My Lizard Friends by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Gavin, who just turned five, knows I have a thing for lizards. We go around the house counting all my “lizard friends” as he calls them: one day we got up to thirteen but then had to start over because we weren’t sure if we had already counted one or two. His favorite is the lizard clock from Twigs and Teacups that keeps the time in his bedroom. Its little red tongue darts back and forth counting the seconds until he falls asleep.

I’m not really sure how all this began. I went through a Southwest phase many years ago. I spent several summers knocking around New Mexico and Colorado and maybe my love affair with lizards began then. I’ve toyed with the idea that they are some kind of spirit animal for me, but I can’t quite find the connection. One year I even spent several months working on a historical novel about the Pueblo Revolt which took place in 1680—the first truly indigenous American revolution against a foreign occupier. It was led by a mystical Native American named Popé who devised an ingenious method of coordinating an uprising by the various pueblo peoples against the Spanish colonizers in the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, present day New Mexico. The working title of my book was “Axolotl,” an Indian word for a type of salamander found in the region known for its adaptability to its high desert environment. (Interesting tidbit: salamanders are a New World phenomenon, hence the Indian nomenclature. Apparently there were no salamanders back in the Old World. Who knew?) Sad to say that axolotls are nearing extinction due to pollution and invasive species of fish, but I digress…

Lizards are part of a group of squamate reptiles of which there are more than 6000 species inhabiting every continent except Antarctica. They are as small as geckos and as large as Komodo dragons which can exceed ten feet in length. Lizards are quadrupedal and unlike my friend Eggman, they are carnivorous. Most are “sit-and-wait” predators who enjoy a diet of insects; Komodo dragons, however, have been known to eat an entire water buffalo which is perhaps why my fascination with lizards does not extend to Komodo dragons.

Lizards are good at fooling their predators. They often have natural camouflage but their best method of escape is their unique ability to sacrifice and then regenerate their long tails. If a predator snatches a lizard by its tail and bites it off, the lizard gets away and grows another. Maybe this ingenuous adaptability is why I have such a thing for lizards—not that I need to escape anything, mind you. Nor, for that matter, can I grow another tail, although I must admit I haven’t tried that yet.

Then there’s this: lizards like sunlight; so do I. I don’t know how you feel, but as the Beatles once sang, “little darling, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter,” so if it’s finally time for “here comes the sun,” then the lizards of the world and I am all in!

Back to counting with Gavin. We got to nineteen lizard friends around the house recently, but that’s not counting the secret one that only my wife and few close friends have ever seen. Hmmm…

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.

Moments By Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Did you happen to catch this? If you did, you can skip ahead, but in case you missed it, allow me to set the scene:

On the Wednesday of Augusta week—cue the theme music—there is a unique event called the Par 3 Contest. It takes place out on the east end of the Augusta National property (formerly the Fruitlands Nursery) where nine lovely par three holes have been carved out of the azalea. A few of these holes surround Ike’s Pond and require only a moderate carry over water—I believe the longest hole is only 164 yards long, an easy wedge for one of today’s pro golfers. The tournament itself is almost always a lovely walk, not spoiled by golf. Players’ offspring, dressed in the iconic Augusta National caddies’ baggy white overalls, somersault down the slopes in front of the tee boxes or toddle onto the greens carrying miniature putters—it’s a family picnic and a celebration of the game we all love all rolled into one.

At this year’s event, one threesome featured a veritable Mt. Rushmore of the modern game: Tom Watson, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus, a walking (sometimes limping), moving tableau of golfing history that has accounted for a total of eleven green jackets. (Nicklaus six, Player three, and Watson two.) Usually the Par 3 Contest is less about winning and more about fun, camaraderie, and the enjoyment of springtime in a spectacular environment, but this year’s event produced a bit more drama than budding azaleas. Watson birdied the first four holes, added another to tie for first, then birdied the eighth to take the lead at -6. Remember: Tom Watson is 68 years old; the oldest golfer to ever win the contest was Sam Snead who was 61 at the time (1960; the first year of the Par 3 Contest). Watson only needed a par on the final hole to win by one and claim the crystal trophy; he made it look easy.

