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Get a Life by Al Sikes

We live in noisy times.

Network connectivity is virtually universal and each day we seem to do less and the applications (apps) more. Bots organize our affairs, global positioning guides us, and we can connect with our friends without leaving the house.

I too let ingenious apps lessen my time spent with newspapers, maps, and telephone calls among other activity. But, what I don’t do is stay inside.

Outside, this summer, was special. A friend and I camped along the incomparably beautiful Smith River in Montana, pushing off in a raft each morning to fly fish for brown and rainbow trout. My wife and I hiked along and fished the Beaverkill River in the Catskills of New York. We especially enjoyed brief but memorable sightings of bear and wild turkeys and the swift cool waters of the river were a relief on hot days.

When was the last time you were thrilled by an unexpected encounter in nature?

Most people today would have to say “never,” as they don’t camp or hike mountains or seek intimacy with nature. Fortunately, for me my experiences began early and then became an essential part of my life.

When my age was still in the single digits, I was thrilled by the hard pull of my fishing line. My Dad had taken me to fish for crappie on Kentucky Lake. It was, for me, and I suspect for Dad, a very special moment.

A few years later, walking behind my Dad, I watched bird dogs point a covey of quail and then was awed by the covey rise. I was so awestruck that the shotgun stock never touched my shoulder.

My life has been filled with moments that touched the spirit. Moments that pulled me about as far as a human can retreat into the deeply meaningful world of nature. When I worked long hours each day in Washington, my weekend retreat was the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. When my wife and I left Manhattan for the weekend, we headed for the mountain streams of the Catskills.

Somewhere along the way I began to realize that only immersion in the natural world, an intense appreciation of God’s gifts, could center my life. And the more I got caught up in the aggression of the power cities, the more important those retreats became. My immersion in work had to be experienced in a more sublime framework.

Last week I kayaked the East Branch of the Delaware River, a beautiful swift stream. I rented the kayak and enjoyed the opportunity to visit with Al Carpenter, who owns the rental business in Downsville, New York. I asked Al about business and he lamented that as his older customers move on they are not, in sufficient numbers, being replaced by younger ones. I am afraid that concrete, a variety of electronic distractions, and fear get in the way.

As a boy I could ride my bike to where I first fished — the last half mile was on a dirt road. When I left home there were no video games left behind. Also, my parents were not flooded with warnings about the dangers I would face, or if they were, it was not apparent to me. Today natural settings are often freighted with warnings about poisonous this and that. Better, it seems many parents feel, to shuttle the kids to soccer camp where encountering poison ivy or ticks or whatever seems unlikely. Trophies of metal have replaced the satisfactions and insights of field and stream.

Nature’s lessons are often profound; sporting technique not so much. I wish for a countervailing trend, one in which parents and children get to know nature’s neighborhood. And, by the way, that knowledge will include learning how to avoid bites, unanticipated thunder storms, falls and, of course, what to do if they occur.

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. 

Out and About (Sort of): Weather Worsens, To Some Despair by Howard Freedlander

I keep breaking my promise to avoid the Delaware beaches in the summer. This time, I got a different view–of the bayside of Dewey Beach, DE. From inside an air-conditioned apartment rented by my sister-in-law.

We did venture out. It was beastly hot, with no breeze. I wondered if the cause were global warming or merely mind-numbing mid-Atlantic heat and humidity? Is it simply tougher to endure as you age? Just a flimsy excuse?

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.26.10 AMMy mind wandered: move for the summer to Maine to escape the heat, though others would be doing the same, eat lobster rolls and pretend that all is right with the world? It would have been an ideal way to escape our smothering, sizzlingly heated presidential campaign. It’s too late now. Next summer, the world will still be worrisome and unsettled–but no God-forsaken, seemingly unending campaign, will be hounding us.

Why head back to the Delaware beaches despite my constant protestations about an onslaught of people and cars. Tradition is tough to break. Our family has been vacationing in the First State for 40 years. My wife’s family began reaching the beach after WW II.

