Free Fallin’ (For Tom Petty) by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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With discontented winter just over the calendar’s horizon, let’s all take a minute to extol the fiery splendors of fall. While I have nothing against its three seasonal cousins, here’s why fall is my personal favorite:

The fire pit has come out of summer retirement. The aroma of burning hardwood—birch, cedar, black walnut—hangs in the air. The porch light comes on ever earlier and that evening glass of wine tastes even better when there’s a fire blazing out front.

If you’re a sports fan, fall is your smorgasbord. Football (high school, college, and pro) is in full swing. Hockey and basketball are back and every team has hope. But for me, a life-long baseball fan, the divisional playoffs and the World Series are the height of drama. Do-or-die games, entire cities holding their collective breath, little Jose Altuve as David, flying around the bases in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Goliath Yankees, are moments that will warm me on the cold winter nights to come. Four teams remain—Dodgers, Cubs, Astros, and Yankees; soon there will be but two; then one, a World Champion! And when the final out is recorded and one team celebrates while the other stares out at the field in stunned disbelief, there’s that bittersweet moment when you feel in your bones that the arc of the season—the promise of spring, the dog days of summer, the climax of fall—is finally over and a long winter’s night is nigh.

Leaves: fiery reds, soft yellows, brilliant oranges. (Yes, there are also the dead ones that clog the gutters and the ones in the yard that need raking, but I’m overlooking those particular leaves for the purposes of this Musing Author’s prerogative.)

Long shadows: the low slant of sunlight at this time of year can produce some dazzling effects. Moments seem to linger longer in the glow of autumn. The same golf course that baked under the summer sun is now transformed into a quiet cathedral bathed in an etherial light. Our river shimmers, turning from bright blue to slate grey when the sun darts behind a scudding cloud. The stalks in the corn fields look brittle enough to crumble to dust in your hand; the soy fields are a succotash of bright yellow and pale green. One morning, a fine haze hangs over the tables and chairs out in front of Evergrain, but on the next morning, every little detail of the same scene is finely wrought by the sparkle of crystalline sunlight. Summer has its long hot spells that beg for relief; winter can become tedious; but in between the two, fall is moody, capricious: you’re never quite sure what the next day will bring.

Food: I’ll give summer plenty of credit for its fresh produce and light fare, but with the arrival of cooler weather, I crave heartier stuff: soups and stews, roast meat, tart apples, pumpkin pie, a glass of red wine or a wee dram to warm me on a chilly evening.

Sounds: Autumn has its own singular symphonic soundtrack: doves and starlings are the strings, ducks and geese play the horns, hunters provide the unmistakeable percussion of gunfire.

If you love autumn, you’re in the company of great poets: Shakespeare, Keats, Rossetti, Wilbur, and Frost, among others. Artists, too: Monet, Cezanne, van Gogh, Constable have all used autumnal colors to explore themes of change and decay. If spring is about renewal and new growth, then autumn is an introspective time to ruminate and reflect on what has been accomplished and harvested, like a life well lived.

And I’m free. Free fallin’.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Juxtapositions by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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I used to think that we lived in a world of juxtapositions: two things seen or placed together to facilitate a comparison or contrasting effect. Like nuns walking along the beach: the structure of religious order compared to the freedom of a walking barefoot along the ocean’s edge. But in light of recent events, I’m amending my weltgeist slightly: now I’m inclined to believe we’re living in a world of contradictions—you know, inconsistent elements, statements, or ideas that are diametrically opposed to one another like good and evil; right and left; day and night.

There has been a lot of talk lately about “fake news” and “alternative facts.” There was a time—and not all that long ago, mind you—when news was news and facts were facts and these twin “realities” informed our view of the world. But these days, it seems to me that we create our news and our facts to conform to what we want to believe or how we wish to view the world, not the other way around. As a result, everything seems jumbled. Truth—wherever that elusive beast is hiding—seems increasingly impossible to discern. Who’s to blame: the media? The politicians and their spin doctors? Maybe Cassius hit the nail on the head when he said, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” In other words, it’s not fate (or fake news or alternative facts) that drive our decisions and actions, it’s us…it’s in our DNA, it’s just the human condition.

