A Twice-Widowed Woman (Second Stave) by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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“This new state—that of actually being dead—is not at all unpleasant!” Mr. Wilmer (the former Jacob Marley of London, England) thought to himself. In fact, despite the fatal shock from the letter he had just finished reading, Wilmer now felt light as a feather and free as a bird as he flew through the spirit world, back down the Chester River, down the Chesapeake Bay, across the Atlantic Ocean, and directly onto the doorstep of his former business partner, the infamous Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, just at the stroke of midnight. He knew in the bones he no longer required that he had been granted his dying wish: it had blessedly come down to him to begin the haunting of the old miser. And similarly, in the blink of the eye he no longer needed, the now ghostly Marley knew exactly what to do: he wrapped himself in chains, frighted his hair, put on his death mask, and just as the clock struck twelve, began to pound on Scrooge’s heavy wooden door.

(Now, dear reader, you know full well all that happens next: Marley’s exhortations and dire warnings, spectral visits from three dreadful spirits (all quite friendly to Marley, if not to Scrooge), their lamentations, recriminations, and alarming prophecies, all these (and other) unearthly happenings right up until the moment when the old bugger awakens on that cold, clear morning, finds himself redeemed, throws open the window and calls to a boy in the street below, “What day is this?”

“Why it’s Christmas day, sir!”

“What an extraordinary boy!”

And, subsequently, you must know all that follows that delightful exchange, right up until the final happy scene when crippled Tiny Tim—goose-fed (“What a surprise, Mr. Scrooge!”) and sitting atop his father’s proud shoulders—loudly and affectionally observes to all those assembled ‘round the Cratchet’s festive table, “God Bless Us, Every One!”)

But that, of course, is another tale to be told by another writer, none other than the estimable Mr. Charles Dickens himself. This other tale—my tale—continues on in the pleasant house on the Water Street in humble little Chestertown where Mrs. Wilmer—now the Widow Wilmer as well as the former Widow Comfort—has found her poor husband slumped at the kitchen table, dead as a dormouse, a mysterious letter posted from England fallen from his cold, ink-stained fingers.

Now the bereaved woman reads the letter a second and then a third time before doing the only sensible thing she can think to do: she holds it to the candle still burning on the table and watches as it smolders, catches flame, and curls to ashes which she immediately sweeps into the bin because she sees no need to muddy the waters of what she reasonably assumes will be her late husband’s considerable estate with a mysterious and cryptic epistle containing only the sentence “I know who you are” and signed only with the initial “S.” Better to let the past remain the past she decides and to let the future take a happier and (let’s be honest here) less problematic—meaning less litigious—course.

And there is also the question of the new widow’s soon-to-be-delivered child to consider. She sees no need to ensnare his or her future in a sticky spider web from the past; would not the deceased Mr. Wilmer’s good reputation in town—along with a sizable inheritance—be a more fortunate legacy for the child than a passel of fulsome or embarrassing questions raised by an unknown hand from a foreign land? And, come to think of it, for herself, too? After all, a twice-widowed woman has her own future and reputation to consider!

And with those sobering thoughts in the forefront of her mind, the newly-minted and quite comely Widow Wilmer, rouges her cheeks, puts on her brightest shawl and best bonnet, and with the hint of a Mona Lisa smile on her pretty plump lips, sets off down the street to fetch the undertaker…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.

What If… by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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What if…

Marley wasn’t dead. He never had been dead and although one day he surely would be dead, he now only wanted everyone he ever knew to think he actually was dead. He had suffered to be sure—how else could he describe all the lost years he had toiled away with that miser of a partner Ebenezer Scrooge (he barely dared utter that name lest someone put two and two together and come up with four) who only burned enough coal in their drafty old accounting shop near the Fleet Street to keep the ink in the pots from freezing—but otherwise, he was far from dead. Very far, in fact. Across an ocean far, to be specific, which was certainly to the good for prior to his admittedly precipitous leave-taking from London, Marley had managed to make away with an overly generous portion of the firm’s not unsubstantial yearly profit.

