Archives for March 2012

“Knowledge is the Prime Need of the Hour”: Women’s History Month and Mary McLeod Bethune

 

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House

Every March the United States officially observes Women’s History Month—an outgrowth of both  International Women’s Day and, in 1981, a congressional resolution for a “Women’s History Week.”  In recent years the month has been ascribed a theme, with March 2012’s being “Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment.”

One who personified this theme through her own works was Mary McLeod Bethune (1875 – 1955), daughter of former slaves, educator, key political influencer, and founder of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in 1935. The Intrepid Pup recently visited two sites, both in the nation’s capital under the aegis of the National Park Service, to learn more.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House is tucked within a row of stately townhomes in a residential section of northwest Washington off Logan Circle. For the price of $15,500 in 1943, the property became not only Bethune’s residence but also the official headquarters for the NCNW. The site has been administered by the Park Service since 1994. On the day of our visit, we were welcomed by a college undergraduate serving in the Park Service’s Student Career Experience Program. She invited us first to listen to a recording of Bethune speaking at an event in 1955 just a few months prior to her death. Hearing Bethune’s actual voice was a good introduction to someone we previously knew very little about, and it gave us the impression of a strong yet humble woman with a commanding presence. The ranger gave a brief orientation on the highlights of the home’s history, encouraging us to explore the rooms and interpretive displays on the first two floors. She checked on us several times to answer our questions. We had the house to ourselves that weekend afternoon. Just beyond the reach of the tour bus throngs on the National Mall, this historic site is not a high-traffic destination. Yet contributing to its appeal is the very fact that in providing a personal, intimate experience it is in marked contrast with its crowded counterparts. Our knowledge and appreciation of Bethune expanded exponentially as we uncovered details about her upbringing in poverty and perseverance in starting Florida’s Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls (now Bethune-Cookman University)  in 1904 fueled only by desire and $1.50. It seems fitting that today the university offers a master’s degree program in transformative leadership. It was also fascinating to learn of Bethune’s role in championing African American women’s involvement in the war effort and of her official capacities in the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman administrations.

Mary McLeod Bethune memorial in Lincoln Park

About a mile and half away from the Council House as the crow flies is Bethune in monumental form. Sculpted in bronze by New York artist Robert Berks (1922-2011), the statue grouping emphasizes Bethune as educator, literally and figuratively imparting her legacies to a boy and girl. Around the base are inscribed excerpts from her last will and testament which Bethune also holds in her outstretched left hand. The oft-repeated refrain “I leave you…” is completed by such powerful concepts as “hope”, “a thirst for education,” and “racial dignity.” The monument itself has an interesting history. It’s located in Lincoln Park 11 blocks due east of the U. S. Capitol Building. Book-ending the rectangular plot of open space maintained by the Park Service are the Bethune memorial and, sited directly opposite, the famous Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln (also known as the “Emancipation Grouping”) which was paid for entirely by freed slaves and sculpted by Thomas Ball in 1875.  The original intent had been for the dedication of a Bethune memorial to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1963, but the entire project was delayed. With funding from the NCNW, the Bethune monument was ultimately unveiled in 1974 on what would have been Bethune’s 99th birthday. Adding the Bethune memorial to the park also resulted in turning the Freedman’s Memorial 180 degrees so the two groupings would face each other.

If the Bethune memorial’s roughly faceted, somewhat abstract style looks familiar, it’s because Robert Berks sculpted several high-profile pieces. In DC alone, one can most readily see other examples of his handiwork in the 22-foot seated Albert Einstein memorial (1979) outside the National Academy of Sciences and in the 8-foot, 3000-pound bronze bust of John F. Kennedy (1971) gracing the Grand Foyer of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In a city dotted with literally hundreds of statues, monuments, and memorials, Berks’ Bethune sculpture represented the first honoring a woman (let alone an African American woman) installed on public park land in the nation’s capital.

Dogging the Details

38°54′29.31″N,  77° 1′50.29″W
Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, Washington, DC

38°53′23.19″N,  76°59′21.13″W
Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial, Lincoln Park, Washington, DC

wag-a-meter set at 2There is no fee charged to explore the Bethune Council House. While dogs understandably aren’t allowed inside, the neighborhood itself has sidewalks and is great for dog-walking.

Lincoln Park is exceptionally dog-friendly and what earns this Bethune-themed expedition a “2” on the Wag-a-meter.  In fact, the park’s entire center concourse is basically one big unfenced and very popular dog run. So long as your dog plays well with others, it’s among the top spots to rub noses with the canine denizens of Capitol Hill. During our visit,  Tavish encountered 3 weimaraners, a doberman, a rottweiler, a basset hound, a Wheaton terrier, a miniature greyhound, a Boston terrier, and a shepherd mix.

