The Phenomenon of Weather by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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For a string of days last week, we baked in the oven of summer. Relentless heat: grey, blazing, steamy days; airless nights. The thermometer in my car registered triple digits. What we wouldn’t give for just one cool breeze!

Then suddenly we all felt it: that moment when a cold front miraculously swept through town and turned all those hot, sultry summer days into a breezy delight. The sky turned blue again; the humidity drained away and all that still, soggy air became a refreshing zephyr caressing our cheeks. We perked up. We felt reborn. It was fun to be outdoors again.

It was just a cold front, the weather girl informed us, nothing more than a transition zone during which a mass of colder air replaces a mass of warmer air, or in our case, a mass of really hot air. (Cold fronts generally move from northwest to southeast so maybe our kind Canadian neighbors are still speaking to us after all!) We felt immediate relief because the air behind a cold front is noticeably colder and drier than the air ahead of it. The phenomenon of weather, simply and scientifically explained.

But it wasn’t always that way…

Helen, beautiful Helen, Helen of the face that launched a thousand ships and burned the topless towers of Illium, has been seduced and stolen away from her husband King Menelaus of Sparta by handsome Paris, Prince of Troy. The honor of Greece has been egregiously offended. For months, Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon have been plotting revenge, gathering a vast army to rescue Helen and bring her home. Achilles, the greatest of all Greek warriors, has been strangely delayed (that’s another story) but eventually he arrives, and the armada that has been patiently waiting on the beach at Aulis is ready to descend on Troy and destroy it.

But on the morning of departure, the wind suddenly dies. Airless hot days descend and the fleet is becalmed. A month passes. Then two. The men grow restless; fights break out. Someone must have angered the gods. Agamemnon senses disaster and devises a plan: he proposes that he bring his youngest daughter Iphigenia to Aulis and give her to Achilles in marriage because the gods love nothing more than a good wedding feast! Five days later, she arrives amid great pomp, but instead of a wedding ceremony, Agamemnon suddenly pins her to the garlanded altar that has been prepared and slashes her throat—a human sacrifice to the goddess of war Artemis. The blood splashes on the tunic of the stunned Achilles but at the very moment Iphigenia dies, the assembled throng feels a cool wind blow across their cheeks. Sails billow. The goddess has been appeased. The next morning, the armada sails away to Troy and into history.

The phenomenon of weather, simply and anciently explained.

So take your pick. Maybe it was nothing more than a cold front from Canada that cooled us off last week or maybe the gods were angry at some human insult and demanded restitution. (Apparently there was a big wedding in town over the weekend.) Either way, things have cooled off for a bit, at least for now.

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 published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Lady Liberty by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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An iconic symbol of America’s long and often uncomfortable struggle with immigration stands just over 151 feet tall in the middle of New York harbor. Designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and constructed by Gustave Eiffel (the same monsieur who erected that eponymous tower in Paris), the Statue of Liberty has kept watch over us all since 1886—a welcoming beacon, an enduring landmark, a tireless guardian, a cherished ideal.

America’s most renowned monument represents Libertas, Roman goddess of liberty. In her right hand, she holds high a torch; in her left is a tablet inscribed with the date July 4, 1776. A broken chain lies at her feet. A gift to the American people from the people of France, the heroic statue sent two messages: it was both a grateful expression of America’s promise of hope and freedom as well as a subtle plea to the people of France to resist the demagoguery and repressive regime of Napoleon III.

Even back then, there was a good deal of partisan bickering about Lady Liberty’s cost. Grover Cleveland, then Governor of New York, vetoed a bill that would provide $50,000 for the project. The following year, Congress declined to pass a measure that would provide $100,000 to finish the job. It ultimately fell to Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, to launch a private campaign to raise the funds ($150,000 at the time; $2.3 million in today’s dollars) needed to complete the project. Donations poured in, most of them under $1. A kindergarten class in Des Moines, Iowa contributed $1.35.

Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, The New Colossus, was added almost as an afterthought. The second stanza still resonates today with its indelible message of hope:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Well, that golden door seems sadly tarnished these days. A wall, not a torch, has become the new symbol of our struggle with the long story of American immigration. And what an ironic story it is! Unless your ancestors happened to trudge here over the bridge that covered the frozen Bering Straight in the Ice Age, you are as much an immigrant to this land as I am or, for that matter, as anyone in one of those “caravans” coming from Central America or anyone fleeing the chaos in the Middle East. And yet, there are those among us who would summarily slam shut the door of freedom to preserve some perceived modicum of security in an inherently insecure world. Whether motivated by ideology or just plain fear, these folks would relegate Lady Liberty and her message of hope to the dustbin of history. Sad.

Tomorrow is the fourth of July, a worthy celebration of America’s roots in the fertile soil of democracy, freedom, and pluralism. How demeaning that the fireworks exploding in air tomorrow night will reveal an uglier truth: that our great experiment is in danger of failing, that the torch of hope is flickering toward extinction, and that Lady Liberty is slowly but surely turning her back on the world.

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 published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

The Squall by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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We had a run of sultry days last week. To walk the golf course was to take a shower with my clothes on, something I don’t usually do. The air was so wet, you could wring it out with a tea towel. Ah, summer on the Eastern Shore.

But then, to paraphrase Ray Bradbury, something wicked this way came. My friend Richard who lives in a castle on the Bay out in Tolchester was the first to report a sighting: a summer squall moving fast and low across the water heading straight for Kent County. I checked the radar app on my phone: sure enough—a thin band of strong showers descending on us from the northwest. Batten down the hatches.

My wife and I were sitting on the front porch at the time. (I know: you’re shocked!) We had just been talking about how still it was when we first felt a breath of air. Then we heard the leaves of the sycamore begin to rustle. The flag which had been hanging limp suddenly snapped to attention. A few fat drops of rain fell, the temperature dropped like a rock, and suddenly we were pulling pillows and heading for the door just in time. An ominous wall of wind and rain and sound hit all at once, a big tree limb crashed onto the roof; we went from all calm to apocalypse in a matter of seconds. It was thrilling—from our inside vantage point!

And then it was gone. The squall fled across the Chester and down through Queen Anne’s County like a drunk in a roadster careening down the highway. And in its surprisingly benign wake: cooler temperatures, drier air, and rainbows. Rainbows everywhere. FaceBook and Instagram exploded with photographs of rainbows as though the Wizard himself had saved us all from imminent disaster. Everything’s OK, folks; Dorothy can go back home to Kansas now.

According to the National Weather Service, a squall is nothing more than a highly localized “active weather” event characterized by a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed usually accompanied by rain, thunderstorms, or even snow. Squalls are caused by mid-level tropospheric cooling which creates an upward warm air motion at the leading edge of the storm, followed by enhanced downward motions of cooler air in its wake. To make a squall official in the eyes of the NWS, wind speed must increase by at least 8mph per second, attain a top speed increase of at least 11mph per second, and last at least one minute which when you’re clearing the porch and running for the door seems like an eternity. (In Australia, a squall must last at least “several” minutes to officially earn its stripes. It’s tougher Down Under, mate!)

But by now, you know that when I look at a squall, I don’t see a weather event; I see a metaphor. Squalls happen. They can be unpredictable and scary—even dangerous—in their intensity and if they’re strong enough, they can leave detritus and destruction in their wake. Clean-up can take time. But they do clear the air and usually, there’s a post-squall rainbow to seal the deal.

My wife and I have been known to bicker lovingly from time-to-time. In all our years together, I can think of only one squall and it was my fault. I never saw it coming but fortunately for me, she is a kind-hearted soul and quick to forgive so almost as fast as it was on us, it was over. I’ll forecast better next time.

As for the squall that came through Sunday night, I’m just glad we were on the porch and not out on the water in a boat. Hope everyone came through safely and saw the rainbows!

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 published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Four Bridges by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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From time to time, I work over on the Western Shore. To get back home, I count four bridges: the Severn River Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the Kent Narrows Bridge, and last-but-hardly-least, the Chester River Bridge. With each crossing, I exhale a little more so that by the time I’m home, I’m at peace and all is well.

