Washingtonians dream of snow in DC. Our city turns into a snow globe, its monuments and memorials hidden under a quilt of snowflakes. Hello Winter Wonderland.
Newscasters’ warnings of a Winter Storm means everyone races to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods to stock up on blizzard fare—s’mores, cheese & crackers, hot chocolate mix and lots of wine.
Meanwhile, the forecast is 4-7 inches, with snow starting during the night. I am ready. Cinnamon rolls are baked in anticipation of Snow Armageddon.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I wake up at 5 am on Sunday morning. I see concrete sidewalks 10 stories below. No snow graces the top of a car or rooftop. I am so annoyed with the weather man. Climbing back into bed with my two Siamese cats, I sip my cafe latte and wait.
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Outdoor Snow Adventure
Now around 6:30 am, I see delicate snow flakes dance by my window. The fairies at daybreak are throwing their magic dust hither and thon. Now I can treat myself to my fresh baked cinnamon rolls and celebrate because of snow in DC.
Deciding when to start my outdoor snow adventure in Washington, DC is always difficult. I need to leave enough time for the snow to accumulate. But I also need to leave early enough to leave my footprints as the first explorer to trek the National Mall.
Moreover, it is a task complicated by the fact that I am competing with the dog walkers—a legion which reside in DC, especially my neighborhood in Mount Vernon Triangle.
By 8:30 am, I can stand the delay no longer. I slip into my snow boots that have been sitting forlornly in my closet for two years. Donning my ski jacket, knitted hat and mandatory face mask, I head down the elevator.
As I push open the heavy exterior door to leave my condo building, I feel the tickle of snow flurries on my eyelashes. The snow is coming down hard now. Paint my town white.
In my opinion, there are 10 mandatory places on the National Mall that must be visited during any DC snowy day. But don’t trust just me. Here is another expert’s list on DC’s Best Snow Activities.
Six years ago, I moved out of the Maryland suburbs to live in my high rise condo in northwest Washington DC. As a bonafide lover of snow, I have dreamed of sledding down the huge hills at the U.S. Capitol. I missed the Big DC Snow of January 2016 when I could have dragged my sled over for this adventure.
This year the U.S. Capitol is surrounded by fencing. Military patrol the grounds. Although Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton requested that sledding on the U.S. Capitol grounds be temporarily permitted, Capitol Police denied the request due to security concerns.
The west side of the Capitol is known as “the best place for sledding” in D.C.’s urban environment.—Norton
I pledge one day to jump on my sled and fly down these beloved sledding hills.
John Marshall Square
Next I head over to John Marshall Square where I find our fourth Justice of the Supreme Court (1801-1835) is already enjoying the snow in DC … his statue that is. Looming over the park named in honor of him, Marshall’s statue looks across Constitution Ave to the National Mall. It was sculpted by William Wetmore Story.
But my favorite park occupants are two chess players. This outdoor 1983 sculpture by Lloyd Lillie is a favorite for residents and visitors. Today I see someone has placed a pair of thick black glasses on one of the statue. They are crusted with snow. I take a closeup photo, chortling.
John Marshall Park is located in the Judiciary Square neighborhood.
National Gallery of Art
As I walk up the National Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, I see few “snow commuters.” No one is in a rush on the weekend to get to their job of playing on a DC snowy day. I practically skate down the snow-covered gravel paths, admiring the heavy white blanket now covering the lawn. The East and West wing of the National Gallery of Art turn into snowy mountainscapes.
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
My next stop is to photograph the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden which consisted of 30 works of art, ranging from abstract to modern. This is a place I come to lose myself, when I just need to plug into the electrical outlet of Art. Sculptures are and will always remain a critical aspect of the Hirshhorn’s identity, comprising nearly a fourth of Joseph Hirshhorn’s initial gift. The garden opened in 1974. It is a place where Washingtonians come to commune with Art. Truly, the works are “without parallel in the world.”
But trust me, seeing the Snow Sculptures turns every piece into a new item for the imagination. I am particularly in awe of the Red Sculpture by American artist Mark di Suvero. It celebrates the poet Marianne Moore. The red structure shows the words ARE YEARS WHAT? reflecting the artist views on Moore’s poem What Are Years?