As noted, the heat and humidity were unbearable on Sunday, August/14. It cooled to some degree on Monday and Tuesday. I sat on the beach Tuesday for a few hours. The sea breeze was a Godsend. The ocean provided a cool break, as it’s supposed to.

In 40 years of vacationing on the Delaware beaches, I can recall few, if any times we turned on the air conditioning. This time we never turned it off. A screened porch, always an end-of-day oasis for drink and food, was hot and uncomfortable. We withstood it, mostly out of tradition.

To no surprise for the readers of this column, I blame global warming for temperatures that seem to get hotter and last longer in recent summers. Formerly short-lived heat waves continue to lengthen and affect our lifestyles and moods.

While reading newspapers during our three-day stay, I learned that Hoboken, NJ is planning to adapt to an anticipated surge of storms by building barriers. Interesting dilemma: the barriers will block water views, an acceptable solution to some, a miserable one to others. To me, living far from Frank Sinatra’s birthplace, protection supersedes destruction. Reality trumps fantasy.

While I might seem dismissive of Hoboken residents objecting to loss of water views, I shouldn’t be. Erection of barriers represents a significant cultural change. That hurts. Were I embedded in this northern New Jersey city, I too would find it tough to accept such a drastic physical change in my community. But, then, I might enjoy peace of mind prompted by loss, if not diminution of fear of a ruthless and sometimes deadly storm surge.

The flooding in Baton Rouge, LA got my attention too. I read that a public official, acknowledging the city’s location in a flood plain, wondered if the storm surge potential is heightened by global warming. The disruption of lives is incalculable. The 13 deaths are alarming.

As last week cooled to temperatures in the 80s–and we welcomed this “cold spell”–
I still could not restrain myself from focusing on global warming and the erratic weather it spawns. While battling the heat and feeling tethered to air conditioning–ignoring its detrimental carbon footprint–I thought again about sea level rise and its potential damage to Talbot County and its waterfront communities.

In yet another column, I continue to dwell on climate change and bemoan the awful consequences. I hope readers don’t grow tiresome of my foreboding. As I’ve often said, denial is not an option. We’ve seen the consequences. At some point, these disasters won’t be elsewhere. They will afflict our county and neighbors and friends.

The worse part of summer nears an end. At the end of each of the recent summers, I feel increasingly more grateful.

No wonder.

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.

Mid-Shore Health Future: Maryland Rural Health Workgroup Director Ben Steffen

In many ways, Ben Steffen seems like the perfect person to head up a work study group on the future of Maryland’s rural hospitals. While he certainly has the professional experience to carry out those duties, including his current role in running the Maryland Health Care Commission, his most unique qualification is the fact that he grew up in the isolated farmland of Northeastern Iowa. It was in that kind of health care environment that Ben experienced first hand the special requirements of rural health care and the complexity of deliveries those services.

Now he is faced with the extremely challenging task of managing a state task force to decide what Maryland needs to do for the rural hospitals in towns like Chestertown and Cambridge to meet those special needs. Over the course of only one year, he will need to share with his 36 member committee the extraordinary data collected on these health care centers as well as guide them through a decision-making process to develop long-term recommendations for the Mid-Shore.

In his Spy interview, Ben talks about the Maryland Health Care Commission’s interest in rural hospital issues, the process of the workgroup, and his thoughts about rural hospital solutions, including “critical care” models and transportation challenges.

The first meeting of the workgroup will be held at Chesapeake College August 30th from 1pm to 5pm.

This video is approximately fifteen minutes in length 


A Show of Hands for St. Michaels by George Merrill

I live just a mile or so outside of center St. Michaels. In summer months, driving through St. Michaels I see tourists everywhere. They appear like ants at a picnic.