Important to note is that Lincoln Park is not an officially-designated city dog park. There are trash cans, but bring your own your poly bags to clean up after your dog.

A Blossoming Tradition

100th anniversary cherry blossoms

Think spring in Washington, DC and it’s synonymous with cherry blossoms. For a fleeting few days the frothy, confectionery splendor of more than 3,700 blooming cherry trees transforms the already-stunning National Mall and Memorial Parks. What makes 2012’s vernal display all the more special is that it marks the centennial of the gift of 3,020 trees from Japan. With this 100th anniversary comes an unprecedented five weeks (March 20 – April 27, 2012) of celebratory events throughout the city, ranging from concerts, special exhibitions, and performances highlighting Japanese culture, to fireworks, a kite festival, and the annual parade. The Cherry Blossom Festival, which has been an annual event in some form since 1935, today partners with the National Park Service, which in turn is offering its own activities and special ranger talks from March 24 – April 15, 2012.

The trees themselves are likely among the most scrutinized and closely monitored in the country. Tracking green buds, florets, and peduncle elongation, the National Park Service keeps meticulous data on the five stages of blossom development. While there are multiple types of cherry trees in the park, the most prevalent is the Yoshino, so the Park Service defines peak bloom as specifically being “when 70% of the blossoms of the Yoshino Cherry trees are open.” The historical average predicts the peak bloom date to be April 4th, but Mother Nature is notoriously fickle. A cold snap or a warm spell can move that date significantly in either direction, and once the blossoms are out, all it takes is one good gusty thunderstorm to toss all the pink petals from the trees.

Seeing the blossoms with the Intrepid Pup has become an annual tradition, but getting to the trees can be an adventure unto itself. The Metrorail system or biking are by far the best bets, but if you’re bringing your dog along, you’ll have to find an alternate means of transportation. Parking anywhere close to the Tidal Basin during the peak of the blossoms is a fantasy, so consider parking further away and walking back. Pedicabs seem to be a viable option, as we saw a lady and her pug zip by in one on our own most recent walk en route to the blossoms.

Bear in mind that while the outdoor venues of the National Mall and Memorial Parks are dog-friendly, you must keep your dog leashed at all times and prevent your dog from entering the Tidal Basin waters or any of the pools or fountains. As a general rule, dogs are not allowed in the inner sanctum (i.e. where the statue is) of any memorial, but Team Tavish has found that simply asking a park ranger for clarification on the boundaries is both appreciated and avoids any unnecessary confusion. And, as it turns out, many of the rangers really like dogs. The ranger we met at the Jefferson Memorial last week has been with the National Park Service for more than 20 years and was genuinely pleased to see us out exploring the monuments and blossoms with Tavish. Though the ranger regretted that she couldn’t permit him past the exterior columns on the façade, she went out of her way to give the Intrepid Pup a commemorative 100th anniversary cherry blossom pin bearing Paddles the beaver, a Park Service cartoony “mascot” that otherwise cautions visitors not to pick the blossoms. Opportunistic beavers have long tried to gnaw on the cherry tree trunks, but the ranger confided that the mesh barriers one sees around the cherry trees are good deterrents and that she had seen more raccoons and foxes than beavers so far this spring.

Dogging the Details

38°53′06.39″ N, 77°02′11.27″ W
National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, DC

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansAs mentioned above, if you don’t already live in the DC area, timing your visit to see the blossoms at their peak can be an inexact science. And be prepared to do miles of walking to fully appreciate them. For these reasons, the festival gets a “2” on the Wag-a-meter.

The Yoshino cherry trees concentrated around the Tidal Basin seem to attract the greatest flocks of blossom-gazers, and the narrow 2.1-mile walkway encircling the water’s edge can become quite congested. If you or your dog aren’t fond of pedestrian traffic jams, you have a couple of choices. Either plan your walk for the early to mid morning or late afternoon hours on a weekday (the lunch hour and nice weekends bring out tourists and locals) or stray off the well-beaten path. The Washington Monument grounds are much more open, absorb a lot of people, and boast numerous cherry trees representing yet another gift from Japan, this one to Lady Bird Johnson in 1965. Or, just a short distance east of the Jefferson Memorial you’ll find access to Ohio Drive, SW. This road and adjacent sidewalk loop 4.1 miles around East Potomac Park and Hains Point, and the whole way is lined with cherry trees! While your vistas from here won’t be of the monuments, you will have lovely views of the Washington Channel and the Virginia banks of the Potomac River. It’s on this route that you’ll discover completely different species of cherry trees: Kwanzan, Japanese weeping cherries, Takesimensis, Yama-zakura, and a single Okame cherry tree. There’s also an interesting grove of cherry trees on the golf course—land once a research area for the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—that likely represent the oldest anywhere in the park. Although 1912 is commonly cited as the year of the gift of the celebrated trees, Japan actually first sent 2,000 trees to Washington two years earlier in 1910. Sadly, those trees arrived with infestations, and after unsuccessful treatments, President Taft—at the recommendation of the USDA—ordered that they all be burned. It appears, however, that the precious few in this outcropping miraculously survived.

