Spy Maritime: The “Buyboats” are Coming to Chestertown and Oxford

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The Chesapeake Bay Buyboat Association inaugurated its 2019 weeklong bay tour in Chestertown this weekend. Twelve buy boats from around the bay have joined the cruise that will continue on from Chestertown to the Kent Island Yacht Club Tuesday, the Oxford Yacht Club on Wednesday and will wrap up the tour in Cambridge starting on Friday.

“We have had a great weekend here in Chestertown,” 2019 organizer Dave Cantera. “Mayor Cerino, town council and staff have done a tremendous job with the marina project,” Cantera continued. “It is well suited to welcome larger historic wooden boats and we saw great numbers of visitors all weekend.” The CBBA thanked the Town for its hospitality with a community fish fry with live music on the Customs House lawn at the foot of High Street on Saturday evening.

The CBBA organizes the weeklong cruise in different parts of the bay annually to promote awareness of the buyboat’s history and role in the Bay economy for much of the 20th century before the coming of the two bay bridge spans.

“All of these boats plied the rivers and Chesapeake Bay delivering the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay and to Baltimore, returning with diverse backhauls that included barrels of household staples, ready to wear, tools, and empty cans from American Can Company bound for the Eastern Shore crab and produce processors,” Cantera explained. “The goal of this tour is to share this living history.”

Larry Chowning is the author of Chesapeake Bay Buy Boats, a history of the vessel published in 2003, has been following the annual buyboat tour on the Chesapeake since the first gathering of the CBBA in 2004 in Rock Hall. “These are fascinating vessels,” the author of 10 books commented.

Steve Bailey, captain of the Samuel M. Bailey, hails from St. Mary’s County. His vessel is the only known Bay buyboat to remain in the hands of the original owner’s family. “My grandfather had the boat built in 1957 and my family has had it on the water since,” Bailey shared. “I am proud to continue this Bay tradition.”

Kent County is the home of a number of buyboats, each one as unique as its owner. Cantera’s father Pat owned and raised his son around large wood boats on the Sassafras River. Cantera acquired his first buyboat in his early 20s. “Growing up, my dad taught me appreciation for the care of a wood boat,” Cantera mused. Cantera gives the greatest credit for the restoration of his flagship vessel, the Muriel Eileen, to Graham Ero of Still Pond, whose career is punctuated with many original and restoration showpieces.

The CBBA cruisers depart Chestertown on Tuesday morning.

Getting There from Here by George Merrill

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I don’t think of personal achievements in the same way I once did. Then, my successes were all about me, about my competence and superb abilities. Now I can see those triumphs had little, and often nothing to do with me. I hadn’t seized the day; the day seized me.

An episode occurred over fifty years ago. It involved sailing.

In a twenty-one-foot sailboat, I sailed from Westbrook Connecticut, across Long Island Sound to Orient point, the Eastern End of Long Island, then through Plum Gut and down into Peconic Bay.

I had been anxious even thinking about it. I planned the course scrupulously, almost obsessively. I used the dead reckoning method. It’s standard navigation, a way of charting a course from a known location and advancing it to a new one. The calculations include estimating the boat’s speed, the compass course, gaging the force of wind, waves, and monitoring the set of currents and most crucially of all, timing. Basically, it’s going from here, hoping to get there, or making an arrival as close to ‘there’ as reasonably possible. Finding one’s way over open water has always been an iffy business, until the arrival of the GPS. Since then it’s been duck soup.

I’d once read how, in the nineteenth century with only a compass, a sextant and an old alarm clock, Joshua Slocum circumnavigated the globe. I thought I, too, was about to do something if not exactly the same, a junior version of it. I fancied myself, a Joshua Slocum, the hot dog of Long Island Sound.

The challenge was to arrive at Plum Gut at full ebb, when the incoming flood tide would carry me into Peconic Bay, giving me a free boost, increasing my speed in the water by possibly 10 knots. The current tore through Plum Gut. Going with the flow was the only way to go especially since I was on a 21-foot sailboat with only a 12-horse outboard.

I was thrilled when I completed the trip. For years I thought of it as a signature event of my life. In retrospect, it was not all that eventful, even dull at times, as I had to motor frequently. The wind was light and sporadic, the Sound mostly calm. The day was comfortable; even in the hot sun the beer remained cold in the cooler and we made Plum Gut right on schedule.

So why was this event so indelibly etched in my memory? It was a time in my life when things worked out exactly as I had planned; I aced the task I set for myself. My skills and planning acumen acquitted me; everything came off like clockwork.

