Tag Archives: Library of Congress

Day 60 and Beyond: Life After D.C.

or Welcome Home to Maine

From the U.S. Botanical Garden

Dear Reader:

I’m sure you’ve figured out that this isn’t REALLY day sixty. I’m definitely into the “beyond” portion of the title, typing from my own cozy office with a window looking out over the encroaching wild blackberry brambles, the downed pine trees rotting on the forest floor, and the still-green leaves of immature maples and oaks struggling to grow beneath the evergreen giants. No more view of the blue roof of the Nordstrom’s across the street at the Pentagon City Mall or the gothic spires of the National Cathedral poking up from the far-distant D.C. skyline or the planes circling around toward Reagan National one after the other after the other as the day closes and the sky turns first pink and then dark and the lights begin to glow in all the windows of the high-rise jungle around me.

Flower Tower

The Teen and I spent our last day in the city in a whirlwind tour of the United States Botanic Garden, a must-see for any of you who may visit the capital city in the future. The day was hot, but dry and sunny, and the plantings absolutely amazed this neophyte gardener. I loved the outdoor gardens, especially the giant wooden towers planted with different types of heat-loving plants and flowers.


Inside were tropical plants, a children’s garden,endangered plants, and an area dedicated to “useful” plants either for food or medicine. We spent a few hours browsing around in the cool, moist environment before heading over to the Museum of the American Indian to finally catch lunch at the cafe, something I didn’t want to miss on this trip.

Southwest Native Foods

The cafeteria is set up to offer foods from all the different American areas. I was tempted by the northeast section with its roast turkey and cranberry preserves, but I figured there would be time for that around Thanksgiving. Instead I went with southwestern spicy rice, an enchilada of sorts filled with roasted or sauteed squashes and onion topped with a tomato paste and cheese, and the most delicious sauteed red cabbage. I ate the entire plate, and the light vegetarian fare left enough room for a dessert of bread pudding studded with raisins.

The Teen had chicken fingers and fries.

Revived, we hiked up the hill so the Teen could visit the Library of Congress. After oggling the beautiful space for an hour or so, we strolled next door to the Supreme Court where two demonstrators stood mute with duct tape over their mouths. I’m still not sure how they expected to get their message across as they carried no signs, but it was probably something to do with freedom of speech.

(Here’s an idea: if you want to protest something, communicate somehow!)

Tired and hot,(did I mention D.C. afternoons are scorchers?)we sat beneath a shady tree in front of the Capitol Building for a few minutes, listening to a couple of security police chatting with each other, and then we chugged on down to 7th Street for a cup of iced coffee at the corner Starbucks one last time.

Moongate Garden at Sackler Gallery

We fueled up on caffein and sugar–enough mojo for a quick swing through the Castle for souvenir shopping, the Museum of African Art, and finally a super-quick breeze through the Sackler & Freer Gallery of Asian Art.

Sunset at Gravelly Point

Our last evening in D.C. we ate a picnic supper at Gravelly Point while watching the planes take off right over our heads, knowing that in less than 24 hours we’d be on one of those aircraft.

The next day and at the airport waiting for our flight, we felt the building shudder, stop for a minute or two, and then begin to shake and shiver in earnest. The television monitors were already tuned to CNN, and we soon learned about the fairly major earthquake rolling beneath Virginia, D.C., and outward. I said, “I guess D.C. is just so sad to see us leave.”

We were on the plane only an hour behind schedule.

Before sunset, we looked down on the dark green of Maine’s coastline and spotted a large crescent of pale beach and a light-green swath behind it. “I think that’s Old Orchard and Pine Point . . . and the marsh!” I said. Soon we could see Portland, South Portland, and the airstrip–an hour and a half and a world away from metropolitan Washington D.C.

Welcome home to Maine!

Pine Point

The following days found us hanging out at our usual spot on the beach at Pine Point, school shopping, and acclimating ourselves to life in the slow lane again. A day went by with a grand total of TWO cars passing my house. The skies clouded over. My allergies and asthma returned with a vengeance. Hurricane Irene hit on Sunday and knocked out our power for four days.

Welcome home to Maine.

I don’t mean to sound as bitter as a garden cucumber grown over a dry summer. I’m feeling less claustrophobic every day. I have my kitchen back. I’ve been to Marden’s and Goodwill and the Limerick Supermarket and Hannaford’s and the wonderful farm-stand near the Waterboro Public Library. I’ve checked out a couple of books. I’ve been to the yarn shop and the tea house with my friend, Sandra. On another afternoon between appointments in Biddeford, friend Donna served me a wonderful green salad with slices of roast beef and crumbled feta and dressed with olive oil and balsamic viniagrette. Heavenly!

