The stroll to the U.S. Capitol is leisurely despite a soft winter sun and hard northwest breeze to encourage a quicker pace.
I resist the farm urge to hurry; I take my time because this may be my last long walk in Washington, D.C. for a while and I want to savor it.
I also have special places and people to see and I’m in no hurry to see them and certainly not in any hurry to maybe not ever see ‘em again.
I approach the high-crowned Capitol from the southeast, the same direction that the non-White House side of Pennsylvania Avenue takes.
This is the living side of Capitol Hill; the other is the working side.
This is also where daughter Grace and husband Andrew live. In five days they move back to their native Midwest and forward in their young lives. Their already packed boxes hold the clearest reasons why the lovely Catherine and I are unlikely to return to this city.
Before they—and we with them—go, I must visit the friends.
The first stands where it’s stood for the more than 30 years—and decades before then—that I’ve been wandering the Capitol grounds. It’s an enormous red oak bearing a small plaque that notes in “Commemoration of Speaker Joseph G. Cannon.”
The tree is as strong and tall as “Uncle Joe” was small and wiry during his iron-fisted tenure as Speaker of the House from 1903 to 1911. No one served longer until Dennis Hastert, a fellow Illinoisan and fellow Republican, surpassed him in 2006. Cannon ran the House like a county courthouse: nothing happened until he ruled on it.
Behind the red oak the Capitol shimmers in creamy, January sunlight and bristles with guards, weapons and police, working on appointed jobs for the Presidential Inauguration ceremonies four days hence.
I skirt all in a west arc around the building’s House side because just off its southwest corner is another friend, a tall, thick-limbed pecan tree, Carya illinoinensis.
It is magnificent and reminds me of the massive pecan trees on the southern Illinois farm of my youth. They withstood fire, droughts, and floods, the French, the British and the Gueberts. This tree, I hope, will stand long after my grandchildren’s children walk these lovely grounds.
The cold wind licks my neck as I hot-foot across a traffic round-about in front of the Capitol to see another transplanted Illinois. Here, high atop a pedestal of stone in front of the reflecting pool, sits U.S. Grant astride his bronze steed whose frozen eyes are wide and watching its rider’s flank.
The power of statue—the best, I think, in the city—rests in Gen. Grant’s eyes, barely visible under a wide-brimmed hat. They are fixed due west on an unseen enemy. The look they convey is unmistakable; weary, unyielding, unfailing.
Two blocks down Maryland Avenue naps another friend. As I enter the National Museum of the American Indian, I see her again and she is heart-stopping gorgeous. Every handmade Ojibwe birch bark canoe is.
I never visit Washington without spending a few moments with this Northwood’s mistress, the perfect combination of spruce, cedar, pitch and bark.
Next door is what all in D.C. call, simply, Air and Space. It’s a huge museum crowded with planes, jets, spacecraft and people. It also holds two World War II airplanes (in an aircraft carrier-like display) of the type that John F. Watson, my long-gone father-in-law, flew from 1943 to 1945.
One look at either always makes me shudder: what kind of courage must you have to fly either into battle believing you will return?
My return to Gracie’s is pre-ordained. It’s now dark and I’ve lingered too long to complete all my visits at other museums and parks. I mosey homeward, though, knowing that all these old friends will be here when, and if, I return because like me, most are—or soon will be—museum pieces.