Bridge facts: The Severn River Bridge was built in 1920 and is officially known as the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge. It’s much larger cousin—the one we call the Bay Bridge—is really the Governor William Preston Lane Jr Memorial Bridge. Approximately four and a half miles long, the Bay Bridge first opened to traffic in 1952; a second (now westbound) span was added in 1973. The Bay Bridge can make for some nerve-wracking crossings: its height, narrow traffic lanes, low guardrails, and susceptibility to wind have given the Bay Bridge the dubious reputation of being one of the scariest bridges in the world. Be that as it may, the Bridge opened Maryland’s Eastern Shore to the world, changing forever—for better and for worse—the relative isolation and beauty of the Land of Pleasant Living.

But having crossed the Bay Bridge, you’re still in limbo on Kent Island. The true Eastern Shore doesn’t begin until you’ve crossed the Kent Narrows Bridge, the one that spans the waterway connecting the Chester River to the Eastern Bay while also joining Kent island to the Delmarva Peninsula. Holly’s used to greet you on the eastern side of the bridge, but now Holly’s is just another Royal Farms. Sad.

There’s still one bridge to go: our own dear Chester River Bridge. Only 1465 feet long, this charming little bascule structure built in 1930 connects Queen Anne’s County to Kent County and for those of us on the Chestertown side, it’s a constant source of gossip and speculation. Does it need repair or maintenance? Will it be closed for a few weeks?? You mean we have to go all the way to Crumpton to cross the river??? Serious questions for our town and its little concrete lifeline to QAC and the great beyond!

But wait: there’s an elephant in the room. It’s the specter of yet another bridge, a potential new span across the northern Bay that would form a direct connection between Tolchester in Kent County at the eastern terminus and Harford County and the northern Baltimore suburbs at the western terminus. Opponents cite the project’s staggering cost (at least $7 billion), along with problems like unholy traffic congestion, environmental degradation, unchecked development, and disastrous changes to the farms and serene pace of life here in Kent County. Proponents point out the merits of badly needed economic development, an expanded tax base providing for improved schools and services, and the potential for regulated and carefully planned development. No matter which side of the bridge debate you’re on (no pun intended), a new crossing would constitute a massive political, economic, environmental, and cultural undertaking with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for those of us who live here now and for generations to come.

But I’m not here to fight that battle today. As you might guess, I’m looking at bridges and seeing metaphors. I like bridges because they make connections; they join two sides; they span differences. So I wonder: why can’t we just build a bridge that crosses the aisle in the halls of Congress? Who could build a bridge that would span the wide political gulf that seems to surround us on all sides these days? Just wondering…

When I drive here, west to east, I count my four bridges like mile-markers along the way. When I finally reach this side of the Chester, I know I’m home.

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 published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

New Steps by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Rob built new steps for our house last week. I “supervised.” I watched him measure twice and cut once. I watched him level the job to perfection—not a simple task given the way things slant and lean around here. I watched him drill holes, drive nails, and set screws to create a solid, stable platform on which to stand or (as is often my wont) to sit. I watched him bull nose the treads and paint the risers…I thought I had a momentary vision of DaVinci, flat on his back, working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And when he was finished, he stepped back and looked upon what he had wrought and said, “Nah; off by an inch.” And he started over.

Rob would be the first to admit that he’s a perfectionist. It’s a quality that I greatly admire but don’t remotely share. I can live with imperfection which, in my case, is a good thing. Still, a craftsman like Rob doesn’t earn his stellar reputation by producing shoddy work. The same is true of my friend Eggman the painter. He’s an old-fashioned miracle up on a ladder, sanding, scraping, taping, priming, laying on a first coat, then a second, before he details and touches up his work. Even then, for Rob or Eggman, the work isn’t done: saws and tools and brushes need to be cleaned and stored, everything returned to its proper place, ready for the next job. That kind of organization and care is another quality I admire but don’t share. I put down my screwdriver and five minutes later I can’t for the life of me find it.

But back to our new steps. It doesn’t take a genius to see their metaphoric value. The old steps were worn out. The wood was rotting in places, the paint was chipped; truth be told, they were an accident waiting to happen. As a portal to our porch and house, they sent entirely the wrong message: this house is tired, it has lost its charm, it isn’t loved and cared for by the owners. Talk about fake news!