I have bought yarn for a hat and a bag, have lugged home pickling salt and spices to try my hand at pickles with the cukes my parents gave me from their garden (not bitter), and while up visiting parents and collecting my much-missed pooch, Delilah, my dad bought me a lobster roll and my mom baked me a blueberry pie.

Welcome home to Maine. For real.

Days 52-57: The Temple of My Familiars

Library of Congress

Dear Reader:

The title of Alice Walker’s book, THE TEMPLE OF MY FAMILIAR, has been running through my head since Wednesday when I finally visited the Library of Congress, not because the Walker book has anything to do with the library (except I’m sure a copy is housed in the vast stacks) but because the building, named the Thomas Jefferson Building in 1980, feels like a temple to me. A temple of learning. A temple of collective knowledge. A temple of books.

Outside the Library

Books As Familiars

According to Wikipedia, a “familiar” is the name given to spirit helpers, often taking the guise of animals, in the practice of witchcraft or other magical practices. If I have any sort of familiars, they take quite a different form than the usual cats or owls or toads.

My familiars are books.

Stephen King, in his book ON WRITING, speaks of writing as the only real form of magic he knows. A writer has a picture in his mind. He puts down words on paper. A reader picks up the book and voila! A picture forms in the reader’s mind. The book (or article, letter, Facebook post, text message) is the vehicle the magic uses to pass knowledge or ideas or images from one person to another without actually speaking. Writing is magic. Books, familiars.

The Great Hall

History of the Library

So how did this temple to learning come to be? The library was established in 1800 as a resource for Congress and was housed in the Capitol building. It was destroyed (burned, of course. Why is it that books, like witches or heretics, are always being burned?) by British troops in 1814. At that time, Thomas Jefferson had one of the largest, most comprehensive personal libraries in America, a collection he’d been gathering for fifty years. He offered his library to Congress, arguing for the inclusion of many types of literature, languages, and ideas that went beyond the usual legislative materials. Congress appropriated funds for the purchase of the library in 1815. The current building, constructed in the Italian Renaissance style, was finished in 1897. It now houses 144 million items!


Minerva Mosaic


Beyond the functionality of storing so much knowledge, the building itself is architecturally gorgeous and decorated with classical imagery. Take the lovely Minerva, for example. My photo does not capture the beauty of the mosaic depicting the Roman goddess, Minerva, the guardian of civilization. Click HERE to see the mosaic in all its glory. Minerva is known as the goddess of poetry, wisdom, medicine, commerce, weaving, crafts, and magic. (Wikipedia) She is often depicted with an owl (a familiar!) to symbolize wisdom.

Gets me wondering: what would our Puritan forefathers think of all this pagan symbolism in the heart of our nation? I have the feeling they’d be right here with the pitchforks and torches claiming they were ridding the Capitol of satanic forces and restoring it to Christianity. (See Salem Witch Trials). Which also leads to me wonder if it is really possible for ONE deity (even divided into three parts) to symbolize all the concepts we hold dear. Is is really so very wrong to picture Wisdom as a beautiful goddess, especially one who holds a spear in hand, ready to defend civilization?

Painted Ceiling

Library Card

It’s all well and good to peer up at the painted, vaulted ceiling and heave an admiring sigh or two (or a hundred), but what about actually using the library to, well, research something? The doors to the main reading room were tantalizingly near with a “Do Not Enter” sign standing guard. Obviously, casual, walk-in visitors to the library are not allowed entrance. We were able to climb some stairs and look down into the main reading room with its wooden reading tables, red walls, soaring rotunda ceiling and tantalizing glimpses of stacks surrounding the area. No photography allowed, though. Click HERE to see a photo on the library’s website.

Speaking with a docent, I asked “How do you get to use the library?” She explained about signing up for a reader identification card which allows you to visit the reading rooms and to request materials for study. The thought of actually sitting in that room, searching the databases, requesting materials from the stacks, and reading beneath that rotunda makes me giddy. And what must it be like to work here at the library with all its collected knowledge organized and housed and available for anyone who wishes to learn? The website says there are openings for volunteer docents, and if I were going to stay here in D.C. that is something I would seriously consider. If this is a temple to wisdom, would working here make me a priestess?

Fountain of Neptune

This day, our visiting friends (D.J. Donny Bess and Sweet Caroline who flew down from Maine) and I looked around at some of the exhibits and then headed back outside where Neptune guards from his fountain perch overlooking the East Front of the Capitol Building.

Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress

Walking across the street and looking back, I took a final look at the temple of my familiars.