Truth be told, I’d only exercised appropriate care. That I engineered this successful journey is really an illusion; had there been a squall, strong shifting winds, or taking on any more water from a hull fitting that I later discovered had cracked and was leaking badly – any of which could have changed everything.
Reckoning my success as something I achieved on my own is a diagnostic indicator of spiritual vacuity, self-deception in the service of supporting the ego. It’s a variation of “It’s all about me.”

If I’d been aware of all the other natural forces then unknown to me contributing to this successful sailing adventure, I wouldn’t be feeling self- satisfied, I’d be feeling grateful.

Of course, I should be pleased that the trip went well but for a very different reason from my original one. My safe arrival was not an entitlement for my extraordinary efforts or skill (I only did my part) but one more example how the confluence of many other factors beyond any of our efforts work together to help us realize a goal.

Being self-satisfied shuts things down. It leads to feeling entitled, since, well, isn’t everything all about me. Gratitude is different; it frees us up, increasing awareness of the wider world, of other and what sustains us minute by minute. Gratitude heals, too.

Years ago, an elderly friend told me of her troubled relationship to her brother. Growing up he treated her contemptuously. As they aged, they rarely communicated. My friend began feeling uneasy: the brother was declining, she was getting older and as difficult as he’d always been, she wanted some kind of healing. She wanted closure in the relationship before they died. How? He was uncommunicative, always distancing.

She came upon this idea. She would write him a letter. She worked hard on it. Writing it surfaced many of the old grievances she had but she didn’t want the letter to be about them, some kind of vindication of past insults.

Instead she listed any experience she could recall for which she felt grateful to him. She documented several, thanking him for those moments he’d offered her. It took some digging around but she found enough instances to warrant writing the letter. As I recall her story she finished the letter but never sent it. She reported how in subsequent meetings she’d felt differently with him as if maybe he’d softened . . . or had she? Who changed? He never saw the letter. What happened?

My friend concluded that she’d changed. That the act of composing the letter, and thinking gratefully, altered how she saw him, and something began shifting deep within her. This created an aura of gentleness in her sufficient to change the climate between them. He did nothing but it appeared he’d been impacted in some imperceptible way, nothing she could point to but whatever it was, it left her feeling that she’d finally made her peace with him. The relationship was not a happy one but the tension was gone whenever they were together. She could now be with him without carrying the baggage of the past which had burdened her.

I regard stories like this holy narratives, where we see the dynamics of real conversion, where all things are made new. As inner growth takes place, gratitude feeds and guides the soul.

Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and notable spiritual writer, in her book, “The illuminated Life,” makes the distinction between the superficial changes in our lives, like jobs, houses, relationships and lifestyles and the changes that really count. “Real change,” she writes, “is far deeper [when it] is changing the way we look at life . . . that is the stuff of conversion”

There’s no bigger transformation than going from feeling self-satisfied to being grateful; from harboring grievances to giving thanks; it heals old wounds and leaves us deeply thankful for all the passages we have undertaken in our lives. While not really knowing what we are getting into when we first plan to go from here to there, it’s by grace that we get there safely as often as we do.

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: August is National Peach Month

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August is National Peach Month. I want you to be ready, and armed for every occasion. Here we are, still plodding along happily in July and already I have seen tempting, tumbling piles of local peaches. Golden mounds of them seem to roll toward me at the farmers’ market, and I offer little resistance to their allure. I bag them, and haul them home, and start devising the many ways to eat a peach.

In Baltimore they know what to do with peaches – they bake peach cakes. https://www.marthastewart.com/1162569/baltimore-peach-cake

I bet you don’t feel like driving over the bridge, do you? Try this at home:

Peach Cake With Raised Sweet Dough Base

(Makes two 9-inch round cakes)
1 cup lukewarm milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cake compressed yeast (2¼ teaspoons dry yeast)
1 egg
1/4 cup shortening
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups flour

Mix together milk, sugar, salt and crumble into mixture, yeast.
Stir until yeast is dissolved. Stir in egg and shortening. Mix in first with spoon, then with hands, half the flour, then the remainder of the flour.

When the dough begins to leave the sides of the bowl, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and knead. Knead dough, then place in greased bowl, turning once to bring greased side up. Cover with damp cloth and let rise in warm, draft-free spot until double in bulk, about 1½ to 2 hours. Punch down, let rise again until almost double in bulk, 30 to 45 minutes. Divide dough in half.

Pat dough into greased 9-inch round pan forming a ridge around the edge. Arrange thinly sliced peaches overlapping one another in a circle around the center. To keep peaches from darkening, sprinkle with lemon, orange or grapefruit juice. Cover and let rise until double, 25 to 35 minutes. Bake 25 to 30 minutes in 400° F oven.

