The Architecture of Hugh Newell Jacobsen on the Eastern Shore

My second job as an architectural intern was with Gini L. Pettus & Associates in Atlanta. The focus of her practice was interior commercial architecture but we both enjoyed discussing residential architecture and soon discovered our mutual admiration for the work of Hugh Newell Jacobsen.

After I moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004, I was delighted to discover two of his houses from excursions with friends on the water. After visiting the firm’s website, I learned that Jacobsen had designed several houses in Talbot County and his Bachelor of Arts degree was from the University of Maryland. I like to think that on breaks from his studies he made sojourns to the Eastern Shore to enjoy the peaceful pre-Bay Bridge rural architecture and landscape.

What I admire about Jacobsen’s work is how he drew his inspiration from the distinctively American vernacular rural architecture-sheds, smokehouses, detached kitchens and barns. The essence of his iconic style were series of pavilions devoid of ornamentation that evoked Shaker architectural design. His contemporary interpretation of the “telescope” houses of the Eastern Shore, became, in his gifted hands, simple geometric plans with gable roofs and chimneys that rose through the steep roof planes to become sculptural elements. His unique style set him apart from his fellow second-generation Modernists peers.

He also designed houses ranging from Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ home on Martha’s Vineyard to the “1998 Life Dream House,” Life Magazine’s promotion of houses designed by famous architects whose plans were made available to the public.

His son Simon is the Founding Principal of Jacobsen Architecture and explains his firm’s design philosophy as “…our detailing is deliberately sparse and linear in order to enhance the spaces within and without … the site is the dominant factor. The quality of the light upon that particular area of earth is always unique and determines the path the architecture will take.” The firm’s houses on the Eastern Shore embody that design philosophy and my favorite of the Eastern Shore houses is the original Green Residence that as of 2017 has a new owner.

The Greene Residence was built on the Wye East River close to the Chesapeake Bay. The client, a New York advertising executive, retained Hugh Newell Jacobsen in 1971 to design a year-around house. On one of his first visits to the site, the client sprinkled cedar seedlings along the shoreline that have matured into a tall grove to protect the house from the winter storms off the Bay and to frame and shade the exquisite house.

Like the older houses of the Tidewater, the Green house has white walls and steep roofs but the similarity ends there. Unlike historic Tidewater houses, this plan’s massing and functions are organized into pavilions defined by the function within. Some of the pavilions are linked by connections with walls of frameless panes of glass resting on brick sills for a striking solid/void juxtaposition of wall and glass. Other pavilions are slightly shifted from each other with just enough space for construction workers to accomplish their tasks. The lack of exterior soffits, gutters and trim is a careful and deliberate abstraction of traditional detailing.

Many of the pavilions have floor to ceiling glass panes at the main level to create an “outlook” to the landscape and water beyond. Above the large glass panes are two levels of multi-paned transoms. The bottom row is open to the main floor of the pavilion and the upper row becomes windows for the second floor. The lack of interior trim allows the wall and floor planes to seamlessly merge and the steep pitched roofs with dormers creates delightful spaces for the guest suites or the loft for the Owner’s artistic endeavors.

The Green house consists of six pavilions. There are two center pavilions with the front pavilion being the entrance hall and support functions. Behind the entry pavilion a short hall leads to the rear sitting room pavilion that faces the water. The rear corners of this dramatic room are floor to ceiling glass panels and the massive chimney rises through the pitched ceiling. At the front corners, glass walled connections on each side lead to two pavilions that are set on a diagonal to the entry and sitting room pavilions. The kitchen/breakfast and dining room pavilion is on the right and is slightly shifted from the garage pavilion by a solid connection. Off the kitchen pavilion, the long pool reaches out to the water and a fence hides the motor court of the garage pavilion. On the left, another sitting room pavilion and the master suite pavilion complete the composition. Terraces off the sitting rooms offer expansive views of the water.

Two guest suites were located on the second floor. One suite is accessed by a “U” shaped cantilevered stair that floats above the floor of the diagonal sitting room pavilion and the other suite is accessed by a spiral stair in the kitchen pavilion. Since the two suites are separated by the main sitting room pavilion, they have total privacy.

The interiors are white to better reflect the light from the varied sources and the firm’s signature “Eggcrate” bookcases are found in the diagonal sitting room. The Mid-Century Modern furnishings include the leather and polished chrome Le Corbusier sofas and the wood Scandinavian dining room table and chairs. It would be very difficult for this architect to choose a favorite detail but the vista from one of the glass-walled connections through the glass corner of the adjacent pavilion to the water beyond was breathtaking.