Finally, be sure to bring a camera. Pale pink cherry blossoms against granite memorials and a clear blue sky ought to be on your “bucket list” of backdrops for great family photographs.

 

Intrepid Pup Bracketology

Basketball icon

Every March, members of Team Tavish dutifully fill out their NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets. It’s a time of mild angst and giddy anticipation. Stats are weighed, websites consulted, gut instincts tapped, and alma mater loyalties tested. It’s all in good fun but never has it resulted in a Team Tavish member actually winning an office pool or even securing temporary bragging rights. Alas, for all the data and firm convictions, inevitably there comes a point in March Madness when the outcome of a single day’s games dashes all those careful selections asunder.

Old habits die hard, though, and Team Tavish members did still succumb to the individual rituals of bracket-picking this year. Nevertheless, it was also decided that it was time to introduce a new, less predictable, element to the mix:  Tavish, the Intrepid Pup. Forget hours of ESPN coverage, Sports Illustrated analyses, Selection Sunday, and the opinions of Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps. Tavish would have none of it, and he was going to make his picks his way. Let’s just say that lots of dog treats were involved (specifically, Milk-Bone® biscuits and Milo’s Kitchen™ Chicken Meatballs), but the process was otherwise as unbiased as could be. As proof, you’re invited to watch this brief video (click link to view in YouTube or otherwise see below) of the Intrepid Pup making some of his selections:

Completing the brackets was done over the course of three days so Tavish would neither lose focus nor overindulge during any one sitting. While sports analyst wisdom prevailed in some picks, it more often seemed that Tavish had an affinity for, well…the underdogs. But hope springs eternal, and who doesn’t love a Cinderella team? So if 16th seed LIU Brooklyn really does pull off the upset over  #1 seed Michigan State in the first round, then Tavish will likely be the only soul in the country to have predicted it.

Welcome to a world where Detroit goes to the Sweet Sixteen, St. Bonaventure advances to the Elite Eight, and Southern Mississippi breaks into the Final Four!

How do your picks stack up against the Intrepid Pup’s? Enjoy the Madness!

Intrepid Pup Bracketology

 

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Catching Some Rays at the Public Observatory

 

National Air and Space Museum's Public ObservatoryWith all the recent talk of feisty solar flares amping up the activity of the Northern Lights and having the potential to wreak a little havoc with power grids and GPS devices here on Earth, the Intrepid Pup turns his attentions to the firmament. And what better place to whet one’s celestial appetite than the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum?

Except…we’re directing your attention not to the museum’s exhibition galleries that are literally among the most visited in the world but rather to its lesser-known but not-so-little nub of an astronomical observatory that rests upon the museum’s outdoor east terrace right on Washington, DC’s National Mall.

The Public Observatory Project (POP) is the tangible manifestation of a dream long-held by Dr. David DeVorkin, the museum’s senior curator of astronomy and space sciences. To know DeVorkin is also to know that he’s an enthusiastic proponent of making astronomy accessible. “The Mall has its monuments,” he wrote back in 2009, “What it needs is a portal, a portal to the universe.” The idea was to put a telescope where people—slews of them!—already are, thereby igniting interest in astronomy among casual observers. It didn’t quite take an act of Congress, but it did require a dedicated project team and approvals from the museum, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and the National Capital Planning Commission. Dream became reality when the observatory opened in October 2009 to coincide with the International Year of Astronomy. The observatory’s workhorse is a 16-inch Boller & Chivens telescope re-purposed from Harvard-Smithsonian’s Oak Ridge Observatory in Massachusetts, but staffers also keep several smaller hand-held telescopes at the ready for visitors. The observatory is free and open to the public, though operating hours are highly weather dependent, so check POP’s Twitter feed for updates. For daytime viewing, you’ll be training the telescopes to look at moon craters, the phases of Venus, and yes,—with the aid of safe solar filters—sunspots! Now you can see for yourself what the sun is up to.

