On the Shadow Side by George Merrill

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A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Losing heart is worse.

Everything has a shadow side. My mind does. It’s called ego. I don’t like it but it’s just they way it is. I’ve discovered its voracious appetite for information. It tricks me regularly. It makes me feel that I know everything and grinds night and day to keep me in control and looking cool. My mind is constantly calculating, planning, weighing, and criticizing.

The problem is how my busy mind keeps me from hearing what’s more important: the voice of my heart. I don’t hear it over the din of my relentlessly busy mind. When I can hear my heart and grasp its message, I feel a sense of inner congruity and personal wholeness. This is a qualitatively different experience that I have when my mind masters challenges. I may arrive at logical conclusions but my heart remains unmoved. Losing heart in the mind’s busyness feels empty.

star-dem shadow

Photo by George Merrill

In this regard I noticed how Pope Francis’ captured the hearts of so many Americans, recently. He did mine. When I put my mind to it, I recognized that his message was not anything new. He exhorted us to feed and shelter the poor, protect the world’s resources, harness the greed and abuses of the powerful and give sanctuary to the vulnerable and be compassionate. The Old Testament prophets of Judaism, Christian saints and Buddhist practitioners have been saying that for eons. What happened that made his message so fresh and compelling? It’s because he spoke the truth from his heart. When we speak from the heart, all kinds of possibilities arise.

And so I felt sad after reading some newspaper columns and hearing cynical comments from presidential hopefuls following Pope Francis’ recent visit to the States. Bright light casts dark shadows. The remarks were patronizing and dismissive, radically different from how the majority of people experienced the pope.

George Will, for instance, was openly contemptuous. He referred to Francis having “indiscriminate zeal . . . ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false, and deeply reactionary.” He dismisses the pope’s speeches as “fact free flamboyance.” He accuses him of “rhetorical exhibitionism.” Will sums up the pope’s visit as “jauntily [making] his church congruent with the secular religion of ‘sustainability.’” In the lofty and erudite ways that the learned put down those whom they don’t like, Will trashes the Pope’s visionary challenge.

Columnist Michael Reagan, Ronald Reagan’s son, while slightly less contemptuous, was patronizing. He went at some lengths to underscore what the pope should have but didn’t do. Why didn’t the pope “throw his weight around and shame the Castro brothers before the whole world.” Reagan lectures the pope: Didn’t the pope “realize that 401(k) s and pension funds owe their good returns to the health of Wall Street and the stock market?” Reagan’s parting salvo to the pope: “ . . . he’ll never figure out how to actually help them (my italics) until he understands what made America so wealthy and stops worrying about the wrong thing.” There’s no question in my mind that the pope understands exactly what’s made America so wealthy. That’s why he’s worried and thinks we should be, too.

I have wondered whether Reagan, Will and other political champions of capitalism who discounted the pope were uneasy about some aspects of capitalism. Capitalism, too, has a shadow side. They see how Francis’ vision demands dramatic economic and political reforms that would have unsettling impacts on today’s political America. My guess is that they’re not up to the challenge and so want to discredit it. The pope’s vision may be a timeless admonition but it’s right here today. We experience a disappearing middle class, the obscene salaries of corporate executives, the marginalizing of the poor, the country’s Enron and Wall Street sleights of hand– all these are no secrets. But we’re not accustomed to truth telling, or hearing people in power speaking from their hearts.

I found genuineness in the pope’s persona – ironically, cloaked in the garb of medieval royalty and power – that communicated authenticity and humility. I saw no evidence of posturing. He spoke with the spirit and passion of a prophet. I sense he knew he had a cache of moral authority and was spending it to address what everyone knows in his heart but doesn’t know how to address it: the wave of our future and the hope of our survival is in finding ways of caring for each other and for our environment.

Prophets are not necessarily leaders. What they do is point the way. Their visions open hearts and inspire movements but few are skilled in the details required to realize the vision. Politicians with a heart can help a lot. That said, I dread to think we will get anywhere without prophetic voices stirring our hearts. We’ll be lost in the shadows.