It’s easy to play the blame game but it’s a lot harder if we’re the ones to blame. We so desperately want to believe in easy truths that we create them out of paper mache instead of stone. But like it or not, truth is made of sterner stuff. Climate change is real. White supremacy is wrong. Gun control is possible. Diplomacy can be effective. In today’s skewed world, these notions aren’t just juxtapositions; they aren’t nuns walking on the beach. They’re contradictions, pure and simple.

I would like to think that our current Grand Canyon of political divide can be bridged and that we can somehow find our way back home to at least a modicum of common ground. But drip by drip, I’m turning into a skeptic. Maybe we’re in too deep. Maybe we’ve suspended judgment about anything and everything that’s controversial and dug ourselves into dogmatic foxholes, ready to shoot at whatever moves out there across no-man’s land. In a less-than-presidential tweet, “Sad!”

I feel as though I owe you all an apology. Usually, I try to keep things light, but sometimes it feels like I have fallen into one of psychologist Harry Harlow’s pits of despair. (Back in the 1970s, Harlow used a stainless steel chamber to study clinical depression in baby monkeys by depriving them of all contact with other monkeys for long periods of time. His methodology was eventually debunked as being overly cruel, but Harlow’s studies of isolationism indeed seemed to prove that it resulted in profound states of dysfunction and despair.) Thankfully, unlike one of Harlow’s poor monkeys, I am, by nature, an optimist, and I believe I have the ability and resolve to climb out of his isolationist experiment. In fact, I believe we all do. We could start by moving from contradictions back to juxtapositions. Baby steps.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

No Place Like It by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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So Dorothy went to Oz. There was a lion, a scarecrow, and a tin man; there were witches, good and bad; there were Munchkins, flying monkeys, a horse of a different color, an emerald city, and a field of poppies that made Dorothy and her pals dangerously drowsy; of course there was the Wizard himself, all great and powerful—or so Dorothy thought. But when all was said and done, all her tasks of courage and kindness and intelligence accomplished, Dorothy only wanted one thing: to go home. So she clicked her heels twice, hugged Toto tight, and whispered, “There’s no place like home… there’s no place like home…there’s no place like home.”

And suddenly, Dorothy was back home in Kansas. But here’s the thing: we know she never really left. That nasty Plains tornado knocked her for a loop so when she woke up, she wasn’t really “back” home, she just saw home, along with her friends and family, differently. Auntie Em and all those familiar faces from the farm; the bumbling-but-kind itinerant peddler; her mean neighbor on that rickety old bicycle: nothing had changed, but in some profound, miraculous manner, everything was different. Kansas through new eyes.

Kat and I just returned from two wonderful weeks in France. We spent the first week surrounded by a large gaggle of family and close friends in a chateau in Normandy. For the second week, we took a peek at Provence from Avignon, then hit the big time in Paris. We had wonderful weather. We saw the sights: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph and the Champs-Elysees, the Louvre, the Tuileries and the Luxembourg Gardens. We gaped at fashion, wore scarves, shopped, ate, and drank beyond our means, sat in cafes ’til midnight. On our last night, we went to the Latin Quarter for a creme caramel and a nightcap. We got caught in a downpour (the only rain on our trip!) and darted into a cafe where we listened to a trumpet player’s soulful rendition of “What a Wonderful World” while he stood in the middle of a cobble-stone street, oblivious to the rain pelting down on him, never missing a note. A drink or two later, we splurged, bought an umbrella, and made our damp way back to our lovely apartment in the sixth (thank you Barbara and Miguel!). Woody Allen would have been proud—except he wouldn’t have bought the umbrella.

