Mid-Shore Arts: When Art and History Meet with Jason Patterson

College towns are typically blessed with, and perhaps even a bit dependent on, the academic version of “twofers.” With each talented faculty member recruited, there is a good chance that an equally gifted spouse or partner will be part of the package.

Examples in Chestertown are endless of this form of collateral benefits. A recent case came to mind when the Spy announced that Sabine Harvey, wife of Washington College’s Dr. Michael Harvey, had been appointed to run Chestertown’s beloved farmers’ market. This was just the latest of Sabine’s remarkable contributions to Kent County agriculture and gardening.

And this is undoubtedly the case with the arrival of Dr. Meghan Grosse,  a professor with the College’s communication and media studies program. Dr. Grosse’s partner, artist Jason Patterson, agreed to make the move East from his native Campaign-Urbana in Illinois and now has his studio in Chestertown.

In the months that followed his arrival, Jason almost immediately became Kent County Arts Council’s first artist in residence. A few months after that, he was invited by Sumner Hall to exhibit his art (on display until March 24), and around the same time became a Frederick Douglass Visiting Fellow at WC’s Starr Center.

The Spy sat down with Jason at the Spy HQ in Chestertown for a quick chat about his work and the unique opportunities that come when art connects with history.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. More information about Jason Paterson’s art work can be found here.

Getting In Shape by George Merrill

Sometimes a waterspout is more than just a waterspout.

Years ago, I saw a waterspout. I’d not seen one before. I was on a sailboat on Long Island Sound. I watched until the waterspout was finally spent. The sight was mesmerizing.

I’d been sailing on the Connecticut side of the Sound; the waterspout appeared near the Long Island shore. The cloud hung low above the horizon. Below the cloud, the spout undulated as hoses will when first filled with water. It slowly and deliberately moved this way and that until finally it stabilized. The display lasted about three minutes. The spout was gradually assumed into the cloud.

Vortices, whether tornadoes, water spouts, dust devils or the whirlpools of descending water, have always excited the human imagination. The fascination may be associated with something as sublime as God speaking to Job in a whirlwind or Jacob’s ladder that’s often pictured as a spiral staircase.

Witnessing vortex action can be a negative one, like the commonplace fear that the whirlpools from a draining bathtub or toilet often produce in children. These childish fears were regarded universal enough that Mr. Rogers, in one of his neighborhood series, addressed the issue and reassured children that they would always be safe from harm and never be drawn down and away with waste water. Perhaps the fear is inspired by the power a whirlpool demonstrates. It has the capacity to suck anything down and make it irretrievable – not unlike the tornado that adults fear can flatten and then draw almost anything up and toss it away.

The fascination with the activity of vortexes is found in documents dating from ancient times among the Aztecs, the Greeks and Romans, the Arab and Asian cultures and into the twenty-first century here in the west. The nature of various kinds of vortexes was understood to reveal the basic structure and function of the universe. They were frequently regarded as divine manifestations. The character of the vortex appeals to something deep and primal in the human soul.

Eliot Weinberger, in his book, An Elemental Thing, explores the cultural myths that have appeared at different times and places worldwide. What is striking in his research is how he discovers close similarities in the vortex images that appear in widely disparate mythic creation traditions. They may represent creation, destruction, divine activity or the workings of our minds.

Some historic instances include:

In 500 BC, the Taoist tradition held that the “the universe produced ‘chi,’ the life-giving breath, and it was like a whirlpool” Another example; the Buddhists describe their concept of Nirvana as “eternal peace in the vortex of evolution.”

In 203 AD Plotinus, a Roman general believed; “the enlightened soul returns to its origin, which is a whirlpool,” and in 1920, poet T.S. Eliot wrote more ominously about vortices: “Vortex is the end of time.”

It seems that images portraying vortices occupy a place in our primitive consciousness; what Carl Jung described as our “archetypal consciousness.” These are archaic patterns and images that derive from our collective unconscious by virtue of our being members of the same human race.

I unwittingly discovered I carried similar archaic patterns in my own unconscious. It revealed itself as I was trying to give a shape to formlessness.

