Monday, September 24, 2012
It took some aimless driving around downtown Washington, D.C., and I had to stop and ask police officers on two occasions for directions, but eventually we found our way this morning to the National Arboretum, a surprisingly expansive oasis of flowers, plants and trees located in area of northwest Washington filled with warehouses and auto parts shops. It was worth the effort to get there, and not just because there was no admission charge. Among the things the three of us did today:
First order of business was to stop and feed the koi コイ 「鯉」, those ornamental carp one so often sees in Japan (and also in Taiwan, for that matter).
The koi feeding frenzy was an apt introduction to the adjacent National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Bonsai 盆栽 and penjing 盆景 are the Japanese and Chinese arts, respectively, of torturing unnaturally tiny trees. The bonsai in the photo above is not only an elegant 400 year-old beauty, it's also a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 広島 in 1945, emerging unscathed from the blast despite being less than two miles from the hypocenter; concrete walls saved it from destruction. The bottom bonsai is a work of art entitled Goshin from noted horticulturist John Naka.
Across the road from the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum is the National Herb Garden, where the butterflies were out in force.
After pausing to eat the snacks we had brought with us, we made the short walk up to Mount Hamilton. The mountain is covered with azaleas, though none of them were in bloom at this time of year (I imagine spring would quite a sight here). Still, all the foliage really made it seem like we were miles from the District of Columbia, though at the top glimpses through the canopy served to remind us of just where we were.
Coming down the mountain, we walked through the National Grove of State Trees (I couldn't find any giant sequoias, the state tree of California), then made our way over to the surreal Capitol Columns. These Corinthian-style columns were part of the east portico of the Capitol Building between 1828 and 1958, when they were relocated to their present home in a meadow at the National Arboretum. It felt like wandering among the ruins of an ancient temple in Greece.
By this time, the girls were tired of walking, so it was decided to explore the rest of the arboretum by car. Actually, we didn't come close to checking out the "rest of" the arboretum, as the grounds cover 446 acres (180.5 hectares), but we did take time to see the Youth Garden and stroll through Fern Valley. Our final stop of the day was the Asian Collections, consisting of plants native to China, Japan and Korea. The path meandering down through "China Valley" led to an unlocked fence, which in turn provided access to the Anacostia River. It was here, in the warmth of a late afternoon in early fall, that I felt like I'd stepped back in time to a lazy waterway in the deep South. Evocations of Stephen Foster, resulting from an easily impressionable mind?