We all need new steps from time to time. It’s so easy to follow old, familiar patterns, or to overlook problems, or to take the easy way out of banal responsibilities. Why not put something off until tomorrow? Maintenance isn’t sexy; let’s just buy something shiny and new and never mind those old porch steps. We’ll get to those someday…

Of course, there’s this, too: new steps lead in new directions. That journey of a thousand miles really does begin with a single step. It may be a hard one to take sometimes, but unless that initial stride is made, there is no progress, only decay. I can’t honestly say I was thinking those thoughts as I watched Rob labor away on our new steps, but the message he left behind after he packed up his tools and drove away is crystal clear: new steps lead to new beginnings.

Be like Rob: make new 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 published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Lord Stanley’s Dilemma by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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About this time every year, two teams, two cities, and two legions of crazy fans vie for the honor of hoisting the Stanley Cup, the holy grail of professional hockey. This year, it’s Washington (a franchise that has never won a Cup) versus Las Vegas (a franchise that didn’t even exist a year ago). Talk about theater of the absurd!

Be that as it may, this year’s Finals puts me square in the middle of a dilemma. You see, I grew up in Pittsburgh, a.k.a. the City of Champions. My Penguins have won a total of five Stanley Cups including the last two. But this year, the Capitals sent the Penguins into early estivation in the second round of the playoffs and so I have had to adopt my wife’s hometown heroes, the Washington Capitals, if I am to maintain even a modicum of interest in the chase for the Cup. That means I have to don something red every time the Capitals play, a false flag operation I use to deflect my wife’s attention from the truth of my black-and-gold heart.

 

Today’s Stanley Cup didn’t start out that way. It was originally commissioned in 1892 as the Dominion Challenge Hockey Cup and is the oldest continual championship trophy in professional sports. The Cup was rechristened to honor Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor General of Canada who donated the Cup as a yearly award to Canada’s best amateur hockey club. The Montreal Hockey Club was the first Cup recipient in 1893; professional teams became eligible to compete for the trophy in 1906 but it wasn’t until 1947 that the Cup became the celebrated prize of today’s National Hockey League. Oh—and by the way—did I mention that the Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Cup five times? I did? Oh well…

It turns out there are really three Stanley Cups: the original Dominion Challenge Hockey Cup Bowl, the Presentation Cup given to the winning team, and the Permanent Cup which resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The one we see annually hoisted at the conclusion of the Final Series—the Presentation Cup—is some serious hardware: it’s made of silver and a nickel alloy, stands nearly 3 feet tall, and weighs almost 35 pounds, but it must seem weightless to the players on the team that finally gets to lift it. The Cup’s present configuration dates to 1958 and contains a replica of the original Cup and five bands, each band capable of containing the names of players on thirteen championship teams per band. When a band is full, it is retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame and a new band is added.

The Cup’s provenance is officially regulated not by the NHL but by two appointed Trustees who serve until their death. Serious business to be sure but there is plenty of tomfoolery, too. Each championship team is allotted one-hundred days to enjoy the Cup during the off-season. During that time, each member of that team gets his own personal day with the Cup. Players have been known to sleep with it, drink from it, swim with it, use it as a dog bowl, or even baptize their children in it. I wonder what I would do with it on my day. Hmmm…

This year, I’ll admit that I have enjoyed watching my wife and her large family of rabid fans root for the Caps. As I write this, the Caps are up three games to one in the final best-of-seven series so this may well be their year. We’ll know soon enough. If it is, I’ll be happy on the outside. But on the inside is another story: revenge is a Cup best served cold with a champagne glass of wait-until-next year.

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 published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Angels and Horses by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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One of the great things about living over here on the Eastern Shore is the variety of experiences that abound. Like last week when three couples boarded Dress Blue and cruised over to Annapolis. We motored under the Bay Bridge and anchored in the mouth of the Severn amid a flotilla of spectators to watch the Blue Angels dazzling air show. Six friends for six planes on a bluebird day; it just doesn’t get any better than that. Or so I thought.