The Green Residence is a masterpiece of a gifted architect’s vision of domestic architecture in the early 20th century. The photographs that accompany this article were taken last year and belie the age of this iconic house.

Jacobsen Architecture was founded in 2007 by Hugh and Simon Jacobsen and is the recipient of over 140 awards in architecture, design and interiors. The firm’s work spans from much of the US, Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. Besides many accolades and publications, the firm has been nominated for the AIA’s Gold Medal four times and is longest running recipient of Architectural Digest’s AD100, the magazine’s list of the top 100 design talents internationally. The Jacobsens are currently working on a new book to be published by Rizzoli titled “Jacobsen Architecture: 12 Houses by Hugh and Simon Jacobsen”.

If you are one of the lucky few on the Eastern Shore to own a Jacobsen house, please contact the Spy as we would welcome another opportunity to feature more of these unique American houses.

For further inspiration, visit the firm’s website . Photographs of the Green Residence courtesy of Sean Shananhan Photography,, 703-582-9462. 

The Spy is pleased to announce that Simon Jacobsen will make a presentation of his firm’s work over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend on Saturday, January 19th, from 5:00 to 6:30 at the St. Michaels Inn in St. Michaels MD, 1228 S. Talbot Street. Click here for ticket sales.

Jennifer Martella has pursued her dual careers in architecture and real estate since she moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004. Her award winning work has ranged from revitalization projects to a collaboration with the Maya Lin Studio for the Children’s Defense Fund’s corporate retreat in her home state of Tennessee.

Food Friday: Me Oh My! Pie!

One of my favorite movie scenes is when Andie McDowell is sitting in a cramped restaurant booth as she sings her pie song in the Nora Ephron movie Michael. This is a terrible copy: The character Dorothy is earnest and awkward and sweet – rather like one of my less-than-perfect pies.

The possibilities of pie are endless. And I do not mean just the numerical constant that is π: 3.14159… I do like baking a pie on March 14, π Day, but that is the end of my fascination with the number. I do not bake many pies a year, which is probably why I have never yet rolled out a round pie shell. Amoebas R us, even with our almost weekly home-baked pizza pie. Among the kitchen skills I would like to master: round, flaky pie crusts (and within that set, nicely plaited lattice tops for cherry pies); round, thin-crusted pizza pies, and bread that will not break a bone when it is dropped on my foot. You can have sweet pies, savory pies, cream pies, hand pies, fried pies, and humble pies.

With Thanksgiving coming next week there is pressure to bake something amazing – a Thanksgiving pie that will go down in family history, although, frankly, I don’t think anything is ever going to beat that Easter when the spider crawled out from under the freshly picked nasturtium on the lemon cheesecake. I have been looking at various pie recipes, and the beautiful versions that Food52 and the New York Times kitchens are sharing are quite intimidating. They can’t leave well enough alone, and have gentrified and gilded the lilies on all of the comforting pies from our childhood memories.

My mother baked a plain and servicable pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving, and it was very tasty, and we looked forward to it every year. It had a nicely crimped, evenly baked, homemade piecrust. I crimp awkwardly, and I have to remember to turn the pie around halfway through the baking process so the crust browns evenly.

Some years we had a lemon meringue pie, too. The lemon filling came straight from Jell-o or My-T-Fine, but the meringue was homemade and towering and diaphanous. Divine.

We used to know a couple who scorned ritual birthday cakes, and served pie instead. An apple pie for your birthday? You might as well rake leaves or fold laundry on your birthday, too, while wearing a hair shirt and practicing good posture. The pie couple has since divorced.

Our ritual birthday cake is a Boston Cream Pie. I am not being a hypocrite here – Boston Cream Pie is actually a cake. I bake a round, yellow cake, split it, slather one half with vanilla pudding, and pour a generous thick, gleaming coating of chocolate ganache over the reassembled cake. If I have tempered the chocolate correctly, it cools into a shiny, slick surface. Perfect for reflecting those myriad birthday candles.

It took a few years to master the art of the Boston Cream Pie. It was hit or miss for a while. There were the couple of times I was bent of heeding Martha who whispered tauntingly to me that the best way to slice the cake into two perfect halves was by using dental floss. She did not say to use plain dental floss. Our BCP had a faint hint of peppermint a couple of times, before I decided that the serrated bread knife did a masterful slicing job.

I can never remember my favorite ganache recipe and have to go look it up in a chocolate-speckled cookbook that opens to just one single recipe.It is really meant to cover an incredible flourless chocolate cake. I think I like the wicked requirement of bourbon, instead of the vanilla that the faint-hearted use.

