ESLC’s Darius Johnson Would Like Your Attention on Bay Bridge Traffic Solutions


While the Mid-Shore has been fixated on issues related to a third Chesapeake Bay bridge possibly landing in their backyard, The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s Darius Johnson would politely suggest that the region turn its focus on the problems that exist now with bridge traffic and the real consequences for our communities along Route 50.

As the recently hired project director with ESLC, Johnson has been tasked with managing one of the organization’s oldest traditions; its annual planning conference, now in its 19th year. And the one day program, suitably named “ReRouting,” will place most of the attention on “here and now” traffic and transportation challenges.  How appropriate it that it will be held at the base of Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the The Chesapeake Bay Beach Club.

The Spy caught up with Darius at the Eastern Shore Conservation Center last week to chat about the conference.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s ReRouting Conference on April 18 please go here.





Mixed Neighborhoods by George Merrill


I presented a reading the other day in Easton. A number of Shore writers were celebrating the eleventh anniversary of The Delmarva Review. The day before I had learned of the shooting at the Mosque in Christ Church, New Zealand. The occasion became an eerie confluence of events.

The essay I read had originally appeared in 2008. I wrote about hospitality, the ancient custom of offering sanctuary to the stranger, and the divine imperative of making space for others. The story, however, was not as abstruse as it might sound. It revolved around a specific incident when I shot a blacksnake in my yard. Why? Snakes scare me. I shot it because it creeped me out. In the essay, I wrote: “Killing is remarkably easy; all we need is a motive, some legitimacy and a weapon. The rest is duck soup.”

As I read my essay, the subject of hospitality and xenophobia, its inhospitable opposite, had been dramatized the day before by the shooting tragedy that took place half a world away. A man feared that sinister foreigners were encroaching upon his white world. He had a motive, he legitimized it, he found weapons and the rest was a nightmare.

In the essay, I had used the snake as a metaphor for those “others” whom we either fear or loathe, but who do us no harm nor do they intend to. They are simply one other part of our human experience and its ecological realities. Sharing space is the name of the game.

Where I live on the Shore I share space with a bewildering array of living beings; foxes, deer, buzzards, groundhogs and, of course, snakes, to mention a few. Whether we reside in cities or rural areas, one thing is sure; we’re living in mixed neighborhoods.

The prevalence of social media has turned our world from pockets of insularity into a mixed neighborhood. In our increasingly electronically connected world, if we didn’t know it before, we know it now; everyone is your neighbor and for good or ill, we can learn instantly much of what his or her business is about.

Mixed neighborhoods trouble some people. They prefer being “with their own kind.” As hard as many are trying, there is no way we’re going back to the days of tribal identities, racial purity or ethnic superiority and national supremacy. Hitler put a formidable military and political machine behind his attempt to make Germany racially pure. Fascism had touted a thousand-year Reich. In its grandiose attempt to be great again, Hitler’s Germany went down in flames in only six years.

It’s heartbreaking to be hearing again the familiar fascist slogans in today’s public discourse. Some are subtle, others blatant. It’s still the same organized and systematic brutality: the lies, deceptions, the institutionalizing of hate, the manipulation and the messianic grandiosity that characterizes the racist mind – the kind we saw in Italy and Germany during WWII. What’s happening to us?
One thing I know is that we are awash in information but with little or no skills in discernment. Discernment involves possessing a set of substantive values to guide judgements. Right now, they are in short supply.

An unflinching look at the human condition reveals this unpleasant reality. At heart, we are both hyena and lamb. We are just as capable of the heinous acts we decry as the ones of generosity and kindness we applaud. Our behavior will depend on which critter we have been feeding. Here’s a graphic instance of what happens when the hyena gets overfed. According a New York Times account, the shooter in Christchurch “. . . walked up to a wounded woman dressed in black who lay on the pavement crying ‘help me, help me’ and shot her twice more.”

Social media today has become the trough of easy access from which malignant ideologies are nourished, perpetuated and proliferated.

This electronic neighborhood it’s created has become supercharged and overcrowded. In overcrowded communities, diseases spread. We are inundated with disturbing happenings and virulent ideologies as millions of people worldwide walk around indiscriminately ingesting data with phones. A demagogue can gain more global visibility on Twitter or Facebook than he ever could at a rally. Available space limits the audience at rallies. With social media, the sky’s the limit. You can even make visual documentaries to inform the world as you insult, kill and maim your enemies. Insidiously, hatred is becoming a form of entertainment. Violence already has.

