visitors to the city during the first weeks of spring.

I look forward to the coming days when I will be fortunate enough to be able to watch the blooming process unfold.  It is expected that the blooms will peak this year between this Friday (March 18th) and next Wednesday (March 23rd), which because of recent unseasonably warm weather is earlier than initially thought.  So although the National Cherry Blossom Festival doesn’t begin until a week from today (March 20th) and runs through April 18th, this coming weekend will be the ideal time to experience this year’s phenomenon.

So whether you for opt for an outing to the Tidal Basin and National Mall area, the tree-lined streets of East Potomac Park and Hains Point, or the diversity and variety of species of cherry trees at the National Arboretum, don’t put it off for very long.  Because the visual splendor of these delicate cherry blooms is given to us, unfortunately, for only a brief time, leading many to say that they are symbolic and serve to remind us of the beauty and brevity of life itself.

(Note: Click here or on the above photo to enlarge it and see the photo in such detail that you’ll be able to see both antennae of a small bug peaking over the branch above the buds.)

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The George Mason Memorial

On this lunchtime bike ride I visited the national memorial to a man who George Washington regarded as his mentor, and who was described by Thomas Jefferson as “the wisest man of his generation.” The memorial honors George Mason, and is located at 900 Ohio Drive (MAP), near the Tidal Basin and The Jefferson Memorial, in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park.

George Mason, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, devoted himself to achieving American independence, despite being a widower with nine children to raise.  He was the author of the Fairfax Resolves that recommended a “continental congress” to preserve colonial rights.  And in 1776, as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, Mason wrote the Virginia Constitution and the landmark Virginia Declaration of Rights, the seminal document that not only influenced Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but also France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the United Nations’ 1954 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Although Mason was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, and took an active role in drafting the United States Constitution, he refused to sign it or participate in its signing ceremony, which occurred on this day, September 17th, in 1787.  The decision not to sign the Constitution would cost him his friendship with George Washington.  He objected with the final draft of the Constitution because, as an Anti-Federalist, he thought that the document did not contain provisions to sufficiently guarantee individual human rights and protect citizens from the power of the Federal government.  He also refused to sign the Constitution because it failed to ban the importation of slaves, an institution which he considered morally objectionable, despite the fact that he was one of the largest slaveholders in the area, possibly second only to George Washington.  In fact, he not only refused to sign the Constitution, but along with Patrick Henry he actively led a fight against its ratification.  For this he would come to be known as “the reluctant statesman.”  Four years later, after the subsequent adoption of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, Mason stated that he could finally devote his “heart to the new Government.”

The George Mason Memorial features a 72-foot long stone wall with a larger than life-sized bronze statue of Mason staring off into the distance.  He is depicted sitting with his legs crossed, holding a book, with his walking stick and hat on the bench to his right and a stack of books to his left.  The statue is situated under a trellis, in a landscaped grove of trees and flower beds set among concentric circles around a circular pool with a fountain. The memorial was designed by sculptor Wendy M. Ross and landscape architect Faye B. Harwell.

Because there were no reliable images of Mason for her to accurately render her statue of him, Ross’s depiction is based on descriptions from Mason’s family and friends, a meeting with Mason’s living relatives, and a single posthumous painting of Mason which is located at Gunston Hall, Mason’s Georgian-style mansion near the Potomac River just 24 miles south of the memorial in nearby Mason Neck, Virginia.

Harwell designed the memorial’s landscaping features to adapt to the site’s history as a formal garden, as well as Mason’s love of gardens.  The site had originally been a Victorian garden in the late 19th century, which was subsequently designated in 1902 as one of the four national gardens established by The McMillan Plan, a comprehensive planning document for the development of the national capital city’s monumental core and the park system.  In 1929, the site was redesigned as The Pansy Garden.  This garden and its accompanying fountain which was used by Harwell in the design of the memorial.

