Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Mother’s Day at NMAI

Sunday May 11, 2014
Greenbelt National Park
Greenbelt, Maryland


I know I’m late but I want to wish every Mother a Happy Mother’s Day.  Hope your day was as nice as mine.  I’m almost on time Judy.  :-)

As I said yesterday, I really wanted to go to the Library of Congress but it is closed on Sundays so we spend the day at my second favorite place in DC, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI).




Carrie came over and brought me a wonderful card.  She does write the sweetest most loving cards. It’s always a joy to receive one from her.  It makes me feel like I for sure did at least one thing right in my life.

We realized that this is probably the first Mother’s Day we have spent together since she was in High School.  Mother’s Day comes usually during college final exams.  So if your child is in college for 7 years, she is only home on vacation for Father’s Day.  Unfair I say.  And then if your mother is a full time traveler she is likely to be somewhere else but near you in May.  So I’m really glad to be with her this year.


Carrie leaves her car, Zelda, here and we hike on over to the metro, 1.4 miles half of it on the  lovely Metro Trail inside the park.  The other half on a  main street of College Park.  Not so lovely.




David has previously spent some time investigating the Metro deal and fares.  He found that if you are of a certain age, you can get a senior fare card and the costs are half off the peak rates.  Good deal.  So yesterday we drove over to the Greenbelt Library and paid $2 each for a Senior card.  Then you put money on the card to cover your fares.  Of course the trick is not to put too much.  You can always add, but you cannot subtract.

Luckily Carrie takes mass transit to work from her home in Maryland to her office on I Street in DC.  So she knows all about how to put money on the Smartrip Cards and guides is right through it.




Even so, we miss the first train and have to wait about 20 minutes for the next one.  The high was predicted to be 81 today in the late afternoon but it feels that warm long before noon.





We arrive in L’Enfant Plaza and could see the Capitol just down the street.  But it’s not our destination today.







The yellow arrow shows our NMAI in relationship to the Capitol on its left and the rest of the mall.  The Washington Monument, at the opposite end of the mall from the Capitol,  has been closed for nearly 3 years for structural renovations after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit Virginia.  But it reopens tomorrow amid a lot of fanfare.  I think we’ll skip the big deal but it would be fun to go up in it for the Capital’s best view.  Perhaps later in the week.


Museums map





The National Museum of the American Indian was conceived and designed by Native peoples, including the name.

The environmental setting is a part of the concept and of the sacred space here.  The building and its surroundings are really amazing.  If you have never seen it, you have missed out on something wonderful.

There are no corners or straight lines on the exterior or the interior.  Nature doesn’t do straight lines.  She does curves and circles and waves.  The building was designed to reflect the American Indian Cosmology and reverence for the Earth.










Thankfully the museum is air conditioned and we spend the entire day there barely touching the surface of this amazing place.

We have been here before so we know to expect an amazing interior with a full size totem pole just inside the door and a breath taking circular interior with an enormous round sky light in the ceiling to reflect the connection between Earth and sky that is seen in most Native dwellings.

The museum exhibits are all done with input from the Native tribes represented from South, Central and North America.  On the ground floor are hand made canoes and kayaks done for the museum by current Native boat builders.   I just love the kayak.  So sleek and light weight. 

There is an excellent video on the making of this amazing totem pole.  You can see it here.











To mark the day, we have some mother and daughter pictures taken by our official photographer.





We wander around the museum looking at various wonderful exhibits including one on traditional and contemporary Indian beading.  Some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen including these shoes and this cradle board.  The beads used are about the size of a grain of rice.






David takes a hand at some giant basket weaving.  When we were “back to the landers” in our former life, I wove baskets, did chair caning and wove rush porch chairs and stools.  I love weaving.







We all have lunch in the museum’s  Mitsitam Café which serves many varieties of Native foods.  We are serious lovers of Indian Tacos so that’s what we have, all of us.

Every time I go I say I’m going to have several sides including wild rice for lunch but I always end up with the taco.  It’s just so good. 