One of the most chilling aspects of the Christchurch tragedy was how the perpetrator presented the carnage on line with sublime detachment. He created a reality show, a form of entertainment. He turned what was gross amorality into a playful show along with a manifesto to legitimize it.

When racists work to keep the neighborhood “pure,” you can be sure the whole neighborhood will go.

Humanity began as family groups (after we graduated from our time as pond scum.) We organized as tribes, settled in villages and then became citizens of nations. We organized around color and religion. Each new stage in our evolution created a particular challenge. How can we be good neighbors in a global community with all its bewildering variations? How do we regulate our differences and make space for others? How can we be hospitable?

Get to know the neighbors is a start.

I have six grandchildren who have already, or will be having, educational opportunities abroad. The countries include South Africa, Spain, Scotland, Costa Rica, Belgium, Italy and Panama. One other grandson is in the Air Force and will soon be deployed to Okinawa. These children enjoy the privilege that makes such opportunities possible. There are growing numbers who will also study abroad. And therein I find hope.

Children who are so positioned in life to be influential can, in their formative years, develop a broader view of who we are as a global family. My hope is that these young people will have an experience of being amazed and energized by differences and not be afraid or critical of them. They will make acquaintances and perhaps even friends from worlds and cultures distinct from their own; they will see people with differing habits.

I believe today’s frenetic tide of chauvinism flows contrary to the set our future’s current is taking. The world is a big place. Regulating differences requires a compassionate understanding of our place in it.

My hope is in our children who may become the voices of sanity in an ‘adult’ world that’s lost its way.

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: Dinner Improv


We started the home-cooked pizza routine back when the children were in elementary school, and pizza was a big deal for them. But we could only get crummy cardboard Papa John’s pizza delivered to the house, and taking everyone to the pizza place became prohibitively expensive. And so we rolled up our thrifty New England shirt sleeves and learn how to make pizza. And maybe over the years we have saved a little money, although good ingredients are pricey. Fresh mozzarella, good pepperoni and flavorful tomatoes start to add up.

Most Friday nights we still heat up the kitchen and make an amoeba-shaped disc that we call pizza. It is a good time to share the rote duties in the kitchen as we heat the pizza stone, roll out the dough (after all these years we still can’t twirl it), slice up the pepperoni, slather the sauce, and pluck the basil from the feeble container garden. The mozzarella melts, the cool beer tastes deelish and a cloud of garlic perfume fills the air. Also, the corn meal falls all over the floor and the oven, and the smoke detector frequently alarms us. After a quick ten minutes of cutting, folding and triangulating, dinner is over. And then the clean up begins.

The empty nest yawns about us now. We could probably sashay out on a Friday night to have pizza nearby. But we do love that time when we have Alexa playing 70s Dance Music for us. And we talk about the weekend ahead, and what delightful prospects it holds. And we don’t need a recipe any more. We know how to turn out a tasty pizza.

But if I eat another pizza on Friday night, and sweep up that damn corn meal again, I will probably implode. This weekend we are going to break out of the routine and rummage in the freezer and fridge, and we are going to improvise. I have found the best outline for a no-recipe meal: steak tacos, courtesy of Sam Sifton and The New York Times. The New York Times has a pretty rigorous and alert paywall – but I assure you that I have subscribed for years, so I feel secure in sharing this radical and freeing notion of cooking without a recipe with you.

“This is a no-recipe recipe, a recipe without an ingredients list or steps. It invites you to improvise in the kitchen.
Get some fresh tortillas and a pound of skirt steak, then make salsa from mostly fresh or canned pineapple, pickled jalapeños and a healthy couple shakes of chile powder, along with plenty of chopped cilantro. Shower the steaks with salt and pepper, and broil them for 2 to 3 minutes a side until they’re perfect and rare. Warm the tortillas. Grate some Cheddar. Rest the steak, slice it, and serve with the tortillas, cheese and that awesome salsa.”