The George Mason Memorial was authorized by Congress in August of 1990, with groundbreaking just over a decade later in October of 2000. It was completed and dedicated in April of 2002, and is managed by the National Park Service.  It is the first memorial in the Tidal Basin area dedicated to an individual who did not serve as president, and among the last to be sited on the grounds of the National Mall.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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The Annual Cherry Blossoms

I wrote last year in this blog about The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin and along the Potomac River, but the spectacle of the thousands of trees at peak bloom is something that not only can but should be enjoyed every year. Unfortunately, the duration of the visual splendor of these delicate blooms is available for only a brief time, leading many to say that they are symbolic and serve to remind us of the beauty and brevity of life. Sadly, this year’s blossoms peaked earlier this week and are now gone. The wind and rain of the past few days have caused the trees to lose their blooms, forcing us to wait until next year to again experience the annual spectacle. However, in the meantime, I hope you will enjoy these photos (you can click on the photos to enlarge them and see them in their full size) which I took during my lunchtime bike rides during the past week.  As you do, think about the bright white and pink flowers which seem to be illuminated by the sunlight. Try to imagine their subtle yet sweet fragrance in the early morning hours as you watch the sun rise on the other side of The Washington Monument. Picture yourself sitting on one of the many park benches next to the twisted and gnarled trunk of one of the trees, while petals from the fleeting blossoms fall all around you.  Think about walking under the trees’ low hanging limbs while you traverse the waterside walkway surrounding the Tidal Basin.  And imagine the feel of a gentle breeze as you enjoy the rows of trees lining the trails and roads along the river.  Try to imagine these things and you’ll probably understand why I enjoy riding my bike around the city to enjoy the cherry trees, as well as all of the other attractions and experiences this area has to offer.

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The Ice Skating Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The Ice Skating Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The circular reflecting pool at the center of the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden is transformed during the cold winter months each year into an outdoor ice skating rink. It has become an extremely popular winter destination, particularly for skating enthusiasts. And although I am not an ice skater myself, it was also my destination, at least for this lunchtime bike ride.

Ice skating has been a popular activity on the National Mall for well over a hundred years, with unofficial skating sites located at the Tidal Basin and The Reflecting Pool in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the actual ice skating rink did not open until 1974. And it did not open in its current form until 1999. Because the ice rink had been operating at the site since for more than twenty years, it was included in the National Gallery of Art’s plans for the Sculpture Garden when it was conceived in 1996.

In its current location as part of the Sculpture Garden, visitors have the opportunity to skate while surrounded not only by the grand architecture of national museums and monuments, but by large outdoor sculptures and exhibits displayed by the National Gallery of Art. These sculptures include works by world-renowned artists, such as “Four-Sided Pyramid” by Sol LeWitt and Claes Oldenburg’s “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X“, to name just a couple. In all, there are nineteen works of modern and contemporary sculpture on the richly landscaped grounds surrounding the ice rink.

The ice rink can accommodate more than two hundred skaters, with a music system that brings vibrant sound to visitors on and off the ice. And at night, lighting further contributes to the festive atmosphere. This year, the gallery’s guest services will offer both skating and ice hockey lessons, for which students can register individually or with a group. There is also a snack shop named the Pavilion Café, which offers a panoramic view of the Sculpture Garden and ice rink in addition to a variety of food and beverages.

Located just off the National Mall at 700 Constitution Avenue (MAP) in downtown, D.C., the ice rink opened in mid-November and will remain open through March 16, 2015, weather permitting. The rink is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. On Sunday, it’s open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. The ice-skating rink will close at 5:00 p.m. Christmas Eve, and will be closed on December 25 and January 1. Admission for a two hour session costs $8 for adults. And if you don’t have your own skates, they can be rented for an additional $3. A season pass that covers unlimited access to the ice rink is also available for $195.

Whether you’re an avid skater or have never tried it before, I highly recommend visiting the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Skating Rink at least once this winter. Who knows, you may enjoy it so much that, like many other people already have, you’ll want to make it an annual winter tradition.

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The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial

On this day in 1939, the 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, laid the cornerstone of the memorial to our nation’s 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson. Construction of the memorial had begun the previous December, and would not be completed until 1943. The 19-foot tall bronze statue of Jefferson by the sculptor Rudulph Evans was subsequently added four years later, in 1947. Then, 75 years after the laying of the cornerstone, I rode to the memorial on this lunchtime bike.

As a public official, historian, philosopher, lawyer, businessman and plantation owner, Thomas Jefferson served his country for over five decades. In addition to being our country’s 3rd President, he was also one of America’s founding fathers, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Vice President of the United States, the first U.S. Secretary of State, member of the Continental Congress, a state legislator and Governor of Virginia, United States Minister to France, and the founder of the University of Virginia.