But that wasn’t the moment. This was: in the spirit of the day, it’s not unusual for a caddy to hit a ball on the final hole—just for fun, of course. This year, GT Nicklaus was carrying his grandfather’s bag, sharing the honor with his younger sister, Nina. GT is 15 years old and (no surprise here) already an accomplished high school golfer, the “best” (at least according to his proud grandfather) of Jack and Barbara’s 22 grandchildren.

But accomplished as he is, GT had never had a hole-in-one. Until that moment. He took his one swing, flew the ball twenty feet past the hole and drew it back into the cup—an absolutely superb shot that stole Watson’s show. Not that Tom cared. When GT’s ball trickled into the cup, the crowd roared, Watson and Player jumped for joy, and Jack cried. Just think: of all Mr. Nicklaus’ memorable moments on golf courses around the world—73 PGA victories and 18 major championships—this one small family moment now holds pride of place in the Golden Bear’s bank of memories.

Life is all about moments. We’ve all had them, maybe not a hole-in-one at Augusta, but ones that are just as sweet to each of us. Mine include the births of my two children, my bride in her wedding dress, a World Series foul ball off the bat of Mickey Mantle that rolled right to me, and watching the sun rise on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Even now, thinking back on those special moments and a few others, I feel the tears well up in my eyes.

Just like Jack.

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.

Moments By Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Did you happen to catch this? If you did, you can skip ahead, but in case you missed it, allow me to set the scene:

On the Wednesday of Augusta week—cue the theme music—there is a unique event called the Par 3 Contest. It takes place out on the east end of the Augusta National property (formerly the Fruitlands Nursery) where nine lovely par three holes have been carved out of the azalea. A few of these holes surround Ike’s Pond and require only a moderate carry over water—I believe the longest hole is only 164 yards long, an easy wedge for one of today’s pro golfers. The tournament itself is almost always a lovely walk, not spoiled by golf. Players’ offspring, dressed in the iconic Augusta National caddies’ baggy white overalls, somersault down the slopes in front of the tee boxes or toddle onto the greens carrying miniature putters—it’s a family picnic and a celebration of the game we all love all rolled into one.

At this year’s event, one threesome featured a veritable Mt. Rushmore of the modern game: Tom Watson, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus, a walking (sometimes limping), moving tableau of golfing history that has accounted for a total of eleven green jackets. (Nicklaus six, Player three, and Watson two.) Usually the Par 3 Contest is less about winning and more about fun, camaraderie, and the enjoyment of springtime in a spectacular environment, but this year’s event produced a bit more drama than budding azaleas. Watson birdied the first four holes, added another to tie for first, then birdied the eighth to take the lead at -6. Remember: Tom Watson is 68 years old; the oldest golfer to ever win the contest was Sam Snead who was 61 at the time (1960; the first year of the Par 3 Contest). Watson only needed a par on the final hole to win by one and claim the crystal trophy; he made it look easy.

But that wasn’t the moment. This was: in the spirit of the day, it’s not unusual for a caddy to hit a ball on the final hole—just for fun, of course. This year, GT Nicklaus was carrying his grandfather’s bag, sharing the honor with his younger sister, Nina. GT is 15 years old and (no surprise here) already an accomplished high school golfer, the “best” (at least according to his proud grandfather) of Jack and Barbara’s 22 grandchildren.

But accomplished as he is, GT had never had a hole-in-one. Until that moment. He took his one swing, flew the ball twenty feet past the hole and drew it back into the cup—an absolutely superb shot that stole Watson’s show. Not that Tom cared. When GT’s ball trickled into the cup, the crowd roared, Watson and Player jumped for joy, and Jack cried. Just think: of all Mr. Nicklaus’ memorable moments on golf courses around the world—73 PGA victories and 18 major championships—this one small family moment now holds pride of place in the Golden Bear’s bank of memories.

Life is all about moments. We’ve all had them, maybe not a hole-in-one at Augusta, but ones that are just as sweet to each of us. Mine include the births of my two children, my bride in her wedding dress, a World Series foul ball off the bat of Mickey Mantle that rolled right to me, and watching the sun rise on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Even now, thinking back on those special moments and a few others, I feel the tears well up in my eyes.

