All that Glitters by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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It may have been Aesop or Chaucer, certainly Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, but whoever first noticed that all that glitters is not gold was onto something. Appearances can be deceiving. There is plenty of pyrite—fool’s gold—in the world that looks like the real thing, but the authentic stuff is a lot harder to find. Pyrite is bright and shiny—it reflects light—whereas real gold in its raw form has a duller aspect that definitely does not glitter.

Even the Romans knew that non omne quod nitet aurum est. Still, despite all that ancient wisdom and learning, it’s surprisingly easy these days to mistake fiction for fact and vice versa. News, for example, is either fake or real depending on one’s political perspective. There are facts, and there are alternative facts, but where is the truth? Apparently, as Mark Twain knew, the truth is still at home putting on its shoes while a lie has already traveled half-way around the world. Sad!

The word “fact” is derived from the Latin word “factum” which means an event or occurrence—something actually done. Fiction, on the other hand, comes from the word “fictio” which means the act of shaping or feigning something; in other words, it is rooted in invention and imagination—it is a product of the mind. For those of us not given to turning over the rocksof Latin derivations, “factum” and “fictio” are the direct ancestors of gold and pyrite. The problem, of course, is that in these post-Roman times, it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two.

Take tax reform, for example. Some members of Congress would have us believe that cutting the corporate tax rate to 20% will grow our economy at such a fast pace that more jobs, higher wages, and a spring wheat crop of new businesses (not to mention a big reduction in the trade deficit) will more than offset a whopping increase—as much as a few trillion dollars—to our national debt. Fact or fiction?

To my mind, trickle-down has never been much of a “factum;” it looks much more like a “fictio” to me, shiny pyrite meant to dazzle us into believing that the proverbial 1% really want to redistribute their wealth to the rest of us. And what about simplifying the tax codes and cutting individual tax rates to leave more disposable income in middle-class pockets? More and more it appears that may be a “factum” in the short-term, but much more of a “fictio” in the longer run—a little short-term gain for a lot of longer term pain. And yet, Congress—at least those members who are feeling the pinch to finally get something (anything!) done—would have us believe that the proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is the real deal…gold that glitters. If that’s true, then why was it drafted in the legislative dark, not subject to much, if any, public scrutiny or debate? Maybe some things just look shinier in the dark.

I don’t know about you, but I’m highly dubious about this version of tax reform. To my mind, it has all the flashy characteristics of pyrite without any of the substance of real gold. In the end, my bet is that it will be just as worthless as pyrite. What’s the big rush? Go back to work and dig a little deeper, Congress. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find the real stuff.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Collectivity by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Every language has its idiosyncrasies and English is certainly no exception. Try to explain “to,” “too,” and “two” to a Tunisian, or “do,” “due,” and “dew” to someone from Dusseldorf. They’re going out there without their boots…wow! Why should “wood” and “would” sound exactly alike? Should we polish the Polish furniture? What produce does that farm produce? There’s no egg in eggplant or, for that matter, no ham in hamburger. Quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square, and guinea pigs are neither from Guinea nor pigs. Every kid knows that noses run and feet smell. And over here on the Eastern Shore, it’s the season of the rut when a buck does funny things when does are present!

On the other hand, there is a certain quirky richness to English and nowhere is this more apparent than in our descriptors for gatherings of certain animals. Many of these are very familiar—everybody knows that cows gather in herds or that dogs and wolves roam in packs—but some are a bit more eloquent: a pride of lions, a clowder of kittens, a parade of elephants, for example. Some even hit the nail right on the collective animal head: a crash of rhinoceros, a shadow of jaguars, a cackle of hyenas, a bloat of hippopotamuses, a prickle of porcupines (ouch!), a tower of giraffes (duh!), a conspiracy of lemurs (think of their masked faces), a richness of martens (all that fur!), a romp of otters and a barrel of monkeys (all that fun!), an obstinacy of buffalo (I’m not making this up), a sloth of bears (sorry, Landon friends), a labor of moles (all that digging!), a shrewdness of apes, and, of course, everyone’s favorite these days—a congress of baboons!