And now it was seven years ago to that very day in the Year of Our Lord 1836 when Marley, pockets bulging, had fled, spiriting himself away on a schooner bound for Boston under an assumed name, Mr. Wilmer. Despite the lateness of the season (it was first of December when he embarked), the crossing had been pleasant enough (how could it not be pleasant to leave the dreary fogs of London and quarrelsome Scrooge—by God, he would haunt the flinty old fiend if ever given half a chance!—in the ship’s wake?), but at the last, a fierce gale blew the poor ship off course and into the Chesapeake Bay where wind and tide eventually pushed it into the mouth of a wide, navigable river that the captain’s chart showed was called the Chester. The captain was a great believer in fate and so decided to make his way upstream and discharge his cargo of fine teas and his sole passenger (the mysterious Mr. Wilmer) at the small but busy wharf located at Chestertown where he would then take on a load of apricots before making his way down to the warm islands for the winter after which he would would take on a poor man’s fortune in rum and return to England the following spring when the winds were more in his favor.

And so it was that “Mr. Wilmer” arrived on the wharf at a place he had never heard of before or ever intended to visit. But so be it. Here he was and here he would make the best of it, and if he was even farther from his dubious past and old Scrooge, then so much the better. He was truly a new man in a new world!

Marley—or the newly minted Mr. Wilmer—took rooms above a tavern on the High Street and set about making a new life for himself. To his pleasant surprise, it turned out to be a relatively easy endeavor. Despite his admittedly nefarious past, he had been blessed by God with an honest face, a pleasant disposition, a keen mind, and a facility with numbers—he reluctantly credited his years with Scrooge at least that much—and so his accounting business quickly and honestly flourished. The local merchants trusted him and sooner than he ever expected, Wilmer had amassed if not a fortune, at least enough money to enable him to purchase a fine home on the Water Street and to marry a comely widow appropriately named Mrs. Comfort. Within a few months, the Widow Comfort—now the happily wed Mrs. Wilmer—began to show. As for the father-to-be, the tedious (and yes, guilt-ridden) memories of London receded to the point at which he actually believed that he was not only truly gone but also forever forgotten.

That is, until a letter arrived on that first day of December, 1843. It was addressed simply to “Mr. Wilmer of Chestertown.” Curious as to its contents, Wilmer opened the letter that night, read it by candlelight, and dropped dead on the spot. When his wife found him slumped in his chair the following morning, she couldn’t help but read the letter that had fallen to the floor from the poor man’s hand. It was brief to the point of rudeness: “I know who you are” and signed only with an initial: “S.”

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 Last of the Leaves by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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The last few leaves of summer are clinging stubbornly to the sycamore tree in front of our house. They may not survive today’s wind, and that’s OK with me. I’ve raked enough this season.

Autumn is a poignant time; a twilight season between hot and cold, dark and light, remembering and forgetting. But (as I’ve said here before) it’s my favorite time of year, full of colors and crisp air and good smells like wood smoke from a chimney or the redolent aroma of a simmering pot of stew on the stove when I walk in the door.

But those last few leaves… They’re still hanging on for dear life as if they were afraid to just let go and rattle off down the street. I can understand that. There are things we all want to hold on to forever: our youth, our hopes and dreams, all those we have loved along the way. These—and more—are the last of the leaves.

But it is in the letting go of all these things that we free ourselves to move forward. In his masterpiece novel of self-discovery “Siddartha,” Herman Hesse observed that “Some of us think that holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” I know that’s counter-intuitive but there comes a time when we have to pitch some of the treasure or pain we carry in order to create space for what we still have to bear and for what is to come. Even a sycamore knows that.

Now I don’t believe for a minute that letting go means forgetting. I suppose that if we forgot all the lessons we’ve learned along the way, we would be doomed to repeat our mistakes and, like Sisyphus, we would spend the rest of our days rolling that heavy boulder uphill. No; to my musing mind, letting go simply means relaxing one set of muscles in order to create sufficient energy for another set of muscles to pick up the next load. And the next and the next, season after season.

Sounds simple, but it’s not. A lot of us crave the status quo; change—letting go of the past and forging a new future—can be a daunting, even downright terrifying, prospect. We’ve all played the game of thinking about the one person, past or present, with whom we would most like to have dinner. My choice for that meal would be my distant ancestor—I think my seven times great-grandfather—who decided to let go of Scotland and all that he held dear to sail across an ocean and build a cabin in the wilds of Western Pennsylvania. Talk about letting go! What courage that must have taken, but then again, perhaps it was as simple as letting go.

Out in front of our house, the wind is still doing to its best to shake the last of the leaves from the sycamore tree. The yard I raked yesterday is covered again. There’s still work to be done. But one day soon, the last leaf will tumble down and the cycle will invisibly begin again. Because there’s never a last leaf. Even a sycamore knows that.

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.

 

 

 

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.