Troubled Waters by George Merrill


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 In time, showers superseded baths as the preferred way to bathe.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.

The Squad Is Democracy at Work by J.E. Dean


Before the President’s most recent display of leadership, I had a clouded view of the four Democratic Congresswomen collectively known as “The Squad.” We all know AOC, author of the outline for the Green New Deal and an openly acknowledged Democratic Socialist. Then there is Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, widely quoted, and even reprimanded by her own Democratic colleagues in the House for her comments on Israel, 9/11 and other things. The other two are less well known but for their association with the other two.  These two, Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, have also engaged in comments, or embraced policies, deemed unpatriotic and even treasonous by our President.

Initially I dismissed the publicity that The Squad was receiving as a reflection of a press too eager for a story.  These were outspoken women, some of them Muslim, who were questioning Speaker Nancy Pelosi and calling for radical economic reforms. They had the gall, during record-breaking Dow market highs, of saying that all is not well in America.  I was ready to dismiss them as young, perhaps naïve, people who are typical of a fringe element that sometimes shows up in the halls of Congress.

Then President Trump springs into action. In his now-infamous tweet, he told The Squad, three of whom were born in the land of the free, to go back to where they came from and fix the problems there.  This blunt condemnation prompted me to learn more about The Squad. The President, during a week that featured continuing press coverage of horrendous conditions in the migrant holding facilities on the border, implied that all is well in America with exception of people like The Squad. Trump seemed to imply that if the Dow continues to hit annual highs, with thanks to his political pressure on the Fed, there is no rational grounds for questioning how great America is.

Trump’s racist tweet is particularly offensive because, like so much of his opus, it’s based on a lie.  Three of the four Squad were born here. Just like Trump himself, but not his mother, and very much unlike his first and third wives. I also thought about my own ancestors, Irish and German immigrants who met with similar hostility upon their arrival but, due their relative naivete, never even thought anything about America could be changed except through hard work and a double effort to blend in.  

The Squad has come to the national stage at a time when, despite the election of Trump, democracy seems to be working, or at least working in some locales.  The Squad is evidence of this. Representative Omar arrived here as an immigrant and wasn’t even a citizen until age 17. Now she is in Congress. Impressive.  AOC did not buy into machine politics and boldly challenged an entrenched Democratic incumbent, Rep. Joe Crowley, the then-Chair of the House Democratic Caucus. She won by establishing that her opponent was more entrenched in DC than in Queens.  Representatives Tlaib and Pressley also overcame stereotypes to get elected. Somehow, they convinced voters to choose them to represent them in Congress. Pressley had the audacity to challenge a respected Democratic incumbent, Michael Capuano on the grounds he was not aggressive enough in his advocacy of liberal policies. Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who also identifies as a Democratic Socialist, engaged in some of the same type of language as Omar, questioning Israeli policy and US support of it.    

Simply put, The Squad are heroes of democracy. If you are radical enough to believe that Democracy is a prerequisite of good government, you have to not only congratulate them on getting elected but also for standing up to the Bully-in-Chief, who doesn’t want to see any of the four on one of his  golf courses. Dare I say it: They are a wonderful reflection of what America is.

The Squad has earned my respect.  I am likely to continue to disagree with some of their proposals, statements or actions, but I’m glad they are in Congress.  It’s a shame Maryland is not represented in this quartet.   

J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  For more than 30 years he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation. He is an advocate for the environment, education reform, civic public debate, and good government.


The Invisibility Cloak by Angela Rieck


In conversations among women of a certain age, we sometimes reveal when we became invisible, usually due to age, weight gain or the absence of time to focus on our appearance. But at some point, in every woman’s life, she will become invisible; it even has a name Invisibility Syndrome.

Women feel differently about it, but most that I have met are happy about it.

It took awhile for me to realize when I first became invisible, but it noticed it when I was walking past a construction site and was not verbally abused. It surprised me, as I learned to wear loose fitting clothing and walking authoritatively to avoid the unwelcome comments. That day, I walked past the construction site unimpeded.