They cover the sidewalks. Families spill over onto the streets like flowing lava, intimidating drivers and grinding traffic to a halt. They ignore the pedestrian crosswalks and dart out from between parked cars putting themselves in jeopardy and giving drivers a heart attack. Parking becomes a nightmare and judging by the vehicles filling all the parking areas, it seems as if our out of town guests cannot get by without driving SUV’s as large as dump trucks. I have regarded tourists as a subspecies of the vulture. They descended in droves landing where the sale items outside shops stand ripe for the picking. Tourists overrun the landscape, forage for a day or so and then return to their nests far away, leaving behind them the effluence of their presence; water bottles, paper cups and plates, plastic bags, promotional flyers and newspapers floating in the wind. On Mondays, the parking spots at the Acme, occupied only the day before by herds of SUV’s, were now liberated and available again to residents.

Since I’m a resident of St. Michaels, I groused to my wife, Jo,, one day about our weekly invasion of aliens. She remarked, “It’s sweet to see people holding hands.”

I’d never noticed. Wherever I looked, I now saw people holding hands. My eyes were opened, and I began viewing our little town differently. I’d assumed that only young lovers held hands in public. Not so here. Couples well up in years, their silvery heads glistening in the midday sun, like mad dogs and Englishmen, shopping bags in tow, were walking hand in hand. They enjoyed being in St. Michaels and being with each other. I saw spouses, children, and parents, and a gay couple all holding hands. I discovered the magic St. Michaels manifest in its happy visitors.

Regarding tourists, I’m now a kinder and gentler man. On weekends, now, I look for these tender expressions of affection and on a quick drive through downtown one day I counted no less than fifteen couples handholding.

If St. Michaels can encourage such affectionate demonstrations in today’s harsh world, I say “so what” if I must park a half a mile from the Acme to get milk or wait a few minutes for a family to cross the street in undesignated areas.

Sad to say, touching each other has earned a sinister connotation these days. We need touch to survive just as we need touch to nurture mutual affection. Monkeys know this and after a fight hold hands as a sign of reconciliation. Holding hands immediately comforts children and in hospitals, as soon as the nurse touches her patient, blood pressure drops, and the patient feels safe.

Science has been studying the act of handholding. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, observes, ” Based on what we’ve seen, when we get more physical intimacy, we get better relationships.” Stephanie Rosenbloom, writing for the New York Times has investigated hand holding among college students and says: “ . . . There seemed to be two universal truths: that hand holding is the least nauseating public display of affection and has become more significant than other seemingly deeper expressions of love and romance.” One student allowed, “It’s a lot more intimate to hold hands nowadays than to kiss.”

Holding hands requires certain skills. In the case of my wife and me it means, literally, managing the long and short of it. Jo has longer legs than I have and stands a hair taller. I have a long torso but short legs. As they hang at our sides, our hands do not meet naturally. To further complicate the matter, she prefers holding hands with her knuckles facing forward. So do I. To make the handholding a mutually satisfying experience requires a trade-off. I will take Jo’s hand the way I prefer, and shortly after defer to her preferences. It helps to regulate our differences by conscious choices. Long legs make for greater strides, and it may take me a couple of steps to catch up with her. I try to regulate the speed with which we cover distance by tugging on her hand as if it were a bridle. Most times it works, and we walk in synch.
Regulating differences is one of human kind’s greatest challenges. Our survival depends on it.

In this troubled world, St. Michaels deserves a show of hands for inspiring expressions of affection in its visitors. And yes, for also inspiring kindness in one of its grouchier but now more enlightened resid

Spy Excursions: Baja California Sur

In May 2016, after the San Diego celebration of daughter Katy’s marriage to Ali, Jane and I headed south. We flew Alaska Air from San Diego to Los Cabos at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. May is not quite the high season in Baja California Sur. While Cabo San Lucas seemed about as crowded as it could be and San Jose del Cabo was also pretty busy, we got discounted hotel rates in Todos Santos and La Paz. Their high season is months earlier, when whales are giving birth in the warm waters.
La Paz is not nearly as big a tourist destination as Cabo San Lucas or even San Jose del Cabo. At restaurants in the city, many or most of the other guests are likely to be Mexican, and you’ll see few gringos at the beaches north of town. Souvenir shops are few and far between, even along the waterfront. For some people, La Paz may offer what seems like a more “authentic” Mexican experience, while Los Cabos has an international ambiance. There is no subtlety in Cabo San Lucas: the focus is on booze, sun and separating visitors from their money. Parts of Cabo San Lucas, with its Luxury Avenue mall and stores like Cartier, could be mistaken for Miami. San Jose del Cabo is more charming, but almost all the people shopping, eating and drinking are from El Norte.

