Eyes are watering. Heads are pounding. And noses are being tickled throughout the national capital region. It’s peak cherry blossom week! This time of year, visitors flock to the tidal basin in hopes of seeing the delicate and fleeting Japanese flower for themselves. We’re not immune to the splendor and beauty of what is known as sakura in Japanese so when friends mentioned they bought tickets for a cherry blossom cruise out of Georgetown for Sunday afternoon, we decided to join them.
Despite the shining sun and blue skies, it was windy and cold – especially out on the water. It was our first time on a cherry blossom cruise so we weren’t quite sure what to expect. But like most things in life, we kept an open mind and made the best of our chilly hour on the Potomac.
It’s interesting how the cherry blossoms came to be in the tidal basin, which is part of West Potomac Park. The Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, and the cherry blossoms all surround the tidal basin in Washington DC. Back at the turn of the century, First Lady Helen Taft became enamored with Japanese cherry trees when visiting Japan when her husband (future President Howard Taft) was the governor-general of the Philippines. Soon after her husband became President, she received a letter from Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore from the National Geographic Society, who wished to transform the tidal basin by planting cherry trees.
David Fairchild, a food explorer with the United States Department of Agriculture, also campaigned for importing cherry blossoms into Washington DC. President Taft viewed the trees as a tool to improve international relations with Japan. David Fairchild brokered the initial deal, which unfortunately involved faulty trees. But after Yukio Ozaki, the mayor of Tokyo, met with Fairchild, a second shipment of trees was organized and described as a memorial of national friendship between Japan and the United States.
The cherry blossoms represent a time of renewal – one of the first signs of spring in this part of the country. The delicate flowers also represent the fleeting nature of life due to their short life span. When appreciating their beauty, you can’t help but be reminded of life’s ephemerality.
The cherry blossom cruise was okay. We likely won’t go on another one – we much prefer to walk about the tidal basin. Being on the water felt too far removed to really appreciate the peak bloom. I’m not upset that we did it but after experiencing the cruise, I wouldn’t categorize it as a ‘must-do’ in the area. We were able to snag a deal on Groupon for half-price tickets – I certainly would not pay full ticket price ($30/person) for the experience.
Prior to going out on the water, we finally checked out The Berliner in Georgetown, which classifies itself as a modern German beer hall. The food was delicious, and the beers were awesome, and it was kid-friendly. How can you not love a place like that? We still have a handful of months before our trip to Germany so we will definitely be back!
There is really no way to know that you’re in the good old days until you’ve actually left them. The art of looking back fondly is a somewhat idiosyncratic effect of human nature. We always seem to have a more idealized take on our experiences when we’re looking at them through the rearview mirror. While we have certainly preferred some locations over others, when I think about all the places that we have lived together over the years I’m able to affectionally recall good times and assemble a highlight reel that features what we liked best about each area.
This is my highlight reel.
Clemson, South Carolina Whenever we roll into a new duty station, neighbors have little trouble determining where we went to college. Go Tigers! It has become a running joke among some of our friends, “Hey – did you guys know that we went to Clemson?” because we never shy from talking about our beloved alma mater. Because we got married during winter break my senior year (thanks Army!), we count Clemson as the first place we lived together, even though we didn’t actually live together our first six months of marriage (again, thanks Army!).
Tillman Hall is considered the building that is synonymous with Clemson University. The dorm that we lived in when we met, Clemson House (RIP), overlooked Tillman Hall and Bowman Field. We would cut across the open grass as we walked to class and spent many afternoons playing catch or frisbee in front of Military Heritage Plaza, which happens to be where Clay received his first salute as an officer. We also enjoyed hiking at Table Rock, walking around downtown Greenville, and
Fort Huachuca, Arizona Clay proposed shortly after he commissioned. We were engaged about a week before he left for OBC (now referred to as Basic Officer Leaders Course) at Fort Huachuca. I did not accompany him to OBC because I had a great summer job in my hometown and it made better financial sense for Clay to live in the officer barracks since I’d be returning to Clemson for my senior year of college well before he graduated. I visited a few times and thoroughly enjoyed the area surrounded Fort Huachuca. We ate at the Mesquite Tree (sadly now closed), visited Bisbee (best coffee ever), and hiked in the Coronado National Forest. And of course – you can’t visit Fort Huachuca without visiting Tombstone – we took the kids there during our epic southwest road trip a couple of years ago – I’ll be your huckleberry indeed.
Fort Drum, New York The most obvious place for the Army to send Clay after spending months in the Arizona desert was of course snowy Fort Drum, New York – home of the 10th Mountain Division. We got married and after I graduated, I joined him up at the Canadian border. We spent three and a half years in the north country and ended up loving almost everything the area has to offer. We lived in Sackets Harbor, which remains the favorite place we’ve ever lived to this day.
We would walk to the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company for drinks, eat brunch at Tin Pan Galley, and catch a show at the (now defunct) comedy club. We kayaked on Lake Ontario, walked around the historic battlefield, and skied at Dry Hill. Yes – the winters were cold and white but the summers were some of the best we’ve ever experienced.
Raleigh, North Carolina After Clay ETSed from the Army and joined the National Guard (oh yes – Clay got out of the Army back in 2008…boy is that a story!), we ended up in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina. We bought our first home, Clay ended up going back to being a full-time soldier, and we welcomed our first child into the world. While we have no plans to ever choose to live in that part of the country again, there were things that we really liked – like the Raleigh Flea Market at the state fair grounds and the Raleigh Farmers Market.
Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Say what you will about Lawton but the Wichita Wildlife Refuge is up there as one of the coolest places we’ve ever lived near. Whenever we wanted, we could get up close and personal with buffalo and long-horned steer which was pretty amazing.
