Study in Blue by Jamie Kirkpatrick

It’s funny how some colors are descriptive of moods. Red, Mars’ color, is always associated with anger, blood, and war. Yellow has a sunny disposition, but it can also be cowardly. Purple is passionate, green is envious, black is despair, white is virginal. Orange is tricky: it combines the hot energy of red and the happiness of yellow so it’s associated with things autumnal—the cooling of the earth, the harvest, the sensation of heat but not its burn. POTUS will be the first to tell you that gold invokes prestige and wealth, but there’s also a hint of illumination and wisdom, believe it or not.

Then there’s blue. Some say it is a masculine color; it is, after all, the preferred color of glass-ceilinged corporate America. A lot of superheroes wear blue perhaps because in heraldry, blue is associated with strength, sincerity, and piety. Heaven is blue as is the wild yonder. But we all know blue has another aspect: a melancholy aura, grey clouds scudding across a bright sky, weight, heaviness, and an icy, lurking foreboding of lousy things to come. To feel blue is to be a bit down, somber and contemplative, at a remove from the sun, or maybe just be stuck in a rut. We’re all there from time to time; the trick is how to get out of blue, how to right the ship, how to lighten up!

Blue comes in a thousand different shades: teal, aqua, cornflower, cobalt, indigo, turquoise, ultramarine, mazarine (I have no idea), lapis lazuli, navy, steel, robins-egg, midnight, baby, and even something called zaffre to name a few. My personal favorite is periwinkle; someday, I’d love to live in a white house with a periwinkle door and periwinkle shutters. (Maybe I just like saying ‘periwinkle!’)

Blue has an unlikely circle of friends: I grew up in Pennsylvania where the Sunday Blue Laws meant no liquor could be sold on the Lord’s day. I know people who can swear a blue streak. Music is full of blue: Ella Fitzgerald could sing the Blues; The Supremes, The Four Tops, and The Temptations put Rhythm & Blues on the musical map; Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt were the kings of Bluegrass. (There’s even a “blue note” in jazz, a note that for expressive purposes is sung a slightly different pitch.)

And more: Paul Bunyon named his blue ox “Babe;” blue heelers herd cattle or sheep in Australia while back here in America, bluetick coonhounds are known for their warm personalities and cold noses. Of course, there are blue whales, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, IBM (aka “Big Blue; see second paragraph about corporate America), blue bloods who wear blue blazers, blue moons, bluefish and blue crabs, Ol’ Blue Eyes, blue books (used for exams, social registry, and used car evaluations), Blue Duck (the villain in “Lonesome Dove”), the Navy’s elite Blue Angels, and our very own Blue Star Memorial Highway. Bobby Vinton sang “Blue Velvet” and who could ever forget Tammy Wynette’s ultimate country ballad of suffering and loss, plain old “Blue.” Oh: and 1mg Xanax, a popular antidepressant, comes in a blue pill. (Of course it does.)

Whew! Who knew? Blue.

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 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 new collection of essays titled “Musing Right Along” will be released in June. Jamie’s website is

Pilgrims at Augusta by Jamie Kirkpatrick

According to that modern font of wisdom known as Wikipedia, a pilgrim (from the Latin peregrinus) is “a traveler (literally one from afar) who is on a journey to a holy place.

Typically, this is a physical journey (often on foot) to some place of special significance to the adherent of a particular religious belief system.” Leaving aside the “on foot” part, I’d say that last week, my friend Key and I were poster-pilgrims.

The object of our journey was a small town just on the Georgia side of the Savannah River. There is a cathedral there known as Augusta National Golf Club, a place blessedly central to those of us who practice the particular religious belief system known as golf. Every year about this time, the archbishops of this cathedral conduct a holy rite of spring known as The Masters Tournament that draws pilgrims like Key and me to Augusta like moths to a flame. To say the very least, it did not disappoint; to say more, we have been restored. Hallelujah!