Basically we need:
small steaks: flank steak, skirt steak, Omaha steaks, hanger steak
tortilla shells (flour or corn – your call)
salsa – jarred or homemade
chile powder
fresh cilantro
salt and pepper
Cheddar cheese
bits and pieces: avocado, onion, sour cream, lime juice, garlic, guacamole, tortilla chips (lightly warmed in the oven)

We always have tortillas in the fridge, and luckily, we also have a couple of Omaha steaks in the freezer, thanks to Santa. The spindly container garden has a pale and wan cilantro plant that I haven’t killed yet. And we have a bowl of jewel-like cherry tomatoes for the salsa. I will have to re-organize the pantry to see if we have any cans of pineapple. I refuse to make one more trip to the grocery store this week. Enough is enough, and enough is as good as a feast.

Epicurious Magazine weighs in:

Food and Wine suggests serving the tacos with wine; always a serious consideration in our house:

Gimme Delicious points out the cost benefits of making steak tacos at home. Indeed!

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
― Julia Child

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients.”
– Julia Child

Mid-Shore Health: Compass Regional Hospice Adds Palliative Care


Since 1985, Compass Regional Hospice has been serving the Mid-Shore of Maryland with perhaps one of the most challenging moments for human beings; the management of the end of one’s life.

Through their extensive coverage in Caroline, Kent, and Queen Anne’s Counties, Compass has developed a well-deserved reputation for exceptional in-patient care for those in need as well as an extensive commitment to in-home support for those with a life expectancy of six months or less.

But like any institution with a special mission, the board and staff of Compass knew that something important was missing from their long list of services. A few years ago, after an extensive strategic planning process, the organization concluded that to serve their communities, a palliative care program must also be added.

Palliative care is entirely different from hospice care. It is an interdisciplinary approach to care for people with life-limiting illnesses rather than a terminal condition. Those benefiting from this specialized approach are provided relief from the symptoms, pain, physical stress, and mental stress at any stage of a chronic illness with remarkable improvements in quality of life.

To understand more about the significant change at Compass, the Spy sat down with Compass’s executive director, Heather Guerieri and the organized newly appointed medical director, to understand what this means for the communities they serve.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length. For more information about Compass Regional Hospice please go here.

Mid-Shore Arts: When Art and History Meet with Jason Patterson


College towns are typically blessed with, and perhaps even a bit dependent on, the academic version of “twofers.” With each talented faculty member recruited, there is a good chance that an equally gifted spouse or partner will be part of the package.

Examples in Chestertown are endless of this form of collateral benefits. A recent case came to mind when the Spy announced that Sabine Harvey, wife of Washington College’s Dr. Michael Harvey, had been appointed to run Chestertown’s beloved farmers’ market. This was just the latest of Sabine’s remarkable contributions to Kent County agriculture and gardening.

And this is undoubtedly the case with the arrival of Dr. Meghan Grosse,  a professor with the College’s communication and media studies program. Dr. Grosse’s partner, artist Jason Patterson, agreed to make the move East from his native Campaign-Urbana in Illinois and now has his studio in Chestertown.

In the months that followed his arrival, Jason almost immediately became Kent County Arts Council’s first artist in residence. A few months after that, he was invited by Sumner Hall to exhibit his art (on display until March 24), and around the same time became a Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellow at WC’s Starr Center.

The Spy sat down with Jason at the Spy HQ in Chestertown for a quick chat about his work and the unique opportunities that come when art connects with history.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. More information about Jason Paterson’s art work can be found here.

Getting In Shape by George Merrill


Sometimes a waterspout is more than just a waterspout.

Years ago, I saw a waterspout. I’d not seen one before. I was on a sailboat on Long Island Sound. I watched until the waterspout was finally spent. The sight was mesmerizing.

I’d been sailing on the Connecticut side of the Sound; the waterspout appeared near the Long Island shore. The cloud hung low above the horizon. Below the cloud, the spout undulated as hoses will when first filled with water. It slowly and deliberately moved this way and that until finally it stabilized. The display lasted about three minutes. The spout was gradually assumed into the cloud.

Vortices, whether tornadoes, water spouts, dust devils or the whirlpools of descending water, have always excited the human imagination. The fascination may be associated with something as sublime as God speaking to Job in a whirlwind or Jacob’s ladder that’s often pictured as a spiral staircase.

Witnessing vortex action can be a negative one, like the commonplace fear that the whirlpools from a draining bathtub or toilet often produce in children. These childish fears were regarded universal enough that Mr. Rogers, in one of his neighborhood series, addressed the issue and reassured children that they would always be safe from harm and never be drawn down and away with waste water. Perhaps the fear is inspired by the power a whirlpool demonstrates. It has the capacity to suck anything down and make it irretrievable – not unlike the tornado that adults fear can flatten and then draw almost anything up and toss it away.