The rooftop pool and bar area at Hotel Guaycura in Todos Santos. The house margarita (a classic lime margarita) can be recommended.

We picked up a rental car (be prepared to pay for mandatory insurance in Mexico even though the rental company may not tell you about it in advance, as well as to have as much as a 2,000-U.S.-dollar hold placed on your credit card) and drove the hour or hour and a half to Todos Santos, where we stayed one night at Hotel Guaycura (click HERE for its website) in the central historic district. Guaycura also has a restaurant and beach club a few miles away on the Pacific Ocean.  We had our first dinner in Mexico at La Casita (click HERE), a few blocks from our hotel. We can heartily recommend the ribs if not the cactus quesadillas. On the way back to the hotel we stopped for a drink at the Hotel California, which is much more touristy than the Guaycura.

Early morning on a Monday found the streets of Todos Santos very quiet.

Todos Santos is a picturesque small town that seems totally dependent on tourism. Lots of shops and places to eat and drink. The Pacific beaches a short drive away are said to be nice if not terribly safe for swimming, but we didn’t get over to them. After one night in Todos Santos, we drove northeast to the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) side of the peninsula and the city of La Paz, the capital of Baja California Sur. La Paz, which has more than 200,000 residents, is on its own little peninsula, jutting north into the Gulf of California, giving the city a west-facing waterfront and nice sunsets despite being on the east side of Baja.

We stayed farther north on the Pichilingue peninsula at a sprawling resort called CostaBaja (click HERE). It’s a golf, sailing and fishing destination (we do none of those), but it’s also an excellent base for exploring the beaches even farther north as well as going back south into the city. We stayed there three nights, had two dinners in La Paz, and spent two days visiting the beaches at Balandra and Tecolote, the latter of which has a great view of Isla Espiritu Santo, a desert island known for its sea lions, other wildlife and many bays. Boat excursions to Espiritu Santo are popular, but we settled for a distant view.  In La Paz, we had one dinner at a lively tourist place on the waterfront called Tailhunter (click HERE), where anglers are invited to bring their catch in to be turned into dinner. The second-floor balcony has a great view of strollers on the Malecon (seaside promenade) and sunset views of La Paz Bay.  A second dinner was a few blocks from the waterfront at Las Tres Virgenes (The Three Virgins; click HERE), a fine-dining establishment that serves probably the best food in town and offers a lot of Mexican wines, many from the celebrated Guadalupe Valley.  Our third and last La Paz dinner was at a sushi restaurant at CostaBaja.

The hotel building at CostaBaja. The resort, just north of La Paz on the Pichilingue peninsula, includes an 18-hole golf course, a shopping area with several restaurants, a beach club, a marina, condos and private homes. In May 2016 our large room with  a balcony was only 95 U.S. dollars a night, and the  hotel seemed almost empty. It’s a short drive from here to nearly deserted public beaches.


Balandra Beach has no food concessions, just beach umbrella and kayak rentals. Tecolote Beach, above, has a handful of restaurants. We had lunch twice in the largest one, whose high thatched roof is visible here. Like Balandra, the beach was nearly deserted midday on weekdays in May. At Balandra, the water is amazingly shallow (like six to 12 inches) for maybe a hundred yards out into a cove. At Tecolote, the water gets deeper much closer to shore, and there is a view of Espiritu Santo island. Balandra, where no food is sold, has a much cleaner beach; Tecolote has more litter, though the water itself seems just as clean.