As with all DC food, the cafeteria is not inexpensive.  Sides are $3.55 each and main dishes range from $10 to $30 depending on what you get.   The tacos were $12.50 and were enough for both Carrie and I.  David added a side dish of stewed okra.  The cafeteria gives federal employees, like Carrie, a 10% discount.  I think that’s also true for Military and military retired but I’m not positive.  Here’s a copy of the menu.    David’s picture is a little blurry but it’s the only one we have for the memory file.




After lunch there is an announcement for anyone wanting to take a one hour tour of the museum to meet in the center of the main floor.  We have never done that so we do this time.   Our guide’s name is Jose.  He is from a Pre-Incan Native tribe in Bolivia.  He speaks excellent heavily accented English and is absolutely wonderful.   If you visit the museum be sure to take the tour you will learn a lot that may not discover on your own.


First, Jose talks about the land and the dedication of the land.  The building faces East as is the custom among Natives for their dwellings.  Greeting the sun each morning is an important ritual for Native Peoples.   I am so taken with his discussion of the rocks that I am putting the information from the NMAI website here for you and for me to remember.  Such amazing care and love went into the creation of this museum. 

He tells us that Many American Indian cultures believe rocks to be the oldest living things in the world, worthy of the same respect you would give to your elders. More than 40 large, uncarved boulders, called Grandfather Rocks, serve as the elders of the NMAI landscape. These Grandfather Rocks welcome visitors to the museum grounds and serve as reminders of the longevity of Native peoples’ relationships to the environment and the past. All rocks have a “memory” of the earth’s past, so it is very important to Native people to honor that memory and the knowledge of the times that humans do not know.

The orientation of the Grandfather Rocks at the museum is exactly the same as that in their original setting of Alma in the province of Quebec, Canada. This was done as a gesture of respect for the rocks, so that they would not become disoriented in their new location. Prior to being transported to Washington, DC, the Grandfather Rocks were blessed by the Montaignais First Nations to ensure a safe journey and to carry the message and cultural memory of past generations to future generations. The rocks were also blessed when they arrived at the museum.





In addition there are 4 special stones to mark the Cardinal Directions.  They too were blessed by their communities before making the journey to the museum and blessed by local tribes upon their arrival.  They too are placed in their original orientation. 

The stone at the western point is A’a lava from a volcano in Hilo, Hawaii. It is among the youngest of rocks known in the Hemisphere, only about 300-400 years old, and was given to the museum by the Native people of Hawaii. This stone is very important to the Hawaiian people because they believe it is a living member of their community. For this reason, the rock at the museum will be returned to Hawaii in twenty years and another one will be sent to replace it.

The stone at the eastern point was given by Native American tribes from Maryland and Virginia. It is Quartzite that came from Sugarloaf Mountain in the state of Maryland. When the community was looking for a rock to give to the museum, this one stood out for a very special reason. When the people approached it, a great number of butterflies flew up from behind the rock and fluttered around their heads. It was a good sign.



The stone at the northern point comes from Yellowknife in the province of the Northwest Territories, Canada. It is a type of rock known as Acasta Gneiss, and is among the oldest known stones on the earth, over 3.9 billion years, and was provided as a gift by the Dogrib First Nation. This rock had to be lifted from its original location by a helicopter because no trucks or other machinery could get into the area to move it.

The southern stone is another type of Gneiss and it came from Tierra del Fuego in Chile, South America. It was donated by the Yagan people of Isla Navarino. They chose this rock because it once stood in the center of their old village. When they had to move their village to a new location, everyone remembered this rock as an important part of the life of their community. They decided to honor the rock by sending it to Washington, DC.


He shows us this picture taken in 1899 of this site.  You can see the Capitol in the background.




Here is a picture I take today of the wetlands area of the museum site.  The wetlands area runs along the Eastern end of the museum site.  The forest area along the Northern, a meadow along the west and traditional cropland along the south with medicinal plants and some of the food crops Native’s have given the world such as corn, beans and squash. 




Jose then takes us up to the 4th floor where he chooses 4 different tribes and discusses the exhibits about their cultures and cosmologies pointing out the amazing similarities of very divergent peoples. 