Quick Apricot Glaze:
Add 1 tablespoon hot water to 1/3 cup apricot jam.
Recipes from The Baltimore Evening Sun, 1958

http://www.qcassetti.com/imported-20091230220914/2009/8/9/muhlys-bakery-baltimore-peach-cake.html

Mr. Friday sliced half a peach onto his bowl of cold twiggy cereal this morning, leaving the other half for me on the cutting board. I ate it over the sink, because the juices dripped furiously and there wasn’t anyone around who would point out that I should have been more ladylike and used a napkin. Don’t neglect any opportunity to just seize the day, and a peach, early, and eat it in your crude plebeian fashion. I understand that the young royals are not allowed to use their fingers to eat fruit – they are supposed to use a knife and fork! Shocking!

Summer is the time of melting ice cream and oozing s’mores and juicy watermelon and dripping peaches. How can you appreciate a peach unless you feel the velvet skin with your own sticky fingers? If you haven’t had peach juice run down the front of your T-shirt, you have not had a satisfactory summer experience.

By the time cocktail hour rolls around you might feel a certain longing for the decadent. I haven’t been to Harry’s Bar in Venice (although I’d like to) and sometimes I want to experience a Charles Ryder moment. Harry’s Bar has brought us the Bellini, the dry Martini, and Carpaggio. I think a Bellini or two will do this evening. It is Friday, after all. And what a thrifty and timely recipe – using some of our glut of peaches instead of the usual pears for a Bellini! http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/martini-recipes/bellini/#1iudPolf4xGeUKMo.97bellini

And if you like your peaches pure and unadulterated, now is the perfect time for you to grab a couple of them, mosey out to the hammock, pick up the latest Laura Lippman novel, and while away a summer’s afternoon.

“Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.”
― Alice Walker

Fun facts to know and tell:
https://wyrk.com/august-is-national-peach-month-some-facts-you-didnt-know/

https://www.farmflavor.com/us-agriculture/8-fun-facts-peaches-infographic/

https://gapeaches.org/our-recipes/

A Conversation with President Kurt Landgraf: Lower Enrollments, Budget Deficits Mark Challenges at WC

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Declining enrollment, small endowments, and competition from more affordable public universities will continue to threaten the existence of small liberal arts colleges well into the next decade.

Moody’s, the Chronicle of Higher Education and other education experts predict these factors will force many small private colleges to close or merge with larger institutions — and Washington College President Kurt Landgraf agrees.

WC President Kurt Landgraf

He said he made his concerns known at an education conference several years ago, long before he was approached to take the helm at WC.

“I projected…that 50 percent of liberal arts colleges would no longer be here ten years from now,” he said in an interview with the Spy on Monday. “There are macro things that are affecting not just this college but all liberal arts colleges.”

The pool of high school graduates nationwide shrank by 81,000 in 2017 and the trend continues downward. The East Coast has been hit hardest by the decline.

The shrinking freshman pool is blamed on a decrease in birth rates at the dawn of the Great Recession, called the birth dearth. This means the brood of 18-year-olds headed to college in the mid-2020s will shrink by another 15 percent.

Small colleges, including WC, have tried to overcome dwindling enrollment with drastic tuition discounts. Experts say this is leading to a fiscal crisis at many small liberal arts colleges.

“We can’t cover the expense of every new student with tuition room and board [revenue],” Landgraf said. “That’s why all colleges take money out of their endowment.”

The tuition discount for WC runs 55-60 percent off the list price of $251,00 for a bachelor’s degree, and the college normally uses 5 percent of its endowment annually for operating expenses. But in the last few years the board has allowed the administration to take 6.5 percent because of less than predicted enrollment, which resulted in higher operating costs.

In Maryland, withdraws from endowments that exceed 7 percent of their fair market value must get approval from the attorney general.

WC planned for growth as enrollment nationally began to slide

While experts were sounding the alarm of declining enrollment, Washington College was planning for growth. The construction of new dorms and a new stadium and the purchase of Stepne Manor and the armory were in anticipation of the student population climbing to 1,700. But the student population dipped and sits at around 1,350 headed into the fall 2019 semester.

“Over the last four or fives years the board expected the student body to grow,” Landgraf said. “They had every reason to believe that.”

He said during the expansion years the freshman class had swelled to 450 and the board’s predictors were based on “fundamentally sound facts.”

But the new freshman class is about 380 and the decline meant that staff reductions had to be made to help close a $6.6 million deficit, which in recent weeks has fueled concerns that the college is in peril.

Landgraf said the financial health of the college was sound but staff size had to be made commensurate with the student population and tuition revenue.

“There was a reduction in force because we had too many people…the college was built on the expectation of having 1,700 students,” he said.