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas We went to Fort Leavenworth knowing that we’d probably enjoy our year there but we were blown away by how much we loved Kansas City. It really has it all – music, food, sports, museums, and some of the nicest people we’ve ever met.
We loved Union Station, the National WW1 Museum, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. If Kansas City were closer to mountains or water, we’d consider moving there in a heartbeat after this Army ride is over. That being said, we certainly wouldn’t complain if the Army sent us to Fort Leavenworth again due to the proximity to Kansas City and the fact that it really is a lovely and beautiful post.
San Antonio, Texas If I had to sum up the year that my family spent in San Antonio, Texas in one sentence, it’d be: We didn’t love living there but if you haven’t been there, you should totally go visit! Most are surprised by our confession because San Antonio has such a great reputation – it’s a city certainly not lacking in culture and attitude.
We loved going to the Tejas Rodeo in Bulverde on a Saturday night. We’d grab a Shiner Bock and Frito pie and watch the traditional rodeo from the stands for the quintessential Texas experience. We also enjoyed Guadalupe River State Park and of course all of the food!
Washington DC There is our second time around being stationed near our nation’s capital. Because we’ve lived here the longest out of any other place (almost three years the last go-around and we’re currently on year two this time around), it feels the most like home by default. Of course we love spending time in the city, the National Mall, and the Smithsonian. But we love the surrounding area as well.
One of our favorite things to do as a family in this area is hike at Great Falls Park, which is where Potomac River “builds up speed and force as it falls over a series of steep, jagged rocks and flows through the narrow Mather Gorge.” There are multiple trails with varying degrees of difficulty (but none are really all that difficult) with various look-out points along the way. So basically it is perfect for younger kids.
We are slated to leave Washington DC next summer so only time will tell what we will like best at the next place the Army sends us.
This isn’t our first rodeo living in the national capital region. During Clay’s almost 14 years in the Army, we’ve moved 7 times. And when we moved back to the area last summer, we checked off another square in the game of military bingo – we returned to a duty station.
We were stationed at Fort Belvoir from 2012 – 2015 (a few months shy of three years) and throughly enjoyed our time in northern Virginia. Violet was born here, we spent our free time traveling up and down the east coast, and took advantage of all the sightseeing the area has to offer. That being said – we very much like moving to new places and we have no desire to spend a significant amount of time of Clay’s career stationed at one place. It’s not always easy leaving an established existence for a foreign one but with each goodbye, we’ve felt like we’re better for the experience. So while we’re back in the DC area, it’s not the same as last time. But as the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, so eloquently put “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
You have mentioned quite a bit that you hope to maximize your time with the military and live in as many different places as possible – so why did you go back to DC? We were San Antonio, Texas prior to this assignment. And Fort Leavenworth, Kansas before that. I’ve written about how I didn’t exactly bloom in Texas and neither one of us loved our time in Texas. We made the best of it but it certainly wasn’t our favorite duty station. So when Clay applied and was selected for a position that involved a last-minute move to Washington DC this past summer, we were thrilled to call the area home again – at least for a little while.
Do you live in the same neighborhood as last time? Same city? No to the first question, yes to the second. We absolutely loved our townhome community in northern Virginia last time we were here – so much so that we tried to live in the same community again. The rental gods weren’t in our favor but we ended up finding a great single family home down the road that is zoned for the same elementary school. We’re in the same township and have the same zip code as last time so in many respects, it feels like we came back home. We did look into living in Arlington, Crystal City, and Pentagon City for something different, but we loved living in West Springfield last time and couldn’t resist doing the same this time around.
Does Violet attend the same preschool Weston did when we lived here last time? Yes! Due to the last minute nature of the assignment, I knew securing a Pre-K spot for Violet would be an issue. The hour after receiving word that we would indeed be moving, I contacted the preschool Weston attended during our previous stint here and pleaded my case. And that is how Violet ended up enrolled in the same preschool as Weston attended despite not having official orders yet or having any idea of where we would actually live.
Are most of your friends from last time still around? No. Even though there is a lot of familiarity living in the same area again, driving the same roads, and also shopping at the same stores – it is also quite different. A lot of my previous friends have moved away and the ones who haven’t, I don’t see as often as I’d like because we’re not longer true neighbors and our busy lives get in the way. But on the other hand, I’ve made new friends to chat with as our children play on the playground after school. And one of my dearest friends in the whole wide world from our Fort Drum days 12+ years ago is stationed here and only lives two miles away! Our children have become fast friends and we get together all the time.
Are you trying to stay there as long as possible? Despite loving it here, we will not try and get a follow-on assignment in DC once Clay is finished with this job. Our kids are young and in elementary school – now is the time to move around and explore as many different places as possible. We will likely try and stabilize when they reach high school but of course, only time will tell!
Why do you like living there so much? On top of the incredible history, there is just SO much to do. There is always something going on in the city and when we want to escape for a bit – we’re just a short drive away from one of our favorite hiking spots, Great Falls Park, and the rural farmlands in Loudon County and Prince William County. There is no shortage of breweries, wineries, fantastic restaurants, and everything else that accompanies a big city.
What don’t you like about the area? To be honest, we’re not huge fans of the pressures placed on students in our area. Yes – it is one of the ‘best’ school districts in the country but schools that boast high test scores and college acceptance rates aren’t necessarily producing adults that have a grasp on what is essential for true success in life (hint – it isn’t getting into a Top 10 university). In this area, I encounter so many people with outward signs of success. Happy people are harder to find.
I admit that is a little surreal to be stationed at the same place twice. As much as things are the same, they’re different too. We will be bidding the national capital region adieu next summer. Due to the nature of Clay’s career, it is likely we will return yet again in the future. Of all the places we’ve lived, this area has felt the most like home. But that may just be because we’ve lived here more than once. After all, as the famous Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, wrote, “Everyday is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”