 

Dogging the Details

38°53′16.26″N, 77°1′6.67″W
Public Observatory, Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter meansThe observatory scores a “1” on the Wag-a-meter as it’s pretty darn accessible. Parking during the day can be problematic as there are no big public parking lots close by, but there are metered spaces along Independence Avenue and side streets, and the L’Enfant Plaza and Smithsonian Metro stations are both within easy walking distance.

Alas, your dog can’t hang out in the observatory and would likely have trouble peering through the telescope’s eyepiece even if he could. Yet if you’re out on a walk with your dog, there are informative panels to read on the observatory’s exterior, and when the observatory is open to visitors, astronomy educators are often right by the door and will gladly field your questions.

If you happen to go stargazing on one of POP’s special nighttime observation evenings, ask the staff if you can take a gander at Canis Major (a constellation representing one of the great hunter Orion’s dogs)…and tell them the Intrepid Pup sent you.

 

Getting Out and About in Vacationland

Just learned about the inaugural Great Maine Outdoor Weekend taking place this March 2-4, 2012. It’s being touted as a bi-annual celebration with a “series of events scheduled all across the great state of Maine to help connect [people] with the natural world, and promote fun, physical activity, and good health.”

Well, if that isn’t something that appeals to the Intrepid Pup’s sensibilities, we don’t know what will! Tavish isn’t in Maine this weekend to help celebrate, but he did spend the first 5½ years of his life in “Vacationland” living the state’s motto “Maine: The Way Life Should Be.” And in that time, he had ample opportunity to sample and enjoy some of the best trails, views and natural beauty the state has to offer. So, while this is by no means a comprehensive list, here are some of the Intrepid Pup’s top picks, by region, for getting out and about with your dog in Vacationland:

Dogging the Details

wag-a-meter set at 2

The three excursions described below all rank “2” on the Wag-a-meter as these are active, outdoor adventures with some pre-planning required. You’ll also be out-and-about pretty much the whole day with your dog, so be sure to pack along food/treats, water, and doggie bags.

 

 

 

MAINE BEACHES

43°20′51.32″ N, 70°28′50.92″ W
Kennebunk Beach, Kennebunk, Maine

Kennebunk BeachIf you’ve always associated Maine with craggy shorelines, there are plenty. But you might be surprised to learn that beautiful sandy beaches can be found in coastal towns throughout southern Maine. One favorite is Kennebunk Beach. At low tide, this crescent-shaped swath of sand extends out about a hundred yards before receding into the Atlantic Ocean. Then, if you could even see this far, the next land you’d spot would be Portugal. Seriously. The surrounding communities, collectively known as the Kennebunks, are tourist magnets (particularly in the summer and fall), but Kennebunk Beach holds a year-round allure even after temperatures for swimming and sun-bathing are but distant memories. The sidewalk follows the shoreline and is great for dog-walking, complete with several waste receptacles and doggie-bag dispensers. In fact, this same scenic route along the seawall is used by the area’s Animal Welfare Society for its insanely popular (and fun) annual “Strut Your Mutt” fundraiser.

Within certain hours, dogs are allowed ON the beach, too, provided you follow the regulations. Kennebunk Beach is a great spot for your dog to run, swim, and enjoy the company of the myriad other dogs and dog owners you’ll find. Do note that in the summer, nearby parking requires a beach permit.

Want to spend a full day exploring the Kennebunks with your dog? If it’s between June 15 and the day after Labor Day, time your romp on Kennebunk Beach to be either before 9 AM or after 5 PM. For the rest of the day, consider heading to Kennebunk’s very own dog park just a short drive from the beach up Sea Road. This fenced-in dog park shares an entrance with Kennebunk’s recycling center and is open daily from dawn to dusk. Still have energy to burn? From the dog park, go across Sea Road into the parking lot for Sea Road School. On the left-hand side, you’ll be able to access the trailhead for the Bridle Path, going southeast. Since it’s the former rail bed for the Boston & Maine Railroad from 1883, it’s pretty flat. For a little ways you’ll snake behind neighborhoods, but before long, you’re surrounded by woods and marshland. Keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of the Mousam River to the west; it’s a favorite for birders and kayakers. In this direction, the trail ends in about 2 miles at the junction with Western Avenue. Reward yourself and your dog for a day well-spent by heading into the heart of nearby Kennebunkport. Just a block off Dock Square, along Ocean Avenue, you’ll find Scalawags, a marvelous pet boutique, where a bowl of fresh water always awaits. Owner Mary Beth does a great job of sourcing tasty dog treats and an array of truly unique Maine-made and Maine-inspired wares (think rope leashes hand-crafted by Maine lobstermen!) for your four-legged friends. Extending your stay is always an option, and you’re in luck in that the Kennebunks are home to a number of pet-friendly accommodations like the Captain Jefferds Inn, the Colony Hotel, the Hounds Tooth Inn, and the Yachtsman.