The total staff reductions consisted of voluntary retirement packages for three faculty and 11 staff. Another nine positions were eliminated.

“We have to face the fact that we don’t have 1,700 students,” Landgraf said. “We’re in a recovery mode and the board is fully supportive of that; we’re doing all the things that need to be done to get us to the point where we’re back on a growth path.”

The staff cuts and additional revenues helped trim $3.6 million from the $6.6 million structural deficit, and the board allowed the administration to carry $3 million in debt into fiscal 2020.

To help further close the deficit, tuition will go up 4 percent and room and board will increase by 2 percent.

The college is also trying to sell off surplus real estate.

“The college is in a program to divest itself of nonessential real estate in Chestertown,” he said. “We’re selling everything we possibly can because we don’t need it…it’s a significant source of cash.”

When asked if senior staff had shareded the pain of the budget woes, Landgraf responded that many in the upper ranks collectively agreed to take salary cuts — and in return he agreed to match it.

“Everybody said we’re in trouble, we have to face up to this and we have to participate,” he said. “I’m going to match whatever they give.”

The money will go to the Washington Fund and is estimated to reach $150,000.

Landgraf said WC was on a better financial footing than most small colleges because of its large endowment.

“Our endowment is four and five times that of smaller liberal arts colleges,” he said.

The total endowment as a March 31 is $228 million, and the Forge a Legacy campaign is nearing its goal of $150 million a year ahead of schedule. The campaign has so far earmarked $64 million from the campaign for the endowment. The numbers are expected to grow before the final tally.

Hodson Trust bears no influence on recent cuts, Landgraf says

The Hodson Trust, established nearly 100 years ago, provides scholarships and grants to Washington College, Hood College, St. John’s College of Annapolis and Johns Hopkins University.

The trust is WC’s largest benefactor, contributing over $80 million since inception. The trust is set to pay out its endowment to the four schools sometime in the next two years, when the trust is scheduled to bring its balance to zero. Speculation has circulated that the staff cuts were aimed at giving Hodson greater confidence in the college’s future.

Not so, Landgraf said. He said a large payout would certainly help with enrollment but the staff cuts were not an attempt to please Hodson. He said the potential for a large payout was not behind the decision to cut staff.

“Even if we were not one of the recipients of the Hodson Trust, there’s nothing we’re doing today that we wouldn’t do.”

But he did make clear that Hodson and other donors want assurance that their beneficiaries are financially on solid ground.

He said the Hodson requires quarterly reports to demonstrate sustainability.

“If they felt this college was not going to be here 200 years from now, that would impact how much money they would give us,” he said. “The Hodson Trust pays attention to sustainability. We’re better than sustainable, but in the next couple years they’ve got to know that we’re doing everything we can to make sure we’re still here 200 years from now.”

The Story of Olive Lucas (Part One) by Mary Robinson

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Nurse Olive

Editor’s note: When we heard the story of Olive Lucas written by Spy friend Mary Robinson we wanted to share it with our readers. It’s a period of our history that we felt our readers would appreciate and a story you may not know – an African American nurse’s service in World War II. The five-part series covers her time in the Army Nurse Corps between 1942 and 1945. This will be a five-part series. 

Preface to Olive Lucas Series

This writing project began with a phone call from my father in 1998. He asked me to see if I could find anything about my Aunt Olive’s time in the Army. Olive was one of my father’s 6 sisters. I grew up with stories about her, she was a woman ahead of her time, a woman who was not willing to settle for the limited options available for a small town girl. My father’s request was a result of Olive having a stroke. She recovered nicely but she lost all memory of her time in the Army.

Olive was among the first Negro nurses admitted to the Army Nurse Corps in World War II. In searching for information I learned that most of her records were lost in the 1973 fire at National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Mo. Eighty percent of those Army service records for those discharged between Nov 1912 and January 1960 were lost.

The search for information about Olive provided a history lesson I had not expected. It has turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I have no letters or diaries from Olive, only many photos and 2 postcards to her family, but the internet has given me an amazing amount of information. My dilemma was how to put this information together. It is a family story but more than that it is a story of American history, African-American history, women’s history, and more.

A memoir writing class turned out to be the answer to my dilemma. This six week class with the ALL group which at the time was part of CBMM allowed me to organize the information I had found in my research and put it into a format that created a story. I decided to write this piece in the first person as a way to allow Olive to tell her own story. I owe a special thanks to Glory Aiken the leader of the class and to the others in the class who encouraged me to find a way to share this story.

The information I used came from US Army records, books, websites, newspapers, interviews and personal narratives of nurses who were in the Army Nurse Corps at the same time as Olive, which was 1942 to 1945. I learned that the military experience for nurses who served at the same time in some of the same places was different depending on your race, but most of all I learned that Olive is a wonderful example of ambition, courage, resilience and a zest for life.