Just like Jack.

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.

Fool and Cruel With a Chance of Showers by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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There’s a lot to be said for April, much of it bad. I know it’s only one of our four shorter months (I don’t even count February as a month), but it certainly seems to me that a lot of negativity has been packed into April’s thirty days. Just consider:

As far as I know, April is the only month to celebrate fools. It’s not a new phenomenon. In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer mentioned playing pranks on friends way back in 1392. In France, the custom was to slap a paper fish on an unknowing victim’s back (“Poisson d’Avril!”) while in Scotland—my ancestral home—April first was traditionally called Huntigowk Day, a “gowk” being Scots for a cuckoo or a foolish person.

Other countries around the world as far away as India and Iran have joined the fun, sometimes with not-so-fun consequences. In 1957, the BBC broadcast a film on April first purporting to show Swiss farmers harvesting freshly grown spaghetti plants. The BBC was subsequently flooded with requests for spaghetti plant seeds. Most people thought it all harmlessly fun but a few disappointed pasta lovers thought it a cruel hoax.

Speaking of cruel, the opening line of T.S. Eliot’s elegiac poem The Waste Land (1922) sets a dismal tone for April:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Poor April! It may never recover from such a dreary assessment.

Were this literary pummeling of April not bad enough, the IRS in its infinite wisdom set the seal of doom on April when it made April 15 (or thereabouts, depending on the weekend) the deadline for filing income tax forms to federal, state, and local governments. Exceptions to this deadline abound (see “Trump, Donald J.”), but like another famous date on the calendar, April 15 has a certain ring of infamy to it.

And then there’s the weather. Every child knows that “April showers bring May flowers,” but May is then and April is now. It’s as though we should overlook this poor month in favor of the next, effectively making May the teacher’s pet and April the poor stepchild. Sigh.

But I guess we shouldn’t completely give up on the fourth month. This year, April kicked off with Easter, a joyous celebration of renewal and rebirth, a day on which all rabbits have an uncontrollable urge to hide colored eggs. Go figure. Opening Day of the baseball season often falls in early April although this year, that honor fell to March, the renowned lion and lamb of the calendar. And I would certainly be remiss not to mention that my lovely wife’s birthday falls in April, as do the birthdays of one daughter-in-law, one grandchild, two nieces and a nephew, and numerous friends. Lots of cards, but then, ours is a large family.

Come to think of it, there are all manner of reasons to celebrate April. Marathon runners converge on Boston on Patriot’s Day (April 16), an official holiday in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. A few days later, we’ll celebrate our planet on Earth Day (April 22) and on the last Friday of this month (April 27 this year), we should all go out and plant a tree in honor of Arbor Day.

I guess maybe April’s not such a lousy month after all. No fooling!

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.

Missing the Water by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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There’s a box on the dresser upstairs that contains treasure. It used to sit on my parents’ dresser but after they passed away, I “inherited” it. The box looks to be Amish-made and the treasure within is small gold—in other words, little things collected along the way. Memories; little things like that.

I don’t open the box much these days but when I do, it’s usually to make a deposit, almost never a withdrawal. Sometimes I’ll take a few minutes to inspect the box’s contents and when I do, invariably a tiny memory bubbles to the surface. The memory often comes drifting up on a faint odor, a whiff of something musty and almost forgotten that recalls our country house overlooking a high meadow in western Pennsylvania. I couldn’t begin to describe the components of that smell but I know it like the back of my hand. It’s home.

I had occasion to search for something the other day so of course I looked in the box. I saw my father’s old red winter hat and the Raggedy Andy doll that always lay on my mother’s carefully made bed. There were a couple of old watches, some photographs, a deck of playing cards, some old military scrip from World War II, and two delicate ceramic miniatures (a book and a buffalo) that were part of a collection that cluttered the top of my parents’ dresser. There was an empty jewelry box with velvet lining, a bottle opener on a key ring, and a hair brush—I have no idea why these items landed in the box. But the object of my searching—a postcard with a rhyming couplet scribbled on the back—was not there. Fortunately, I remembered half of the couplet, so I went to that other repository of all things—Google—and voila! There it was!