In the book of Proverbs, the author puts it simply: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

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

A Daughter Looks “Up Close” at Norman Harrington’s Photography from WW II


Norman Harrington’s legacy in his native Talbot County is a significant one given that he was the executive editor of the Star-Democrat for almost two decades and later led the Talbot Historical Society into becoming one of Maryland’s premier historical organizations. But with the new discovery by the Harrington family of never before seen photographs of Berchtesgaden, Adolf Hitler’s remote mountain retreat, and other remarkable photos from World War II,  that legacy must now include brilliant war photographer.

In this fantastic interview, The Spy talks to his daughter Lisa Harrington about this extraordinary discovery as well as her father’s friendship with famed WW II journalist Ernie Pyle, his exclusive access to Hitler’s private photo collection, and the documentation of Hitler’s and next-door neighbour Hermann Goering’s decadent housing and tactless design. She also talks about her father’s unyielding decision not to talk to his children about his war experiences and her moving description of discovering her father’s portfolio of work years after his death in 1987.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length

The Harrington Exhibit “Up Close” will be open to the general public at the Oxford Community Center starting October 19 on Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The exhibit will also be available for viewing by attendees of the Tred Avon Players’ production, “Lives Interrupted,” a musical review of WWII, which runs from October 22 through November 11. Contact TAP for showtimes (410-226-0061).

Review: John Ruppert at the Academy Art Museum by Mary McCoy


Three huge pumpkins cast in aluminum and another one in rust-red iron lie on the Academy Art Museum’s front lawn. Sagging under their own great weight, they cheerfully evoke the force of gravity, one of John Ruppert’s favorite subjects. But although his exhibit, on view both outside and inside the Museum through November 8, is titled Grounded, gravity is only one force he conjures in his sculptures and large photographs. This show unfolds as a study of the ever-changing nature of physical form as Ruppert traces the effects of changing light, shifting atmospheres, moving water, geological forces, and time itself.

Like a young child or a scientist, Ruppert has a lively curiosity about the natural world and the ways its elements affect how we live. He is fascinated with the pull of gravity, the fiery origins of rock, the persistence of eroding waves, and lightning’s splintering power. But although his sculptures and photographs are large and powerful, they are tempered with impish humor.

John Ruppert, “Yellow Gourd, Homage to Van Gogh,” powder-coated chain-link fabric and stainless steel, 7 ft. x 11 ft.

John Ruppert, “Yellow Gourd, Homage to Van Gogh,” powder-coated chain-link fabric and stainless steel, 7 ft. x 11 ft.

Sharing the front lawn with the pumpkins is “Yellow Gourd, Homage to Van Gogh” from his ongoing series of vessel-shaped sculptures made of chain-link fencing held upright by the tension of its own structure. Most of these vessels are strikingly symmetrical, but this eleven-foot wide ovoid purposefully lists a little sideways, just like a gourd, and glows as yellow as one of Van Gogh’s sunflowers against the green of the grass.

A veteran of numerous gallery and museum shows and the recipient of many grants, awards and residencies, Ruppert has become known for his castings of rocks and “lightning strikes,” the splintered shafts of wood split when trees are hit by lightning. Jagged verticals towering nearly nine feet tall, his three freestanding “Lightning Strikes” dramatically evoke the brute force of lightning, but Ruppert doesn’t leave it there.

A quartet of smaller strikes, all cast from the same mold, are lined up on one wall like color samples at a paint store. Similar but not identical, each was cast with a different metal—bronze, stainless steel, copper or iron. It’s a textbook comparison of the varying effects of color, texture, detailing and sheen a sculptor can expect from these diverse materials. There are sparkly glints in the copper, while the soft sheen of the oxides left on the stainless steel trails off into delicate, lacy edges. The iron picks up much less detail yet there’s strength in its primordial reddish glow, and the frost of lichen-green patina on the sooty black of the bronze highlights the intricacies of the craggy wood grain lending it a quality of ancient hoariness.


