Mid-Shore Health: The Goal of Control at the End of Life

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There is little doubt that one of the paramount issues for those facing the last phase of their lives is one of control. From such things as pain management to document the end of life wishes with family members, the patient is eager to control as much of the process as possible.

And one of their primary allies in maintaining that control is working with their local hospice as early as possible. That is the central message we received when talking to Talbot Hospice’s medical director, Mary DeShields, and its executive director, Vivian Dodge when talking to the Spy the other day.

With the national average hospice care period lasting only two to three weeks, the options and time for solid planning are minimal. That is why Mary and Vivian are strong advocates for patients and families to enter into hospice care almost immediately after a terminal diagnosis, which allows up to six months for them to prepare appropriately and guarantee the most comfortable end of life strategies possible.

This long-range approach also applies to palliative care which takes of those between acute care and end of life care. This stage for those with a chronic illness this is likely to result in death also requires a multidisciplinary management approach that, like hospice, is directed around the wishes of the patient and dramatically improve their day-to-day quality of life.

That is the primary reason that Talbot Hospice has been taking steps this year to strengthen their palliative care role with a new initiative to work more closely with community physicians and their patients.  By adding the local hospice team, both doctors and those under their care can greatly benefit patients with symptoms, and the emotional side of these serious chronic conditions.

The Spy sat down with Mary and Vivian at Talbot Hospice last week for a brief discussion of these issues.

This video is approximately seven minutes in length. For more information about Talbot Hospice please go here

Spy Profile: John Sprinkle on Saving Places on the Mid-Shore and in America

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Historic preservation as a concept is not new anymore. In fact, this unique American movement proliferated from such humble beginnings of a few local women saving Washington’s Mt. Vernon in 1858 to now a dedicated agency like the National Park Service with its multi-million dollar budget designed to certify, protect, and sometimes purchase the country’s most important buildings and landscapes of our history and culture.

And like many things on the Mid-Shore, the Spy came upon one man from the region who not only participated in the selection of many of those special places but has written extensively about local and national efforts to help save them.

John Sprinkle, a Chestertown native, is the offspring of a mother from the multigenerational Brooks family of Kent County, and an architect father who specialized in historic preservation, knew very early on that his future would be tied to the past. After completing a masters in historical archaeology and then a doctorate in history from the College of William and Mary, John soon joined the National Park Service and eventually led the agency’s National Historic Landmark Survey, co-directs its Federal Preservation Institute, it’s educational wing, and is also the bureau’s historian.

While his vita has shown a broad interest in the field, he has also participated at the local level where he serves on the City of Alexandria’s Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission and teaches at the University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. And in his spare time, John writes books on the subject, with the latest being Saving Spaces: Historic Land Conservation in the United States.

John came back to his hometown last month to give a reading at the Bookplate and was willing to stop by the Spy HQ for a chat about his unique background and his observations on how historic preservation has changed over the years.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length. To purchase of copy of Saving Spaces: Historic Land Conservation in the United States please go here.

Think On These Things by George Merrill

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When a cherished place from my past – where I’d once felt loved and in tune with the world is violated, I feel diminished. In the ‘Talbot Spy’ recently, columnist Jamie Kirkpatrick’s moving essay Then and Now, reflects on his boyhood in Pittsburgh, where the recent Tree of Life Synagogue shootings took place.

“I knew nothing but peace and safety in that neighborhood, but that was then. This is now,” Jamie writes.

In this bittersweet comment, I imagine Jamie is attempting, as I would, to make some kind of sense of two disparate images; one, of a lovely place of family and childhood, the other, that same place but now violated by hate and anger. The violation of a special place diminishes the solace the memory of it offers.

I’ve been reading an essay by the famous anthropologist Loren Eisley. In an allegory about a sense of place and the role our memory can play in it, Loren Eisley describes a changing landscape in Philadelphia in the thirties.

The old elevated railway station in Philadelphia was a large waiting area containing vending machines. As soon as pigeons heard the trains approaching, they would alight in large droves to feed on peanuts that commuters left scattered on the station floor.

The El was slated for demolition to build a subway. When the tunnels were dug the El was totally dismantled and where the pigeons had always gone for their sustenance was gone.

Eisley began seeing some pigeons returning to their old haunts. What brought them back was the noise, not of approaching trains anymore, but of the wreckers, a sound inciting their hopes that they could return there to be fed as they had always been before.