The Memorial to Thomas Jefferson is a neoclassical building which features circular marble steps, a portico, a circular colonnade of Ionic order columns, and a shallow dome.  It is located in West Potomac Park, on the shore of the Potomac River Tidal Basin (MAP), and is enhanced with the massed planting of Japanese cherry trees, a gift from the people of Japan in 1912. Because many of the well-established cherry trees had to be removed for construction, there was significant opposition to its being built at that location. However, construction continued amid the opposition.

In addition to the domed building which is open to the elements and the prominent statue of Jefferson, the memorial prominently features quotes and exerpts from Jefferson’s writings.  On the panel of the southwest interior wall are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, which reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We…solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states…And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

On the northwest interior wall is an a panel with an excerpt from “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777”, except for the last sentence, which is taken from a letter of August 28, 1789, to James Madison.  It reads, “Almighty God hath created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.”

The quotes from the panel of the northeast interior wall are from multiple sources, and reads, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.”

The inscription on the panel of the southeast interior wall is redacted and excerpted from a letter of July 12, 1816, to Samuel Kercheval.  It reads, “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

The monument is not as prominent in popular culture as other D.C. buildings and monuments, possibly due to its location well removed from the National Mall and its poor approximation to the Washington Metro subway system and accessibility to tourists. The Jefferson Memorial hosts many events and ceremonies each year, including memorial exercises, the National Easter Sunrise Service, and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.

On the American Institute of Architects list of America’s favorite architecture, it ranks fourth behind the Empire State Building, the White House, and Washington National Cathedral. The Jefferson Memorial is managed by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks division. The monument is open 24 hours a day but park rangers are there only until 11:30 p.m. However, the monument is only a few hundred yards from the National Park Police D.C. Headquarters in East Potomac Park.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Maine Avenue Fish Market

The Maine Avenue Fish Market

On this ride I chose to ride along the waterfront in Southwest D.C. During the ride I stopped by the Maine Avenue Fish Market, which is located at 1100 Maine Avenue (MAP) just under the bridge for Interstate 395 connecting D.C. and Virginia. Also known as the Fish Wharf, or simply, the Wharf, the Maine Avenue Fish Market is quite popular with locals for its vast array of quality fresh seafood, including Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, soft shells, oysters, clams, shrimp, and more types of fish than you can count, all piled on top of mounds of ice. However, it is mostly unknown to the throngs of tourists who flock to the National Mall and monuments just a few blocks away to the north.

The Maine Avenue Fish Market is not just one of the few surviving open air seafood markets on the east coast of the U.S., but the oldest continuously operating fish market in the country. Founded in 1805, it is seventeen years older than New York City’s Fulton Fish Market, and decades older than Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The market almost met its demise in the 1960’s, when the original 19th-century Municipal Fish Market building was demolished to make way for a waterfront urban renewal project. However, the seafood vendors refused to leave. They were able to exercise a clause in their leases allowing them to stay for 99 years. So although it may continue to change as it has over the years, it won’t be closing down any time soon.

The Maine Avenue Fish Market is comprised of over ten stores, where the fresh seafood is sold on floating barges that line the pier along Water Street. The barges are a tribute to the original system in which fishing boats would journey back and forth from Colonial Beach, Virginia, where they would harvest the bay. Later, refrigerated trucks became more efficient and the “buy boats” were permanently docked. Eventually, they were replaced by the steel barges which exist today. The market is open each day of the week, but the largest selection of fish is on display Friday evening through Sunday.

In addition to being able to get some of the freshest seafood available without actually driving to the beach, customers at the Maine Avenue Fish Market can also choose from an array of ready-to-eat choices. From fried seafood platters to steamed crabs covered in Old Bay Seasoning, the take-out choices are seemingly endless. Other offerings include New England clam chowder and Maryland crab soup, raw oysters, fried clams, Jumbo lump crab cakes, ceviche, and fish sandwiches, to name just a few. The choices go on and on. And you don’t even need to be a seafood lover to enjoy the informal character of the place that sits just a short walk away from the Tidal Basin. It’s another side of D.C. that you might not get to see too often, but is well worth it.

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UPDATE:  If you plan to travel to the fish market anytime soon, exercise extreme caution.  The significant amount of construction going on to revitalize the waterfront is resulting in changing traffic patterns and various intermittent road and sidewalk closures.

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