If you don’t already know, the Blue Angels are the Navy and Marines premier air acrobats. They’ve been around since 1946 and perform about 70 shows a year to the delight of as many as eleven million spectators annually. Blue Angel pilots fly McDonnell-Douglas F/A Hornets often split into Diamond Formations (four aircraft) flying at speeds of around 400mph. Think that’s fast? Lead and Opposing Solos (two additional aircraft) execute a series of maneuvers—high speed passes, tight roles, and very tight turns—at speeds of up to 700mph—that’s just under Mach 1, the speed of sound. Near the end of the show, the two Solos join the four Diamonds to form a signature Delta Formation, making a series of passes wing-to-wing, belly-to-belly, or back-to-back, upright and inverted. It’s ear-splitting, heart-pounding, and breath-taking all at the same time. And not without risk: since 1946, 27 pilots have been killed in shows or in training—10% of all the pilots who flown throughout the squadron’s history.

Fast forward to the past weekend and Tea Party, Chestertown’s annual celebration of its colonial heritage and revolutionary roots. There are parades, all manner of food and drink, music, demonstrations, vendors selling crafts—all leading up to the glorious reenactment of the original Chestertown tea party when our patriot ancestors, weary of paying a tax on English tea, marched down to the river, boarded the Geddes’ (a role played flawlessly by the Sultana) in broad daylight, and dumped its cargo of fine tea overboard in 1774. “Did it really happen?” you whisper. Does it matter? It’s as good a reason as any to celebrate who we were and who we’ve become, for better or for worse.

But some locals opine that as stirring as Saturday’s reenactment is, the real highlight of Tea Party Weekend is Sunday’s raft race, the perfect showcase for the town’s penchant for creative genius and outright silliness. In any other year, those folks might be correct, but this year, the superstars of the whole shebang were a show-stealing octet of giant horses—the beloved Budweiser Clydesdales.

Cue the music. Whether in one of their endearing Christmas cards or memorable Super Bowl commercials, the Budweiser Clydesdales have clip-clopped their way into our hearts. They got their start with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 and in one early advertising coup, they even delivered a case of beer to President Roosevelt at the White House! They’re one-ton divas on four hooves, groomed and pampered by a dedicated crew of handlers who travel with their charges from one of three home stables in St. Louis, MO, Fort Collins, CO, or Merrimack, NH. Despite their enormous size and strength, the horses seem to be gentle giants; in the parade, they pranced down High Street pulling the old Bud beer wagon complete with a smiling Dalmatian on top, and then patiently posed for photographs with thousands of adoring fans in Wilmer Park or (on Sunday) out at the Worthmore Equestrian Center.

By the way, it’s not easy to be a Budweiser Clydesdale. To qualify for a hitch, a horse must be strong, even-tempered, stand at least 18 hands tall, and weigh between 1800 and 2300 pounds. They also must have a bay coat, four white stockings, and a white facial blaze. Budweiser owns a total of about 250 Clydesdales; 15 new foals are produced each year.

So there you have it. Angels one day, horses the next. Where else but here?

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 published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Higher Ground by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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We had several days of rain recently, and I don’t know about you but I was beginning to feel a little soggy. I suppose I could spout (so to speak) the usual platitudes about rain—it’s good for the crops, it knocks down the pollen, it has such a soothing sound, the gardens rejoice—but I’m sorry: I missed the sun.

The story of a great flood is as old as time. Literally. The deluge myth is an ancient and multicultural narrative in which a great flood is sent by the gods (or, if you prefer, by God) to destroy civilization in order to rebuild it better, purer. It’s an act of divine retribution for a world gone astray, a cleansing of humanity in preparation for its rebirth. Most deluge myths also contain, in addition to lots and lots of rain, a hero—someone who not only deserves to live but also must live so that humanity can be reborn. For many of us, that hero was Noah and, of course, his ark. For forty days and forty nights it rained and, according to Genesis, the waters covered the earth. Thankfully, in the end God relented and Noah, his family, and his two-by-two passengers survived to make a new beginning. To seal the deal, God displayed a rainbow—His promise to never again judge the earth by flood.