The next day, we clicked our heels and came back home. (I wish modern travel were really that easy, but for the purposes of this Musing, let’s just pretend it is.) Now life as we knew it is resuming its routines, but in a way, it’s very different this time around. Travel makes more than memories: it’s expansive (in my case, about three pounds expansive); maybe most importantly, travel redraws the lines of the world and allows for alternative ways of looking at and appreciating the most familiar and mundane things in our worlds “back home.”

Home is twice sweet. It’s where the heart is. Now that I’m back home, I think I’ll go over to Evergrain and pick up a fresh baguette. On my way, maybe I’ll stop at Just Right Treats for a pastry or at the Wine and Cheese Shop for some foie gras or pate de compagne, a cheese or two, maybe some cornichons. Then I think I’ll stroll down to the river and have a picnic, or maybe I’ll just wander across the street to The Kitchen, sit myself down at an outside table, and order a glass or two of my favorite rose; Rob knows which one it is.

Paris on the Chester. No place like it.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

 

Haunted and Hallowed by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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My wife and I were in France last week—Normandy, to be more exact—to celebrate some significant family birthdays and a wedding anniversary. The word “Normandy” comes from “north men,” the Danes and Vikings who “visited” (surely not as tourists like us!) the west coast of what is now France in the 9th and 10th Centuries. (Today, the five cantons of Normandy account for about 5% of the total territory of France.) On our visit, we were blessed to have beautiful weather: unseasonably warm days, cool, clear nights, and almost not a drop of rain so on the surface of things, Normandy seemed bucolic: a place of peaceful villages, verdant fields, cows dozing under apple trees heavy with fruit. (More on those apple trees later.) But all-too-sadly, we know better because only 73 years ago, Normandy was anything but peaceful and bucolic. It was a place of unimaginable cruelty and chaos; of destruction, devastation, and death. But it was also the beginning of the end…

Omaha Beach is a expansive place, a graceful arc of sand almost four miles long. At low tide, the beach, scoured by the sea and the wind, stretches out for nearly a thousand yards, as beautiful a beach as there is in the world. But it is a haunted place—haunted and hallowed by all the souls that died there on that longest day, June 6, 1944. Even as I write this, I am moved to tears by the bravery and sacrifice of the more than 19,000 soldiers who died on the five beaches of Normandy (Sword, Gold, Juno, Omaha, and Utah) on that first bloody day of the liberation of Europe. And I wonder: is there more to come?

On the following day, we visited Bayeux to see its famous tapestry, a 700-foot long piece of embroidered linen that recounts in more than 30 stunningly detailed panels the bloody story of the Norman conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy, henceforth known as William the Conqueror. Marvelously preserved since its creation in 11th Century and miraculously spared in the fiery aftermath of D-Day, the Bayeux Tapestry is another reminder of our centuries-old dance with war and death. And I wonder: is there more to come?

Another day, Mont Ste-Michel rose like a dream out of the bay that surrounds and protects it. Since the 8th Century, it has been a place of strategic fortification, albeit one with a veneer of monastic life. At one time, it was only accessible to pilgrims at low tide but that tide also made it a highly defensible place because the rising tide would either strand or drown all assailants. During the Hundred Years’ War, a small French garrison fended off an attack by English forces in 1433 and to this day, the Mount has never been taken by force. (By the way, the natural tidal defense of the Mount was not lost on King Louis XI of France who began imprisoning his enemies there more than a thousand years ago; it only ceased to be a state prison in 1863.) Protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1979, Mont Ste-Michel still amazes and inspires more than a million visitors a year while also reminding them of the utter folly of war and the cruelty of kings. And I wonder…

So what about all those apple trees? I must confess that not all our time in Normandy was spent in sober reflection. There was a little Calvados, too. Calvados is Normandy’s famous tipple, an apple brandy that pairs well with lingering lunches and bibulous dinners. So well, in fact, that Calvados creates something known locally as “le trou Normand,” or (in English) “the Norman hole” because a little Calvados midway through a meal aids the digestion and makes room for more food, and, of course, more Calvados! And I wonder: how is it possible for life to be so hallowed and so haunted at the same time?