As couplets go, it’s not much; doggerel, really. I’m not even sure why I was thinking about those lines, but I do know that I had written them down on a picture postcard years ago and tucked it away in anticipation of a day when I would need it. The picture on the postcard was of a old woman in a sere African environment, windblown, sandy, scrub vegetation; harsh beyond measure; waterless.

I think that at the time the rhyme crossed my windscreen, it caused me to think about all the things we take for granted. Despite all our troubles, we are a fortunate and blessed people. Compared to many, our treasure boxes are relatively full. The things we take for granted—like a clean glass of water—would be true treasures in some other countries, but for us all it takes is a turn of the tap to make the water flow.

The same is true with memory.  Maybe that’s why I was thinking about the box on our dresser and this ragged little rhyme. My parents passed away some years ago, but my wife and several other close friends have aging parents that are now nearing the end of their time on earth. Hard choices regarding the quality of their lives and their medical care will need to be made soon, choices that often come with some unintended consequences and certainly without clean right answers. We all will do the best we can.

Someday I’ll find the postcard with its scribbled rhyme, but for now, the google version will have to suffice. The words seem to have come from a novel called “Pass the Baton” by David O’Connor and they apparently are taken from an old song his grandmother used to sing. It goes like this:

Never let your chances like moonbeams pass you by,
You never miss the water ’til the well runs dry.

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.

 

Lighter Longer by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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A couple of days ago, we took our annual spring forward. It wasn’t much of a kangaroo leap—just one hour—but those 60 little minutes mean a lot. Sure, we “lose” an hour of Sunday sleep, but just think of all we gain! Spring seems that much closer when the sun sets an hour “later” and all that lingering light…well, it’s just more time to sit on the porch with a beverage and contemplate the accomplishments of another day.

We have Ben Franklin to thank for Daylight Saving Time. He was the one who figured out that by moving an hour of sunlight from morning to evening, more gets done. Extended daylight saves energy, too, although the advent of the modern air conditioner has put that idea to the test. Farmers seem to like DST: “Hold supper, hon. I’ve got a few more rows to plough!” but manipulating time also has its fair share of problems. Transportation schedules are disrupted, earlier bar closings in the fall have been known to cause riots, and then there are quirky regional disagreements like the one between Minneapolis and St. Paul, the twin cities separated by a river.

For several years, they couldn’t agree on when to start DST so you might go from one to the other and arrive before you left. Boggles the mind! Indiana is also a DST mess: it falls across two time zones and some counties observe DST and some don’t. Politicians of course get in the act: in 1968, gubernatorial candidate Rex Early (that’s really his name!) firmly declared “Some of my friends are for putting all of Indiana on Daylight Saving Time. Some are against it. And I always try to support my friends.” Down in Arizona, there is no Daylight Saving Time, unless you’re a Navajo living on the rez and then there is. Even criminals are confounded by summer time: statistics show that there is 13% less crime when there’s more light at the end of the day!

Not everyone is a fan of DST. There are the “clockers” who think it’s a waste of time to change the clocks and adjust to a new sleep schedule. Some folks just prefer moonlight to sunlight. In Israel, ultra orthodox Jews who recite early-morning penitential prayers during the month of Elul don’t like the imposed extra hour of darkness. Closer to home, a chicken farmer I know gets very frustrated because his chickens pay no attention to the time change: it takes a few weeks for the brood to get right with the clock twice a year.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot to be said for summer hours. Electricity usage declines; there are fewer traffic accidents, maybe because fewer chickens cross the road in the evening; and remember Ben Franklin’s adage? “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Maybe that’s why old Ben was so interested in manipulating time!

For my readers living on or near the equator, I realize Daylight Saving Time is pretty much of a non-issue. However, for all of you living in igloos up in the Arctic, I know an extra hour of daylight can be a really big deal! But for all of us in between, summer hours presage more porch time and that is time worth savoring!

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.

These Delicate Warriors by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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In ornithological circles (picture a hovering flock of ladies and gents in hiking boots and funny hats with binoculars dangling from their necks), they’re known as Trochilidae. To the good folk down in Costa Rica (my wife and I have just returned from that beautiful country), they’re called colibri. But here in the cold, cold north, we refer to them by that most wonderful of onomatopoeic names: hummingbirds.

