Lord Stanley’s Dilemma by Jamie Kirkpatrick

About this time every year, two teams, two cities, and two legions of crazy fans vie for the honor of hoisting the Stanley Cup, the holy grail of professional hockey. This year, it’s Washington (a franchise that has never won a Cup) versus Las Vegas (a franchise that didn’t even exist a year ago). Talk about theater of the absurd!

Be that as it may, this year’s Finals puts me square in the middle of a dilemma. You see, I grew up in Pittsburgh, a.k.a. the City of Champions. My Penguins have won a total of five Stanley Cups including the last two. But this year, the Capitals sent the Penguins into early estivation in the second round of the playoffs and so I have had to adopt my wife’s hometown heroes, the Washington Capitals, if I am to maintain even a modicum of interest in the chase for the Cup. That means I have to don something red every time the Capitals play, a false flag operation I use to deflect my wife’s attention from the truth of my black-and-gold heart.

 

Today’s Stanley Cup didn’t start out that way. It was originally commissioned in 1892 as the Dominion Challenge Hockey Cup and is the oldest continual championship trophy in professional sports. The Cup was rechristened to honor Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor General of Canada who donated the Cup as a yearly award to Canada’s best amateur hockey club. The Montreal Hockey Club was the first Cup recipient in 1893; professional teams became eligible to compete for the trophy in 1906 but it wasn’t until 1947 that the Cup became the celebrated prize of today’s National Hockey League. Oh—and by the way—did I mention that the Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Cup five times? I did? Oh well…

It turns out there are really three Stanley Cups: the original Dominion Challenge Hockey Cup Bowl, the Presentation Cup given to the winning team, and the Permanent Cup which resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The one we see annually hoisted at the conclusion of the Final Series—the Presentation Cup—is some serious hardware: it’s made of silver and a nickel alloy, stands nearly 3 feet tall, and weighs almost 35 pounds, but it must seem weightless to the players on the team that finally gets to lift it. The Cup’s present configuration dates to 1958 and contains a replica of the original Cup and five bands, each band capable of containing the names of players on thirteen championship teams per band. When a band is full, it is retired to the Hockey Hall of Fame and a new band is added.

The Cup’s provenance is officially regulated not by the NHL but by two appointed Trustees who serve until their death. Serious business to be sure but there is plenty of tomfoolery, too. Each championship team is allotted one-hundred days to enjoy the Cup during the off-season. During that time, each member of that team gets his own personal day with the Cup. Players have been known to sleep with it, drink from it, swim with it, use it as a dog bowl, or even baptize their children in it. I wonder what I would do with it on my day. Hmmm…

This year, I’ll admit that I have enjoyed watching my wife and her large family of rabid fans root for the Caps. As I write this, the Caps are up three games to one in the final best-of-seven series so this may well be their year. We’ll know soon enough. If it is, I’ll be happy on the outside. But on the inside is another story: revenge is a Cup best served cold with a champagne glass of wait-until-next year.

I’ll be right back.

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

Moments By Jamie Kirkpatrick

Did you happen to catch this? If you did, you can skip ahead, but in case you missed it, allow me to set the scene:

On the Wednesday of Augusta week—cue the theme music—there is a unique event called the Par 3 Contest. It takes place out on the east end of the Augusta National property (formerly the Fruitlands Nursery) where nine lovely par three holes have been carved out of the azalea. A few of these holes surround Ike’s Pond and require only a moderate carry over water—I believe the longest hole is only 164 yards long, an easy wedge for one of today’s pro golfers. The tournament itself is almost always a lovely walk, not spoiled by golf. Players’ offspring, dressed in the iconic Augusta National caddies’ baggy white overalls, somersault down the slopes in front of the tee boxes or toddle onto the greens carrying miniature putters—it’s a family picnic and a celebration of the game we all love all rolled into one.

At this year’s event, one threesome featured a veritable Mt. Rushmore of the modern game: Tom Watson, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus, a walking (sometimes limping), moving tableau of golfing history that has accounted for a total of eleven green jackets. (Nicklaus six, Player three, and Watson two.) Usually the Par 3 Contest is less about winning and more about fun, camaraderie, and the enjoyment of springtime in a spectacular environment, but this year’s event produced a bit more drama than budding azaleas. Watson birdied the first four holes, added another to tie for first, then birdied the eighth to take the lead at -6. Remember: Tom Watson is 68 years old; the oldest golfer to ever win the contest was Sam Snead who was 61 at the time (1960; the first year of the Par 3 Contest). Watson only needed a par on the final hole to win by one and claim the crystal trophy; he made it look easy.

But that wasn’t the moment. This was: in the spirit of the day, it’s not unusual for a caddy to hit a ball on the final hole—just for fun, of course. This year, GT Nicklaus was carrying his grandfather’s bag, sharing the honor with his younger sister, Nina. GT is 15 years old and (no surprise here) already an accomplished high school golfer, the “best” (at least according to his proud grandfather) of Jack and Barbara’s 22 grandchildren.