John Ruppert, installation view at Academy Art Museum with “Lightning Strikes” and “Reflections II, Lawrys Island”

Ruppert’s fascination with the process of creation is tangible throughout this show. His subjects invariably speak of their own making, whether they were formed by nature or by the artist. His sculptures are laced with ragged seams left by the molds they were cast from. Rather than polish this evidence away, Ruppert leaves them as clues to the process of their fabrication. Similarly, the subjects he photographs testify to their own particular origins.

Two tall vertical photographs share one wall of the gallery. Shot in the British Virgin Islands, glints of water in a shadowy chamber formed by a pile of massive granite boulders in “The Baths, Virgin-Gorda” tell of primeval lava flows, geological shifts in the sea floor, and millennia of weathering by waves and wind. The labyrinth of entryways and chambers in “White Chamber Agra Fort,” inside a UNESCO World Heritage site in India, shows the cleverness of its builders in designing to prevent a charge by the enemy’s elephants, then the primary vehicles of battle. In both cases, the photos describe the origins of places, natural or manmade, even as they masterfully evoke the intimacy of interior space and the promise of what can be glimpsed beyond.

Each of the images in this exhibit was created from a series of photographs digitally stitched together. This technique allows Ruppert to achieve a crystalline clarity throughout even as he combines individual moments of changing light and slightly altered perspective. These almost subliminal shifts give rise to an inkling that these places are not static and fixed in time but always changing and evolving, always in process.

There’s a pleasing irony in Ruppert’s work. His fine craftsmanship and mastery of sculptural and photographic techniques imbues his work with a quality of strength and physicality, yet his ideas are rooted in an exploration of the eternal process of change. The hardest rocks are worn smooth and round; the tallest tree is splintered by a flash of lightning. Throughout his work, time, the fourth dimension, is as palpable as solid form. Only one thing can be counted on and that is that time will change everything.


AAM Celebrates Abstraction with Work by Ken Schiano


The pairing of architectural training with a passion for abstraction has created stunning results in artist Ken Schiano’s work now on display at the Academy Arts Museum. Living on the Chesapeake Bay for the last two decades has certainly played a role in Schiano’s paintings and sculpture, but primarily he has relied on architectonic principles, especially in the use of materials and process. Together with an uncanny use of color and light, he has created powerful abstract presences.

Those qualities have made Schiano a busy man these days. He was recently selected as a semi-finalist for the 2015 Sondheim Art Prize and earned  Peggy and T. Denton Miller Award for excellence in Contemporary Art  at the AAM last year. He was also a finalist for a grant from the Adolf and Esther Gottlieb Foundation. He also recently completed a solo show at Massoni Art in Chestertown.

From his studio located in Tolchester, Ken talks to the Spy about his work and his passion for color, structure, and finding a balancing act that allows the viewer to see color and form in entirely new ways.

This video is approximately five minutes in length

Ken Schiano: Ituited Geometries
September 19  – November 8
Curator tour: October 21, 12 Noon
Academy Art Museum 
106 South Street, Easton




The Talbot Boys Conversation: Bernard Demczuk on Unionville and Memorials


While the community conversation on the “Talbot Boys” has primarily focused on the future of the confederate soldier memorial on the Talbot County Courthouse lawn, the hamlet of Unionville, founded by eighteen African-Americans who had fought for the Union in 1865, has periodically been used by some as a counterpoint to those that suggest Talbot County has not equally honored the North’s veterans of the Civil War. The immediate effect was to pique the Spy’s curiosity about Unionville and its special history.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 7.49.00 AMIn this case, we were lucky to find Bernard Demczuk, who resides part-time at a second home on the Choptank River, who not only holds a PhD from Maryland in African-American history but has done extensive scholarship on Unionville. In fact, the George Washington University teacher and assistant VP for D.C. Relations for the school, had spent so much time on the Shore doing research that he purposely found a place on the Choptank, which many local African-Americans had named the Freedom River since it served as a critical pathway to freedom.