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

 

My Three Weddings by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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My wife and I are at that stage in life when the children of our good friends are tying the knot. Just in the last month alone, we’ve been to three weddings, each unique, each fun, and each a destination affair. That seems to be the thing these days; destinations. In our case, that meant Cape Cod, Rehoboth, and just this past weekend, Austin, Texas. I guess nobody gets married at home anymore.

Weddings these days aren’t simple affairs culminating in a nervously whispered “I do,” a sip of champagne, and a little polite dancing. Destinations require more thought and planning: places to stay, a welcome party (two days prior to the actual ceremony), a rehearsal dinner, a reception, a day-after brunch…oh wait…I forgot the main event—the wedding itself. Might be in a church or at a country club, or as was the case this past weekend, on a Texas ranch complete with longhorn cattle. The officiants these days are different, too: we had one priest, one uncle of the bride (a minister), and back down in Texas, the bride’s best friend, newly “ordained” by the Universal Life Church. The ceremonies were all very personal, full of stories of the brides and grooms, told by scrubbed and (mostly) clean-shaven groomsmen and coifed and manicured bridesmaids. There were cute ring-bearers and shy flower girls (including two of my own grandkids) who almost stole the show. At each of the three weddings, fathers gave away their precious daughters to handsome young men full of hope and glory. And at each event, the new in-laws all appeared to get along well enough which in a way is too bad because sometimes those nervous toasts or awkward new family photos can be pretty funny.

There were a couple of common denominators (like Pachelbel’s Canon in D) but each affair even had its own special destination aura. Out on misty Cape Cod, that arm bent at the elbow sticking out of the body of Massachusetts, there was plenty of New England charm and mystique to go with the lobster rolls and clam chowda. There was a picture-perfect round of golf at the iconic Hyannisport Club, the boys sporting lots of Nantucket red while the sun-tanned girls wore their best Lillys. All very Scott Fitzgerald and John Cheever. The newlyweds left the church in an old woody beach wagon and got their wedding pictures taken just before a squall blew in off the Atlantic in that might have dampened lesser spirits, but not ours. The band kept the party going until the stars came out just before midnight.

Our second event was almost a home game. We typically spend a couple of August weeks in Rehoboth so for this affair, we only had to pack an extra dress or two and several pairs of heels for Kat and a suit, tie, and real shoes (not flip-flops) for me. We watched bride and groom pledge their troth (whatever that is) as the summer sun lowered itself gently into Rehoboth Bay, the end of one day and the beginning of a new life for Mr. and Mrs. The dancing went on late into the night in Rehoboth, too.

Number three was a Texas treat. Austin is a funky, hip place, full of live music, cowboy hats and boots, craft beer, and out-of-this-world Mexican food. (The fare for the rehearsal dinner was Bar-B-Q; the wedding feast was tacos.) Some longhorn cattle were pastured one fence over from the venue; the Shiner Bocks afterward were icy cold. And here, too, the band played on: a little MoTown and Michael Jackson for us old folks, a little funk, a little rap, and some Bruno Mars for the younger crowd. Kat and I thought about going out for some post-reception two-stepping down at The Broken Spoke, but common sense and an early morning flight back home sent us home to bed just after midnight.

Weddings are promises made, families united, friends gathered in joyful celebration. For those of us who watch these new chapters in young lives, we’re reminded of our own stories, the wins and losses, the joys and sorrows. I know one thing for sure: weddings make me count my blessings and repledge my own troth—whatever that is.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Letter to a Friend by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Dear Marty:

Sorry this is late. I wish I had sent it a week ago when you were still here. Better yet, I should have delivered it by hand—I would like to have been there to say goodbye in person. I’m glad Furry was able to visit and let you know how much we all love you.