Part One

My name is Olive Lucas, I was born in Westmoreland County, PA on October 31, 1908. I am one of six girls and two boys born to John and Mary Lucas, My family lived in Meadville, PA, a small town just south of Lake Erie. My father was a maintenance man for the Meadville Water and Light Department. His small salary was stretched to provide for this large family, which meant that college was not an option for his children. After graduation, my older sisters, Leona, Ethel and Marguerite, went directly into service in the homes of local wealthy families. When I graduated from high school in 1927, I was desperate to leave that small town where opportunities for a young Negro girl with dreams were extremely limited. My parents were concerned that my inability to live under “White Folks Rules,” would be a problem. To this day I am so grateful that they understood that I was hungry for more than that small town could offer. They allowed me to move to Pittsburgh, PA to stay with my sister Ethel and her husband Pat.

By 1932, I had saved enough money to enroll in the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing and I moved to New York City. I graduated from nursing school in 1935 and took a nursing job at Seaview Hospital on Staten Island, NY. While I enjoyed my work at Seaview, it had become routine and I was ready for a change. By 1942, Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor and the US was fully engaged in World War II. Because of the nursing shortage then, the military considered implementing a draft for nurses. In 1941, the recruiting office of the Army Nurse Corps predicted they would be short 1,000 nurses by 1942. My friend Wanita Davidson and I believed this was a perfect opportunity for us to leave our jobs and join the Army Nurse Corps, so we went to our local Red Cross Chapter to enlist.

Our attempt to join the Army proved to be more difficult than expected. Because of racial discrimination in our country, the Army put in place a quota system for Negro nurses. In 1941 the quota allowed for only 56 nurses. In addition to the quota system, recruitment of nurses was done by the American Red Cross. In order to be a member of the Red Cross, you first had to be affiliated with the American Nurses Association. Negro nurses in southern states were denied affiliation. Negro nurses in northern states who were professional registered nurses and members of the Red Cross, were eligible to join the Army Nurse Corps.

The local Red Cross chapter in New York was not consistent in their admission policies. Wanita and I showed up to register and were turned down on more than one occasion, but I was determined. On August 25, 1942, I received my Red Cross badge number 658-A, and my New York State registration number 071635 and I became a member of the Army Nurse Corps.

One of the biggest incentives for me to join was the pay scale for nurses in the Army. Depending on the years of service, the pay ran from $70 a month to $130 a month after nine years of service. In addition to the salary, there were medical, dental and retirement benefits that were far better than I could receive at Seaview Hospital or any other civilian hospital. The biggest incentive of all, was the opportunity to see the world, meet new people, and learn the latest techniques in medical practice. I was young and eager and determined to follow this opportunity to wherever it might lead.

Mary Robinson lives in St. Michaels, Maryland. 

Troubled Waters by George Merrill

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Ever watch a bird bathing? It’s delightful.

The other day a yellow finch descended from a tree onto the rim of our bird bath. The finch looked around hesitantly, the way kids look to see who’s watching them before they dive in a pool. The bird hopped in.

The bath is a total experience for a bird, no question about it.

The finch ducked his beak into the water, not to clean it but to drink. We should post disclaimers. Heaven knows where that bird may have been, including the other bathers before him and what might be in the water.

He flaps his wings. Not just a perfunctory flutter or two; No. He cranks his wings up full bore, wings rising and falling with a dizzying velocity that raises a fine mist at least a foot in the air above him, like spray from an aerosol can. I didn’t mention the day was hot; he certainly enjoyed a cool down, too.

Apparently caged birds do not bathe like birds in the wild. Whether that’s because the bird’s owner doesn’t provide a proper bird bath or the bird doesn’t get that dirty in the house, isn’t clear. I’ve wondered whether caged birds quietly despair, lose all sense of personal dignity and just don’t care about personal hygiene anymore.

Several woodpeckers live around our house –they bore holes in the house’s fascia boards – but I’ve never seen woodpeckers in the bird bath. Woodworking is laborious and I would imagine after a day’s labor they would work up a considerable sweat. How woodpeckers manage their personal hygiene remains a private matter.

Bathing is more than just staying clean. Birds also stay cool by bathing. Watching babies in the bathtub is a little like watching birds in a bird bath – they have a great time splashing around. I remember my granddaughter was ritualistic about it; sitting in the bath, pouring water carefully from one paper cup into another, uttering inscrutable incantations, as her eyes focused on infinity. Then she’d slap the water and beam a beatific smile of a saint.