In his interview with the Spy, Demczuk talks about the importance of Unionville, the unique character of the men who founded that community, and his personal thoughts on what should be done about the Talbot Boys.

This video is approximately nine minutes in length.


Out and About (Sort Of): The Pope and Mr. Boehner By Howard Freedlander

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Only one person seemed to have listened to Pope Francis when he spoke last week before Congress. He was Speaker of the House John Boehner.

As we all know, Mr. Boehner resigned the past Friday morning as Speaker and from his 8th District Ohio seat in Congress. He could no longer cope with the disarray and dysfunction in the Republican Conference in the House of Representatives. He could no longer deal effectively with the far right in his Republican Party. Constant confrontation, not compromise, had become the ideal sought by roughly three dozen legislators intent on opposing, not governing.

In fairness, far left devotees reside in the Democratic Party. They are determined to block any changes in social programs, unyielding in their positions despite the crying need for fiscal responsibility.
The search for the general good evades both parties.

Back to the Pope and Mr. Boehner, a Catholic who for so long, apparently, wanted to bring the Holy Father to a powerful and visible perch in the people’s house in Congress. Mr. Boehner seemingly decided after spending time with the world’s leading spiritual figure to vacate his position and the institution he loved. The thought of resigning was not new to Speaker Boehner; he just needed a little inspiration, and that came his way after spending a precious few minutes with Pope Francis.

The Pope talked publicly about the crippling polarization that grips and paralyzes the U.S. Congress. He pointed to important matters left dormant, such as immigration. His soft voice bespoke civility, gentility and humility. The undercurrent to his remarks was a call to compromise. Only Mr. Boehner took it to heart, so it seemed.

Compromise not only is a dirty word in our Nation’s capital, but it represents a concept inimical to the extremes in both parties. It represents finding a middle ground, a quest to attain a result for the general good of American citizens. It represents reconciliation and negotiation. It represents civil discourse.
Our federal legislature eschews moderation. What an unproductive shame.

I am passionate about moderation—because it brings results normally helpful to our citizenry, our body public. It requires hard, frustrating work—yes, even compromise—to produce legislation for which citizens pay taxes to gain hopefully reasonable, albeit imperfect outcomes.

I have a sense that the far right condemns and avoids moderation at all costs, considering it outside their mode of political behavior, as they feel satisfied to shut down a government that produces little of value in their minds. Since government doesn’t work for them and presumably their constituents in their like-minded districts, why not shut it down?

Consequences from the chaos created by a government shutdown seem irrelevant. Boehner’s opponents so distrust the mainstream Republicans, not to speak of the Obama Administration and their Democratic colleagues in Congress.

Mr. Boehner rightly decided to step down, almost sacrificially, to enable him in the short time before he steps down at the end of October to enlist Democrats in preventing a government shutdown. He understands the consequences for the Republican Party as well as the nation when Congress shuts off funding for vital services.

When I speak of consequences, I think mainly about the economic impact thrust upon federal workers and contractors, not to speak of the volatile stock market and public concern about our fiscal structure. As we still are recovering from the Great Recession, a shutdown only exacerbates the fear and insecurity felt by our citizens.

I also fear the international reaction in our interdependent world. Our position as a stable economy is torn in shreds. Why trust us? Why invest in us? Why respect us?

At the same time I fret about economic security, I worry about our national security. A shutdown affects our military readiness; while we might exclude our military members from loss of pay and funding, we don’t necessarily afford the same protection to the civilian workforce that supports our uniformed services.
Pope Francis talked about civility, about concern for others, about caring about the poor and homeless and about immigrants seeking safety.

Mr. Boehner listened. Did others?

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Maryland 3.0: Building the Brand for Chesapeake College with Lucie Hughes and Steve Ochse


Perhaps one of the greatest problems facing Chesapeake College, at least from a marketing perspective, is that their value-added proposition, the critical element of any successful communications plan, is almost too numerous to summarize. From the Mid-Shore’s only nursing program, vocational training, college prep, lifelong learning to programs targeted at 7 year olds, the range and scope of each program has brought exceptional results to the community at all levels.