Some years ago, I presented a photographic exhibit at the Academy Art Museum in Easton. The theme was the Genesis epic of creation. I produced photographs to illustrate selected texts describing various acts of creation. The first image presented me with a significant challenge.

“Now the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

Something without shape and void does not lend itself to being photographed. What could I do with that?

I decided to fabricate my own negative. I did this by putting printer’s ink on a glass plate. I let my imagination go wild and made fanciful finger paintings, hoping that something would take a shape that would in some metaphoric way suggest the shapeless and barren universe that preceded the first act of creation.

The glass plate would serve as my negative which I would then place in an enlarger to make positive prints from it.

The last time I’d done anything like this was finger painting with my children when we were stuck indoors on a rainy day. We’d put blobs of paint on paper and then just let ‘er rip, smearing colors everywhere, guided only by high spirits and atavistic impulses. Actually, it was great fun for all of us, real play without any rules or limits except being careful not to get any paint on the rug. The table was big enough to accommodate that constraint.

My children were not of an age to artistically render recognizable objects or figures of any kind. What they produced were pure abstractions, some of which were delightful albeit inscrutable. The pleasure they felt I would guess was as much tactile as it was aesthetic, and the surprise that their five fingers could indeed create something out of nothing excited their imaginations.

In creating glass negatives, I followed my instincts, as much as my adult needs for control would allow me, and came up with some bizarre and goofy looking messes. Still, as much as I was having fun with this, I had an agenda to finally to come up with some kind of image – a paradoxical one in the sense that a black and white image would suggest its very opposite, no image, no shape, no form. I was trying to give shape to the shapeless.

I had my work cut out for me.

Finally, I came up with a glass negative that printed the image accompanying this essay. It was after many attempts. I thought I saw in this image, something (almost) of what I was reaching for, something that was just shy of taking form.

Only a few weeks ago, after I’d read Eliot Weinberger’s essay on the vortex, I was surprised to find that the image I had settled on as the ‘void,’ was in fact the shape of a primal vortex similar to those appearing in so many cultural creation myths. The character of vortices in these cultures is that they represented beginnings and endings, life and death.

What a marvelous thought to ponder; that buried deep within my unconscious – in yours and mine both – lies hidden the blueprint of our very beginnings.

Food Friday: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Our family has a weak spot like the back of a bad knee for chocolate desserts. When it is your birthday, we will bake a Boston cream pie. Christmas dinner? A flourless chocolate cake is the only answer. You came home for spring break? Let’s have some chocolate éclairs. And while other families are preparing corned beef and cabbage (which I think stinks to high heaven) this St. Patrick’s Day, we will be digging into some chocolate stout cup cakes. We will honor the blessed saint, the foe of snakes, in our own sweet way.

A couple of weeks ago I chatted briefly with one of our neighbors when I was out walking Luke the wonder dog. This fellow always carries a mug and I have assumed he was taking his coffee for his early morning strolls. (I cannot walk the dog, listen to Slate Magazine podcasts AND carry a Diet Coke in the mornings. I have a limited skill set, I’m afraid.)

Luke wanted to get acquainted. While going through all of the usual dog rituals of sniffing and leash dancing, I found out that the neighbor’s dog is named “Guinness.” I asked if there was a good story about the dog’s name. Maybe he had a secret Lulu Guinness handbag collection, or was noted in the Book of World Records for some perilous feat? Sadly, no. Our neighbor gazed blankly at me. His dog was named after the Irish stout. He is a very dark, very tiny little dog. I hope that the dog Guinness is extra strong. Perhaps he has his own fantasies of a more picturesque neighborhood, one where he is strolled along the cobbles down to the pub late on a golden summer afternoon, to lift a pint with his walker. A nice little daydream that Guinness entertains, instead of resigning himself the prosaic suburban reality of the early morning trot down our street, only to have the indignity of Luke getting overly familiar and sniffy. And now I wonder if our neighbor is really drinking coffee…

It is about time to download The Quiet Man for our annual John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara love fest. Where we gaze at the gauzy golden Hollywood Innisfree, and admire John Wayne in a rain-soaked shirt and laugh at Barry Fitzgerald’s tippling matchmaker. That calls for another Guinness.