Every morning down in Costa Rica, I would rise early, take my coffee out on to the balcony, and quietly settle in. I didn’t have to wait long: there were two feeders suspended in front of me and they were busier than The Freeze on a warm Saturday night in June. First one bird would flit in, then another: different species but always the same routine—circle, hover, sip, disappear, and repeat. I’m a very novice birdwatcher, but even I could see that there were important lessons to be learned here…

Hummingbirds are tropical, but over the eons, they’ve expanded their feeding range and are now migratory—just like some of us. Believe it or not, hummingbirds are carnivores: they only take on nectar from flowers or feeders so they have plenty of fuel to catch what they really want to devour: insects! (They head to Central America in winter not because they like warm weather, but because that’s where the insects are.) There’s good evidence to suggest that hummingbirds are solitary creatures—they are very territorial and don’t travel in flocks, each tiny bird instinctively following its own well-worn path on the north-south flyway and on a specific schedule to boot, returning to its northern-most feeding location at about the same time every year, sometimes on the exact same day. (Maybe some of our air carriers could learn a thing or two from hummingbirds!)

Hummingbird migration is spread over a three-month period which lessens the potential impact of an any catastrophic weather event. Males leave the southern climes first, females follow about 10 days later. Hummingbirds travel at night—up to 500 miles between dusk and dawn. Heading north from Central America, they don’t cross the Gulf of Mexico, but follow the coastline up through the Yucatan and across the US border in Texas, usually around the first week in March. (Insert ‘wall joke’ here.) Before departure, each bird will have doubled its weight from just over 3 grams to more than 6 grams, but by the time they reach the US mainland, they’re back down to a slim/trim 2.5 grams. That’s the result of a lot of good cardio work: hummingbirds have a heart rate as high as 1,200 beats/minute and a breath rate of 250 breaths/minute. Their wings beat at more than 50 times per second!

Once in North America, the migration slows to no more than 20 miles a day and follows the blooming of the flowers the little critters most prefer. If you’re on the lookout for first arrivals now, you’ll have to wait until the very end of March or the first week of April before the vanguard begins to move up the Delmarva.

This ornithological science is all well and good, but there’s ample metaphorical value to these tiny and beautiful creatures as well. A friend of mine recently opined about the hummingbird’s unique ability to appear perfectly still even though they are in constant motion. Moreover, despite all they may lack in size, these not-so-fragile creatures—these delicate warriors—undertake an inspiring life journey that makes our own human journeys pale in comparison. That’s good nectar for thought.

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 Life and Times of Jameson Jones – Chapter Six: Three Small Stones by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Jameson is sitting in his favorite rocking chair on the front porch of his house. There is a hint of spring in the air, but it’s still chilly enough to warrant a coat, in this case, his old, worn Barbour field jacket. He puts his hand in the pocket and feels the three small stones that have lived there for more than a decade: a flat piece of black shale from an old quarry, a small piece of white quartz in the shape of a heart, and a tiny ovular piece of green granite worn smooth by the North Sea. They’re each from Scotland and Jameson keeps them close to remember a place he loves and a time when he finally came clear of the past and was ready to begin again.

It has been six years since Jameson found Chestertown, a quaint, historic town over on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Or (better yet) since Chestertown found Jameson. It was love at second sight: he had crossed the little bridge over the Chester once before many years ago to visit Washington College with his daughter but left without much of an impression—or so he thought. But when he and his wife (Yes! Wife!) serendipitously circled back here on an unseasonably warm December day late in 2011, Jameson knew in his bones that this place was the magnet of his soul. The alchemy was inexplicable but true; his long road would unwind from here.

Jameson loves this old porch; it’s his open window on town life. People walk by and pleasantries are invariably exchanged. There is always small talk in a small town so if chat were currency, then Jameson would be rich as Croesus. Alas! Instead, he banks good friends, natural splendor, and a pace of living that fosters an appreciation of both. It’s so much more than enough.