The archbishops of Augusta Cathedral all wear robes—well, jackets—of emerald green. To commemorate the consecrated site of their cathedral which was originally a fruit tree nursery (and before that, an indigo plantation owned by Belgian Baron Louis Berckmans), the priestly hierarchy decorate the close with thousands of flowering shrubs and trees: Azalea, Pink Dogwood, Redbud, Flowering Peach (after all, this is Georgia), Magnolia, Carolina Cherry, Flowering Crab Apple, Camellia, and Yellow Jasmine (the list goes on), all watered by a natural spring of holy water known as Rae’s Creek. It is said that that when the 365-acre property was optioned in 1930 for the princely sum of $70,000, the sainted Bobby Jones who along with the sainted Clifford Roberts had always dreamed of building a golf cathedral in northern Georgia, looked out over the land, saw that it was good, and murmured, “Perfect!”

To realize their dream, Jones and Roberts hired Dr. Alistair McKenzie of Scotland who had already built two other cathedrals (Cypress Point and Pasatiempo) out in California. For Augusta, McKenzie imagined high hills and deep valleys, spires of tall Georgia pines, long, narrow aisles of manicured fairways, and altars of subtle, undulating, and devilishly fast greens. He even envisioned a unique little chapel within the cathedral that would come to be known as Amen Corner, a place requiring lots of pious prayer from the supplicants passing along its beautiful but rugged way. Construction of the cathedral began in 1931; the first service was held in January 1933. Today, the cathedral is only open to a small band of members a few months each year because during the long, hot Georgia summer, it lies in quiet repose, each blade of grass, flower bed, and tree lovingly tended by gentle hands.

Fortunately, however, during the first week of April, Augusta Cathedral opens its doors to weary pilgrims like Key and me. (Key has made the annual journey more than twenty times; this was my novitiate year.) We bathed in the font of memory and watched in awe as the ordained high priests of our beloved game returned to worship at the shrine. We were welcomed with gracious southern hospitality and adhered to the ancient rites of etiquette and decorum. We marveled at the efficient conduct of the services and the modest cost of the succulent offerings of food and drink: pimento and cheese sandwiches and glasses of sweet tea. Except for the angels whispering in the treetops and the birds singing in the choir, the nave of the cathedral, even packed with a few thousand fellow pilgrims, was miraculously hushed and still. (Cell phones are not permitted in the cathedral.) Pine straw incense perfumed the warm Georgia air.

Each year, many aspiring supplicants come to test themselves at the cathedral and from them, one man of sound character and steady nerve earns the right to be inducted into the sanctum sanctorum of Augusta. He is venerated, given an honorary robe (ok, jacket), and a place at the locker room table. This year, it was a Spaniard, once a gifted boy but now a grizzled veteran of many legendary battles, who became champion and was joyously anointed into the mysteries of this special place.

Bishop Nance annually reminds us that The Masters is a tradition “unlike any other.” The same must be true of the cathedral we know as Augusta National Golf Club for it is the only golf course in America that has never been rated. It never will be. I guess heaven must have a higher standard.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

Zugzwang by Jamie Kirkpatrick


I haven’t played a game of chess in many years, but it feels like I’m playing one now. And I’m in zugzwang: I have to make a move and any move I make will weaken my position. Believe me: It’s not a good feeling.

We’re about a month away from electing our next President and the little chess clock is ticking down. Soon, I’ll have to make a move. I could move here, but that would expose my queen. I could move there but that would render my king defenseless. There are a couple of other moves I could make, but they’re equally bad, probably worse. Sigh.

How did I get here? I should have foreseen this situation but I guess I wasn’t paying close enough attention, so I made moves that (at the time) seemed right, never imagining they would lead me into my current predicament. Maybe I just fell into a hidden trap somewhere along the way. Now I’m screwed. I’m in zugzwang.

I’m not willing to walk away and forfeit this game. I have to move. Maybe I’m being too myopic or pessimistic and I’ll miraculously escape unscathed, but I doubt that. It’s time to choose and hope that things will somehow turn out alright. So I take a deep breath and put my hand gently on my queen…

Before I take my hand away, I look over the board one more time hoping against hope that there’s an escape route I haven’t yet seen, a brilliant, unexpected move that will save the day. But if there is such a move or strategy, I don’t see it. It has come down to this: these are the only choices available to me. Damn zugzwang!