It took about 5 minutes to get over the life that I had known. The life where career women balance attractiveness and being taken seriously. The life where we are programmed by social norms, fashion, glamour magazines, and peer pressure to look attractive, but in the workforce, required to dress down our sexuality. It is a delicate dance.

I have been somewhat radicalized from the sexual harassment that I suffered as a pioneer. I learned to dress modestly and keep my head down so that I wouldn’t notice the leering. I wanted to be listened to.

I have many stories, but one anecdote will help you understand my world. One scientist made it a habit of staring at women’s breasts during any discussion. A sympathetic male colleague reproached him privately about his behavior. He expressed surprise that it made women uncomfortable.

Now that I am invisible, I can be assured that people who talk to me are talking to me. Admittedly, there are a fewer young men who approach me, but I don’t mourn the deprivation.

Since my invisibility cloak is now permanently attached, I can wear a low-cut dress tonight. I can wear comfortable shoes, I can wear as much or little makeup as I desire.
See what I mean?

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Focus on Talbot: A Book Review by Dan Watson


I’m not exactly sure what I think about The Second Mountain, the well-publicized book by David Brooks, except for these two things: the section on “Community Building” is important and certainly applicable to Talbot County, and I would urge people to read the whole thought-provoking volume.

On the one hand, Brooks develops some clear and very compelling theses that run through the entire work. First, individuals quite naturally undergo two phases in a healthy adult life. The first is focused on career, family, building one’s identity & success in the world. Then, usually around midlife, one goes into a valley. Often he/she experiences setbacks, difficulties or loss of satisfaction with one’s situation, leading to a re-evaluation of values and life goals. Then comes the second phase, inward looking as to values but focused outward towards relationships and community-building.

This idea is hardly a revelation, but Brooks articulates it well. I made reference to it a few weeks ago, when pointing out the benefits that flow to our community and local institutions from the coincidence that Talbot has a disproportionately large number of folks over 55 who are climbing that second mountain, including many with substantial resources.

Zooming out, Brooks contends persuasively that the maladies of our society arise from “hyper-individualism,” a deep-seated ideology we’ve internalized that every man (and woman) is independent and stands alone in their pursuit of happiness. That world-view has been taken to an extreme, yielding loneliness, isolation, a consumer-driven ethos, tribalism and an epidemic of suicide. Its counter—the way to build a healthy world–is not a leftist collectivism he contends, but “relationalism,” a way of valuing our interconnections. (You will believe me when I say Brooks articulates all this enormously better than I can summarize!)

The Marlboro Man may be handsome and tall in the saddle, but he’s unhappy and ultimately dysfunctional. A society of Marlboro men and women just doesn’t work.

On the other hand, I found the book, for me, a little uncomfortable. It is not really a socio-political work, the kind of thing I expected. To my surprise, the book is largely a very personal, revelatory story of Brooks’ own personal evolution as a man, dealing largely with his psychological journey, his successes and failures with loving relationships, his (interesting) mixed religious roots and a transformation of religious beliefs. The discomfort was mine: I don’t read books of this sort, just not my thing. Jeeze, he was writing all about love, and intimacy, and vulnerabilities and such–things that are central to my life too, but not ones I usually talk about with strangers. I felt a bit like a voyeur—which tells you more about me than Brooks.

The book is structured in five parts, each one of which could stand alone. He first presents the “two mountain” theme, then expounds on vocation and career, on marriage, on philosophy and faith, finally bringing it all together in “building community.” It does not take much reading between the lines to tease out from these pages Brooks’ biography, some of it expressed directly, some just hinted at, all of it pretty intimate and revealing.

Many of my conservative friends here in Talbot and elsewhere would not dream of reading anything by Brooks because he is, after all, a political turncoat. He knew Milton Friedman intimately and was a protégé of William Buckley. He wrote for the National Review (after a youth reading leftist works with enthusiasm, as he tells us). Articulate, extremely well read, and publicly personable (if not privately so, as he also tells us), Brooks is particularly well known since the early 90’s as “the conservative voice” on the PBS News Hour, a bookend with Mark Shields on the left.