In fact, there may be some good science behind all the great flood stories. There is credible evidence of great flooding in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) as far back as 3000 BC. Some scientists have speculated that around that same time, a giant meteor crashed into Earth in what is today the Indian Ocean and the resulting tsunami had disastrous effects on the surrounding coastal lands. Even before that, almost 9000 years ago, think of all the water left behind after the last Ice Age. As the glaciers receded and melted over the centuries, all that scree and rock and water scoured the earth, cleansing it if you will, creating an entirely new landscape like the one that we’re all very familiar with: the Chesapeake Bay.

Whether you’re inclined to myth or science, you must admit that any kind of apocalyptic story has a dreadful fascination to it—so much so, in fact, that it has even become the stuff of advertising. Think I’m kidding? Have you seen the current commercial for an automobile with so much cargo space that not even a meteor speeding toward Earth can deter a young married couple from desperately trying to stuff it full of all their millennial possessions before escaping? More provocatively and much more real, what about the Trump administration’s recent decision to move the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a sorely misguided political calculation which, although not technically a deluge myth, just might summon up a series of cataclysmic events that could well result in a modern-day version of Armageddon? Farfetched? Not to Palestinians who have nothing to lose.

But no worries: that scenario is a world away. Back here, we’re on higher ground, just stuck indoors, waiting for the sun to come out again so we can go back outside and play.

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 published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Thank You Very Mulch by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Some things just go together: peanut butter and jelly, eggs and bacon, Mother’s Day and mulch. Wait! What?

It’s kind of a long story in our family, but Mother’s Day has become intertwined with the annual springtime chore of weeding and mulching the garden and so my wife declared that last Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day, was Mulch Day. Kingstown delivered and stacked fifteen big bags of jet black mulch this year, my wife and I supplied the wheelbarrow, a rake, and some sweat. Load, distribute, dump, and spread. Slowly but surely, the garden began to take on a more tamed aspect as all those blemishing weeds disappeared and a warm earthy aroma enveloped the backyard. There was even a little leftover mulch so my wife planted a row of white impatients under the boxwoods out front. By day’s end, our backs were a little sore, there was dirt under our fingernails, and the washing machine was working overtime. But there was also the satisfaction of a job well done. The red rose buds, the white peonies, and the purple wisteria seemed to like all that shiny new black footing; the day lilies, lavender, and hydrangea are just awaiting their cue so they can show off all their summer finery, thanks in large part to all that lowly mulch.

Mulch is simple stuff, nothing more than a layer of decomposed material added to the surface soil to help preserve moisture by reducing evaporation, or to regulate temperature, control weed growth, or just add healthy organic material to fertilize the mix. Mulch may just be background material with no fanfare but it’s absolutely essential to a healthy garden. OK; maybe there’s also a little cosmetic value to mulch, but after that first application, it goes about its work pretty much unnoticed, doing its task silently and thanklessly. It’s the overlooked tech crew that makes a Broadway star shine, the string section of the orchestra that gets taken for granted in a symphony, the harmonic drone that underlies the flashy notes of my bagpipes. (Sorry; couldn’t resist.) The point is that mulch does most of the work and gets none of the credit; it’s the unsung hero of a healthy garden.

I know a few people like that here in town; I’m sure you do, too. They are the ones who shun the limelight; the applause meant for others is more than ample reward for all their behind-the-scenes toil. They find satisfaction within; theirs is a secret smile. I admire them beyond measure for they are the foundation upon which we continue to build this town. Without them, the garden that is this place wouldn’t be nearly so healthy and bright.

Woodchips, bark, sphagnum peat, or straw all make fine organic mulch. So does composted raw food or grass clippings or leaves from deciduous trees. Even cardboard and newspaper make for a good winter mulch under a layer of snow. And just as there are a lot of ways to mulch a garden, so, too, does a rich and diverse array of people doing good quiet work add health and color to our own patch of green here along the banks of the Chester. The policeman, the volunteer fireman, the nurse, the teacher, the handyman, the waitress. I thank them all very mulch!

I admit I like bright flowers; I suspect we all do. But just remember this: without mulch, nothing grows quite so well.

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 published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.