In the meantime, we must surely celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in an authentic fashion. No stinky corned beef and cabbage for us! Here is a Guinness Cake from the kitchen goddess herself, Nigella Lawson:

I love a good cup cake – and with these you will eat both the cake and the icing. https://www.thechunkychef.com/guinness-cupcakes-with-baileys-frosting-and-chocolate-drizzle/

I haven’t tried this recipe yet – but Julia Turner endorsed it on the Slate Culture Gabfest this week, and that’s good enough for me. She used it to great success when she baked two birthday cakes for her six-year-old boys’ birthday: https://smittenkitchen.com/2008/02/homemade-devil-dog-ding-dong-or-hostess-cake/

If your St. Patrick’s Day is not complete without corned beef, then accept the Bon Appétit challenge, and see how many ways you can prepare it: breakfast, lunch and egg rolls. Really. https://www.bonappetit.com/story/corned-beef-marathon-st-patricks-day?

Luke is looking forward to another sidewalk encounter with our neighbor’s dog. We can stage our own St. Patrick’s Day parade through the neighborhood. We’ll bring our own mugs of Guinness.

“Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
-Benjamin Franklin

The Mid-Shore’s Special Arc

To date, there happen to be 700 Arc programs in this country, providing invaluable service and support for people with developmental disabilities and their families. Since this unique nonprofit charity was created in 1961, much as changed in how our society treats individuals with special needs, and Arc deserved a great deal of credit for those fundamental shifts in perception.

Given this is Developmental Disabilities Month, the Spy thought it would be a good time to understand better how our local Arc, the Arc Central Chesapeake Region, is fulfilling their mission with the eight counties of the Eastern Shore.  We sat down with Arc’s CEO, Jonathon Rondeau,  at the Bullitt House for a check in on what Arc does, and what it needs to continue their important work on the Mid-Shore.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Arc Central Chesapeake Region programs or to make a donation please go here


A New Beginning: Mid-Shore Scholars with Samantha Martinez

If there is one thing that Talbot Mentors has proven since its inception in 2000, it is that every young person gains so much when an adult has their back. Statistically, this is undoubtedly the case, but nothing is more satisfying than to review the hundreds of success stories that have coming out of this unique Talbot organization to demonstrate how powerful that strategy can be.

These results were not news for Marshall and Loretta Blume. Marshall, who had taught at the University of Pennsylvania for forty-five years before retiring to Talbot County, had seen the dramatic results first hand at Penn with other mentoring programs that targeted college-bound youth in major United States cities.

The Blumes also thought the same methodology could be applied to Mid-Shore students who inspired to be the first of their families to earn a college degree. With a support network of volunteers in place, these motivated young people could successfully navigate the daunting process of pre-college preparation, college selection, and the admissions procedures.

With that in mind, the Blumes last year established Mid-Shore Scholars, dedicated to helping regional high school students fulfill their life goals. Beyond the funding of the project, the Blume also recruited a dedicated board of directors and the recruitment of Samantha Martinez as the organization’s first executive director to begin fulfilling its mission in early 2019.

Sadly, Marshall Blume passed away unexpectedly just days before the first four students began their weekend orientation. For a fledgling organization to lose its benefactor and visionary at the very beginning of its existence was a severe test for all involved, but there was never a moment of hesitation from the Blume family, the board, nor Samantha that this critically important program would move forward.

The Spy sat down with Samantha a few weeks ago at the Bullitt House to understand more about Mid-Scholars and its crucial first year.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Mid-Shore Scholars please go here






The Day of the Dipper Ducks by George Merrill

Nature doesn’t usually take the sting out of difficult times of year, like mid-February to mid-March. I find this time a seasonal bummer – cold, dreary and unpredictable. There is one creature I know that makes this season not only endurable, but at times, thoroughly delightful. I am, of course, referring to the Bucephela Albeola, the uptown Linnaean designation given to what you and I know as the Bufflehead or more popularly, the dipper duck.

In a lifeless season such as February, these little critters bring life in abundance to our lusterless creeks and marshes. They have real pizzazz.