The fascination with the activity of vortexes is found in documents dating from ancient times among the Aztecs, the Greeks and Romans, the Arab and Asian cultures and into the twenty-first century here in the west. The nature of various kinds of vortexes was understood to reveal the basic structure and function of the universe. They were frequently regarded as divine manifestations. The character of the vortex appeals to something deep and primal in the human soul.

Eliot Weinberger, in his book, An Elemental Thing, explores the cultural myths that have appeared at different times and places worldwide. What is striking in his research is how he discovers close similarities in the vortex images that appear in widely disparate mythic creation traditions. They may represent creation, destruction, divine activity or the workings of our minds.

Some historic instances include:

In 500 BC, the Taoist tradition held that the “the universe produced ‘chi,’ the life-giving breath, and it was like a whirlpool” Another example; the Buddhists describe their concept of Nirvana as “eternal peace in the vortex of evolution.”

In 203 AD Plotinus, a Roman general believed; “the enlightened soul returns to its origin, which is a whirlpool,” and in 1920, poet T.S. Eliot wrote more ominously about vortices: “Vortex is the end of time.”

It seems that images portraying vortices occupy a place in our primitive consciousness; what Carl Jung described as our “archetypal consciousness.” These are archaic patterns and images that derive from our collective unconscious by virtue of our being members of the same human race.

I unwittingly discovered I carried similar archaic patterns in my own unconscious. It revealed itself as I was trying to give a shape to formlessness.

Some years ago, I presented a photographic exhibit at the Academy Art Museum in Easton. The theme was the Genesis epic of creation. I produced photographs to illustrate selected texts describing various acts of creation. The first image presented me with a significant challenge.

“Now the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

Something without shape and void does not lend itself to being photographed. What could I do with that?

I decided to fabricate my own negative. I did this by putting printer’s ink on a glass plate. I let my imagination go wild and made fanciful finger paintings, hoping that something would take a shape that would in some metaphoric way suggest the shapeless and barren universe that preceded the first act of creation.

The glass plate would serve as my negative which I would then place in an enlarger to make positive prints from it.

The last time I’d done anything like this was finger painting with my children when we were stuck indoors on a rainy day. We’d put blobs of paint on paper and then just let ‘er rip, smearing colors everywhere, guided only by high spirits and atavistic impulses. Actually, it was great fun for all of us, real play without any rules or limits except being careful not to get any paint on the rug. The table was big enough to accommodate that constraint.

My children were not of an age to artistically render recognizable objects or figures of any kind. What they produced were pure abstractions, some of which were delightful albeit inscrutable. The pleasure they felt I would guess was as much tactile as it was aesthetic, and the surprise that their five fingers could indeed create something out of nothing excited their imaginations.

In creating glass negatives, I followed my instincts, as much as my adult needs for control would allow me, and came up with some bizarre and goofy looking messes. Still, as much as I was having fun with this, I had an agenda to finally to come up with some kind of image – a paradoxical one in the sense that a black and white image would suggest its very opposite, no image, no shape, no form. I was trying to give shape to the shapeless.

I had my work cut out for me.

Finally, I came up with a glass negative that printed the image accompanying this essay. It was after many attempts. I thought I saw in this image, something (almost) of what I was reaching for, something that was just shy of taking form.

Only a few weeks ago, after I’d read Eliot Weinberger’s essay on the vortex, I was surprised to find that the image I had settled on as the ‘void,’ was in fact the shape of a primal vortex similar to those appearing in so many cultural creation myths. The character of vortices in these cultures is that they represented beginnings and endings, life and death.

What a marvelous thought to ponder; that buried deep within my unconscious – in yours and mine both – lies hidden the blueprint of our very beginnings.

Food Friday: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Our family has a weak spot like the back of a bad knee for chocolate desserts. When it is your birthday, we will bake a Boston cream pie. Christmas dinner? A flourless chocolate cake is the only answer. You came home for spring break? Let’s have some chocolate éclairs. And while other families are preparing corned beef and cabbage (which I think stinks to high heaven) this St. Patrick’s Day, we will be digging into some chocolate stout cup cakes. We will honor the blessed saint, the foe of snakes, in our own sweet way.