 

GREATER PORTLAND AND CASCO BAY

43°39′02.59″ N, 70°11′41.37″ W
Peaks Island, Maine

Peaks IslandTeam Tavish dug back into the Intrepid Pup archives for this pic of an approximately 11-week-old Tavish on one of his very first trips to what would become a frequent destination: Peaks Island. Of the several hundred island communities that dot Casco Bay, Peaks is the most populous with ~1,100 year-round residents, though that number swells to 4,000+ during the summer months. Peaks is actually part of the City of Portland, but its history has been punctuated by various—and as yet, unsuccessful—secessionist movements. It’s accessible via a 15-minute ride from downtown Portland on the Casco Bay Lines ferry and is thus a popular day-trip destination. Vehicle traffic is minimal, with bicycles and golf-carts easily outnumbering cars on the roads. At just 2 miles long and about a mile wide, Peaks is both walkable and eminently picturesque.

Dogs are allowed on the ferry but do need their own tickets. Climb aboard and take a seat on the open-air top deck. It’s not uncommon to spot harbor seals en route. Once you arrive at the ferry landing on Peaks, walk up the ramp to Downfront, where you can fortify yourself with an ice cream cone. As you head out the door, hook a right to stay on  Island Avenue and go back past the ferry landing, a little park, and a few restaurants. Within about 1/4 mile, the road will curve inland. Make a right on Whitehead and look for the short walking trail that leads down to Picnic Point and Hadlock Cove, where this photo of Tavish was taken. Here’s your craggy coastline and a stunning view of Casco Bay! If you bring along a picnic and a camera and never get any further in exploring Peaks, you won’t be disappointed. There is, however, much more to see. For a longer walk, rejoin the main road heading east, and within a few hundred feet you’ll come upon the Fifth Maine Museum. Its Memorial Hall cottage was constructed in 1888 as a memorial and reunion site for members of the Fifth Regiment Maine Volunteer Infantry (1861-1864) active during the Civil War. The museum’s exhibitions and programming cover regimental history and, more broadly, various facets of the island’s settlement. The museum is also playing a key role in the statewide sesquicentennial commemoration of Maine’s role in the Civil War. Heading right (east) from the Fifth Maine Museum, Seashore Avenue passes the 8th Maine Regiment building (now a lodge) and then quickly opens onto panoramic shoreline vistas. Seashore Avenue makes a circuit of the island and winds up being a little more than a 3-mile walk, ultimately reconnecting to Island Avenue, delivering you past the quirky, seasonally-open Umbrella Cover Museum and right back to where you started at the ferry landing. You can trim your overall distance by turning off Seashore Avenue onto any of the roads that bisect the island (see map). If you have time to spare before catching your return ferry, enjoy Shipyard Brewing Company beverages and a meal at the Inn on Peaks. When outdoor seating is available, your dog can join you on the patio.

MIDCOAST

44°13′22.91″ N, 69°04′07.73″ W
Mount Battie, Camden Hills State Park, Camden, Maine

Mount BattieCamden, Maine is a charming Midcoast town with quaint shops and inns, great seafood, schooner charters, and a bustling autumn Windjammer Festival that spotlights Camden’s picturesque marina. It’s also great base from which to undertake some hiking. Just over a mile outside the town center, heading north on Belfast Road/Route 1, is the main entrance on the left to Camden Hills State Park. The 30+ miles of trails are well-maintained and well-marked, but they do intersect one another frequently within the park’s 5,700 acres, so it helps to request a map at the ranger station and have a ranger suggest an appropriate route, based upon the time you have available.

A favorite of Team Tavish is the Mount Battie Trail, which is accessed from the parking area just beyond the ranger station. While the trail isn’t technically challenging (heck, it even crisscrosses the auto road to the summit, but driving up would be “cheating”!), it’s a lovely couple miles of walking in the woods, and the payoff is huge. The trail tops out at a smooth rock outcropping 780′ above sea level with a breath-taking view of Camden Harbor immediately below and Penobscot Bay beyond. In autumn, leaf-peeping and spotting the migrating hawks are additional draws. For a longer foray, daisy-chain the trails and try out Bald Mountain (1200′), Mount Megunticook (1385′), or Maiden Cliff (800′).

Word has it that the next Great Maine Outdoor Weekend is already slated for September 28-30, 2012.  Stay tuned for the Intrepid Pup to share more of his favorite Maine excursions then!