Zugzwang is an old concept. The Moguls—who likely invented chess—knew such a thing existed as early as the 9th Century, long before it even had a name. Italian masters wrote about vulnerability and endgame strategies in the 16th Century, but it was a German champion who eventually coined the term sometime in the middle of the 19th Century. (Zugzwang literally means “compulsion to move.”) Somehow, knowing the history of zugzwang renders it an even less palatable outcome to this current game of chess; I feel like I’ve been a sucker all along.

My hand is still on my queen. It seems frozen, incapable of movement, but my brain knows it’s now or never. There really are only two moves available to me and I hate the thought of making one of them just because it’s the lesser of two evils. But I suppose that’s as good a reason as any at this point in the game. I’d much rather think that the move I’m about to make is inherently a good—even winning—one but it doesn’t feel like that. It just feels vaguely disappointing, the way any missed opportunity feels when life has passed me by and all the earlier choices I made have led me to this singular moment.
Chess is a game; electing a President isn’t. I move my queen forward, hoping this decision is the right one. We’ll see; as impossible as it may seem, my opponent is in zugzwang, too.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

Above and Beyond by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Just last week, SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) scientists picked up a strong signal from a planet (HD164595 for all you cognoscenti out there) in the vicinity of a sun-like star only 94 light years from Earth. The signal was sufficiently strong to indicate that it would have to have been made by a civilization with capabilities well beyond those we Earthlings currently possess. Well, duh!

Just kidding. I’m sure there is plenty of intelligent life here on Earth; it’s just taken a temporary leave of absence until after the election. But the possibility of “contact” is breathtaking. Although it’s not likely to make the 6 o’clock news any time soon—mayhem and murder are so much sexier than science—this possible message from the beyond leaves me to ponder about what it will be like if and when we finally do meet our interstellar neighbors.

For those of you old enough to remember The Twilight Zone, let’s hope that encounter isn’t like the one in “How To Serve Man.” In that episode, thousands of curious Earthlings lined up in droves to board a spaceship that would take them to a planet inhabited by polite creatures bent on bringing lots of us back to their far-away home. It was only after the transport blasted off that someone back on Earth discovered that their manifesto called “How To Serve Man” was really a cookbook. I had nightmares about that for years.

But this time, maybe the signal is different—I sure hope so! Just think about it: fellow beings from a Type II civilization on the Kardashev Scale (down here on Earth, we haven’t quite reached Type I yet), perhaps possessing the ability to cure cancer, eliminate war, end homelessness and poverty, or just promote civil discourse—what a concept! We might even learn a thing or two from such a civilization. No more junk food, rap music videos, or plastic water bottles floating forever in the ocean; no more dependence on polluting fossil fuels; no need for Viagra commercials or negative campaign ads; not even a hint of racism, sexism, or any other polarizing “ism.” What would we do with all that freed up time and energy? Read? Sleep ’til noon? Take up yoga? We might even get promoted to a full-fledged Type I designation by Professor Kardashev!

I’ll be the first to admit that astrophysics leaves me speechless. Take light years, for example: when our friends on HD164595 hit the send button 94 years ago, James Joyce had just published “Ulysses,” the Supreme Court had unanimously upheld the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, and the Eskimo Pie had just been patented not by an Eskimo, but a man from Iowa. (Why weren’t they called Iowa Pies?) Oh, and by the way, 94 light years is not even an astrophysical blink!

Clearly, it’s time to think about how we should respond to the message from our new buddies in space, if that’s what it is. We don’t want them to know we’re way behind on the Intelligent Civilization scale so let’s not text them, tweet them, or send them something as simple as E=MC2. They figured that one out a million years before the dinosaurs disappeared. Let’s be enigmatic instead. How about replying with a copy of Renee Magritte’s “Son of Man” or one of Salvador Dali’s “Clocks?” That should get their little ET attention!