Walking in the warm and shallow water at Balandra where we rented kayaks for an hour of paddling around the cove. One attraction here is a large rock
that the sea has eroded so much that it now resembles a mushroom. We saw it from our kayaks, but it can also be  reached by walking around a rocky headland.
That’s the Luxury Avenue mall on the left, overlooking the marina at Cabo San Lucas. The marina is surrounded by a promenade lined with bars, restaurants and tour
companies, all of which seem to have people accosting passers-by with sales pitches. There’s probably as much English spoken here as Spanish.

We had driven mostly on Mexico 19 from the airport at San Jose del Cabo, to Todos Santos, and then all the way to La Paz. That route took us west and along the Pacific before crossing the peninsula. Our next destination was San Jose del Cabo and we mostly took Mexico 1 along the eastern side of the peninsula. GPS  and most guidebooks will tell you to take Mexico 19 again; the reason is that Mexico 1 is a serpentine mountain route with hairpin turns and low speed limits. Nonetheless, it was nice to see new scenery.  All of Baja Sur, by the way, is pretty much desert. Loads of cacti, dry gulches and dead-looking weeds.

Rooms at Casa Natalia in San Jose del Cabo overlook a courtyard. Farther down the courtyard is a small but pleasant swimming
pool. Between the street and the courtyard are the hotel lobby and its bar and restaurant. Tip for getting a room here: ask
for a room above ground level for a good bit more privacy.

In San Jose del Cabo, the last two nights of this trip were spent at Casa Natalia (click HERE), a charming inn on the town square. The location could hardly be better, though it required finding street parking for our rental car.  On our one full day in Los Cabos, we drove over to Cabo San Lucas (via the “corridor” of resorts that connect the two towns) hoping to rent kayaks to paddle out to The Arch, a rock formation at Land’s End, but the kayak rental person said the harbormaster wasn’t letting kayaks go there because of high winds. If you want to browse souvenir shops for items you might also find at Pier One or Amazon, or if you want to drink yourself into an early-afternoon stupor, San Lucas is the place for you. We headed back to quieter San Jose.

Both of our two dinners in San Jose are worth mentioning. One was at La Pesca (click HERE for TripAdvisor listing), a fish restaurant a short walk south of the square on Boulevard Antonio Mijares, the same street as our hotel. We shared a tuna tartar appetizer (sauced tuna chunks and pineapple; absolutely excellent) and a red snapper that was roasted in savory sauces. Again, wonderful. Our other dinner in San Jose was at La Lupita Taco and Mezcal (click HERE), where a long list of interesting tacos are offered individually. Not surprisingly, there’s also a good list of mezcal-based cocktails along with a longer list of mezcal brands.  The evening we were there, a band was setting up in the open-air garden, though when we left around 9 the live music still hadn’t started.  Still, a lively and pleasant place and, as at La Pesca, very good food.

There’s more to Baja Sur than the ostentation and alcohol of Cabo San Lucas, the cafe life in San Jose del Cabo, the charming streets of Todos Santos and the beaches around La Paz.  It’s the climate. It was hot and dry while we were there, and it was cold and rainy at our home in Maryland. For my money, that’s the best reason to visit.

    Steve Bailey of Tilghman formerly worked in various editing positions at The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Chicago Sun Times and other newspapers. He and his wife, Jane, travel widely and he writes about their travels at

Making It on the Shore: Alex Haschen and IAMBOOST

There may be a website out there that is dedicated exclusively to kids from age ten to fifteen on their physical health, but Alex Haschen hasn’t found one yet. And as a result, and many years of other research, the Easton-based personal trainer turned on last month as a web extension of his local work with young people.

In his Spy interview, Alex talks about his business model and the potential market of working with parents and children on fitness through video and quiz programming. Another example of making it on the Shore.

This video is approximately four minutes in length

Mediators Failing by Al Sikes

In my book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow, I relate the experiences in my life, including chairing the Federal Communications Commission, that convinced me that few leaders are prepared to be counter-cultural. Most are content to let the culture shape their ambitions. Today joining the one percent or becoming a celebrity whatever exert a strong force.