Bathing habits change. It has to do with what stages of our lives we’re in. During our infancy, we bathed in tubs under the watchful eye of mom and dad. In time, showers superseded baths as the preferred way to bathe. Showers are typically a solitary affair but not always. As youngsters age and become lovers, they may enjoy showering together. As the delicious glow of erotism diminishes, showering returns to a solitary exercise, purely functional, cleanliness being the issue rather than fun. Then, as time progresses and we age, we shower again with a companion, not to have fun this time but as a safety precaution. Having someone close by can be a life-saver.

For ancient Greeks and Romans, baths were a social phenomenon, like today’s malls or spas where people gather in large numbers. In the case of ancient baths, people gathered to recline in pools of water and chat – some heated as in the ancient Roman bath still remaining in Bath, England. There they’d meet friends and neighbors, socialize and catch up. I’ve read that some ancient baths grew fetid, as birdbaths can when left unattended.

Water has always been, in its various iterations, a social lubricant. People sun together seaside. They ski snow covered slopes on mountains and build homes around lakes. Water has inspiring aesthetic properties as well: Poets rhapsodize about the morning mists rising from meadows and one describes how fog rubs against windowpanes the way cats scratch their backs on stationary objects.

Any discussion of water must include its healing qualities as well as its metaphorical use in spiritual discourse and practice.

Almost all our wounds, whatever treatments they receive, are first washed.

Baptism, the rite of Christian initiation includes ritual uses of water; a couple of drops for Catholics and Episcopalian does it. For Baptists, deep water for total immersion is standard procedure. Jews perform moves in water for achieving ritual purification. Jesus was Baptized in the Jordon River.

Body and soul are, from a spiritual perspective, all about water.

I heard a Biblical story as a child. It enchanted me. I’ve never forgotten it. I knew it as the pool at Siloam. It reads like this:

“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, (near Siloam) having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water (sometimes rendered, ‘troubled the waters’) then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.”

Afternoons I may sit on my dock and write. Part of this essay was written there. I’m a sun freak. There, in the sun, I can overlook the creek. The creek is often as still as a millpond when I first arrive. Heat becomes oppressive but if I wait long enough, I’ll see the water slightly shiver and then ripple, and soon the breeze comes. When the water is troubled, I’ll feel comforted, released.

The angel troubles the water.

In the last couple of months, I’ve crossed the water go to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for medical services. Where we enter, there’s a large courtyard. Patients come and go. They are a myriad of different peoples: racial, ethnic, young and old, some deeply wounded, others appearing fit. As I make for the doors I feel I’ve arrived in the third world. I’ll imagine I’m at one of the porches by the ancient pool at Siloam where once “a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed” came to see the troubled waters with hope for healing. They came with the same hope for healing as I and the crowd at Hopkin’s have, now. I pray all of us will be there when the angel stirs the water. All of us may not be made whole, but we can rest assured that we’ll be aided and comforted in our afflictions.

A long way from a bird bath? Perhaps, but it’s those very tenuous connections that reveal significant parts of the human story. The reality of our universal connections is undeniable. Water, particularly, is the connective tissue of all of life. I think of that when I see the water ripple.

I would offer this thought: the fact is we are broken people living in a broken world. Look for the angel who stirs the waters. Be alert for the ripples the angel makes. Watch and wait and hope for healing. It will come when the time is ripe.

Still waters run deep; troubled waters offer hope.

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: Summer Bounty

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We are suddenly overwhelmed by the burgeoning of our half dozen tomato plants. We planted them early in May in the raised garden bed on the side of the house, where they would get lots of afternoon sun. We also planted a row of zinnia seedlings in the front, and another line of hollyhocks behind them, thinking the hollyhocks would provide a colorful background wall, planning ahead for my Instagram feed. We hadn’t planned on Nature running its own headstrong course.

Because of the serendipity of a week of rain, good soil, an attentive neighbor who watered when we were out of town, and a practically weedless growing environment, the tomatoes and the flowers are now enormous. In the two months since they were planted, the tomatoes have spread their wings and fully occupied the small enclosed space. There seems to be competition among the plants to see which can grown the tallest first.

And then there are the tomatoes. The tomatoes are coming in waves. In spurts, in drips, in rivulets, and in quick succession. I promise you, all I did was go out and coo at them a couple of times a week, and now they are the sorcerer’s apprentice of fruit. We have a bowl full of crimson orbs on the kitchen counter, another six or seven resting on the window sill as they ripen, and a bulging paper bag waiting to be delivered next door.

I thought we overplanted last year, when we had tomatoes, beans, peppers and basil all elbowing for space. This year the basil farm lives on the back porch, and we gave up on peppers and beans altogether. The tomatoes are rushing to the sea. The tomato cages are listing under their weight. Now it is time to get practical in the kitchen.