I remember the first time I saw you: it was opening day in the Ponce de Leon league and you showed up ready to catch. You looked like a garden gnome in a Chicago Cubs uniform, but you sure could play. You knew how to call a game; you could block balls in the dirt. You could get a bunt down. Maybe you weren’t all that quick down the line, but you were always one step ahead of everyone else on the team. You were a strategist; you knew the game; you had baseball in your Scandinavian bones. You, Mike, and I had some good years on that team. We were in our forties but we felt like kids again.

A few years later, you showed up again in my life. At Landon. The boys were in the Upper School, both fine baseball players and worthy young men. I was Drew’s assistant on the varsity then so I got to watch them develop their skills. Carl was a crafty pitcher with a nasty curveball; Neil anchored the team at shortstop. Both could hit. Before a game, I would hit fungos to the outfielders and you would catch me up. You were always loose and we would make bets on whether so-and-so would catch the next one. Sometimes, you would go warm up the pitcher or just sit in the dugout sharpening your pencils and arranging your yellow highlighters. The scorebook you kept was beyond accurate; it was an encyclopedic work of art—every pitch, every out recorded and rendered with detail and precision. I loved sitting with you, Charlie, and Furry down at the end of the bench, watching the boys play, thinking up the next prank, caring deeply about what we were doing but not taking it all to seriously. After all, it was high school baseball.

(Hey: do you remember the time when Charlie got under Drew’s skin and Drew actually threw him off the bench? His own father! OMG! Every time I think about that, I start to laugh so hard the tears come again. Even now.)

After the boys graduated and went on to college, we remained buds. I had been sent down to the JV, but you still showed up for games, keeping the book, hitting fungos, bouncing balls at the catcher in blocking drills. Thank you for doing all that. It just felt good knowing you were still there. But I wondered how you did it: after all, you had a big time law practice to tend, students of your own to teach down at Duke. I mean, really: how did you do it? How did you juggle all the big-time stuff and still find time to be fully present in my little high school life?

You were never a laugh-out-loud guy. More of a smirk and a twinkle-in-your-eye boy, but God, you were funny. Road trips with you were hysterical. More than once, we kept Drew from driving the bus off the bridge, made him laugh when he was deep in his you-know-what. You were the perfect foil; he had too much respect for you to stay mad for long even after a close loss.

As the years rolled along, we didn’t see each other as much, but we remained close. When my son came to you for advice and legal mentoring, you gave it thoughtfully and generously. I was always invited over for one of Neil’s healthy and delicious meals, followed by a wee dram or two of your good single malt from the top shelf. We’d sit around the kitchen table and it was like we were back in the dugout. Andrea would roll her eyes, but we knew she was amused. She loved you so much; hell, we all did.

So now you’re gone, but don’t worry: Charlie and I will get together and raise a maudlin glass to you soon. By now, I imagine you’ve looked up Buddy and the two of you are bantering each other again or having another fungo competition up in heaven. Your family and friends and colleagues down here miss you dearly. So do your students at Duke Law School, as well as the countless kids you coached with Dave in summer league ball over at St. Albans. If legacy is memory, yours is legion. You are an All-Star, a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. I’d give a lot for one more extra-inning game on a warm spring day in May, sitting next to you on the bench with Furry and Charlie, teasing you while you bone your old fungo with a Coke bottle, laughing so hard that I cry.

With so much love from so many of us,

Jamie

PS: I’ll be right back…

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Birthday Gifts by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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So yesterday was my birthday. The actual number didn’t really matter but whether I liked it or not, it was definitely time to turn another page in the yearbook of my life. I’ve made it from Truman to Trump and like everyone else, I’ve been jumbled a bit in the washing machine of life and hung out to dry on the clothesline of experience. But all in all, I’ve been undeservedly blessed and I’m grateful for the many gifts I’ve been given along the way.