The dipper duck goes by various aliases. New Jersey hunters call them ‘butterballs’ or ‘hell divers,’ but one shouldn’t expect much by way of aesthetic sensibilities from our northern neighbors. These designations suggest a predatory view of these delicate creatures by assigning names to them like the doomed Thanksgiving turkey or a Nazi sub.

Dipper ducks are a favorite of birders. I’ve heard some comment that dippers are exceptionally punctual They arrive on the Shore just when they should. This year, I began seeing them about the middle of February.

Actually, it was years ago in late February at Ft. McHenry that I saw my first Buffleheads. It was love at first sight. I was enthralled watching their antics. At the time, I was with a Baptist minister friend from the Eastern Shore. I pointed to them and asked him what those ducks were called.

“Dipper ducks” he replied unhesitatingly and, I sensed, even with a little admiration. Being a Baptist minister, it seemed to me he’d have more than a casual interest in any practice involving total emersion. Indeed, he did, but in this case, he was simply identifying them by their common name.

I find them very distinctive; it’s their diving habits. They seem to emit a bright flash as they take dives. The dives are made suddenly but smoothly, like summersaults. On their heads, there’s a significant daub of pure white. As they dive, the white catches the early morning sun, creating the impression of sunlight reflecting from a tiny mirror. The light goes off upon their submersion only to appear again as they resurface. There is the suggestion here of some exhibitionism among dipper ducks, like kids at a pool who always cry out “watch this” as they jump and disappear into the water.

It’s not uncommon to see Mergansers mixing it up among small armadas of dipper ducks. By comparison, Mergansers dart about in zig zag patterns – unlike like dippers that generally go in one direction. Mergansers also appear unkempt, even shabby, compared to dipper ducks that look immaculately groomed with heads dark and polished. Mergansers’ head feathers make them look as though they were having a bad hair day.

I find dipper ducks adorable. They’re cute, even cuddly; they seem as if they are just playing although they’re really just foraging underwater for their dinner. I want to pick one up and run my hand over its small bulbous head, the way people feel an irresistible urge to pick up an infant or a baby chick. Of course, the dippers would have none of it.

Ducks are fair game for hunters. Buffleheads are among the hunted. For reasons I cannot explain, I’ve never seen buffleheads hunted in the small cove next to where I live. There are two duck blinds on the cove so I am assuming the interest is there. I’m hoping the dipper ducks have won the hearts of the most determined hunters. They certainly have won mine and judging from various duck carving exhibits, local craftsmen as well.

Unusual for most birds, dipper ducks are as much at home in the air, on top of the water as they are under it. Strictly speaking, dipper ducks are not all that at home underwater. They dine underwater like we go out to dinner at a restaurant. They don’t linger there. We enjoy our dining experience, but as people say about New York, great to visit, but not to live there. They submerge only to eat. They resurface, float briefly, then take another dive or fly back to their nesting sites. The speed with which they find food and dine is swift; they may be more inclined to fast foods to avoid drowning. In any case, they just gulp it down and go for the surface.

Unlike most other amphibious birds, they can submerge, resurface and be flying off in the air in a matter of seconds.

Over the years, hunting has diminished duck populations in general. Although Buffleheads remain popular among hunters, their numbers have not seemed to dwindle. One theory offered is that Buffleheads nest in small holes in trees vacated by woodpecker’s. The woodpeckers’ abandoned nests are big enough for dippers to raise their young, but small enough to discourage intruders who may be considering having them for dinner.

I have seen Mergansers going through mating rituals, but never Buffleheads. Courting means showing your stuff and I’ve read that dipper ducks strut their stuff in a very macho way: in order to gain her attention, he can puff his head up dramatically, enlarging the signature white daub on the side of his head while paddling in front of her, his beak pressed deeply into his expanded chest.

Such exhibitionism may lead us to think the Bufflehead is just another lothario. Not so: he keeps the same mate for years. . . or maybe it’s that she keeps him for years. This is uncertain.

I tell you any of this because at least for me, in the cold and bleak weather on February creeks, just a few minutes watching the Buffleheads feeding (or if you’re lucky enough, courting) either way it will make your day like nothing else.

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.