Fish swim in schools, whales and dolphins patrol in pods, sharks collect in shivers, lobsters form a risk, but oysters must be lazy because they lie in beds all day.

Even our reptile friends get in on the action. Frogs gather in armies, but toads assemble in knots. Salamanders form a maelstrom. Crocodiles bask; cobras quiver.

Birds have wonderful collective nomenclatures: there are the generic flocks of course, but there are also gaggles of geese, skeins of ducks, scolds of jays, murders of crows, bevies of quail, and murmurations of starlings. Want more? How about a stand of flamingos (perfect!) or a cauldron of bats (even more perfect!), a descent of woodpeckers, an exaltation of larks, a parliament of owls, an ostentation of peacocks, a wake of buzzards, and—no offense, Baltimoreans—an unkindness of ravens. (The bard of Charm City, Edgar Allen Poe, would have been proud of that one!) And by the way, if you’re planning a big Thanksgiving feast, don’t forget to order a rafter of turkeys!

But language has never been a static thing; these days, it almost has to reinvent itself every few hours. So here are some ideas for a few new collective nouns: up on Capitol Hill (remember that congress of baboons?), I think I spy a cowering of Republicans while across the aisle, there is a bombast of Democrats; both are closely watched over by a moneybag of lobbyists up in the gallery. Meanwhile, down at the White House, a twitter of Trumpers are fearful of a whispering of leakers while a muckrake of Muellers scrutinize their every move. In another month or two, you can be sure that a split of justices will rule on the matter.

Feel free to write back.

I’ll be right back. (See what I mean?)

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.

 

Jamie Kirkpatrick

 

Reflections on Downrigging by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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The tall ships have come and gone. Sultana sits in her home berth like a forlorn child whose best friends have all just gone home after the birthday party. Her mast is stepped, her sails securely stowed for winter. Another sailing season has come and gone.

Chestertown’s first Downrigging Weekend took place in 2001 with only two ships in port: our very own Sultana and the Pride of Baltimore visiting from across the Bay. This year, I counted more than 25 vessels of all shapes and sizes; I guess good ideas grow as quickly as summer grass. While Downrigging Weekend is surely a celebration of graceful tall ships, small wooden boats lovingly built or restored, and all things nautical, it’s also a celebration of who we are: our history, our river, our town. We love it here and Downrigging is our gift to ourselves.

The weekend officially started on Wednesday with the arrival of the first tall ship. (This year, that honor went to the Kalmar Nykel out of Wilmington). However, to be honest, my personal version of Downrigging Weekend began a day or two before when I first looked down river toward Devil’s Reach, then drove out to Quaker Neck Landing hoping to catch a glimpse of that first incoming topsail. By Thursday morning, I was in Wilmer Park cataloging the ships as they sailed in: Lynx (out of Nantucket), Pride of Baltimore, Lady Maryland, Sigsbee, and the Muriel Eileen (a restored Chesapeake buy boat). Sultana flew back upriver from her afternoon sail to join the party and suddenly I was a kid again, transported back in time, wondering what it must have been like for my seven-times-great grandfather when he dared to cross the Atlantic in 1760 on a ship like one of these. (Good thing there wasn’t a wall back then! I mean, after all, none of us—or at least no one I know—walked over here. But I digress…)

On Friday morning there were a few last-minute arrivals to welcome. In the afternoon, two of my mates and I headed down to the deck of the Fish Whistle to watch the maritime parade over a beer or two. It was good to see the Marina a) dry and b) buzzing with people marveling at our living display of nautical history. That’s the way the marina supposed to be—dry and lively—right?