The culture drivers I wrote about included winning election or re-election at any cost.

Most, in Washington anyway, who are elected have no idea what they would do if they didn’t hold office except lobby those who do.

On the media side, the business formula is too often serving the lowest common denominator and predictably the media have an out-sized influence on the culture. There are untold examples of media products (TV, radio, video games, movies, Internet applications, records) that respond to lowest common denominator stimuli and insidiously push cultural standards down; but, for purposes of this column, let me just cite two.

Reality TV shows, which are much less expensive to make than appealing dramas and comedies, serve voyeurism and often crudely. And on radio, Rush Limbaugh style talk shows search for outrage (unfortunately there is too much of it) and the hosts create a show that has anger as its fulcrum.

In his campaign to lead our country, Donald Trump has used anger as the fulcrum of his arguments. While his slogan is “Make America Great Again,” it’s barely disguised overlay is how “the other” is tearing us down — immigrants, Chinese currency manipulators, Mexicans and system-rigging elites to name a few.

Bernie Sanders’ bete noir was Wall Street — a handy bogeyman. Financial firms rarely display the best of America, but they are not an all-purpose villain. The industry is often the vehicle to meet capital needs. But, let me return to the media, a business I know from my own experiences.

TV, in particular, has re-shaped the standard for civility and blasted through the once moderating virtue of modesty. Talk radio has produced an angry minority that pivots on division. If Rush Limbaugh was elected to something, his preternaturally angry audience would soon turn on him.

Now, I could criticize Trump (a cultural phenomenon) further but that is too easy. What I believe we all need to discuss is why our politics has turned ugly and why capitalism is often the target of our anger. We should be looking upstream and the most important question is, what can we do about it.

Joseph J. Ellis, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, in his recent book, The Quartet, tells the story of the second American revolution as America pivoted from a loose Confederation of States to a federal government. Ellis credits James Madison with being the most important strategic and tactical thinker in the work of creating a constitution.

Madison, who Ellis noted is customarily called the “Father of the Constitution” expressed concern about deriving political power from “the people.” Ellis observed:

“Madison’s experience at both the state and the federal level had convinced him that “the people” was not some benevolent, harmonious collective. But rather a smoldering and ever-shifting gathering of factions or interest groups committed to provincial perspectives and vulnerable to demagogues with partisan agendas.”

What Ellis called “the second revolution” occurred in 1787. Today, by contrast, we tend to take for granted the wisdom of “the people.” Indeed, any challenge to democracy will be quickly rejected and the critic will be harshly criticized. We do, however, need to have a lively discussion about the role of the mediators.

Political parties and the news media occupy the middle — they are not the only mediators, but the principal ones. The Parties write many of the rules of political engagement and the media develop and direct the formats of communication. Neither,in my view, approach their exalted roles with the seriousness a healthy nation needs.

Political parties, almost regardless of context, jockey for advantage and the media often jettison serious approaches in favor of entertaining ones.

Necessarily, I will delay more detailed thoughts to a later time since almost all political thought, in the final months of an election, tend to be interpreted as partisan and dismissed as doing the bidding of one or another candidate. So, I will simply conclude by admiring the majority opinion of “the people”; if polls are to believed, the majority is not happy with the presidential choices presented. And, I hope, the majority will play a role in improving the work of the mediators.

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. 

Out and About (Sort of): One of A Kind Dies by Howard Freedlander

Though her crusty, determined reach may not have extended to Talbot County and the Eastern Shore, former Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley left an indelible mark on the Port of Baltimore and the 2nd Congressional District (primarily Baltimore County) she represented so conscientiously. She died Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016 at 92 of brain cancer.

Mrs. Bentley was a force of nature, mostly for good. She focused almost laser-like for most of her career on the Port of Baltimore. She was a relentless advocate of what is widely acknowledged as a critically important economic engine in Maryland.