Even when the structure was fully gone, Eisley writes, “It was plain . . . that they (pigeons) maintained a memory of an insubstantial structure now composed of air and time.” Although that special place for them had been violated, the pigeons never quite surrendered the memory of the place that had nurtured them.

The recollections of my past can produce incongruent images. The images contrast between the way it was and the way it is, now. There can be pain, grief, and a sense of personal violation in such recollections. I often feel it as I recall the open spaces of my childhood now suffocated by tract housing and overdevelopment. The dissonance resulting mitigates the melancholy sweetness of nostalgia. In the courts of memory, there are many sacred places. When those sacred places are profaned, I’ve lost something.

The word sacred is not a user-friendly in today’s world. Consumerists have coopted most of the language of traditional piety to make sales pitches, but not even the most tasteless marketer offers his wares as ‘holy.’ A Subaru may be pitched as ‘love’ but never as ‘holy.’ Outside of places of worship, you rarely hear the word. It’s a hollow world where nothing is sacred,

“Draw not near here: put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” And so, God speaks to Moses reminding him of both the place and the special encounter he is to have. Moses is asked to acknowledge this holy place and its awe-filled moment by making a traditional gesture of veneration. He removes his sandals to respect the household into which one enters. It reminds me of how I once watched a funeral a procession pass through an old southern town. People stood roadside and watched, as men removed their hats honoring the solemnity of the moment and the suffering of the mourners. They had an idea of the holy.

The recent shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue is another instance of how far we have come from grasping any significance of the holy and the place it holds in our lives.

There were generations of people in The Tree of Life synagogue community who had gone through life’s rites of passages – rites that were thousands of years old. It was sacred space, a holy place where it’s members were invited to “remember” G-d, Moses, Jacob, Isaac and David in their worship. Girls grew into women and boys into men with the validation of, and within the safety of, a loving community.

The word ‘profane’, like the word, ‘holy,’ has dropped out of the modern vocabulary. I note that “to profane,” means to treat what’s sacred with irreverence and disrespect. It means literally to desecrate, to violate and to defile, and I have no doubt that our present trend is profaning our two most sacred trusts: each other, and the environment.

A sacred space can be literal or figurative. There are sacred spaces, and holy ways of being. Those spaces may be comprised of nothing more than benevolent sensibilities, kind and generous ways of being with self, with others, and with the environment. I didn’t mention ‘with God’ only because if you are kind to yourself, gentle with others, and respectful of the environment, having touched all these bases, you’re sure to be right with God.

The royal route for entering sacred spaces is to become aware, conscious of what is. One of the popular means of that search begins with smelling the flowers. Flowers are almost universally present.

When I commuted to Washington years ago, I’d take New York Avenue. In the windows of the stately old row houses that had fallen into disrepair and were inhabited by poor and disenfranchised people. I’d be surprised to see so many window flower boxes, obviously tended and glorifying as much as they could this, the desperate landscape. The flowers invoked the holy in the lives of those whose lives were being profaned.

We see flowers everywhere. They adorn almost every social occasion, whether a dinner party or a wake; they offer grace and beauty to our rites of passage, from celebration to mourning, and they keep us mindful of the one inscrutable mystery of life that ensures our future: the magical business of the birds and the bees.

I cannot think of one flower that is not beautiful. Ever watch a child pick a dandelion and ceremoniously present to you as a present? This is a sacred moment. The combined beauty of the simple dandelion and the child’s expression of anticipation is exquisite beyond words.

Where there is hate there is evil and suffering. Where there is holiness, there is beauty and healing. Where there is truth there is beauty, holiness and healing.

The present social atmosphere has grown toxic with brutal words and vengeful deeds. It’s not easy to remain focused on what ennobles us and affirms life. St. Paul had an idea about that. He put it this way and I believe it still holds:

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

What we think about will direct how we act.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Food Friday: Thank You, Dorcas Reilly!

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In two short weeks Thanksgiving will be over – except for the best part with the Pilgrim sandwiches, and some leftover pumpkin pie, smuggled cold from the fridge and eaten hastily while standing at the pantry window, looking out over the swirl of black leaves in your childhood home’s back yard.

Thanksgiving can be fraught with peril: although the food remains basically the same, the group dynamics change annually; the rules and the dance partners are as varied and intricate as any Regency dance in a Jane Austen novel. There are always new partners, babies, newish children, a different kitchen, family recipes, new recipes, store-bought, homemade, football, gossip and hurt feelings.