I, for one, want to know my neighbors. The thought of living all alone in the vastness of space leaves me feeling blue. Then again, if our new-found friends turn out to be green, maybe that’s not so bad.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

On Getting On by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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I vividly remember the first time I successfully tied my shoes. I was in the back seat of my parents’ Buick at the corner of Fifth and Penn when all of a sudden the bow just happened. I’m guessing I was only four or five at the time but I felt like such a grown-up. I was on my way!

Now my feet seem very far away. It’s not because I’m tall; it’s because it’s getting harder and harder to bend over. Stiffening joints, inflexibility, widening girth, little aches and pains: the signposts are hard to miss. I’m getting older. Maybe I’m already there.

A few months ago, I attended my 50th high school reunion. It was a glorious spring weekend in Connecticut and I was pleasantly surprised to see so many of my former classmates back on campus. I even recognized a few; thankfully, name tags helped me remember the others. We reminisced, introduced our spouses, and brought each other up-to-date on the hits and misses of our lives in the fifty intervening years since graduation. It felt good to be back in the fold.

Of course, the irony of the situation was not lost on us. We remembered our student days and seeing old alums coming back to get all misty and nostalgic about their days at “our” school. “We’ll never be like that,” we said. Oh yeah? Well guess what: now we were the geezers and I thought I heard snickering from the current crop of teenagers. Be careful, young ones: the wasp of karma sure can sting.

As the sage guru once said, aging sucks. Things we used to take for granted now seem like miracles. Wasn’t it just yesterday when I could throw a full batting practice and run the Boston Marathon? Or party like a rock star and wake up the next morning not feeling like I had been run over by a dump truck? Or jump over parking meters? (I used that one a lot when I wanted to impress a new girlfriend; now I squint at the app on my mobile phone trying to figure out how to feed the damn things.) These days, I celebrate smaller victories like staying awake until ten, or remembering where I left the car keys, or the satisfying feeling of certain bodily functions that are not for publication in an online family newspaper.

Graceful aging; what a concept! The trick, of course, is not to succumb to the advancing years, but that’s easier said than done. Yoga would definitely help but the outfits would be a problem, let alone the physical demands of even the most basic positions. My daughter-in-law who is a highly respected nutritionist suggested a healthier diet. Fine with me—as long as I can have fries with that and another glass of wine with dessert. “Come on, let’s go for a bike ride,” my wife says. “Be right there,” I respond, “soon as I finish this nap.” Fighting the good fight sounds so right but feels so wrong, kind of like the pants in my closet that mysteriously shrink each time I put them on.

Oh: I just remembered that I began this Musing with a story about the first time I tied my shoes. Now I choose footwear that don’t require any tying. In fact, I’m barefoot as I write this. Makes me feel like a kid again!

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

On Vacation by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Down in the War Room, the situation is getting tense. Months of intense planning have come down to just a few days now. The General and her senior staff officers all know their jobs; they have planned and practiced and drilled for this moment. They are quietly confident, but still, they know that war is hell and that something could go unexpectedly, dreadfully wrong at the last moment, so they go over the plans again: battle lines, strategic planning, supplies and logistics, personnel. Operations will commence in three days at precisely zero-six-hundred hours. We are going to the beach.

Rehoboth, to be precise. In the Book of Genesis, Issac, son of Abraham, needed water for his flock so he commanded his servants to dig two wells. But when the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with them about the location of these wells, Issac had a third well dug. Everyone seemed satisfied, so Issac called the place Rehoboth saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”

It may not be quite so biblical these days, but to us, Rehoboth, Delaware is still a place of rest and refreshment. We have rented the same house for several years now and for the first two weeks of August, it is our very own Camelot by the sea. It’s a well-used place with a slightly musty odor, comfortable furniture, five bedrooms, three bathrooms, two refrigerators, and best of all, an airy wrap-around porch, perfect for morning coffee or evening cocktails. It’s also just a short bike ride to the center of town for supplies or to the beach for a day of toes-in-the-sand.