Food Friday: Pork Chops

March is proving to be a little chillier than I had anticipated. I am not running around sweater-less. At least we seem to have left the snow behind. And now is the time when I remember my father’s mutterings about the great April blizzard of 1888. Not that he had been born yet, but he loved to inject a little niggling doubt in our minds, that maybe spring wasn’t really on its way. No one ever writes about the day of great sunshine and warm zephyrs gently tossing the new bright green leaves on the oak trees. I come from a long line of gloomy New Englanders.

I do not see snow in the forecast, though there is rain. It seems to be warming up enough to take a walk in the garden, and look for snowdrops and crocus shoots. And while I stack a few fallen branches and peer anxiously in the leaf piles under the yet-to-bloom flowering quince, I must return to thinking about dinner.

We have used up the vat o’spaghetti sauce that Mr. Friday had prepared long ago in January. It served us well, through the original meal of spaghetti, through the homemade pasta experiments, through baked ziti, chicken parm and an interesting rigatoni R and D. My dinner insurance policy has expired, and now I have to pony up a meal that would charm, delight and fill. But I wanted one that would not involve a trip to the grocery store.

Luckily, Mr. Friday was in an Asian food mood this past weekend. In addition to his version of General Tso’s chicken, he wanted to prepare stir-fried rice. His recipe called for a handful of diced pork. And so he bought a package of three pork chops, instead of sidling up to the fellow behind the meat counter, and asking for a singleton pork chop. Lucky me! There were two plump pork chops sitting in the freezer, just begging to be cooked for our mid-week-not-spaghetti dinner.

I’m pretty sure all my mother ever did with pork chops was toss them into a Pyrex baking dish and let the oven take over. (She did not believe in exotic convenience foods like Shake N’Bake.) She included a side dish of homemade coleslaw and a bowl of apple sauce, adding a simple flourish of cinnamon. And now you see the stodgy New England side: no fuss, no muss, and a lot of banausic, colorless food. Surely we have advanced a little here in the twenty-first century?

Food52 has a spicy, colorful paprika inspired pork chop recipe: https://food52.com/recipes/819-paprika-pork-chop

Mark Bittman, never one to fuss, has a sautéed pork chop recipe: http://www.howtocookeverything.com/recipes/sauteed-pork-chops

Of course, Martha has a complicated variation on my mother’s applesauce: https://www.marthastewart.com/341389/pork-chops-with-apple-raisin-relish

Bon Appétit has the answer for everyone: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/slideshow/pork-chop-recipes

Possible side dishes:
Green beans
Grilled vegetables
Butternut squash
Scalloped potatoes
Baked potatoes
Baked sweet potato fries: https://www.purewow.com/recipes/Baked-Sweet-Potato-Fries
Green salad
Cranberry Apple Salad https://www.floatingkitchen.net/cranberry-apple-salad/
Tomato salad

I opted to bake the pork chops, after browning them lightly in a pan. We also had scalloped potatoes, applesauce, a green salad and some delicious cheap white wine. And candles. It wasn’t spaghetti, and it wasn’t bland. We are ready to greet spring.

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”

― Laurie Colwin

Breaking Clear Away by Craig Fuller

Don’t know about you, but from time to time I just get obsessively curious about something.

Driving to enjoy the special features of the beautiful area in which we live, I kept noticing that Scenic Byway signage often had a Chesapeake Country sign attached. Whether there are more of these signs being mounted around the area or I am just noticing them more frequently, I couldn’t help but wonder just what the geographic characteristics of Chesapeake Country entailed or who founded this “country” within a country.

Turns out, it’s not so clear.

Seems that a confluence of thinking related to the protection our scenic beauty and encouragement of citizens to travel purely for the sake of enjoying our unique heritage culminated with federal, state and local officials launching common initiatives. So, who knew? But, with too few successful collaborations around these days, why not recognize a worthy effort.

Research uncovers that the states got into the action first in 1910 with Massachusetts enacting legislation authorizing cities or towns to designate scenic roads. Now, there are about 900 state scenic byways nationwide.

At the federal level, a burst of national awareness occurred back in 1965. Then, at a White House Conference on Natural Beauty, discussions on scenic roads lead to a call for scenic development and road beautification in the Federal highway system as part of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965.  