Next up I decide to investigate the Mary Livingston Ripley gardens near the Smithsonian Castle. There are two “house” art pieces that stand guard at the bricked off raised gardens. The blue structure is draped with snow. The canary yellow structure glistens in the bright sunlight.
Photographing the 172-year-old Castle is a joy for any photographer—the soft white snow juxtaposed with the brick red surface. It is the Smithsonian’s signature building.
Near the Smithsonian Castle, pandemic-weary Washingtonians waged war with a volley of snow balls, according to the Washington Post.
“The Washington D.C. Snowball Fight Association organized a midafternoon winter battle on the National Mall near the Smithsonian Castle, its first such event in two years.”
By now, I fully expect to see children (or rather parents) dragging sleds across the National Mall since sledding is a top family snow activity in the nation’s capital. If the Capitol is closed, there are still smaller hills to sled down near the Washington Monument.
And what a sight to see—our city’s 555-feet tall edifice gleaming white on white in our snowstorm.
But instead of heading up the hill, I turn left toward the Tidal Basin. I want to see the water’s surface turn white. Walking past the Kwanzan cherry trees planted nearly a century ago, I stop to observe the delicate tree buds covered in snow. Come early in spring, these branches will be adorned in their frocks of pale pink organza blooms.
Both the snowflake and the cherry blossom are ephemeral—their presence in our lives are fleeting. They deserve to be celebrated.
“cherry trees in bloom—
warmed by a brazier
blossom gazing.”—Kobayashi Issa
Considered one of Japan’s four haiku great poets, Issa describes the magic of simply looking on the blossoms scattering in the air.
The same phenomenon prompts “Flurries-gazing” on this DC snowy day. Every object, no matter how mundane—a blade of grass, a sidewalk or a red rental bike— transforms into an art object when snow-bound.
Yoshino Cherry Trees
Thanks to the National Park Service’s vigilance, the Tidal Basin remains home to many elderly cherry trees. The original gift of 3,200 Japanese cherry trees dates back to the Taft administration.
While I don’t know the age of my favorite long-persevering cherry tree, I do know that I always photograph it each season.
Today the tree bends forward as the snow and wind push its trunk. There are only a few branches remaining. Such is its beauty, silhouetted against the Washington Monument. I think of it as a Japanese woodblock painted by nature. This frail tree’s resilience never fails to inspire me.
NGA Sculpture Garden
There is an astonishing outdoor sculpture garden in Washington DC. You should not miss seeing it. A year round destination for Washingtonians, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden provides a special thrill on a DC snowy day. All the sculptures are dressed in their snowy white capes and hats.
I laugh with glee at Alexander Calder’s Red Horse (Cheval Rouge) who is now transported from the Biémont Foundry in Tours, France (where it was constructed) to Snowland.
The pop art yellow-red-white house (Roy Lichtenstein, House I) looks like the perfect retreat for a mug of cocoa after a morning of sledding.
Of course, I feel like I am looking into the frozen forest of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe as I gaze at the shiny stainless steel Silver Tree (Roxy Paine, Graft).
And I could be climbing up a snowy hill when my eyes scale the stairlike form of blue stacked chair rising toward a soft grey sky (Lucas Samaras, Chair Transformation Number 20B).
Finally, I sneak onto the snow-covered flower beds and stick my iPhone through the fence. This gleaming silver sculpture (Sol LeWitt, Four-Sided Pyramid) could be a mountain that I ski down in Vail, Colorado.
Snow in DC
Naturally, any neighborhood in Washington DC looks like a fairy land when snow begins to fall from the sky. Unlike our neighboring states to the north and west, we do not regard snow with frustration. Since it is not a regular occurrence, snow makes the Washingtonian’s life magical (unless commuting to work on icy highways).
I had “a mind of winter” on my perfect Sunday walking nine miles around DC in my boots. Truly I felt no misery except sore feet when I returned from my exploration. The snow man whispered in my ear. And I recalled the “The Snow Man” poem written by Wallace Stevens.
“One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”
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