I almost overlooked an obituary in the New York Times a few weeks ago. Dorcas Reilly died in New Jersey. She was 92. Reilly invented the almost ubiquitous Green Bean Casserole that appears on so many Thanksgiving dinner tables. Modestly, Reilly asserted she was just part of the team that developed the dish at Campbell’s Soup in Camden, New Jersey in 1955. They were looking for a tasty, economical side dish. It has just six ingredients, and it can be easily assembled by anyone. It became an institution; it was America at its most homogenous and bland. Campbell’s estimates that 20 million green bean casseroles will be prepared in the United States this Thanksgiving. Imagine being the person who was responsible for such an institution. Will you have a green bean casserole on your table?

Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole (originally called Green Bean Bake)

1 10 3/4-ounce can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
A dash of pepper
4 cups cut green beans
1-1/3 cups of French fried onions

Mix soup, milk, soy, pepper, beans and 2/3 cup onions in 1-1/2-quart casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until hot. Stir. Sprinkle with remaining onions. Bake five minutes. Serves six.

The genius was adding the crunchy French fried onions, which I could happily eat by the handful, out of the can, any day of the week. It is a Thanksgiving moment I relish!

But we live in different times, and as much as we would like to remember our childhood holidays, there are new memories to be made. So when you are helping in someone else’s kitchen this year, be aware of the minefield of kale salads and chestnut brioche stuffings. Bring some nice wine and offer to wash and dry the dishes. There is a new crop of home cooks ready to stretch their wings, and they are going to smoke turkeys in the Big Green Egg. And they have their own green bean casserole recipes.

Thank you, Dorcas Reilly, for so many memorable Thanksgivings.

This is a labor-intensive recipe, best brought to a potluck Thanksgiving, when you can boast about making the mushroom sauce from scratch. No sodium-riddled canned soup for you! https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/11/homemade-green-bean-casserole-recipe.html

This must be prepared on-site, so be sure that there will be an available burner, or two: https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2017/08/green-beans-amandine-french-almondine-recipe.html

This recipe can be made in advance, but it eliminates all the fun of the French fried onions, and it makes you make bread crumbs! Shocking! https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/classic-green-bean-casserole-1272478

This is a thrifty version, that is probably healthier, because it introduces another vegetable. But it, too, eliminates the French fried onions. Obviously not my first choice: https://www.spendwithpennies.com/green-bean-casserole/ You can make this in advance, though it will require about 15 minutes in the oven, to warm up before serving.

I like this, even though shallots are used. But I think this will appeal to the sensibilities of our gourmands-in-training hosts this year. I’ll just smuggle in a can of French fried onions to snack on while assisting in the food prep and the wine tasting. https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/green-bean-casserole-with-caramelized-shallots

Get organized! The Thanksgiving clock is ticking down!

“What we’re really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?”
Erma Bombeck

https://www.northjersey.com/story/life/food/2018/10/25/remembering-nj-resident-dorcas-reilly-creator-green-bean-casserole/1763680002/

https://www.campbellsoupcompany.com/newsroom/news/2018/10/19/memory-american-inventor-dorcas-reilly/

The Spy Columnists: George Merrill

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It seems somehow fitting that the Spy will be ending our series on our public affairs columnists with George Merrill on Election Day. Perhaps the most apolitical of the five writers that volunteer each week to offer their unique point of view with our readers, George, an ordained Episcopal minister, has been the most inclined to bring public debates down to questions of spirituality and the workings of the soul.

While George does not skirt the issues of the day, his Sunday essays have been more about his only reaction to the challenges of life than focusing on the foibles of a particular politician or policy. His intense interest in his own makeup encourages the reader to explore their own sense of soul as they work through the news of the day.

Now eighty-four years old, Merrill has also reached a point where he can, he laughingly notes, “say anything I want,” knowing full well that this sense of liberation has allowed him the freedom to explore and take delight in what he doesn’t know as much as the wisdom that comes with living over eight decades.

In his Spy interview, George talks about his writing style, spirituality and politics, and the pure enjoyment he has in taking pen to paper.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length

A Way Of Life by George Merrill

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Media reports suggest an economic upturn, even increased employment, while at the same time, reports also indicate that the nation’s social fabric is unraveling. What’s going on?