But, though his intellectual foundation and conservative credentials were both rock-solid and main-stream in the Reagan era, Brooks did not follow the conservative political evolution of the last two decades, and not at all the metamorphosis of the Republican Party that he was once identified with. His distain for Donald Trump and this administration could not be greater, and he makes no secret of that. Consequently, he is vilified by many on the right, surprisingly admired by many on the left in spite of espousing traditional conservative political and economic principles.

The Second Mountain delivers two things. First, what I was looking for: a clear discussion of root causes of many of society’s ills (hyper-individualism) and a strategy for countering them (what he calls “relationalism”). What I did not expect was the personal story, a vivid backdrop to understanding who this pundit fellow is and the personal worldview that now envelops his political and economic positions.

I’d urge you to read this thought-provoking book; take from it what’s of interest to you.

Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years. 

Bay Crossing Study Stalled? by Janet Christensen-Lewis


Spring ended with the solstice on June 21, but the promised Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) public meeting on a Bay Crossing has not materialized.

Since rescinding an announcement of “open house” style meetings for the winter of 2019 (itself a delay from the original plan for such meetings by the close of 2018), MDTA asked the public to watch for such meetings in the spring of 2019. The excuse we were given for not meeting the winter deadline was the federal government shutdown, which did not allow federal staff to participate in meetings.

Now, the current notice on states only: “Please check back here for upcoming Public Open House dates and times.” There are no explanations for the further delay.

This significant delay, currently more than six months, raises two grave concerns. First, exactly how transparent is this public process? How are we, the public, supposed to interpret this delay? It seems to us that the MDTA is totally disregarding its obligation to provide the public with real information about what is happening on this important and controversial project.

Second, this delay is robbing the public of time to consider critical information and participate adequately in the next phase of the process. A delay of this magnitude should be reflected in a comparable modification of the overall schedule and deadline, extending the close of the process.

MDTA was given five million taxpayer dollars to conduct a study required under the National Environmental Protection Act for the project. Were these wasted dollars on an agency that is unable to conduct a professional and transparent study? One of the primary responsibilities stated in the Coordination Plan for agencies conducting these reviews is public input. Another important aspect of their work is to implement consultation on historic resources in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act, known as the Section 106 process. Neither of these is happening. Unless there is a change in the scheduling they will be shortchanged. Of particular concern would be that the Section 106 process will be foreshortened in a way that is unsuited to the sensitive and important historic resources across the Eastern Shore that could be affected by a new Chesapeake crossing.

There seems to be a great deal of chaos at MDTA. First a map showing 14 potential corridors for Bay crossing turned out to be leaked “pre-decisional” maps that were for internal use and not meant to be shared with the public. This was followed by the abrupt unexplained departure of Kevin Reigrut, the head of MDTA’s 1,700-employee agency. His replacement, James F. Ports, Jr., formerly Maryland’s Deputy Transportation Secretary, was appointed in June. Coupled with the unexplained missed deadlines there is the appearance that this agency is unable to get its house in order. This track record is not reassuring when the agency is tackling a decision on what will be an extraordinary expense for Maryland residents, a potential scar on the Chesapeake Bay, and could result in a profound alteration of the culture and landscape of the Eastern Shore.

We deserve an explanation of why dates in the schedule have effectively been changed to TBD, why the Coordination Plan has not been updated and extended to reflect delays in the scheduling, when the Section 106 consultation process is going to happen, and where MDTA currently stands in its obligation to bring forward the Corridor Alternatives Retained for Analysis for public participation. As the situation is now, MDTA is operating in its own bubble and the public is completely excluded from the conversation.

Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance has tried communicating with project coordinator Heather Lowe at MDTA to no avail. We have written to Senator Hershey and Delegate Jacobs for help in getting some answers to our questions about this project and holding the agency to its responsibility to be open and transparent. Mr. Ports, copied on the letter sent to our State representatives, has replied: “I appreciate hearing from you and as the newly appointed Executive Director, I’m sure you can imagine that I have quite a few issues to follow up on. I will look into this issue and as soon as I can garner the information about this request, I will do my best to inform you and the public at large.” We will have to take him at his word but are mindful that this is only a promise that has been made by an agency that has failed repeatedly to answer questions that we and the residents of Kent County have posed.