Yesterday I had my first tomato sandwich of the season, thinking fondly of Harriet M. Welsch, (a.k.a Harriet the Spy) the eleven-year-old snoop and scribe who carried a tomato sandwich to school every day. Living below the Mason Dixon Line as I do, I am supposed to slather on the Duke’s mayonnaise – but Hellmann’s is what was on hand. I dusted the slices of juicy tomato with a little Maldon salt and some black pepper and enclosed all that deliciousness between two slices of Pepperidge Farm bread. The result: nectar of the gods. And today I will repeat the process. But that only uses up one tomato. I need to think exponentially.

The eager beavers at Food52 have gone a wee bit overboard, I think, with their tomato sandwich variations: https://food52.com/blog/17722-the-be-all-end-all-tomato-sandwich-4-ways-we-couldn-t-leave-it-alone/

Thursday night we had Tomato Pie.
https://www.southernliving.com/recipes/heirloom-tomato-pie/

https://www.saveur.com/southern-tomato-pie-recipe/

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/228381/summer-tomato-pie/

On Friday night, which is Pizza Night, we will be grilling some Big Love Pizzas. The dough is rising in a big bowl, and there is plenty of basil wafting in the breeze on the back porch.

Big Love Pizzas


1 pound tomatoes, you can eyeball this, depending on how many people you are feeding – because if you need more, you know where to go.
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella

Pizza dough
Flour, for dusting
2 bunches of fresh basil leaves, torn
Pepperoni
Garlic – at least 1 clove for each pie

Seed and chop tomatoes

Oil and then heat up the grill – we used a gas grill which has 3 bars, using the 2 outside bars. The fire is medium-hot when you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack for 3 to 4 seconds. We lowered the heat once the dough was on the grill.

Divide the pizza dough into 2 and roll it out.
Oil the side that goes on the grill.
Toss with care onto the grill.
Grill for 2 to 3 minutes and then flip with tongs.
Cover the cooked surface with tomatoes, garlic, pepperoni and mozzarella, drizzling it with a little oil.

Close the top of the grill to let the cheese melt.
The dough will rise, and when you start to smell burnt bread it is time to take it off the grill, about 3 minutes.

Add the roughly chopped basil just before serving.

Experience matters. We discovered that it is easier to combine the oil and garlic and tomatoes in a bowl first and then distribute that mixture on the pie. Lots of burned fingers resulted when putting all the ingredients on by hand.

And since it is Friday night, a celebratory glass of wine, please.

Don’t forget you can always whip up a batch of bruschetta, or make a panzanella salad, too. https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/classic-panzanella-393403.

We seem to have made an initial dent in our ever-growing stash of tomatoes. It looks like it is going to be a nice, long summer of fine eating.

“In this world of uncertainty and woe, one thing remains unchanged: Fresh, canned, pureed, dried, salted, sliced, and served with sugar and cream, or pressed into juice, the tomato is reliable, friendly, and delicious. We would be nothing without it.”
– Laurie Colwin

For the Love of Adkins Arboretum

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What’s not to love about a 400-acre arboretum less than 30 minutes from your door for most of us living on the Mid-Shore? Nothing. But what is hard is to decide what you love the most about the Adkins Arboretum just outside Ridgely, Maryland.

This proves to be a difficult choice for the thousands of annual visitors and members of this natural Eastern Shore gem adjacent to the 4,000-acre Tuckahoe State Park in Caroline County. And it is particularly challenging for the Adkins staff who provide an extraordinary range of programming that includes nature, gardening, visual arts, music, poetry, and environmental education throughout the year.

All of that has not stopped the Spy in asking a few of the Adkins team what they loved the most of this “living collection” of more than 600 native plant species and natural forest. We sat down with Ginna Tiernan, its Executive Director:  Jenny Houghton, Assistant Director; Kellen McCluskey, Membership; and Emily Castle, who works on the Arboretum’s Funshine Garden, to confess their top choices.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Adkins Arboretum please go here.

The Big Picture by George Merrill

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Of late my mobility has been limited.

The more anchored I am in one place the more I see of it. What’s been revealing to me is that my front yard, which should be as familiar to me as my toes or my fingers, I’m seeing as if for the first time. Just sitting still isn’t so bad, after all.

And so, the other day I put a chair where I could overlook my yard and the cove. I sat there just waiting. Waiting for what? That’s the thing; I didn’t know for what, but I did know I was waiting.