By the time the spotlights blazed on Friday night, it was hard not to swoon at the sight of the assembled fleet. The controlled chaos of rigging and lines, the towering crow’s nests, all the pulpits and bows with their finely carved figureheads—it was a spectacular evening show often enhanced by a generous captain’s measure of grog. Fireworks added plenty of excitement to the festivities and this year’s grand finale awed the crowd on land and out on the river.

Saturday’s sails were another delight—a silent nautical ballet of canvas, wind, and light. (Well, maybe not quite silent; all the rata-tat-tat of that toy PT boat is a silly distraction.) I got in an early round of golf out at the club and the sight of all the tall ships on a downriver parade behind the 15th green provided a magnificent backdrop to golf on a bluebird day. Back in town, there was plenty of good music and food to add fuel to the celebration.

Sunday’s change of weather did little to dampen the town’s spirits. Weather is, after all, part and parcel of the magic of sailing; not every day can be sunny with a light southwesterly breeze. But there was also a certain bittersweet quality to Downrigging Sunday: the show was winding down, weekend visitors were heading home, crews were preparing to depart for distant ports (Lynx is on her way to her winter home in St. Petersburg, Florida for example), and as for those of us who remain in port, we knew in our bones that colder weather is a comin’. I guess we’ve learned to take our collective cue from the tall ships sailing away and set about some personal down rigging of our own: we begin to repair and stow our own gear for the few months before we all go sailing again in the spring.

See you at Tea Party.

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.

 

 

 

Mind the Gap by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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When I lived in Scotland, I travelled a lot by train. At every station stop, a disembodied but very polite (usually female) voice would remind passengers to “mind the gap” when exiting the train. That the gap only required a very small step to mind was almost irrelevant; what mattered more was the need to be mindful of any gap at any time. Since then, I have taken the railroad’s existential warning to heart and carry it with me these many years later. I mind my gaps, or at least try to.

There are gaps everywhere these days, some small, some quite wide, like the dangerous divide in our current political culture. It’s no longer just a gap; it’s a yawning chasm, possibly too wide for any meaningful minding. No matter how much I wish it weren’t so, this gap isn’t just color-coded red and blue anymore. We’re in a full-blown cultural war with no end in sight. Sad!

And what’s worse is that the current gap seems to get wider by the hour. Mr. Trump’s approval ratings may be plunging to all-time lows, but his die-hard support seems to be hardening just as fast. News is no longer news; it’s either real or fake depending on the eye of the beholder. Absent any objective perspective or common ground, the fabric of our society continues to stretch and fray until one can almost hear the ties that used to bind us together snapping apart like exploding steel cables.

This is hardly news—real or fake—to anyone but I have yet to hear or read any reasonable solution to the current predicament we’re in. Impeaching and convicting a sitting president is a long-shot by any standard, let alone when the President and the Congress are of the same political stripe. Invoking the 25th Amendment is an even longer and riskier shot. Resignation? A highly remote possibility in this case and an act that would almost certainly create more of a festering wound than a healing solution. Declaring all-out war on the political establishment is only going to result in unimaginable collateral damage to all our democratic institutions.

The moral giants of my lifetime—Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu—believed in and lived lives defined by non-violence and truth and reconciliation, but those defining principles seem increasingly far-off in our collective rear-view mirror and (more’s the pity!) we’re heading away from them at breakneck speed. But believe it or not, reconciliation—the restoration of friendly relations or the act of making one belief or view compatible with another—begins with nothing more than the mutual good will of the parties involved. Maybe that’s no longer possible, you say; maybe we’ve passed the point of no-return; maybe all the hatred, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, and dread have risen to such a crescendo that no amount of good will on either side can prevent us from stumbling into the cataclysm that lies in the thin, dark space between the train and the platform.

Fortunately, I have more faith in us that that. Education, civil discourse, mindful listening, and compromise would be steps in the right direction. You see, we’re all on the same train, eventually going to the same station; if we’re all going to arrive safely, it’s high-time to begin minding the gap.

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.

 

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.