One wonders why things didn’t move faster….although, the US Forest Service did start designating scenic roads in the late 1980s. Then, in 1991, The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act established an Interim National Scenic Byways Program authorizing the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to designate National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads, as well as providing dedicated funding for byway projects. From 1992 to 2012, the Secretary made 150 such designations and provided $507 million for 3,174 projects.

Of course, no place is better than Washington, D.C. at establishing interest groups, and the scenic byways have theirs – Scenic America... And, wouldn’t you know, at this very moment Congress is being pressed – successfully – to reinvigorate the “dormant” National Scenic Byway program! Here’s the press release from last month by Scenic America concerning recent developments: 

So, this brings us to Maryland’s scenic byways and what the State calls Chesapeake Country.

It appears the state embraced a federally designated national byway that runs from Chesapeake City to Kent Island. State and local officials looked at plans late in 2011 to expand the national byway further south. Today, the State of Maryland literature suggests that the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway extends 419 miles from Chesapeake City to Crisfield. And, to add further emphasis, Maryland has designated a “Heart of the Chesapeake Country Heritage Area” governed by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and administered by the Maryland Historical Trust.

Believe it or not, this is the simple explanation for how and why Chesapeake Country came to be.

It also seems evident that well intentioned people wanted to capture the national excitement from James Michener’s 1978 novel, Chesapeake and thus encourage travel and tourism to our region.

However it all came about, in my view it is a worthy and important cause that brings people and revenue to the region by broadening the understanding of lands off of Highway 50.

As we look forward to improving weather with the arrival of spring, I intend to spend more time on the Scenic Byways of the region regardless of which governmental entity established them. They lead to important places that share stories of our past.

While the focus of the Scenic Byway program is road-based, the areas also provide hiking and boating opportunities.

From time to time I hope to provide a look at an interesting scenic place or two…but, don’t wait for me. Get your map and head out on your own adventure.

Ever seen this bridge? It’s found on the way to Hoopers Island and a world away from the larger cities we all pass through. Check it out one day. Share a favorite spot and we’ll give it well deserved attention.

There is no doubt that areas have been protected for generations so people can learn their stories and enjoy their beauty. And this all comes with a great benefit identified so eloquently by John Muir when he suggested we should, “…keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods….[to] wash your spirit clean.”

On the road at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge…


Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

When the East Meets Easton: A Conversation with Himanshu Dutt

Periodically, the Spy has dived into old newspaper databases to share how outsiders have viewed Talbot County from afar. We’ve brought up stories from the likes of the Washington Post and New York Times to share first-hand accounts of impressions of our community from back in the day, which has proven to be very popular with our readers.

More recently, we felt it would be just as interesting to have contemporary viewpoints, particularly from those coming to the Mid-Shore from very different cultures than ours. And though our good fortune, the Spy was introduced to Himanshu Dutt who recently found himself working in Easton in various roles over the span of three years in the field of architecture.

Himanshu, twenty-one years old at the time, had just graduated with a degree from Chandigarh College of Architecture, decided to expand his education with an internship in the United States. And through the luck of the draw, found his way to Easton, Maryland to join a local firm. That initial contact led to other opportunities which found Dutt, a very young man of color, in a small community known for its aging population.

As he prepares to leave to return to his native India permanently, the Spy caught up with him at the Bullitt House for an exit interview.

This video is approximately four minutes in length

Moving Right Along by George Merrill

I am thinking about motion; the simple act of walking from here to there. I take it for granted. Mobility is the elixir of life.

I’m thinking about this while sitting on a stretch of land on the east coast of Puerto Rico. I am looking outward where the North Atlantic and Caribbean Sea meet. A fresh wind is blowing out of the North East; the sea is heaving, relentlessly. The wind nicks the tops off waves turning their crests into horizontal streams of mist. The sky is deep blue. Overhead, the clouds billow like whipped cream. I feel quiet and still, but in fact, everything around me shimmers with energy and motion.

I turn my attention to two little boys. They catch my eye. They are playing catch with their mother. They pitch a ball back and forth; the older boy gleefully picks it up. His younger brother, even as he makes his legs go at maximum speed, is always outrun by big brother. Mom deftly intervenes to be sure younger brother stays in the game.