A couple of weeks ago I chatted briefly with one of our neighbors when I was out walking Luke the wonder dog. This fellow always carries a mug and I have assumed he was taking his coffee for his early morning strolls. (I cannot walk the dog, listen to Slate Magazine podcasts AND carry a Diet Coke in the mornings. I have a limited skill set, I’m afraid.)

Luke wanted to get acquainted. While going through all of the usual dog rituals of sniffing and leash dancing, I found out that the neighbor’s dog is named “Guinness.” I asked if there was a good story about the dog’s name. Maybe he had a secret Lulu Guinness handbag collection, or was noted in the Book of World Records for some perilous feat? Sadly, no. Our neighbor gazed blankly at me. His dog was named after the Irish stout. He is a very dark, very tiny little dog. I hope that the dog Guinness is extra strong. Perhaps he has his own fantasies of a more picturesque neighborhood, one where he is strolled along the cobbles down to the pub late on a golden summer afternoon, to lift a pint with his walker. A nice little daydream that Guinness entertains, instead of resigning himself the prosaic suburban reality of the early morning trot down our street, only to have the indignity of Luke getting overly familiar and sniffy. And now I wonder if our neighbor is really drinking coffee…

It is about time to download The Quiet Man for our annual John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara love fest. Where we gaze at the gauzy golden Hollywood Innisfree, and admire John Wayne in a rain-soaked shirt and laugh at Barry Fitzgerald’s tippling matchmaker. That calls for another Guinness.

In the meantime, we must surely celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in an authentic fashion. No stinky corned beef and cabbage for us! Here is a Guinness Cake from the kitchen goddess herself, Nigella Lawson:

I love a good cup cake – and with these you will eat both the cake and the icing.

I haven’t tried this recipe yet – but Julia Turner endorsed it on the Slate Culture Gabfest this week, and that’s good enough for me. She used it to great success when she baked two birthday cakes for her six-year-old boys’ birthday:

If your St. Patrick’s Day is not complete without corned beef, then accept the Bon Appétit challenge, and see how many ways you can prepare it: breakfast, lunch and egg rolls. Really.

Luke is looking forward to another sidewalk encounter with our neighbor’s dog. We can stage our own St. Patrick’s Day parade through the neighborhood. We’ll bring our own mugs of Guinness.

“Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
-Benjamin Franklin

The Mid-Shore’s Special Arc


To date, there happen to be 700 Arc programs in this country, providing invaluable service and support for people with developmental disabilities and their families. Since this unique nonprofit charity was created in 1961, much as changed in how our society treats individuals with special needs, and Arc deserved a great deal of credit for those fundamental shifts in perception.

Given this is Developmental Disabilities Month, the Spy thought it would be a good time to understand better how our local Arc, the Arc Central Chesapeake Region, is fulfilling their mission with the eight counties of the Eastern Shore.  We sat down with Arc’s CEO, Jonathon Rondeau,  at the Bullitt House for a check in on what Arc does, and what it needs to continue their important work on the Mid-Shore.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Arc Central Chesapeake Region programs or to make a donation please go here


Chestertown Culinary Renaissance: Enter 98 Cannon Street with Joe Elliott


While opening dates remain far from confirmed, it is quite likely that over the next 18 months Chestertown will have four new restaurants in its historic district to call its own. After a few years of suffering the loss of several popular dining venues, including the beloved Brooks Tavern, Blue Heron, and the Lemon Leaf, a culinary renaissance is starting to take place.

The very first of this new wave will begin with the opening this spring of 98 Cannon Street, former home of the Fish Whistle and the Old Wharf restaurant, located at the town’s new marina.

As one might imagine, the Spy was beyond curious to this extraordinary explosion in culinary options. So much so that we tracked down the new owner 98 Cannon Street to understand what he and his team have planned for this iconic site on the banks of the Chester.

A financial advisor by profession, with a successful firm based in the Philadelphia area, Joe Elliott and his wife made the very deliberate decision to find a more rural environment for the couple and their three young daughters to gather on weekends. That’s what led him to Kent County a few years ago, but there was no desire to have any commercial interest in the town at all.

That started to change as Joe began to fall in love with his family’s new hometown. Going against a lifetime bias against owning businesses like restaurants, including his consistent advice to his clients to stay far away from these “opportunities,” Joe started to see a waterfront dining establishment as a personal challenge rather than a return on investment.

We caught up with Joe a few weeks ago at the Spy HQ to learn more.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. The new 98 Cannon Street design work is being done by M3 Architecture of Rock Hall

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