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

 

Save

Save

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.

 

Tavish Hears a Who

Dr. Seuss birthday reading celebrationA 1st grader peeped his head around the door, turned back to his classmates and proclaimed, “Hey! The dogs are here!”

Tavish, the Intrepid Pup, was making his way through the corridors of Stanton Elementary this afternoon to attend a birthday party. Not just any birthday party, mind you, but one in honor of beloved children’s book author Theodor Geisel (1904-1991), better known as Dr. Seuss.

Every year on March 2nd—Dr. Seuss’ birthday—the National Education Association does it up big with Read Across America Day, a nationwide reading celebration involving schools, libraries, and tons of kids. Today’s reading party at this DC public school was part of Stanton’s community partnership with People. Animals. Love. (P.A.L.), which runs PAL Club as a year-round, animal-centric enrichment program.

Dr. Seuss birthdayThe classrooms were hives of activity. 130 kindergartners through 5th graders could barely contain their excitement. Tavish’s role, along with five other dogs, was to “help” with the final after-school activities of the day. Tables were cleared to make way for scissors, staplers, paper plates and construction paper. The result? “Cat in the Hat” hats, of course! And then, armed with Dr. Seuss bookmarks, there was the chance to choose from an array of Dr. Seuss storybooks. Grinning from ear to ear, young Cheyenne* plunked down on the brightly spotted carpet to read Yertle the Turtle to Tavish, and it wasn’t long before her friends had gathered around. Out came Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Dante threw his arms around Tavish’s neck with glee. Next up was Dr. Seuss’s A B C, and D’Antwan balanced a red-and-white-striped Dr. Seuss hat on Tavish’s head. What fun it was to see the world momentarily come to a standstill and be all about Star-Belly Sneetches, the Lorax, Sam-I-am, and Horton, with kids giggling at the nonsense words. Pointing at the illustrations. Enjoying reading.

So, blow your floofloovers and bang your tartookas, spin your trumtookas and slam your slooslunkas!**
Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

 

*Children’s names changed to protect privacy
**Excerpt adapted from How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

The View from Cedar Hill

Intrepid Pup at Cedar HillFebruary is Black History Month, and the Intrepid Pup wants to share a true gem of the National Park Service: the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. The house, known as Cedar Hill for the preponderance of cedar trees on the 9.75 acres, was the residence of an aging Frederick Douglass from 1877 until his death in 1895. This handsome estate in southeast Washington, DC’s Anacostia neighborhood sits atop a promontory commanding a truly magnificent panorama of the capital city and is a site tourists should venture beyond the National Mall to see.

For those only familiar with Douglass (c. 1818 – 1895) from his 1845 autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself, a visit to Cedar Hill takes the longer view, providing a more comprehensive treatment of Douglass’s life and legacy. A 17-minute introductory video, “Fighter for Freedom,” in the adjacent National Park Service visitor center chronicles Douglass’s childhood in slavery in Maryland and eventual escape to New York, marriage to free black Anne Murray, rise as a distinguished orator in the anti-slavery movement both in the United States and abroad, and continuing influence during the Civil War, Reconstruction Era, and women’s suffrage and civil rights movements. The only way to access the historic home is via a ranger-led, 30-minute tour, for which a nominal ticket fee is charged. Photography is permitted inside the house so long as it’s without a flash.

Growlery at Cedar HillOn the day of our visit, we had an exceptionally knowledgeable and engaging young ranger. He deftly hit the highlights of Douglass’s public life but also gave insights into Douglass’s more personal side, pointing out Douglass’s extensive library, the violin he played, and the free weights he used to maintain his personal fitness. Referencing the various portraits throughout the house, the park ranger expounded upon Douglass’s social circle and relationships with abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown; Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Hayes and Harrison; Underground Railroad champion Harriet Tubman; and abolitionist and suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. He explained the importance of Douglass’s family life and—after wife Anne’s death in 1882—controversial second marriage in 1884 to Helen Pitts, a white woman and women’s rights activist and publisher. And we learned-lesser known details, such as Douglass’s appointments as Charge’ d’Affaires for Santo Domingo and as Minister to Haiti. Before departing, we checked out the rustic outbuilding at the rear of the property. It’s a reconstruction of Douglass’ self-proclaimed “Growlery.” Evocative of a lion’s lair, it served as Douglass’ personal retreat for writing and study.

Dogging the Details

38°51’48.53″ N,  76°59’6.66″W
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, DC

1

Cedar Hill ranks a 1 on the Wag-A-Meter for its ease in being able to experience.

This National Park Historic Site has ample free parking. Dogs are not allowed inside the visitor center or house but are welcome on the grounds so long as they remain on leash. A ticket is not required for strolling the grounds and taking in that fabulous view! Summers in the nation’s capital are hot and humid, so if you’re coming then, be sure to bring along water for your dog.

There’s a steep set of 85 stairs from the visitor center to the house itself; an alternate route is via a slightly less steep but winding access route that passes a landscaped garden and comes out adjacent to the Growlery.