He closes his tour by playing a lovely song on his native Bolivian flute.  There are two pieces to it and they look a bit like what we call pan pipes.  He says traditionally they are played by two persons but today he expertly plays them both.  DO NOT miss his tour if you have the chance.




Each time I visit this museum I am again so moved by the spirituality in the every day lives of the people represented here and the way in which they have imbued this place with who they are.  Would that our ancestors had blended in rather than taking over and attempting to eradicate them. 


Before we leave the museum for the day, hardly having scratched the surface of all there is to see and do, I want to take a closer look at the Totem Pole in the museum’s new Mitsitam Espresso Coffee Bar which serves pastries and casual fare from the cafe’s repertoire and  Tribal Grounds Coffee—organic, fair-trade coffee grown by indigenous farmers and imported, roasted, and provided to the museum by the Eastern Band of Cherokee.  A lending rack of tribal newspapers is available for visitors who want to catch up on news from Indian Country.  Wish I’d known that earlier.   I suspect I could spend days here.

This totem pole was made for the museum as a gift after artifacts from the tribe were repatriated. Carrie gives you an idea of the size of these.  You just have to see them in person to get the humbling feeling.  I have seen magnificent ones in Alaska and am anxious to visit the Pacific Northwest and seek out more of them.




We leave the building and walk around the grounds to visit the Grandfather stones and this bronze statue of a Buffalo Dancer by George Rivera of Pojoaque Pueblo.  The plaque reads “For the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest, the Buffalo Dance is an enduring celebration, a prayer for the well being of all.”   It’s amazing and gets center stage for sure.




As we leave for the metro we see this pair quite at home in the pond outside the atrium of the museum.   A little yoga pose as a farewell.




We’re plenty tired but the 40 minute ride back to the College Park metro gives us a chance to rest before embarking on our hike back to Winnona.  We are able to march right along.





I’m very sorry to see this afternoon come to an end.  It’s been a great day with my wonderful daughter. 



  1. That was very interesting but how on earth do you remember it all??

  2. I would like to visit that museum. I think we could easily spend a week in DC again.

    Regarding food though, there are always reasonable choices to be found to eat out in any major city. Here's an example...


  3. Wonderful that you could spend the day with Carrie. We missed this museum the last time we were in DC a few years ago. So many places to see....I can't believe we couldn't make time for this one. Although being from the west I have been to some rather amazing museums. MONAC Museum of Native American Culture in Spokane Washington is magnificent. Thanks for the tour, Sherry

    1. Sadly Sue ,Monac Museum no longer exists in Spokane. After years of dispute about how the collections came into existence, many items were returned to their tribes of origin. Remaining pieces are kept in trust at the MAC (Museum of Arts and Cultural) and are not seen. It was a wonderful museum and is sorely missed.

  4. Happy Mothers Day. I am away from my daughter, but we were able to Skype yesterday. I will have to get to that museum. I have not spent a lot of time in D.C. - only twice, a few hours each, on layovers while traveling on Amtrak.

  5. What a beautiful post!! Love those ducks!

  6. The Museum was in the planning stages when I moved away from the area. I'd love to see it but have a horror of going anywhere inside the Beltway.

  7. My kind of museum, just not too sure about the whole city thing. And very special to share it with Carrie.

  8. Having been able to visit Washington DC several times over the years I have had the chance to spend time in several of the Smithsonian's. Scratching the surface so to speak I wonder how many years it would take to see everything? The first time I walked into the National Museum of the American Indian the feeling of peace that I felt was almost overwhelming. I was lucky enough to be able to go back a year later and as I walked in I realized it was not a fluke it is a place of peace and realizing all the blessing and care brought into the site inside and out it is no wonder. Thank you for the beautiful description of a beautiful place. I cannot imagine visiting Washington DC and not spending time there. What a lovely way to spend Mother's Day with your daughter.

  9. Oh, what a wonderful day you had! Made all the more special with Carrie there! That looks like a wonderful museum. I love how the exterior reminds me of a giant tree trunk. It is so nice to see such a place that pays homage to our wonderful home, Mother Earth, in true keeping with the Native American traditions. What a fitting tribute for you and Mother Earth both on Mother's Day!!


