This is a story about how a hot tub changed the face of the City Council.
Tim Male was voted onto the Council on November 8 in the most closely contested, highest-turnout election ever in Ward Two, but, as with many things in life, his arrival in town with his wife Winnie some years ago was a fluke.
Tim and Winnie knew very little about Takoma Park – “essentially nothing,” as he said the other day — at the point in 2002 when they decided to leave a scholarly, vagabond sojourn in Hawaii for a return to the East Coast.
The two of them had met at a party while students at Yale. They had a lot in common, a couple of super-smart kids predisposed by personal inclination and family influences toward a career in science or, better said, an ongoing, idealistic, workaholic adventure as scientific naturalists.
As a boy growing up in Connecticut, the youngest of five sons, Tim spent summers on Great Gull Island, a onetime military base in Long Island Sound that had been turned over to birds and scientists. These were working vacations. Tim helped researchers study the thousands of seabirds that were retaking the abandoned buildings. “It was a wonderful experience, spending every day outdoors on a tiny island without electricity or running water,” Tim said.
It was also a family experience. “This is how I grew up. My brothers did these cool scientific projects, and they allowed me to participate. It was neat to be the little brother.”
Winnie had been born into a family with even more of a scientific pedigree, a line of nationally titled biologists and entomologists. “So when we met at that party and hit it off, we came up with this crazy idea of what we would do after graduation — go off to the ‘bush’ of Australia and New Zealand, which is what we did.”
For 18 months they were true adventurers, carrying the essentials of survival in heavy backpacks, sleeping under the stars. After that they took up residence in Hawaii but continued for seven years to trek through the wilds of the Far Pacific and the Mid Pacific to complete the requisites of their PhDs in biology.
They had a baby, Zoe. She slept on a makeshift bed under a kitchen counter in their tiny tropical house. “It was romantic,” Tim said. “On good days I’d go surfing before going to work.”
Better jobs and family ties brought them back to the mainland. The Washington area was a logical place to find work. These days Tim is the vice-president for conservation policy at Defenders of Wildlife, a group famous for righting the predatory balance out west with wolves, and Winnie works for the State Department on a campaign to curtail the global AIDS epidemic.
You might assume that Takoma Park was also a logical place for them to find a home, but back then they had the barest of inklings about the town. Tim had come east by himself to check out the possibilities. “I didn’t investigate the neighborhoods or the schools or the history. I just looked at houses to rent.” He narrowed his list to three, a row house on “U” Street in the District, a house near the Bethesda Metro stop, and a house here on Maple Avenue.
He and Winnie talked it over by phone. What would be the deciding difference? “I told her, well, the Takoma Park house has a hot tub, and we both said, okay, let’s go for it. It’s the best decision we could ever have made. Not the hot tub, but Takoma Park.”
They have since moved to a house on Woodland Avenue and had another baby, Finnian. They lead busy lives. The week after the Council election Tim deployed to West Virginia for three days. The first thing he did after coming home was drive Winnie to the airport for a two-week work assignment in Ghana.
Behind their house is the remnant of a forest. Deer forage under the trees but often meander to a stone-tiered garden of vegetables alongside the house. “No predators, no wolves, so they do what they please,” Tim said with a rueful smile.
The trees provide a bit of seclusion, but when the limbs are bare it’s possible to glimpse a couple of houses on a distant hill on Ethan Allen Avenue. Lorig Charkoudian, Tim’s opponent in the Ward Two race, lives in one of the houses. Tim and Lorig ran similar high-spirited, door-knocking campaigns, with Tim prevailing by a 351-334 count.
“We’re not quite backyard neighbors, but almost. Actually that’s the way it feels with everyone in town, like we’re neighbors,” he said. “If I had to give you one reason why I love Takoma Park, that’s the reason.”