For the past three years, our army has consisted of as many as four generations of soldiers, a battalion of aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws, plus numerous camp-flowers, sidekicks, and friends. The number may vary from day-to-day, but there are always enough of us to put up a good fight. We each have our own assigned duties: cooking, grilling, KP in the mess hall; delivery of copious quantities of operational supplies to the beach; lunch runs, ice runs, beer runs, and more ice runs for R&R.

The rhythm of our time at the beach hardly ever varies. Because our army really does march on its stomach, most of the planning revolves around food. Croissants from Lingos in the morning, steak-and-cheese sandwiches from Louis’ at lunch, and for dinner a rotating feast that includes (of course) crabs one night, ribs another, burgers and dogs yet another, fresh corn and tomatoes every night, mac and cheese or pizza for the kids, and always plenty of wine and beer for the adult troops.

Like any army, we pray for good weather. One rainy day is acceptable every once in a while, two in a row gets dicey, three for more is a recipe for disaster (thankfully, not usually on the menu). In case of rain, there are a few options (Funland, the book store, board games, the rope hammock on the porch), but nothing can ever take the place of another sunny day on the beach, a circle of chairs in the sand, and the grandkids with their pails and shovels or better yet, quietly napping under the umbrella.

By the end of our two weeks, we’re exhausted. I know that must seem strange, but I think it’s the beach’s way of saying, “Time’s up; retreat; see you next year.” After all, if vacations lasted forever, there would be no vacations.

Muse on that!

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

On a Swing by Jamie Kirkpatrick

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 7.54.01 AMWe found our porch swing in Galena. It was old, the paint was chipped, and some of the slats were suspiciously spongy, but when my wife laid eyes on it, it was love at first sight. I balked but not for long. The next day I went back to Galena and brought it home as a surprise. It has held pride of place on the front porch ever since.

Like the rest of us, our swing has aged a bit in the last 4+ years. We had to replace all those suspiciously spongy slats. We milled, painted, and installed new ones a couple of months ago and figured we were out of the woods for a while. That was before two large men (OK, one was me) decided to give the swing a road test on a first Friday and heard a loud CRACK. The next morning we saw what we heard. One of the bottom horizontal ribs was dangling and the perpendicular stabilizer was split. I called the doctor.

The doctor (played in this episode by our neighbor Tom) is a highly skilled carpenter who can fix anything. He made a house call and delivered the bad news: maybe it was time to replace the swing. “Can’t you repair it?” my wife pleaded. He could, but repair might cost as much as we originally paid. “Sure you want to do that?” the swing doctor asked. I looked at my wife, then sighed and opened my wallet.

Some things in life are measured by cost and some aren’t. Those that aren’t are measured on another scale: nostalgia, comfort, or some other highly irrational but nevertheless important criteria known only to the user. That is the scale our swing now occupies. It’s just a shabby piece of porch furniture that keeps hanging on well beyond its time, but the comfort of retaining it makes the cost of replacing it prohibitive. I know it’s not a rational equation, but admit it: we all practice that kind of mathematics from time-to-time.

We live in the age of recycling and it has become fashionable to retain, repurpose, and reuse items that are past their prime. That’s a good thing. Every Friday, the blue Infinity recycling wagon stops in front of our house and all those wine bottles and beer cans get a new lease on life. (Soon enough, I suspect, medical science will enable us to do this kind of recycling with human beings but where we will put all these reused souls, God only knows.)

There are, of course, some things in life that have a limited shelf life, like the cottage cheese in our refrigerator which has been known to become a science experiment gone dreadfully wrong or those bell-bottom jeans hanging in the closet that just aren’t ever coming back into style no matter how hard we try. They’re one-and-done so get over it. But otherwise, there likely is some kind of elliptical orbit that applies to human history and we are doomed to repeat our failures if we don’t learn from our mistakes. (Here, I could make the leap to the current Presidential race, but I won’t.) I guess the point is repair or repurpose what you can and replace the rest.

Back to our swing: soon its underpinnings will be good as new; the rest will retain the shabby chic veneer that lets my wife swing to her heart’s content.


Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

True North by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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This time next week, I’ll be in Canada. I know it’s only a bridge away (at least from Buffalo where I cross the border), but believe me, it’s a world apart. When friends ask, “Where in Canada?” I respond, “Go to Toronto, turn left and drive due north for four hours.” That’s about as precise as I can get.

My destination is a place called Long House, but you won’t find it on any map. It’s an old family camp located deep in the woods on a blue body of water the locals (paltry few in number) know as Dotty Lake. Literally at the end of the road (which by the time I get there is two tracks in the grass), there is the main lodge—Long House—where we (more on “we” later) gather to consume highly caloric meals prepared by the camp cook or to sit in front the fireplace on cool evenings, reading, playing cards, or just talking late into the night. We are silently watched by generations of winter hunters grinning out of faded black and white photographs, as well as bythe glass eyes of their creepy taxidermy trophies. Next to the main lodge, there is a second,smaller log cabin that houses a sagging ping-pong table, site of ferociously competitive matches with victories and defeats that grow more memorable with each passing year. When it’s finally time for bed, we each adjourn to one of the eight small, sparsely furnished cabins strung out along the lake front. There is a common bath house, and that’s it. “Rustic” is one way to describe Long House; so, too, is “unchanged,” that is, if you don’t count the electricity that was added only a few years ago.

There isn’t much to do at Long House. No nearby tennis courts or golf courses; the fishing in the lake isn’t great; cell phones don’t work up there. There is, however, an old pontoon barge tied up at the dock: on gentle evenings we fire up the finicky outboard and cruise around the lake (three miles long, a mile wide) at cocktail time, telling the same stories year after year after year.

There are several canoes and a couple of sun fish for sailing; swimming per se might best described as “refreshing.” But the birch trees along the shore rattle in the afternoon breeze, a pair of loons call to each other out in the lake at dusk, and the stars at night are bright as diamonds. If we’re really lucky, we can watch the pulsating lights of the aurora borealis dance across the northern sky.

It’s an odd band of brothers and, more recently, a few stalwart sisters who venture into the wild for a week at Long House every summer. Everyone except me is from Buffalo. (I was granted honorary membership into that august fraternity a long time ago when Peter, my prep school roommate and the leader of our little group, vouched for me.) Steve is our perennially luckless fisherman with a legendary tackle box; Mark, our indefatigable triathlete, arrives in camp with enough gear strapped to his car to stock a sporting goods store. Pim and Joey provide just enough distaff commentary to keep the male conversations reasonably honest, while Carleton skippers the barge overdressed in his habitual blue button-down shirt and khakis. Then there is “Second Peter,” an enthusiastic biker/paddler who will be bringing his new spouse to camp for the first time this year, brave on both ends. (My wife made the trek for a couple of years, but much to my regret and the other boys’ as well, she will be toasted this year in absentia due to duties at work.)

There was a time when I lashed my beautiful cedar and canvas canoe to the top of my car, stowed the dog and my duffle bag in the back, and made the fifteen hour trek up to Long House, singing “O Canada!” as I crossed the Peace Bridge. Now I fly to Buffalo and drive a few hours north with Pete. It’s the stuff of an old friendship, one that goes back more than fifty years to a time when we were boys and the world was our oyster. We’re no longer boys and there were never any oysters in Dotty Lake, but the quirky world up there is still ours and I cherish it.

Jamie Kirkpatrick

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

Beaches by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Now that June is here, it seems like the right time to muse about the beaches in our lives. As I write this, my wife and I are attending a wedding in Cape May, that pendant piece of New Jersey separating the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware Bay. It’s a quintessential beach town: sand, lifeguard chairs, a boardwalk, rented bikes and peddle buggies, t-shirt shops. Sunburned faces licking ice ream cones; frizzy hair; time standing still, the hands of the town clock pointing squarely at summer.