I met Congresswoman Bentley when I served in the Maryland National Guard. I spent considerable time in Washington, DC. trying to get money to modernize our facilities and our equipment. I recall one visit to Mrs. Bentley’s office to explain our need for new fighter aircraft. I had no illusions that my visit would go smoothly. However, I didn’t anticipate when walking into the congresswoman’s inner sanctum she would instruct her dog to harass me. Though she did so humorously, I wasn’t sure that her dog understood its master’s sense of humor. I’m not sure I did. I didn’t stay long. As Congresswoman Bentley probably intended.

When she no longer served in the U.S. House of Representatives, she nonetheless remained loyal, doggedly so, to her former constituents and friends. When she sought an audience, one was quick to say yes. Her temper was legendary. So was her salty language that she learned as a young Baltimore Sun reporter covering the less than genteel Port of Baltimore in the mid-1940s.

I recall that former Congresswoman Bentley persistently and even politely seeking credit toward retirement for a former Guard officer who had served at one time in the Philippine Army. Though we knew fully well that Mrs. Bentley would not accept a bureaucratic answer and despised a “no” on principle, we could find no legal way to provide a response that would please her. However, I couldn’t avoid respecting her unsmiling stubbornness. What an ally!

Over the years, Maryland has had its share of political leaders who fit no mold but their own. They were approachable and accessible. They lived life in bold colors and explosive moods. One was the late Governor William Donald Schaefer, who served as Mayor of Baltimore before ruling the State House and then served as Comptroller of Maryland after completing his two gubernatorial terms. Despite their sometime cantankerous personalities and different political parties, Helen Delich Bentley and Governor Schaefer were good friends.

We on the Eastern Shore may recall when Mrs. Bentley sought the Republican nomination for governor 1994 against Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey. Her name recognition made Mrs. Bentley the favorite. As has happened numerous times in elections throughout the country as well as Maryland, Mrs. Bentley paid the price for being considered a moderate Republican who spent too wildly, according to her conservative opponent. Del. Sauerbrey won the Republican primary, only to lose by 6,000 votes to Parris N. Glendening.

Locally, we saw the same thing happen to former Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest when he lost not too many years ago in the Republican primary in our 1st Congressional District to current Congressman Andrew P. “Andy” Harris. Congressman Gilchrest, one of the best people whom I’ve known in politics, faced accusations too that he pursued policies that were insufficiently conservative. And even that he worked across the aisle with Democrats, a sinful action in the minds of unrepentant conservatives.

It’s easy to paint bleak pictures of politicians. It’s easy to condemn them, sometime deservedly so. A common criticism is that they’ve lost touch with the folks who elected them.

Mrs. Bentley never forgot her political roots. And she considered the Port of Baltimore her personal domain. I always applauded Gov. Robert Ehrlich for surprising the tough-minded, tough-acting former congresswoman by naming the Port for Helen Delich Bentley. In a political world often filled with empty and self-serving gestures, Gov. Ehrlich did the right thing by honoring Mrs. Bentley.

I won’t say that today’s political leaders in Maryland don’t measure up to Mrs. Bentley and Gov. Schaefer. That’s too facile and superficial.

I will say, however, they were obsessively devoted to their constituents. Though they sometimes abused their power in how they treated those who disagreed with them, and those who served them as staffers and advisers, they still loved public service. Their achievements were many. Their lifestyles were modest and unpretentious.

Thank you, Mrs. Bentley, for encouraging your dog to harass me. I then feared you less.

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.

Centreville’s Kennard School Project’s Lessons with Clay Washington

For all the small Mid-Shore nonprofit organizations out there struggling to complete capital projects, there is good news to be found in talking to Clay Washington. Clay, the president of Kennard School Alumni Association, is the extraordinary leader of a remarkable Mid-Shore success story – the renovation of Queen Anne’s County’s only African-American high school in Queen Anne’s County -into a major community center and museum.