You will not be asked to “check back with us” as MDTA has done, KCPA will publicly release any information received in real time.

Janet Christensen-Lewis, Chair

Board of Directors

Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance


Out and About (Sort of): Defending the Delicious by Howard Freedlander


An article in a major newspaper that tries to capture Eastern Shore culture and idiosyncrasies often falls flat and fails to be funny and clever. Such was the case last week in a Washington Post story in the Style section entitled “Crabby about picking.”

The subject was picking and eating hard-shell crabs. The writer interviewed several people who nearly unanimously complained about the unsatisfying effort to eat a crab, citing little reward in its meatiness, or the smell that remained in one’s hands for days, or the cuts that might happen while eating Maryland’s state crustacean.

I tried hard to glean some humor. But I couldn’t. The writer missed the point—maybe deliberately so, maybe not.

If the writer had chosen to view crab-eating as a cultural ritual, I suspect its content would have been meatier and juicier. Instead, she chose to treat the subject whimsically, implicitly questioning the devouring of a shellfish deemed so undesirable to her.

The more I thought about the writer’s distasteful view of the blue crab, the more steamed I became. I decided to claw back and defend this conveyor of delicious crabmeat.

In many ways, steamed crabs are a uniting force, bringing people together at one table for hours, equipped with crab knives, mallets, beverages, corn, tomatoes—and eliciting joy at eating an incredible delicacy. So, yes, the blue (red when cooked) is a social, even charismatic animal.

People’s moods seem to change when eating crabs. Conversation admittedly is a bit interrupted amid the pounding of mallets, a few finger cuts and a piddling amount of blood and frequent utterances of pure excitement as a piece of lump meat delights the palette.

My wife and I, once the crab season is in full throttle, consistently order our crabs at Gay’s Seafood on Easton Point and rarely are disappointed. We figure we are eating truly local crabs harvested from the Miles and Tread Avon rivers. I’m struck by how simple the operation is, yet the results are sumptuous.

In the Post article, the writer observes, “For locals who don’t like picking crabs, the summer is full of yellowed entrails, foul marine odors, social engagements to avoid and loyalties to defend.” Now, I admit that I know people who either are allergic to shellfish, or simply don’t want to go to the trouble of picking a crab. 

I understand we all have our culinary likes and dislikes. However, dissing on hard-shell or soft-shell crabs is uncommon, if not disrespectful.

Deliberate avoidance of social shellfish occasions? That’s going a bit far.

Taking the side of reluctant, if not recalcitrant crab-eaters, the Post writer states, “And that (feeling forced to eat), for the crab-averse, is the worst part of all. Not only are they expected to dismember and disembowel a bottom-dwelling animal, spending hours tweezing out tiny morsels of meat as shell puncture their skin, but they’re also expected to like it.”

Now, this last comment really offends my fancy for, and dedication to crabs. It just seems so unnecessarily negative. Does crab-eating take time and possibly inflict a few cuts along the way? Yes. Is eating a crabcake far easier? Yes. 

Is forsaking the pure joy of eating delicious crabmeat (and all the comes with it) with friends and spending time talking for hours between bites a desirable course of action? No. 

I haven’t mentioned the cost, which can be hefty in an urban area, maybe as much as $125-$150 a dozen. That’s costly. I agree. At Gay’s, I pay $40 a dozen. At $3.33 per crab, it’s well worth the price. 

I’ve made my case in defense of a tasty and habit-forming crustacean. I grant the naysayers their distaste. We each have our particular food attachments.

But, I urge the Washington Post writer to find some hard-shell devotees the next time she writes about the blue crab. And that she understands that a crab feast knows no political boundaries.