It was one of those grand days that have visited the Shore in the last week or so. Not too hot; a hefty breeze and a deep blue sky filled with clouds, but uncharacteristically different kinds – the wispy ‘mare’s tails’ of the high-altitude cirrus, and in the distance cumulus clouds – I never think of them as celestial bedfellows – I’ll typically see just one or the other in the sky, separately. Everything shimmered with vitality while I just sat. I laughed at myself; “What a slug you are,” I thought, while shamelessly enjoying my immobility. I call it a no-agenda moment, not going from here to there as I always do – but just nesting here.

A small plane flew overhead. It circled around in the sky in broad swaths, like hawks do, not appearing to be going anywhere in particular but just out for a spin. I thought the pilot and I were both enjoying the same landscape; the pilot’s take on the landscape, however, would be far different than mine

Perspective alters perception.

I thought about the way I assemble my world view by shuffling around the disparate pieces life throws at me. I arrange them into customized compositions of my own. From there, I conduct my affairs as if my constructs were a reality. At best, perceptions of reality are an iffy business, usually hits, misses, and many course corrections.

Reality, like a freshly caught fish, is slippery, hard to hold firmly for any length of time. It slips from your hand or you get pricked by its spines. Reality keeps slipping from my hand; it pokes me, too. Once having held it for a minute or even less and it has poked me, I know how it feels before it gets away.

My wife, Jo, is a jig-saw puzzle enthusiast. I am not. For Christmas, she received a two-thousand-piece puzzle. The thought of two thousand pieces intimidating, but the enormity of the number of pieces energizes her. Different perspectives. To me, the complete picture displayed on the box lacked distinctive shapes and colors. Both color and form just morphed from one to another without boundaries. I considered the puzzle ominous and fiendish to put together since all the pieces seemed to lack identifiable distinctions.

Generally speaking, Jo creates a visual reality from defining the boundaries first – initially completing the puzzle’s edges and then, finding a place for a particular piece within those boundaries.

As an essayist, I put together a big picture differently. My mind seizes some scrap, disembodied, if will, not apparently connected to anything else. I will have no idea what it is. Then I try to hook another fragment up to it, something which seems likely to fit. It’s hit and miss, and frequently I stall out. When I occasion to make connections and the connections form a larger and coherent picture, I feel euphoric. I’m reassured once more, that my world, however fragmented it can seem, is of a piece, made of trillions of other pieces. I guess I like composing a spiritual ecology.

Julian of Norwich, a 14th century Christian mystic, said some remarkable things, particularly about connections and the big picture.
She said: “(God) showed me a small thing . . . a hazelnut . . . round as a ball . . . I looked at it with the eye of my understanding . . . What might this be? . . . and it was answered thus: it is all that is made. It shall ever be for God loveth it.”
Seems like a stretch, at first, but, looking closely, it’s a portrait of connections.
How can anything so small and still be so wholly inclusive, leading us from a tiny nut to the outer limits of the universe. All we know about are beginnings and ends. Do you suppose the universe has no boundaries at all?

For a minute I thought I was the earthbound nut (hazelnut, I mean) and the pilot high above me was comprehending all that there is. We belonged to the same reality, viewing it from different places.

A day later I sat on my dock. I watched a jellyfish. They go with the flow (current) and yet constantly try to ascend vertically, slowly flapping their gelatinous bells so they ever so gently break the water’s surface. That’s as far as they get. I’ve thought that they too, deep down, know that they belong to a universe far larger than the creek they inhabit. They strain to see beyond the constraints by making their vertical ascents. They never fully succeed but then, they never quit, either. Do airplane pilots feel that way? Astronauts? Is seeing the big picture what drives them?

I’ll bet the whole world yearns for a glance of itself beyond the familiar boundaries that contain it.

I think that’s what yearning is; I think it’s a universal hunger, and a hunger for the universal.

I lost an old friend recently. A nun. I knew her as Maria, her professed name. We were faculty together at Loyola. We became intimate friends. I thought of her as one of those ‘spirit people’ whom you sense instinctively walk closely with God. I’ve found such people infinitely approachable, even earthy, but there’s no doubt that they keep their eye on the big picture.

I underwent several medical diagnostic procedures recently. One included a bone scan for which I wasn’t greatly concerned. I felt mostly inconvenienced.

During the procedure, but of nowhere, I had a powerful sense of Maria’s presence, so much so that I felt of rush of goose bumps and an urge to weep, not from fear or distress; I had the distinct experience of momentarily grasping a reality, namely that when we are loved and love others, we can never be separated from this love despite, as St. Paul says: “life or death, principalities and powers.”

The big picture’s total far exceeds the sum of its parts.

The pilot made one last lazy pass over where I sat and headed north, disappearing from sight. I was alone – not really alone but solitary in the small space that I, at least for this duration, I call home.

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.

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