But accomplished as he is, GT had never had a hole-in-one. Until that moment. He took his one swing, flew the ball twenty feet past the hole and drew it back into the cup—an absolutely superb shot that stole Watson’s show. Not that Tom cared. When GT’s ball trickled into the cup, the crowd roared, Watson and Player jumped for joy, and Jack cried. Just think: of all Mr. Nicklaus’ memorable moments on golf courses around the world—73 PGA victories and 18 major championships—this one small family moment now holds pride of place in the Golden Bear’s bank of memories.

Life is all about moments. We’ve all had them, maybe not a hole-in-one at Augusta, but ones that are just as sweet to each of us. Mine include the births of my two children, my bride in her wedding dress, a World Series foul ball off the bat of Mickey Mantle that rolled right to me, and watching the sun rise on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Even now, thinking back on those special moments and a few others, I feel the tears well up in my eyes.

Just like Jack.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Letter to a Friend by Jamie Kirkpatrick

Dear Marty:

Sorry this is late. I wish I had sent it a week ago when you were still here. Better yet, I should have delivered it by hand—I would like to have been there to say goodbye in person. I’m glad Furry was able to visit and let you know how much we all love you.

I remember the first time I saw you: it was opening day in the Ponce de Leon league and you showed up ready to catch. You looked like a garden gnome in a Chicago Cubs uniform, but you sure could play. You knew how to call a game; you could block balls in the dirt. You could get a bunt down. Maybe you weren’t all that quick down the line, but you were always one step ahead of everyone else on the team. You were a strategist; you knew the game; you had baseball in your Scandinavian bones. You, Mike, and I had some good years on that team. We were in our forties but we felt like kids again.

A few years later, you showed up again in my life. At Landon. The boys were in the Upper School, both fine baseball players and worthy young men. I was Drew’s assistant on the varsity then so I got to watch them develop their skills. Carl was a crafty pitcher with a nasty curveball; Neil anchored the team at shortstop. Both could hit. Before a game, I would hit fungos to the outfielders and you would catch me up. You were always loose and we would make bets on whether so-and-so would catch the next one. Sometimes, you would go warm up the pitcher or just sit in the dugout sharpening your pencils and arranging your yellow highlighters. The scorebook you kept was beyond accurate; it was an encyclopedic work of art—every pitch, every out recorded and rendered with detail and precision. I loved sitting with you, Charlie, and Furry down at the end of the bench, watching the boys play, thinking up the next prank, caring deeply about what we were doing but not taking it all to seriously. After all, it was high school baseball.

(Hey: do you remember the time when Charlie got under Drew’s skin and Drew actually threw him off the bench? His own father! OMG! Every time I think about that, I start to laugh so hard the tears come again. Even now.)

After the boys graduated and went on to college, we remained buds. I had been sent down to the JV, but you still showed up for games, keeping the book, hitting fungos, bouncing balls at the catcher in blocking drills. Thank you for doing all that. It just felt good knowing you were still there. But I wondered how you did it: after all, you had a big time law practice to tend, students of your own to teach down at Duke. I mean, really: how did you do it? How did you juggle all the big-time stuff and still find time to be fully present in my little high school life?

You were never a laugh-out-loud guy. More of a smirk and a twinkle-in-your-eye boy, but God, you were funny. Road trips with you were hysterical. More than once, we kept Drew from driving the bus off the bridge, made him laugh when he was deep in his you-know-what. You were the perfect foil; he had too much respect for you to stay mad for long even after a close loss.

As the years rolled along, we didn’t see each other as much, but we remained close. When my son came to you for advice and legal mentoring, you gave it thoughtfully and generously. I was always invited over for one of Neil’s healthy and delicious meals, followed by a wee dram or two of your good single malt from the top shelf. We’d sit around the kitchen table and it was like we were back in the dugout. Andrea would roll her eyes, but we knew she was amused. She loved you so much; hell, we all did.

So now you’re gone, but don’t worry: Charlie and I will get together and raise a maudlin glass to you soon. By now, I imagine you’ve looked up Buddy and the two of you are bantering each other again or having another fungo competition up in heaven. Your family and friends and colleagues down here miss you dearly. So do your students at Duke Law School, as well as the countless kids you coached with Dave in summer league ball over at St. Albans. If legacy is memory, yours is legion. You are an All-Star, a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. I’d give a lot for one more extra-inning game on a warm spring day in May, sitting next to you on the bench with Furry and Charlie, teasing you while you bone your old fungo with a Coke bottle, laughing so hard that I cry.

With so much love from so many of us,

Jamie

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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 www.musingjamie.com.

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

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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.

Priceless.

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.”