Pilgrims at Japan’s Koyasan, Long After Scidmore

October 22, 2017 /

  Today, Buddhists and other pilgrims flock to the sacred site of Koyasan, a mountainous area of temples in southeastern Japan. The New York Times ran an article about it in the Oct. 22 travel section. Eliza Scidmore wrote about Koyasan in 1907 for National Geographic. It’s interesting to see the different takes on the same place a century apart. A monk known as Kobo-Daishi chose the site 1,200 years ago to serve as the center of an esoteric Shingon sect of Buddhism. Buddhism aims to free its practitioners from suffering and the endless cycle of death and rebirth. That liberation —…

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My Book Proposal Wins Hazel Rowley Prize

May 24, 2017 /
BIO Hazel Rowley Award winner 2017

I’m grateful to the International Biographers Organization (BIO) for giving me its 2017 Hazel Rowley Prize. I received the award, for the best proposal for a first biography, on May 20 at BIO’s conference in Boston. BIO began around the time I started my book project. The group has been a terrific resource, especially to a novice biographer like me. The members — ranging from major prize winners to beginners — offer a very supportive network. BIO’s founders include the prize-winning biographer  James McGrath Morris.  In 2013, soon after starting research for my book on Eliza Scidmore, I benefited greatly from…

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With Japanese TV in ‘Hunt’ for Cherry Blossoms

March 20, 2017 /
Cherry blossom show filming in Potomac Park, Japanese "Mystery Hunter" TV crew

Japan’s TBS network devoted a recent episode of its “Mystery Hunter” series to cherry blossoms. A TV crew filmed me last month discussing Eliza Scidmore’s role in bringing cherry trees to Washington, D.C. The episode aired in Japan two days ago, on March 18. What a hard-working bunch the crew was. They arrived in Washington on a Friday afternoon, after the long trip from Japan. Soon after landing at Dulles Airport they arrived at our house in Falls Church, Va. They then did four hours of nonstop taping — with steady interpreting! Happily, our yellow sunroom felt cozy on one…

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When Will D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms Open?

February 21, 2017 /
Cherry Blossoms and Jefferson Memorial

Our weirdly warm winter in Washington means the cherry blossoms could bloom much earlier than expected. The National Park Service initially gave April 4 as the expected peak date. Now, we could see them well before that. There are many varieties, however, so the blooming dates will vary somewhat. The Washington Post produced a nice video showing how to follow the progress of the buds to estimate the blooming time.    

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‘Railway Man’ a Contrast to Scidmore POW Book

February 20, 2017 /

My husband and I recently watched “The Railway Man,” starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. It’s emotionally powerful, and interesting as well in light of my biography of Eliza Scidmore. Her last book was As the Hague Ordains. Written as a thinly disguised novel, it looked at POW conditions in Japan in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War. “The Railway Man” tells the true story of Japanese treatment of a British Army officer captured in Singapore during World War II. Together, the two stories present a sharp contrast. Eliza Scidmore was in the Far East when the war between Japan and Russia…

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‘She Persisted’ in Giving Us Cherry Trees

February 6, 2017 /
Hand-colored photo Eliza Scidmore from "Eliza's Cherry Trees"

Thanks, Andrea Zimmerman, for giving a nod to Eliza Scidmore as a woman who “persisted.” The Internet meme “she persisted” caught fire this month after a remark on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Sen. Elizabeth Warren opposed the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general by attempting to read a letter from the late widow of Martin Luther King, Jr. But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell cut off Warren, saying: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” “She persisted” quickly became a bumper-sticker slogan on social media, prompting references to trailblazing women of…

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‘Drain the Swamp’ Gave Us Cherry Trees

February 6, 2017 /
Dredging in Washington river 1891

Donald Trump rode a populist wave to the White House promising to “drain the swamp” in Washington. Politicians have used the phrase for decades. Famously, President Ronald Reagan made it a catchphrase of his vow to reduce the federal bureaucracy. The “swamp” really did exist in Eliza Scidmore‘s day. Literally — but not quite. Many low-lying areas of the city were prone to flooding from the Potomac River and local streams. Not truly swamps, but swampy. One area, in particular, caused perennial complaints: the grounds west and south of the Washington Monument. The monument stood near the banks of the…

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Eliza Scidmore Inspires Wall Art in D.C.

December 12, 2016 /
Eliza Scidmore Artwork Carlyle Hotel

“Eliza and the Emperor.” That’s the title of an Eliza Scidmore-inspired mixed-media canvas produced last year for the Carlyle Hotel in Washington by artist Anna Rose Soevik. Soevik, who studied painting in London, lives and works near Washington. She likes big canvases and has done art installations at offices, bookshops, and galleries in Washington and several countries. Her work includes portraits of celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga, and Elvis Costello. Her description of the Eliza piece is as creative as the art. Eliza Scidmore and her cat sailed over the rainbow to Japan. She fell head over heals in…

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I Stumbled on Santa Near White House

December 10, 2016 /

This guy is … obviously Santa Claus. I met him yesterday on my way to the Library of Congress to do research on my biography of Eliza Scidmore. These days I have a new routine on the days when I go to the library. I take Metro into town, but exit at the Foggy Bottom station and walk the rest of the way to Capitol Hill. It’s about 3.5 miles. A chance to get some exercise without the tediousness of a gym workout. The move was inspired by my writer friend Jenny Rough. She wrote an essay in The Washington…

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Tokyo Park Inspired Washington’s Cherry Trees

March 27, 2016 /
Ramble Under Cherry Trees, Takashima 1897

“No other flower in all the world is so beloved, so exalted, so worshipped, as sakura-no-hana, the cherry-blossom of Japan.” — Eliza Scidmore, The Century Magazine, May 1910 It’s now blooming season in Washington. That means cherry tree fever along the Tidal Basin in Potomac Park. The display offers our own “Mukojima on the Potomac,” as Eliza Scidmore envisioned it more than a century ago. She got the idea from the popular cherry tree park in Tokyo known by that name. Bruce and I made our annual pilgrimage to see the cherry blossoms on Saturday morning, under a clear but…

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