3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon

Melt the chocolate and butter together over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the brandy. Pour over the top of the cooled cake, smoothing with a spatula, and let it drip down the sides. (The ganache recipe is from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, which I cannot find digitized or linked to any place. But if you need a good flourless cake recipe, drop me a line!)

So bake what you love on Thanksgiving. And as you gather together, think of past Thanksgivings, and remember to sing:

Me oh my
Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry
all at once o well it’s pie
an’ wet bottom.
Come to your place everyday if you’ve got em’
Me o my
I love pie”
-Andie McDowell

Mid-Shore Health: The Goal of Control at the End of Life

There is little doubt that one of the paramount issues for those facing the last phase of their lives is one of control. From such things as pain management to document the end of life wishes with family members, the patient is eager to control as much of the process as possible.

And one of their primary allies in maintaining that control is working with their local hospice as early as possible. That is the central message we received when talking to Talbot Hospice’s medical director, Mary DeShields, and its executive director, Vivian Dodge when talking to the Spy the other day.

With the national average hospice care period lasting only two to three weeks, the options and time for solid planning are minimal. That is why Mary and Vivian are strong advocates for patients and families to enter into hospice care almost immediately after a terminal diagnosis, which allows up to six months for them to prepare appropriately and guarantee the most comfortable end of life strategies possible.

This long-range approach also applies to palliative care which takes of those between acute care and end of life care. This stage for those with a chronic illness this is likely to result in death also requires a multidisciplinary management approach that, like hospice, is directed around the wishes of the patient and dramatically improve their day-to-day quality of life.

That is the primary reason that Talbot Hospice has been taking steps this year to strengthen their palliative care role with a new initiative to work more closely with community physicians and their patients.  By adding the local hospice team, both doctors and those under their care can greatly benefit patients with symptoms, and the emotional side of these serious chronic conditions.

The Spy sat down with Mary and Vivian at Talbot Hospice last week for a brief discussion of these issues.

This video is approximately seven minutes in length. For more information about Talbot Hospice please go here

Spy Profile: John Sprinkle on Saving Places on the Mid-Shore and in America

Historic preservation as a concept is not new anymore. In fact, this unique American movement proliferated from such humble beginnings of a few local women saving Washington’s Mt. Vernon in 1858 to now a dedicated agency like the National Park Service with its multi-million dollar budget designed to certify, protect, and sometimes purchase the country’s most important buildings and landscapes of our history and culture.

And like many things on the Mid-Shore, the Spy came upon one man from the region who not only participated in the selection of many of those special places but has written extensively about local and national efforts to help save them.

John Sprinkle, a Chestertown native, is the offspring of a mother from the multigenerational Brooks family of Kent County, and an architect father who specialized in historic preservation, knew very early on that his future would be tied to the past. After completing a masters in historical archaeology and then a doctorate in history from the College of William and Mary, John soon joined the National Park Service and eventually led the agency’s National Historic Landmark Survey, co-directs its Federal Preservation Institute, it’s educational wing, and is also the bureau’s historian.

While his vita has shown a broad interest in the field, he has also participated at the local level where he serves on the City of Alexandria’s Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission and teaches at the University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. And in his spare time, John writes books on the subject, with the latest being Saving Spaces: Historic Land Conservation in the United States.

John came back to his hometown last month to give a reading at the Bookplate and was willing to stop by the Spy HQ for a chat about his unique background and his observations on how historic preservation has changed over the years.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length. To purchase of copy of Saving Spaces: Historic Land Conservation in the United States please go here.

Think On These Things by George Merrill

When a cherished place from my past – where I’d once felt loved and in tune with the world is violated, I feel diminished. In the ‘Talbot Spy’ recently, columnist Jamie Kirkpatrick’s moving essay Then and Now, reflects on his boyhood in Pittsburgh, where the recent Tree of Life Synagogue shootings took place.

“I knew nothing but peace and safety in that neighborhood, but that was then. This is now,” Jamie writes.

In this bittersweet comment, I imagine Jamie is attempting, as I would, to make some kind of sense of two disparate images; one, of a lovely place of family and childhood, the other, that same place but now violated by hate and anger. The violation of a special place diminishes the solace the memory of it offers.

I’ve been reading an essay by the famous anthropologist Loren Eisley. In an allegory about a sense of place and the role our memory can play in it, Loren Eisley describes a changing landscape in Philadelphia in the thirties.

The old elevated railway station in Philadelphia was a large waiting area containing vending machines. As soon as pigeons heard the trains approaching, they would alight in large droves to feed on peanuts that commuters left scattered on the station floor.

The El was slated for demolition to build a subway. When the tunnels were dug the El was totally dismantled and where the pigeons had always gone for their sustenance was gone.