  10. I'm sorry we missed that museum when I was there. Will definitely go back and see it the next visit to DC. A perfect Mother's Day if you ask me!

  11. Looks like all three of you had the perfect day. Your personal photographer did a great job with the Mom and Daughter photos;o)) My favorite is the last photo!!!

  12. So nice that you were able to spend Mother's Day with Carrie. It's not often in this lifestyle that we get to do that! That menu looked very interesting, love Indian food :)

  13. Wonderful museum! Yes, it would take days to totally take all it has to offer. What a wonderful day for you to have your daughter along:)

  14. The tour really is worth it; it gave me a better sense of the intentions and thought that went into the Museum. It was an educational experience there. I am impressed they can represent so many people. It was a great day! Too bad I had my eyes closed for that mother/daughter picture. Another great blog!

  15. What a wonderful day! We love NAMI.

    It was after a meal there a few years ago that Hub finally decided to become vegan. The food was wonderful. I was able to eat vegan, he had a bison burger. Afterwards, I was raring to go. He said he felt like he had eaten a brick. (We had been eating vegan at home for several months. This was his first red meat since then. He has had none since.)

    For some reason, the last time we went, I spent a good deal of time looking at all of the rifles. It was a fascinating display, but also quite saddening.

    We're heading up at the end of the month to go to GreenFest in D.C. You will probably be gone from the
    area by then, but would love to meet up if you are still there. Coming in on Amtrak.

  16. That looks like a fantastic museum. DC is a place where we have not spent enough time.

  17. Your love for Carrie and Carrie's love for you stole the center stage of this blog. Very interesting, as always, but I loved seeing your arms around each other. She's a lovely girl.

  18. I have been to many places in DC, but never to this museum. I would especially like to see and appreciate the Grandfather Rocks.

  19. Hey Sherry,
    I am in Arlington all week. You should come and see Arya and Alex's old house, built in1860's. Carrie has been here, ask her about getting here. I am babysitting Arya all week. Tad is coming in by bus Fri night and we are driving home together Sat night. Can you stop by? I know Alex would love to see you.

  20. When I was working in DC I remember the museum being built. Sadly it was not finished when I was transferred so it remains one of the few museums in DC I have not visited. I will have to make it a priority whenever we get back in the area again.

    You certainly had a wonderful day with Carrie. Its so nice to see your loving relationship that is so strong. I feel sad for many people we know that are estranged from their children. Hope you have many more happy experiences with her! :c)

  21. A very moving post, showing your deep respect for the wonderful culture of our native tribes. I agree it was a perfect place to honor Mothers' Day, for so many reasons. Jose' sounds like a treasure as well, a very calming presence even in the photos. Thank you for sharing your beautiful day.

  22. That last photo should be framed, seriously. It's perfect.

  23. Went to the same museum before our rv'ing days, all of my pictures of that trip (the whole DC week) have disappeared into cyberspace somewhere. Looks like you had a beautiful mother's day too.

  24. Loved this, Sherry ~ fascinating ... and what an endearing last photo of you and your baby girl... precious! sniff

  25. I've been wanting to go to the National Museum of the American Indian for years -- it's one of the places I want to visit when we travel up the east coast next year. Thanks for the fabulous preview -- makes me want to go there even more! Such a rich day you had -- and the last photo of you and Carrie is wonderful. ;)

  26. I thought I had seen all the museums in DC-wrong gain:)

  27. A great place to spend mother's day.

  28. What a wonderful Mother's Day! And now I want to see National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)!!

  29. How nice that you got to spend Mothers Day with Carrie. I'd love to see that museum. I also wonder how you remember everything when you visit a place?

  30. So glad you had time with Carrie, especially for Mother's Day! I must get to this museum as I have only heard wonderful things about it - thank you for the pics and writings here too!
    Happy travels,

  31. Happy Belated Mother's Day! What a great way to spend your day - all day at your favorite museum and accompanied by your wonderful daughter.


  32. It must have been a great mothers day, and love that last pic with you and Carrie, nice touch.
    We did go to the NMAI and your photos are great. Agree the food at that cafe was a little too stiff.


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