Gifts like having loving parents, witnessing the birth of my two children, and having a loyal and loving wife and five precious grandchildren. Like finding a world of good friends, a happy home, and a place to stand here in Chestertown. Like watching the sun rise on Mount Kilimanjaro or a harr creep in from the North Sea in Scotland, or hearing a loon on a Canadian lake, or lying out under the stars in the blackness of the Sahara night. Like working with wonderful colleagues, athletes, and families in Special Olympics International or interacting with interesting students and parents at Duke Ellington, Landon, St. Andrews, and Georgetown Day School. Those kinds of gifts and more.

Gifts like growing up in a real city like Pittsburgh, or spending a summer with the Grenfell Mission up in Labrador and another one studying in Kenya, or serving six years in the Peace Corps in Tunisia, Morocco, Afghanistan, and Washington. Like having wise and empathetic mentors like Bob Bryan, Lawrence Sagini, Steve Vetter, Bill Crawford, and Sargent Shriver. Like being infused with an abiding love of learning from invested teachers at two good schools, a superb university, and a challenging graduate program. And more…

Miraculous and unexpected gifts like catching a foul ball off the bat of Mickey Mantle or watching Bill Mazeroski’s home run sail over the left field wall to win the 1960 World Series or seeing Franco Harris’ incredible “immaculate reception.” And more…

Like the most precious gifts I try hard not to take for granted: freedom; good health; a warm, dry home; healthy food; enough money to make ends meet and then some. Like the happy memories I have of cherished old friends and the bittersweet memory I cling to of a dear friend who suddenly passed away just a couple of days ago. Like loving and being loved. All these and more…

Floods in Texas; danger on the Korean peninsula; chaos in the White House: it would be easy to fret our lives away. Instead, spend a moment thinking about the gifts in your life; count them, say them aloud or silently, whatever it takes to store them in your mind and heart so that you can draw on them when you need them most. And you will…

In 1848, a Shaker elder named Joseph Brackett penned a song we know today as “Simple Gfits.” It goes like this:

“Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.”

May we all come ‘round right.

I’ll be right back…

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Damascene Mirror by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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A long time ago—almost forty years now—I bought an old Damascene mirror. I found it in an antique shop in Amman, Jordan (that’s a story for another time) but it had originally come from Damascus…or so I was told. I don’t remember how much I paid for it—couldn’t have been much as I didn’t have much disposable income back then—but it was certainly old, probably late 19th or early 20th Century, the last days of the Ottoman Empire, the time of Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab Revolt. Not all that long ago really, but old enough for me.

The mirror itself is small but it is embedded in a wooden frame (olive maybe?) surrounded by an intricate inlay of mosaic patterns of mother-of-pearl. It isn’t really all that functional anymore—the small piece of reflective glass is chipped and scratched; I should replace it—but it’s still a graceful old thing from another time and place. I wish it could speak: whose face did it first reflect? Whose home did it grace? Whose hands made it? How did it get from Damascus to Amman? Who timbered the wood and where did all that iridescent nacre originally come from? Old things have all these stories to tell; too bad we can’t speak their language!

It’s just simple science, right? After all, when a ray of light—a stream of photons—hits a smooth, reflective surface, the angle of incidence is always equal to the angle of reflection. We look into a mirror and we accurately see ourselves in real time. But mirrors also capture and collect images and auras from the past. They have a rich and wondrous history. All too often, we overlook their provenance or just take them for granted or (maybe even worse) we turn them into bland utilitarian objects to serve a limited human purpose. But not this old mirror of mine: it reminds of a dear friend and mentor who has since passed away; of a magical dinner party with a king and a queen and a crown prince and a princess; of one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities on earth, a place once known as the City of Jasmine that is now war-torn and slowly bleeding to death; of a time in my life where everything lay ahead of me and I didn’t know the meaning of regret. All that in a little Damascene mirror; the reflections of my life.