Up and down the east coast, beaches are the happy margin of the continent. Florida is one long beach and the barrier islands of Georgia and South Carolina provide plenty of good sand. Some folks swear by the Outer Banks, while others prefer the sandy linings of Virginia or on across the Chesapeake Bay to the oases on the Delmarva Peninsula: Ocean City, Bethany, Rehoboth, and Lewes. Further along, you can stick your toes in the sand almost anywhere along the Jersey Shore, or on the beaches that run the length of Long Island, before leaping across Long Island Sound to the classic New England beachfront towns that dot the Connecticut and Rhode Island littoral. Like cold water? Head further north to Cape Cod or its offshore cousins: Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, or Nantucket. The hardiest souls spend their summers along the rocky coast around Penobscot Bay or down east in Maine with the lobsters and cod or even in the maritime provinces of Canada, but that’s another, chillier story told to the doleful song of fog horns and bell buoys.

Back in my high school geometry class, I remember learning that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. While that may surely be mathematically true, I think a beach puts that theory to the test. Shorelines meander; so do beach conversations; life just seems to shed much of its straightness within earshot of the surf. I think that’s why some people are such Beachophiles: for months and months, they long for an excuse to shed their shoes and their shirts to read a good book, dig a hole, build a castle, sip a beer, or take a long nap in the sun with nature’s own sound machine running soothingly in the background. Points A and B recede into the background behind the dunes, the straight line between them erased like footprints along the tide line.

Now I know there are days when the clouds roll in and rain spoils summer fun. That’s life. But if you’ve rented a place for the week and packed the kids and their bikes and all your other beach paraphernalia into the car, a string of rainy beach days becomes more than just a casual annoyance. Looking out your rain-spattered window and feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to solve the problem. Get creative: a good movie, some board games, or that good book you brought might just fill the gap until the sun comes out again.

And it will. I promise.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

The Salt Leaf by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Last week, I was down in the Florida Keys fishing for tarpon. In case you don’t know, tarpon are locomotives disguised as fish. They are nocturnal feeders so fishing for them is a midnight-to-dawn affair, in this particular case under a full Florida moon. My first hook-up resulted in an hour and a half battle with a 160 pound monster that ended when the steel hook broke releasing fish and fisherman from their tenuous monofilament connection. He was ten feet from the boat; I declared moral victory.

But that’s a story for another day. Today’s tale is about the lowly mangrove, the ubiquitous shrub that thrives throughout the Keys and many other tropical climes as well. That the mangrove thrives at all is nothing short of a miracle because it roots in very salty water, water that is, in fact, saline enough to kill any other species. How does it do that?

Look closer. Mangrove leaves are a brilliant jade green. But interspersed among their green finery are bright spots of yellow. These are the salt leaves. By a science I do not pretend or presume to understand, these leaves are programmed to extract enough of the concentrated salt in the water rendering it sufficiently fresh to nourish the host plant. Theories abound about how this actually works. Some botanists posit that it is the roots of the mangrove that filter as much as 90% of the salt from seawater, thereby providing enough fresh water to feed the plant. However, other botanists believe that the alchemy of turning salt water into fresh water is done by the leaves of the plant. By some evolutionary miracle, each mangrove is programmed to produce a precious few salt leaves that are capable of excreting such enormous quantities of salt through glands on their surface that they, in effect, sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the host. I like that theory a lot.

One afternoon, I spent some time trying to count the number of salt leaves on a given plant. It was a futile effort. The roots of the mangrove are so intertwined that it’s impossible to distinguish one root system from another and anyway, after a while, they all began to look alike. So I did the next best thing: I estimated. Best guess? Maybe one leaf in a thousand is a salt leaf. Even if I’m off by a factor of ten, that’s still quite a burden to bear for a single tiny yellow leaf.

By the time you’re reading this, we will have marked another Memorial Day on the calendar. It’s the one day of the year when we officially remember and honor those men and women who were and are our nation’s salt leaves. Let’s pledge to remember what these heroes have sacrificed—some ultimately—for our greater common good.

There is another interesting aspect to the mangrove: the locals say it “walks.” As it thrives, its roots spread. Silt collects and eventually new land begins to form, land that is host to all manner of other species and all other manner of immigrant life. Life begetting life.

Thank those who sacrifice. Thank the salt leaves.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”


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