Are there two issues running concurrently in our country? It seems counter-intuitive to me to believe that a rising economy with improved employment would not stem the grievances being aired about our adversarial way of life? Still, there’s no doubt that we Americans are feeling less safe. Chronic lying and relentless character assassinations by our leaders are creating tension and encouraging distrust of our neighbors, both native born and immigrants. It’s very common to hear people say they feel helpless.

It’s not a new thought that man does not live by bread alone.

In a recent column, conservative pundit George Will described what he sees as the modern dilemma with which we live today.

He notes how the nation’s most-discussed political problem is entangled with the least understood public health problem. “The political problem is a furious partisanship. The public health problem is loneliness . . . Americans are richer, more informed and ‘connected’ than ever while unhappier, more isolated and less fulfilled.”
There’s something to this. Insurance giant Cigna conducted a survey to explore Americans’ mental states to see if they correlated with our physical health concerns. The survey revealed complaints of loneliness by 48 percent of Americans. Baby boomers scored 42 points. Members of generation Z born between the mid-nineties and early two thousand said they felt lonely and isolated and that their relationships were not meaningful.

There’s an old story about a team of technical advisors dispatched from the states to a Polynesian island in the Pacific. They went to help with agriculture. The natives’ lives were oriented around watering their crops that grew in fields on top of a hill. Their water came from a river below flowing in the valley. Irrigating required enormous effort and took almost the entire tribe’s time. Buckets of water were carried up the mountain daily.

The team saw immediately how labor intensive their lives were. They knew ways in which they could reduce the burden of labor and time the natives spent in tending their crops – simply by mechanizing the delivery of water to the crops. Pumps were brought in and pipes laid so the water could be efficiently delivered, leaving the natives with the kind of leisure time they’d not known before.

After the irrigation system was up and running, the natives grew bewildered.

Soon, unprecedented behavior appeared among the members of the native community. Children began to defy their elders. The men began drinking. Spousal abuse became endemic. Fights were frequent and a murder occurred, the first in tribal memory. An attitude of malcontent and malaise began pervading the lives of natives who once lived satisfying lives by sharing in the manual task of watering their crops.

Watering the crops by hand was far more than just work or even survival. Men and women talked to and connected with each other daily while they went up and down the hill. The children worked along with elders, everyone was integrated into a way of life that had meaning well beyond the particular task of feeding themselves. From one point of view, with mechanized irrigation the natives never had it so good. What nobody had foreseen, however, was how this arduous but well-functioning way of life that brought peace and harmony to the community had been decimated with what we, by western standards, would call progress.

The team had their hearts in the right place but they lacked understanding of the values natives held and how critical this difficult work was to their way of life. Labor was playing the determining role in creating social cohesion and community, more than the attempts to bring progress did.

Trump has, by word, deed and innuendo, legitimized hatred, and has bred a brutal climate that polarizes our citizens. It’s become a way of life. My question is if economic and employment improve, will our social climate grow kinder and gentler, or is there something else fueling the hostile climate? I believe that the president by his leadership has drawn from the social order, all the toxins that had been latent or partially contained. Instead of using the power of the presidency to mitigate these harmful toxins for the common good, he has exacerbated the toxicity to serve his own purposes. Congressional republicans don’t seem at all troubled.

A way of life, rooted in basic human values can sustain a community though the most difficult times. Consider the remarkable story of the Amish community.

In October of ’06 a small Amish community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania was stricken with a horror of unimaginable proportion. Ten Amish children were killed in their school in a mass shooting. Only five survived. There have been more shootings in the twelve years since the one in the tiny Pennsylvania village, some with much higher death tolls. But the Amish school shooting moved our country in a way other shootings had not. The attacker preyed on the most innocent and defenseless members of a bucolic and pacifist religious community. Within hours, the Amish announced they had forgiven him. This reaction of the Amish community stunned those familiar only with the Amish rejection of modern technology. Many were unaware of the community’s deep faith and how it guides their daily lives. In the face of unspeakable tragedy and violence a community that cultivated essential goodness, although bloodied, survived with grace and dignity.

Their way of life helped to heal the community, even the family of the perpetrator.

The Amish forgave the man who killed five of their children. They embraced the man’s widow to comfort her. The community responded not with rancor, anger or hatred. They responded with love and forgiveness. Not only does character count but it may be the singularly greatest asset in sustaining community life.

“We have to forgive,” said Aaron Beiler, 66, whose farm is just a few miles away from Nickel Mines where the shooting took place.