That was the dilemma facing Lucie Hughes, vice president of institutional advancement for the Wye Mills-based community college, and Steve Ochse, CFO for Easton Utilities and past chair of Chesapeake College’s Foundation board. What was the key message that could enhance enrollment and increase philanthropic support?

With the help of Cambridge-based Choptank Communications, they worked hard to solve that riddle of over a year. In their Spy interview, Lucie and Steve talk about this unique challenge, the process to pinpoint the best strategy, and finally, working with special audiences to define the message.

This video is approximately six minutes in length 

The Day of the Monarchs by George Merrill


On a Sunday afternoon in late September, I sailed from the Choptank River into the Chesapeake Bay.  The breeze kept me nicely underway.  In an hour the wind stopped. I was becalmed just south of Blackwalnut Point. I saw a butterfly overhead.

She darted away and, in a moment, was gone. Another flew by, and still others. I saw at least three or four in flight. Their wings were more colorful than any sailboat’s spinnaker that I’d ever seen. They soared high, wing on wing, all sheets flying.  I couldn’t take my eyes from them. They were monarch butterflies.

They’d reach heights half again as high as the mast, exerting short nervous flutters of their wings. Abruptly freezing all motion, the monarchs glided downwards as smoothly as milkweed seeds slide on a zephyr. They headed southwest. I was witnessing an extraordinary odyssey in which monarch butterflies fulfill their destiny, a journey beginning as far north as Canada and extending as far south as Mexico and Florida.

Following one’s destiny is a serious business. Monarch butterflies have more than two thousand miles to travel. With wings as thin as an onion’s skin, and with bodies smaller than the circumference of a reed stalk, they must face a continent of storms and predators. But they remain as capricious as monkeys, diving and darting erratically, like children clowning on a playground. Despite the hazards, they seemed enjoying every minute of it.

Physicist, Brian Swimme, believes that our human destiny is a very particular one. “The earth,” he says, “awakens through the human mind . . . our self- reflexive nature provides the space in which the universe feels its stupendous beauty.” I like the thought that my consciousness might celebrate the creation, and offer it space to showcase its splendor.

I watched several butterflies dart, staccato-like, one over the other, as if they’re playing leapfrog. I think that this frolicking must be monarchs in love. In any case, they are, to a butterfly, in high spirits.  The sky overhead was blue and cloudless, and the sunlight was brilliant. As the little gliders passed high overhead, the sun illuminated the orange and the deep black scrollwork of their wings the way I’ve seen light rays kindle the colors of stained-glass windows; butterflies transformed from their chrysalises into radiant filaments of color, visible in the day, glowing as if they were Tiffany lamps.  It’s a long trip ahead for them. A lot can happen. But they follow their destiny with pizzazz. If they knew the enormity of their task ahead they might not go. God, however, arranged for monarch butterflies to function on a need to know basis. They live each moment as though that’s all there is.

What must it be like, to be fully conscious, lost in the now?

Photo by Wilson Wyatt

Photo by Wilson Wyatt

I went to a concert once and the soloist, a violinist, played Mozart’s Violin Concerto in G major. As the virtuoso played his solo, like the butterfly, he took sharp and surprising turns around the score, but only to return again and again to its main theme. For all the excursions, he knew where he was going. I sat close enough to the stage to see his face. His eyes were often closed and his fingers, surprisingly small and pudgy, moved with liquid smoothness along the fret. His face, like an infant’s, would suddenly grimace if he were in pain. Then he’d suddenly smile, inexplicably. His body and soul fused with the violin and its music to become a single entity. It was the consciousness of dreams, the weaving together of soul-fragments to produce a greater whole. In his case, it was a deeper consciousness of the nature of sound. For that moment he was fully conscious in his destiny as a musician. I don’t imagine he gave the audience one thought.  I’ll bet it’s like that for butterflies on their way to Mexico. Without a second thought, they just go for it.

