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.