I often wonder if I would have had the moral fiber and the depth of character to meet such tragedy with that kind of grace and magnanimity. The truth is that many Amish did feel just such outrage because they are, like all of us, human. Brutal and retaliatory instincts exist in all of us. We are both lamb and lion; whichever one is regularly fed and encouraged, takes us over. Managing our instincts is a matter of our values. The more humane values guiding a way of life can transform the raging inner landscape of pain, anger, and vengefulness first into one of sadness and mourning, and finally into forgiveness.

I propose that the real challenge for Americans today may be less about money and jobs, than the way of life we’re beginning to settle for.

Without a vision, the people perish.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Food Friday: Halloween Leftovers

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Skulking in my front hall is a large stainless steel bowl, brimming with evil intent and oodles of leftover Halloween candy. Being new to our neighborhood I didn’t know what to expect in the way of trick or treaters. I didn’t know if this was a street that the kids flocked to or shunned. So I bought a lot of Halloween candy. Just in case.

Our next door neighbors’ house seemed like it would be a real draw for the thrill seekers: there is an well-lighted, moving skeleton of a fire-breathing dragon, and another skeleton (human) that is either escaping from, or getting ready to leap down into, the chimney. Strings of purple and green lights flash along the roofline. Scary robotic cats line the front porch. There are dozens of foam gravestones, planted with precision in the middle of the lawn, and lighted ghosts and jack o’lanterns are lurking among the shrubberies. The kids will either hit this place like crazy, or will be deathly afraid of it.

Our current neighbors’ is a relatively restrained display of plastic-y Halloween zeal. We once lived down the block from people who went overboard on Halloween. One fabled year they built a corn maze in their front yard, and had a Freddy Krueger wannabee periodically rev up a real chain saw. There was a mysterious, silent figure holding s scythe. Our children, admittedly tiny and rational, refused to set foot on the property, even with the promise that there were full-size Snickers bars available to those who made it through the labyrinthian challenge.

I guess I can’t take it personally that our modest Halloween display was not alluring enough to draw crowds. We have half a dozen lighted pumpkins and a pair of black plastic flamingo skeletons poked into the urns with the Martha-approved rust-colored chrysanthemums. Maybe it was the tasteful hydrangea wreath with a chrysanthemum-coordinated rust-colored bow that sent them back into the night.

Two little girls braved knocking at our front door. They were a little taken aback when Luke the wonder dog barked with all the ferocity he normally reserves for the regular home invasions by the UPS guy. But when he was penned up in the kitchen, the girls took their fair share of Halloween treats, and not a goodie more. Which leaves me with this bowl brimming with quality candy.

I didn’t want us to be the bad neighbors who handed out raisins or popcorn balls. But I didn’t want to be the ones handing out the full-size Snickers, either. There has to be a happy medium between excess and handing out the wrong kind of candy. Did I want us to be known as the People Who Dole Out Dum Dum Lollipops at Halloween? Of course not. Sugarless gum? Hell, no. We had snack-size Reese’s peanut butter cups, glow-in-the-dark Twix bars (also snack-size), and the new-fangled dark chocolate (snack-size) Twix bars. Better than Tootsie rolls, but not as good as Bendicks Bitter Mints.

I doubt if our visiting princesses were super impressed by our candy. We had merely lived up to the neighborhood contract and had plenty o’candy ready for the invading hoarde of trick or treaters. Maybe next year we will get a few more. In the meantime, what to do with all that leftover chocolate?

The savory leftovers at Thanksgiving are one thing. Who doesn’t like sitting down with a nice turkey sandwich and a sliver of pie after all the pesky relatives have gone home? The idea of baking with leftover Halloween candy is mildly nauseating. I can’t face Hershey Kisses at the best of times, but to think of them as a massive decorative component is really quite beyond me. M&Ms and candy corn? I guess it depends on your sweet tooth. Here are some links to recipes that might just bail you out.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/voraciously/wp/2018/10/27/six-recipes-to-use-up-all-of-your-extra-halloween-candy/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e530e45692ab

https://www.foodandwine.com/news/leftover-halloween-candy-recipes

I am going to take the high road with our leftover candy, and donate it to folks who might appreciate it as much as the little princesses, if not more. https://www.operationgratitude.com/express-your-thanks/halloween-candy/

That way Luke the wonder dog and I might not have to take an extra-long walk this afternoon. It can be snack-sized.

