Cherry Blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial

Cherry blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial — Washington, DC

This is a plein air watercolor painting that I did back in 1988, a couple of months after I moved to Washington, DC, for a new job on K Street NW and a fresh start. As I recall, this was in the first week of April, on a blustery and stormy day with sporadic rain showers, and the morning hours were far colder than I expected them to be — with temperatures hovering close to 32°F (0°C).

Getting to the Tidal Basin for the cherry blossoms was a challenge for me back then, because I had totaled my car two weeks after arriving in DC. So I packed up my painting tripod, my pre-stretched watercolor paper and board, as well as all of my painting supplies, and stuffed them into a large backpack that I kept in my closet. Then — with all of that gear perched on my back — I bicycled from my apartment near the Adams Morgan neighborhood down to the Tidal Basin in the pre-dawn hours, so I could get a prime spot before other cherry blossom visitors began arriving after sunrise.

While I was painting, the temperature was so cold outside that the watercolors kept trying to freeze up on me, which I countered by adding overproof rum (125-to-160 proof) to the water — which worked great! However, it didn’t help keep my fingers and toes warm (I had no gloves and only thin socks on), and I slowly began to edge toward hypothermia. Eventually my hands were shaking so bad that I finally declared the painting to be finished, packed up everything, and pedaled back to my apartment to warm up.

As much as I love painting plein air, I’ve never painted in conditions that cold again.

Painting info:
Cherry blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial
The Tidal Basin on the National Mall
Washington, DC
April 1988
Winsor & Newton watercolors
Legion Lanaquarelle 100% cotton 140 lb cold press paper


Abandoned cabin — Arco, Idaho

Anytime we go on a road trip, I always bring along with us a camera kit of some sort and my watercolor field kit. However, we usually have so much ground to cover during our headlong flight along the spiderweb of asphalt that we are rarely able to stop long enough for me to get in a plein air watercolor painting — which usually can take me anywhere from 30-to-60 minutes or so (longer if I take the time to really enjoy my surroundings). Instead, we can briefly pause long enough for me to take photos of a scene to use as a later reference for a studio painting, like this one — a tiny abandoned cabin, out in the middle of nowhere

Can you imagine living in this tiny place that’s so isolated? As a profound anti-social introvert, I certainly can, though I expect life was quite tough here when the cabin was occupied — the closest town was at least 20-miles away, the ground is all basalt (hardened lava), it’s high desert (almost a mile above sea level), not much in the way of water or game, no trees for as far as the eye can see, and not much grows here beyond desert scrub (i.e., little in the way of farm crops).

Like I said, life was tough… maybe that’s why the cabin is abandoned.

Photo info:
Abandoned cabin
Arco, Idaho
September 2014
Kodak TMAX 100 film
Voigtländer 15/4.5 ASPH lens
Leica M3 35mm film camera

Update — DC Cherry Blossoms 2021

Yoshino Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) blossoms — Washington, DC

The Washington Post is reporting that National Park Service has updated their guidance for the upcoming cherry blossom event (sometime between March 30th and April 9th)… basically, “Behave, or lose your privileges.” What does this mean, exactly? It means that they (the National Park Service) reserve the right to seal all vehicular and foot-traffic access to the cherry blossoms in-and-around the Tidal Basin should the crowds get too out of hand. Based upon everything else that we’ve seen elsewhere, it’s a pretty good bet that they’ll have to shut the party down, simply because people are tired of the pandemic restrictions and are done with being cooped up.

If you truly feel compelled to see the cherry blossoms this year — that you’ll simply DIE if you don’t get out the house to see one of the earliest and best harbingers of spring — then go early.

And I don’t mean 10:00 am instead of 11:00 am.

No, I mean get up early enough to drive down to DC, park your car, and walk to where you want to see the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin — all before the sun rises. Which means that you need to be standing by the edge of the Tidal Basin around 5:30 am.

Why so early? Because it gets nuts down there right around sunrise, and only gets worse as more and more people pour into that small area to be a part of the scene. From years of prior experience, I can tell you that it turns into a standing-room-only event — a tight-as-packed-sardines event — by about 8:00 am. And by 9:00 am the sidewalks and roads around the Tidal Basin are so clogged that everything is pretty much gridlocked trying to move through that area.

For me, as much as I would dearly LOVE to see the cherry blossoms this year (I too am done with being cooped up!), there’s no way in hell that I’m going down there to mix with extremely tight crowds until I’m fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s just not happening. And I’m not going into DC to see any of the other blooming sites this year either.

Instead, I’ll continue to post cherry blossom images from years past, and enjoy the virtual viewing sites that the National Park Service is offering up as an alternative.

UPDATE: The National Park Service has posted the list of roads, trails, and attractions around the Tidal Basin that’ll be closed between March 26th (today) and April 12th, which are as follows:

  • Ohio Drive SW, from Buckeye Drive SW (Washington Channel side) to Independence Avenue SW
  • East Basin Drive SW east of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial to Ohio Drive SW
  • West Basin Drive SW from Ohio Drive SW to Independence Avenue SW
  • Tidal Basin walking trail
  • Northbound I-395 ramp to Potomac Park (Exit 2)
  • Southbound I-395 ramp to Potomac Park (Exit 2)
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  • Tidal Basin paddle boats
  • All curbside parking and parking lots within the closure

Photo info:
Yoshino Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis) blossoms
Tidal Basin on the National Mall
Washington, DC
April 2014
Leica Summilux 50/1.4 ASPH lens
Leica M240 digital camera