Jameson hears something. He leans forward and looks up: high above, an airborne armada of geese are heading north; the mandala of life is continuing to turn. On days like this, Jameson feels something akin to a physical connection to the timeless and natural order of the cosmos that never seems to happen elsewhere. Just like the good folk who pass by on the street, the V formations in the sky are purveyors of useful information: “time to go; winter is done; we’ll be back come fall.”

By the time the geese return, Jameson will have turned seventy, another impossible-to-imagine mile-marker on the well-worn path that has led him to this time and place. When Jameson bought this quaint little house that sometimes leans right, sometimes left, President Obama was in the White House; now Jameson can’t bring himself to even think about the current reprobate occupant. Such a sad and dangerous fall from grace! Jameson fingers the stones in his pocket in search of some small comfort.

Sipping his morning coffee, Jameson knows full well how lucky he is, how lucky he has been all his life. Now the three small stones in his pocket move like prayer beads for he is grateful beyond measure: a happy childhood; children and grandchildren; a second chance at marriage; good friends, good work, and a world of memories. Redemption and renewal. This porch, this house, this town.

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 Life and Times of Jameson Jones – Chapter Five: A Place to Stand by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Sometimes destiny crashes the party and sometimes it just settles in for a quiet fireside chat.

On the eve of his fiftieth birthday—50! Half a century! Jameson shakes his head in utter disbelief—he is sitting on the balcony of “his” farmhouse in a comfortable Adirondack chair, sipping a gin and tonic (“summer in a glass”), watching his first mate—an old-soul vizsla named Kozi—sniffing the grass under the towering old elm that shades the back of the house. The Clinton rodeo is on its second go-round just a few miles down the road. It’s the last weekend of summer: tomorrow Jameson will host his own party down on the patio, recover on Labor Day, and then begin another school year, his fifth in this hallowed place. He shakes his head again, this time because he can’t quite believe his own good fortune.

The screen door bangs as Jameson goes back inside to build another cocktail: a measure-and-a-half of Hendrick’s, a fresh bottle of tonic, a slice of cucumber. Kozi barks once, the signal that he’s ready to come in. Jameson goes downstairs to open the backdoor so he and his canine pal can resettle on the balcony and watch the first fireflies begin their evening pantomime.

The Romans built straight roads, but that was then. This is now. That his own road has meandered to this place is almost more than Jameson can comprehend. Yet here he is, a teacher, a coach, and most of all, a college counselor to another generation of boys. Moreover, he is a trusted colleague and an integral member of a reasonably functional school family complete with all manner of surrogate brothers and sisters, the close-in-age siblings he never knew. But on this evening, he and his co-pilot are feeling reflective at the end of another summer vacation and maybe it’s the slant of September light or maybe it’s just the gin, but whatever it is, Jameson suddenly recalls a phrase from one of his favorite John McPhee stories: looking out over the quiet fields that surround the house—a green oasis amid Washington’s suburban sprawl—he feels he has finally “come into his country.”

His is a quiet, ordered existence. In the morning, he and Kozi walk to work across the fields and along the tree line. In the afternoon, they retrace their steps, maybe stopping to watch a practice or a game or to chat with a friend. As commutes go, this one is king-of-the-hill; Jameson’s car doesn’t have to move all week. The globe that once spun so dizzily has come to rest here.

Jameson doesn’t own a crystal ball, but if he did, he would see in the years to come a couple of record-breaking blizzards; springs full of scented lilacs, peonies, and azalea in bloom; trees in autumnal splendor; more football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, and baseball games than he can count; nearly fifteen-hundred talented students heading off to college and beyond. He would see a lot of great joy, but some profound sorrow, too, the sorrow cutting deep. He would see a blissful sabbatical: four months at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, two more in a hilltop town in Tuscany. Twenty-two years in all, seventeen of them comfortably ensconced in this old farmhouse—more years in one place and in one house than at any other time of his ever-lengthening life, a peace and stability he has never known.

Archimedes of Syracuse was a Greek mathematician and philosopher, one of antiquity’s greatest minds. Although he did not invent the lever, he explained the principle involved in his work On the Equilibrium of Planes: “Give me a place to stand,” he wrote, “and I will move the earth.” To Jameson, this old farmhouse and this proud school will be his place to stand; this is where he will move the earth.

Or so he thinks.

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.