‘Mr. Wonka: “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.”
Charlie Bucket: “What happened?”
Mr. Wonka: “He lived happily ever after.”’
― Roald Dahl

Expert Witness: Former EPA Chesapeake Director Nick DiPasquale on Conowingo and the Problem of Pennsylvania

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It seems that more often than not, whenever the Spy seeks to interview an expert on the some of the topical issues of the day, one is just around the corner. This is one of the great benefits of serving a region that has become the home of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of retired professionals from almost every field of concentration. From members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, professors, scholars, CEOs, or government executives, the Mid-Shore is blessed with disproportionately well populated with people who really do know what they are talking about.

So when we were eager to find another expert to interview in our ongoing coverage of the Conowingo Dam and the impact of upstream pollution problems from Pennsylvania, as if by magic, the Spy was notified that Nick DiPasquale, who had recently retired as the Director of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, had just bought a house in the historic district in Chestertown.

Even if we only looked at Nick’s tenure running the Chesapeake Bay program, it would be interesting to learn first hand his impressions of the health of this critical ecosystem. But what turned out to be so beneficial in helping our readers understand the complexity of Bay challenges was his remarkable career before the EPA when he had also served as the Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and as Deputy Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The Spy sat down with Nick at the Spy HQ in Chestertown a few weeks ago to talk about some of the Bay’s most significant challenges with a specific focus on the Conowingo Dam and how Pennsylvania must dramatically change its policies to seriously regulate the damaging agricultural run0ff that contributes so substantially to the Bay’s poor environmental health.

This video is approximately twelve minutes in length. 

Mid-Shore Arts: Sumner Hall Presents Roots of African American Music

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The MSG Acoustic Blues Trio, the opening act for the Sumner Hall concert series

Chestertown’s Sumner Hall begins a new venture this fall with a stellar concert series, “African American Legacy & Heritage in Jazz, Blues & Gospel.” The series, featuring local and nationally-known performers, is produced by Tom McHugh, well known for his work at the Mainstay in Rock Hall.

Since retiring from the Mainstay, McHugh has worked with the arts programs at the Kent County public schools, bringing recognition to the art teachers and students and working to bring in artists to help expand the students’ horizons. Now, working in a volunteer capacity with Sumner Hall, he has drawn on his many contacts throughout the music world to assemble a concert series to represent the rich spectrum of African American music, from spirituals and blues to the giants of jazz. McHugh was joined by Sumner Hall President Larry Wilson for a Spy interview on the concert series.

Musician Karen Somerville with Tom McHugh, producer of the concert series and director of Arts in Motion – Photo by Jane Jewell

McHugh said the inspiration for the series came when he was at Sumner Hall for an event and read a poster on the wall that made him think about the role of music in African American life in Kent County and how that links to the mission of Sumner Hall. “It’s a poster that just makes you think,” he said. The series inspired by it “is intended to be the legacy of African American contributions to blues and jazz and folk music.”

Reggie Harris

The first performer he thought of was Reggie Harris, guitarist, songwriter and storyteller extraordinaire. McHugh said, “Reggie has this reputation of being able to pull all these currents together.” He said that whenever he brought Harris in for a concert, “I just let him roll,” knowing the result would be right for the situation and the audience. When McHugh called Harris – even before contacting anyone at Sumner Hall – to tell him about the idea of a concert series to present “snapshots” of the different musical genres, Harris said, “I’m in.”

McHugh then began looking for other performers, particularly those who could take the history “way back,” which was when he found out about the MSG Acoustic Blues Trio, a Washington DC-based group that presents the Piedmont Blues style associated with such artists as Cephas and Wiggans. McHugh said MSG had performed at Archie Edwards’ barbershop in Washington, which featured live performances while Edwards cut hair. The group was referred to McHugh by Dave Robinson, a fixture of the Washington jazz scene, who brought a DC-area youth band to the Chestertown Jazz Festival a year ago. Robinson referred McHugh to Archie Edwards Barbershop Foundation and they recommended MSG Acoustic Blues Trio. “You have to get these people…they entertain and educate the audience about the Piedmont blues traditions,” Robinson said.

Larry Wilson, president of Sumner Hall Board of Directors – Photo by Jane Jewell

Having secured those two groups, McHugh said, he felt the rest would be a matter of “filling in.” He presented the idea to some of the Sumner Hall leadership, and the project began to take shape. He said that all the artists had agreed to perform for less than their normal fees, many of them because of their previous experience with McHugh at the Mainstay.