Hot Water Bounce by Jamie Kirkpatrick



My friend Cuz is known for his—shall we say—‘colorful’ language on the golf course. I wouldn’t talk to my worst enemy the way he talks to his golf ball, but every once in a while, he says something mysterious that upon reflection makes profound good sense. Like the recent time he yelled “COLD WATER BOUNCE!” at his ball in flight.

Not wishing to play the golfing fool, I wasn’t about to ask him what that meant. On we went.

A few holes later, same thing, except this time as the ball flew through the air, he started yelling “HOT WATER BOUNCE! HOT WATER BOUNCE!” I still didn’t get it. Maybe Cuz was just messing with me, but that’s not really his style. He’s got enough on his hands with his own game.

Later that day, I ran into my friend Key who knows Cuz well; in fact he’s his cousin, hence the genesis of the nickname. “I played with Cuz today,” I said. “One time, he yelled at his ball to take a ‘cold water bounce.’ Another time, he screamed ‘hot water bounce.’ What’s he talking about?”

Key looked at me. “You don’t get it?” I responded with my best blank stare. “Think about it,” he suggested. “When you walk up to the sink, where’s the cold tap? Where’s the hot tap?” It took a few seconds to sink in (so to speak), but then all of a sudden, I got it. Cold on the right; hot on the left. Cuz was asking the ball to bounce right or left depending on the situation. Duh!

As with most things that happen on a golf course, this epiphany got me thinking about the bigger game—the one we call life. Rarely in life do we ever get a straight ahead bounce. Sometimes we hope for a cold water bounce and sometimes we ask for a hot water bounce. Depends on the situation.

It seems to me that for the last couple of years, we’ve been getting an awful lot of cold water bounces. Contentious appointments to the Supreme Court and other federal benches, an increasingly isolationist foreign policy, dubious trade and tariff policies, impulsive economic decisions, disastrous environmental legislation, children in filthy cages at the border and ICE deportations, a foundering health care system, tax cuts for the wealthy, disappearing public education, the war on a free press, Twitter tirades and racist rants, even the recent vainglorious Fourth of July extravaganza in Washington, DC—all cold water bounces. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that we’ve bounced far enough to the right. I’m ready for a few hot water bounces.

The problem, of course, is that in the game of golf, it’s almost impossible to control the way the ball bounces. The type of grass on the fairways and greens, the wind, the spin on the ball, even a sprinkler head can have an awful lot to say about the way any given ball will bounce and roll. It’s that capricious quality that makes golf so exhilarating and so frustrating at the same time. But golf is only a game; our constitutional democracy certainly isn’t.

They say it all evens out in the end, that for every cold water bounce, there will be a hot water bounce. I sure hope they’re right—whoever ‘they’ are. I suppose it’s even possible that there will be a faucet bounce every once in a while, a straight ahead bounce requiring no body English to favor the ball’s trajectory, forward progress that’s good for all. What a concept! But until that happens, you can bet I’ll be leaning left, looking for a hot water bounce.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is

The Big Picture by George Merrill


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.

Bring in the Clowns – Whoops They Are Here by Al Sikes


Bring in the Clowns—Whoops They Are Here

Trump sows dissent, it spreads. Farmers are envious. 

Trump smiles and tweets.

The dissenters lash out at Pelosi and then Biden. They miniaturize the sane.

Where is Amy of Minnesota? Well she is at the end of the debate line trying to avoid the spittle of de Blasio of New York.

Trump smiles and tweets.

Amash of Michigan offers up a principled withdrawal—a revolt of one—Trump smiles.

Fringe is in. Outrage, the new black or is it orange?

Cable channels, the new Arbiters, with their breaking wisdom,

Yes, “the levee is dry”.

Those who offer to work across the aisle find the aisle congested with clowns. Forgive me, not meaning to disparage clowns.

Racism. Well it should be a serious subject but, Biden and Pelosi racists? Or, any white men, period?

Civility? Who takes the first step? It should not require new profiles in courage.

Plastic is out; no it’s in, its MAGA man. Leaders can’t find space among the carnival barkers. 

Trump smiles and tweets.

by Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 


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