For the past ten years, Washington and his fellow board members have been focused on preserving this special historical school. While this has been a labor of love for the alum, the price of this kind of project has been high with almost $2 million dollars needed to open the facility.

Beyond celebrating the near completion of a great project, the lessons learned with the Kennard School project should be an inspiration for the entire Mid-Shore and so many other worthy restoration efforts in the region.

The Spy interview with Clay is divided into two parts. The first is a traditional long-form interview. The second is what we are calling a “drill down,” which gives even more information about Clay’s approach to raising capital funds.

Thoughts on Life After Death by George Merrill

I attended a friend’s funeral recently. It fell a few days before the anniversary of my mother’s birthdate. It set me thinking about life after death.

I recall as a young boy, on sultry summer days, how I hung around my house. There were fewer cars then and rides to beaches and ponds nearby were harder to come by. Outside the house there were two large sycamore trees. On hot days I’d lie on the grass between them. I stayed cool in the shade, but I could still see the cloud formations morphing above. I imagined they were the souls of those who’d recently died. They were waiting to enter heaven. I saw men and women, but mostly sheep and old men with long beards. Heaven, as it seemed to me in those days, did not want for candidates. I could see the queues were always long with newcomers of every description arriving each minute. I couldn’t tell what went on up there during overcast days.

I don’t see the deceased in cloud formations anymore, but I am of an age now when I see many of my contemporaries dying. I again ponder the thought of a life after death.

In traditional Christianity, bodily resurrection is taught routinely and I grew up with the teaching.

Between my eleventh and fifteenth year I lost six close relatives. Since my mother and father were only children, all my close relatives were grandparents or great uncles and aunts. Their deaths through aging were natural, but I felt troubled at my losses. My friends, whose uncles and aunts were their parents contemporaries, lived longer than my relatives. I felt cheated.

I would pray every night that God would not forget my relatives and care for them. It was a matter of staying connected to them with God serving as the intermediary. I was dutiful about this for a number of years until my memory of my loss dimmed and I gave little thought to the matter.

As I look back on how my own feeling about this changed over the years, I recall how rarely this topic was ever openly discussed. When I conducted funerals, the scriptures gave assurances of life after death, but I cannot recall any in-depth conversation in which I engaged another in all the nuances of a life after death. Among the intimate discussions I have had with close friends, life after death wasn’t among them. I believe the subject is a delicate one for others as it has been for me. It remained safer to leave the matter as an assumption rather than examining how one feels about life after death.

I had seen my friend days before she died. She was ready to go and fearless and although she was only a casual churchgoer, she asked me to offer a prayer for her. Then she talked about the death of her own mother and recollections she had of other intimate losses in her life. I sensed her tendency to see in her death an occasion for reconciliation with loved one’s she’d lost. Had I asked her straight out whether she believed in a resurrection she’d probably have said no. However, she had strong feelings that in her death she’d be united with those who had passed on before.

I’ve heard this said by many dying people even though the issue of an afterlife never came up explicitly. The deep emotional import of the matter for many seems to be the continuity of life, not the finality of death.

My spiritual rearing as a Christian put the issue of life after death on the table for me. When I was much younger I assented to the idea of a life after death, but it remained vague. The idea of bodily resurrection grew less credible as life taught me its harder lessons of loss. That life continues after physical death came together for me only recently, not from reading religious and spiritual material, but a scientific piece. The article stated simply that matter is neither created nor destroyed, but is transformed. In that I found a credible metaphor to understand a feeling I’ve always had about a life after death, without violating the reasons of my mind or my heart.

Buddhists maintain that our birth date is our ‘continuation day.’ We are the product of ongoing transformations before we were ever manifest in our bodies and continue so after physical death.

Maybe my childhood fancy in watching clouds morph in the sky affords me a good handle for this mystery I call life. Clouds manifest in the sky when water is present in the atmosphere in certain quantities. Clouds appear at the fullness of a particular time. They seem to disappear, but actually have only transformed to manifest themselves again in another time and place when the conditions are right. The clouds are not gone. They are transformed.

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.