Phil Dutton

He talked about the performers, many of whom are already familiar to local audiences – especially Philip Dutton and Karen Somerville. For their performances in this series, McHugh asked both of them to stretch beyond what audiences have come to expect. Dutton, who usually appears with his band the Alligators, will do a solo set, talking about the influences on his playing. McHugh described Dutton as “a scholar” of the different styles of New Orleans piano playing.

Somerville, best known for gospel performances with the Sombarkin trio, will pay tribute to Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin – two of the most revered voices in African American music. McHugh said that he and Somerville have been friends for at least 25 years, and he described her as his main link to the Kent County African American community during his first few years here, introducing him to important members of the community and filling him in on bits of local history.

Pianist Daryl Davis and guitarist Guy Davis (no relation) have been regulars at the Mainstay, with Daryl Davis a frequent performer at Rock Hall Fall Fests. McHugh has known Guy Davis for many years, since inviting him to demonstrate slide guitar at a blues class he was teaching at Vassar. Guy Davis and Reggie Harris played a memorable concert at Sumner Hall a couple of years ago.

Guy Davis – photo by Joseph A. Rosen

One of the less familiar performers is Jason Blythe, a young tenor sax player from the jazz program at the University of Delaware, whom Mchugh heard when the U. Del. big jazz band played at the Mainstay. McHugh described Blythe as “a natural” musician. Learning that one of Blythe’s favorite tenor players is the late Lester Young, McHugh challenged him to recreate Young’s 1946 trio with Nat “King” Cole on piano and Buddy Rich on drums. Blythe recruited two members of the U. Del. faculty to fill out the trio.

McHugh said that each of the performers has agreed to talk about the music with the audience and to answer any questions. “It might have to do with your instrument, or it might have to do with how you got into this music, so people can take those stories out into the community,” he said. In some cases – notably with Daryl Davis, who has made an ongoing effort to meet and engage with members of the Ku Klux Klan – the discussion may range far beyond the music. That’s part of the point – as important as the music is in its own right, it has an important role as part of African American life, and draws on all aspects of the black experience in this country.

Daryl Davis

Wilson reminisced about the music he heard while growing up in Kent County. He and his friends listened to the black-run radio stations, WSID and WEBB from Baltimore and WANN from Annapolis until they went off the air at sundown, then switched to the Baltimore Top 40 station, WCAO – where much of the same music was crossing over into the pop mainstream. He said he hoped the concert series would attract more members of the local African American community – especially young listeners — to Sumner Hall

With this goal in mind, 20 tickets will be set aside for each concert for Special Guests. The concerts’ website notes that there are many members of the community who may be unable to purchase a ticket but who are either a part of the local African American music scene in the region or who are students and youth who would love to attend. Anyone interested in sponsoring one of these community members can purchase a “Sponsor a Special Guest” ticket in addition to their own, and Sumner Hall will make sure that ticket goes to a deserving local music fan. “Sponsor a Special Guest” tickets are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said of the concert series. “Each one is different in its own way but it brings a light to the music.”  The musicians will open the floor for questions and discussion at the end of each concert.  Most concerts are on Saturday, a couple on Friday evenings.  Shows begin at 7:00 pm. The complete series schedule is below.

Everyone involved in the production is spreading the word through email and other media, so anyone interested would be well advised to make advance reservations online here https://aalhconcertseries.eventbrite.com.  The series is supported in part by a generous donation from the Hedgelawn Foundation.

All shows begin at 7 p.m.  Tickets are $20 each.  The hall seats just a little over 100. Advance ticket sales only. No tickets will be sold at the door.See their website for more information on Sumner Hall and other upcoming events.

The complete schedule:

November 10 – MSG Acoustic Blues Trio Showcases the Piedmont Blues
December 8 – Daryl Davis Offers Boogie Woogie and a Message
February 9 – Phil Dutton Plays New Orleans Piano
March 1 – Guy Davis is on the Road with Blues and Songster Ramblings
April 13 – Jason Blythe & University of Delaware Band Re-create the Lester Young Trio
May 11 – Karen Somerville Sings Mahalia, Aretha. . . and More
June 1 – Reggie Harris Wraps It Up

Sumner Hall
206 S. Queen Street
Chestertown, MD 21620
phone 443 282 0023.