What’s striking to me in these two vignettes is motion; motion serves us as pleasure and purpose. I think children run or skip everywhere because it enhances the invigorating sensation of motion, the feeling that we’re going somewhere; we’re on the move.

Few of us can abide the feeling of being stuck. Mobility is most of what keeps us going. We enhance our mobility with cars, bikes, wheel chairs, skates, planes, escalators, trains and even canes. And then there’s the intoxicating rush we actively seek at carnivals; the expansive view from the Ferris wheel at its zenith, the parachute jump as it falls, the bumper cars, and on the tracks where, in little seats, we’re propelled on twists and turns while traveling at terrifying speeds. Breakneck speed offers some big kicks, if not terror.

In an article I read years ago, a physician commented on the importance for aging people of maintaining their mobility. He put it strongly; don’t worry as much about heart disease and cancer (the diseases common to the aging), but be careful to maintain mobility. Make it a priority. Getting around is one of life’s biggest deals.

I suspect at the heart of the universe, deep in the essence of our being, there is a still point. Poets refer to it as the place around which everything else turns. When we have access to the still point (meditators will say they gain it momentarily) it’s from there we can discern not only movement, but the direction it’s taking. When we manage to get caught up in dizzying speed, it’s easy to lose one’s sense of direction.

It’s curious how I don’t feel the roughly one thousand MPH the earth spins (at the equator) under my feet every day. Probably just as well.

There are two kinds of mobility I find especially pleasing. They are the kinds of movement that liberate; they take me away from a place of being stuck to one of feeling released. Being stalled in traffic is a classic.

I remember being stuck in the mother of all traffic jams one summer on the Bay Bridge. I was stuck for three hours, occasionally moving what seemed like inches at a time. After the first hour and a half I was sure I would languish and die there before ever reaching Annapolis and my bones would turn to dust in the summer heat and I would be swept off the bridge to finally rest in the Chesapeake. Three quarters of the way across, traffic began to move, first sporadically, varying between five and ten miles an hour, then finally fifty and sixty. Even the five and ten mile an hour reprieve left me feeling as though I’d been delivered. I felt pure joy; I was moving again.

There’s another kind of movement in life. I felt it once when I achieved what I thought I’d never be able to do – build anything with a hammer, nails, screwdriver, etc. I was a disaster working with my hands.

I was well into my twenties when I discovered I could actually make things with my hands. My childhood had been a long series of failures and the abiding conviction that being handy was not my thing. It may not have been a problem, but the boy I hung out with was a whiz. He intimidated me. He could weld metal, make wooden race cars from old crates, knew his way around electricity sufficiently to wire a lamp and make a Morse Code set. I had come to terms with my liability and assumed whatever gifts I may have enjoyed from God’s beneficence, being handy was not one of them.

At the time, I was serving a parish in Manhattan. I liked the rector and he was easy to work with. He had many interests, one of which was woodworking. He’d made a workshop in the basement of the rectory.

There was a radiator in the living room of my apartment. It just stood there uncovered, paint peeling and unattractive. I mentioned to the rector that my radiator was an eyesore. “Why not make a radiator cover for it.” I looked at him as though he’d asked me to fly from the top of the Chrysler Building. “No, no, really, you can do it. I’ll show you how.”

Still feeling that I was entering a forbidden world, I went with him down into his workshop. He marched me through the basics of what was, indeed, comparatively simple and I began feeling the muted hope that I might be able to do it.

It’s hard for anyone to imagine being intimidated by three pine boards. There my trial lie awaiting me. The rector showed me how to secure the boards and make a frame in the front, onto which I could attach a sheet of filigree metal, effectively making a stylish but porous frontal that allowed the heat to escape. After I put the last screws into place, I painted it white. I can’t describe the pure of joy I felt on its completion except to say I was ecstatic.

The cover now in place, I relished in how I beautified my living space by my own handiwork. In fact, whenever I entered the living room my eyes went first to the radiator cover, paying silent homage to the living monument of the time when I’d moved on from a place where I’d once been stuck, to a better place.

I had overcome. It’s a form of deliverance.

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.

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