Sorry; I think I must be under the spell of the last days of August. Summer is winding down like an old grandfather clock and while there will still be plenty of sunshine and warm weather for the next couple of months, we know what’s coming. This last week of August always catches us by surprise. Forget January; September is when the year really starts: we learned that in school. It’s a quieter, more reflective time of year—maybe that’s why I’m looking into my Damascene mirror again.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

 

 

 

Eclipsed by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Wondrous things are afoot in the heavens. Whether you made it to the seventy-mile-wide Path of Totality that stretched from Oregon to South Carolina and turned day into night for a couple of eerie minutes, or were merely close enough to perceive a hushed mid-day twilight, you have to admit that a total solar eclipse is a pretty awe-inspiring celestial event. So why am I feeling so eclipsed?

It probably has to do with more earthly events: in Barcelona. In Charlottesville. In Kissimmee, Florida. In Afghanistan and Iraq. On the Korean peninsula. In the White House and in Russia. For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, those of us who inhabit this mortal plain don’t seem capable of anything as remotely awe-inspiring as a total eclipse of the sun. In fact, just the opposite seems increasingly true. For example, whether we voted for him or not, we just elected a President without moral authority, a very flawed man-child with a trunk full of personal insecurities and a damnable inability to speak the truth, unwilling to accept any measure of personal responsibility, astoundingly unable to unequivocally condemn white supremacy and the inherent racism that has infected America since its slave-holding roots—a man (in other words) who leaves us all with the kind of dread that makes us open our smart phones every morning just to make sure we’re all still alive.

If you’ve been reading these Musings over the past year-and-a-half, you know I try to keep things light. But recently, like so many others, I can no longer sail blithely past the events of the past couple of weeks. I’m sorry, but avoidance behavior is no longer an option. Like the CEOs who recently resigned from the President’s various Advisory Economic Councils or the the artists who imploded the President’s Arts Council, it’s time to R-E-S-I-S-T.

An eclipse is a natural phenomenon. According to NASA scientists, if you live in the United States, you’re lucky if you experience a total solar eclipse—the brief moments when the moon passes directly between the Earth and the Sun—once or twice in your lifetime. There hasn’t been one visible across the expanse of North America since 1918. (In February 1979—Jimmy Carter was in the White House!—a total eclipse was briefly visible in the northwest corner of the state of Washington. The next total solar eclipse visible in a large part of the United States will be in April 2024; I might get to see that one. After that, we have to wait until 2045. I doubt I’ll be around.

The Trump administration, however, is not a natural phenomenon. It is an aberration brought on by an odious individual who somehow slipped between us and the sunlight of our better selves, casting a long, black umbra of hate, bigotry, and fear over the landscape. But whether as a result of all the daily churning within the West Wing, or through impeachment by disillusioned members of his own party in Congress, or even by his own hand—resignation—Trump’s days seem numbered. I plan to be around for that eclipse, although I’m not at all sure that a Pence administration would be any better. It could well be worse. Sad!

Back on the celestial front, a total eclipse is really only a matter of speed and simple geometry. When the orbit of the moon brings it between the Earth and the sun, the moon’s greater proximity to Earth distorts the relative size of our two favorite heavenly bodies so that the moon seems to obscure the sun, extinguishing daylight for a minute or two along a Path of Totality which moves across the continent at an astonishing speed of 1,800 mph. Meanwhile, back down here on the ground, the political geometry seems much more complicated and hopelessly slow.  Watching it unfold with special glasses won’t help; continuing to protest, elevating the truth, and resisting will.

I’ll be right back.

(PS: if you want to read a hauntingly beautiful description of a total solar eclipse, I highly recommend Annie Dillard’s classic essay,”Total Eclipse.” It first appeared in an anthology of her work titled “Teaching a Stone to Talk” in 1982; it is reprinted in this month’s Atlantic magazine.”)

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.