It’s exhilarating, living out one’s destiny and monarchs like to show off as they do. A few, like tiny barnstormers, make short steep dives down to the water, leveling out only inches above it. I fear one will accidentally crash into the water. I never once saw a Monarch butterfly ditch herself in the Bay. They know their limits.

The monarch butterfly is more than just pretty wings. She’s a consummate survivor and stays alive by snookering her enemies. She leads would-be predators to think she tastes vile and that she’s poison, not unlike the way vulnerable youngsters wear black coats, sport gothic tattoos and wear nose rings to signal others that they’re ‘bad.’ The monarchs’ colors are similar to other insects that are lethal to their predators. The discriminating diner, typically some bird, recoils from the very characteristics that you and I find so alluring, the monarch’s radiant colors and graphic designs. The florid attributes warn would-be gourmets that while she may look like a tempting dish, don’t go for the monarch butterfly. Survival, for these butterflies, is as much a matter of taste as it is keeping up appearances. For monarchs, dress codes are strictly functional.

As I watched the tiny adventurers in flight, the time slid by me as unnoticed as the still air.  Some primal force as ancient as life itself is guiding the monarchs, and seeing one after the other pass me by in the stillness of the afternoon, their destiny became mine or perhaps mine became theirs. My destiny included bearing witness to them. Why would God assign such a hazardous journey to these willing but vulnerable creatures? Why would God place me into a world only to remain conscious of it, that in my awareness I would provide ” . . . the space in which the universe feels its stupendous beauty.”  The day of the Monarchs became a meditation for me: it was enough to watch them and be enthralled.


Speak Maestro: Mid-Atlantic Symphony’s Julien Benichou Reflects on 10 Years


Conductors of symphony orchestras are well known for extremely long tenures. And in that sense, it might be more accurate to describe the Mid-Atlantic Symphony‘s Julien Benichou as being at only the midpoint of his career with the Eastern Shore-based orchestra after ten years. But now with a decade behind him, the time seemed right to reflect on his work with the ensemble as the MSO enters into the 2015-16 season in early October.

A native of France, Benichou had already trained at the Rueil-Malmaison Conservatory before coming to Baltimore in 1995 to study at the Peabody, later earn a master’s degree in conducting from Northwestern and graduate work at Yale. From there came his appointment as musical director of the MSO, and as director of the Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra.

In his Spy interview, Julian talks about conductor Daniel Barenboim’s influence, the way in which he approaches a composer’s work and his own interpretation to their music. He also talks about the theme of Spain and Argentina in the opening concert in Easton on October 1 as well as the use of Ravel’s tribute to a Spanish princess, and finally the use of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture as a counterpoint to the evening’s opening with the Beijing Guitar Duo’s rendition of Rodrigo’s “Concierto Madrigal” for two guitars.

This video is six minutes in length

“Sounds of España”
Thursday, October 1, 2015 at 7:30 pm
Easton Church Of God Concert Hall


Revisiting Julia Child’s Kitchen with Pamela Heyne


It was about a year ago that the Spy published our first interview with Talbot County-based architect and author Pamela Heyne about her memories of Julia Child. It was part of a more comprehensive profile of Pam’s books and residential work, but her recollections of Julia about kitchen design received a considerable amount of attention from our readers, and the Spy asked her to continue her recollections of her talks with one of the great cookbook authors of the 20th century.

Since that time, Pam, along with photographer Jim Scherer, who worked for Child taking images for the television show, have collaborated on a book about Child’s thoughts on the function and form of the kitchen. As the only architect to have interviewed Julia on the subject, they have recently signed a contract with University Press of New England on that topic set for publication in late 2016.

The Spy sat down with Pam again to talk about the book project, Julia’s bias on how to build a kitchen, and Pam’s own reflections on the constantly evolving question on how to design a modern kitchen.

This video is six minutes long.