Eisley began seeing some pigeons returning to their old haunts. What brought them back was the noise, not of approaching trains anymore, but of the wreckers, a sound inciting their hopes that they could return there to be fed as they had always been before.

Even when the structure was fully gone, Eisley writes, “It was plain . . . that they (pigeons) maintained a memory of an insubstantial structure now composed of air and time.” Although that special place for them had been violated, the pigeons never quite surrendered the memory of the place that had nurtured them.

The recollections of my past can produce incongruent images. The images contrast between the way it was and the way it is, now. There can be pain, grief, and a sense of personal violation in such recollections. I often feel it as I recall the open spaces of my childhood now suffocated by tract housing and overdevelopment. The dissonance resulting mitigates the melancholy sweetness of nostalgia. In the courts of memory, there are many sacred places. When those sacred places are profaned, I’ve lost something.

The word sacred is not a user-friendly in today’s world. Consumerists have coopted most of the language of traditional piety to make sales pitches, but not even the most tasteless marketer offers his wares as ‘holy.’ A Subaru may be pitched as ‘love’ but never as ‘holy.’ Outside of places of worship, you rarely hear the word. It’s a hollow world where nothing is sacred,

“Draw not near here: put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” And so, God speaks to Moses reminding him of both the place and the special encounter he is to have. Moses is asked to acknowledge this holy place and its awe-filled moment by making a traditional gesture of veneration. He removes his sandals to respect the household into which one enters. It reminds me of how I once watched a funeral a procession pass through an old southern town. People stood roadside and watched, as men removed their hats honoring the solemnity of the moment and the suffering of the mourners. They had an idea of the holy.

The recent shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue is another instance of how far we have come from grasping any significance of the holy and the place it holds in our lives.

There were generations of people in The Tree of Life synagogue community who had gone through life’s rites of passages – rites that were thousands of years old. It was sacred space, a holy place where it’s members were invited to “remember” G-d, Moses, Jacob, Isaac and David in their worship. Girls grew into women and boys into men with the validation of, and within the safety of, a loving community.

The word ‘profane’, like the word, ‘holy,’ has dropped out of the modern vocabulary. I note that “to profane,” means to treat what’s sacred with irreverence and disrespect. It means literally to desecrate, to violate and to defile, and I have no doubt that our present trend is profaning our two most sacred trusts: each other, and the environment.

A sacred space can be literal or figurative. There are sacred spaces, and holy ways of being. Those spaces may be comprised of nothing more than benevolent sensibilities, kind and generous ways of being with self, with others, and with the environment. I didn’t mention ‘with God’ only because if you are kind to yourself, gentle with others, and respectful of the environment, having touched all these bases, you’re sure to be right with God.

The royal route for entering sacred spaces is to become aware, conscious of what is. One of the popular means of that search begins with smelling the flowers. Flowers are almost universally present.

When I commuted to Washington years ago, I’d take New York Avenue. In the windows of the stately old row houses that had fallen into disrepair and were inhabited by poor and disenfranchised people. I’d be surprised to see so many window flower boxes, obviously tended and glorifying as much as they could this, the desperate landscape. The flowers invoked the holy in the lives of those whose lives were being profaned.

We see flowers everywhere. They adorn almost every social occasion, whether a dinner party or a wake; they offer grace and beauty to our rites of passage, from celebration to mourning, and they keep us mindful of the one inscrutable mystery of life that ensures our future: the magical business of the birds and the bees.

I cannot think of one flower that is not beautiful. Ever watch a child pick a dandelion and ceremoniously present to you as a present? This is a sacred moment. The combined beauty of the simple dandelion and the child’s expression of anticipation is exquisite beyond words.

Where there is hate there is evil and suffering. Where there is holiness, there is beauty and healing. Where there is truth there is beauty, holiness and healing.

The present social atmosphere has grown toxic with brutal words and vengeful deeds. It’s not easy to remain focused on what ennobles us and affirms life. St. Paul had an idea about that. He put it this way and I believe it still holds:

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

What we think about will direct how we act.

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: Thank You, Dorcas Reilly!

In two short weeks Thanksgiving will be over – except for the best part with the Pilgrim sandwiches, and some leftover pumpkin pie, smuggled cold from the fridge and eaten hastily while standing at the pantry window, looking out over the swirl of black leaves in your childhood home’s back yard.

Thanksgiving can be fraught with peril: although the food remains basically the same, the group dynamics change annually; the rules and the dance partners are as varied and intricate as any Regency dance in a Jane Austen novel. There are always new partners, babies, newish children, a different kitchen, family recipes, new recipes, store-bought, homemade, football, gossip and hurt feelings.

I almost overlooked an obituary in the New York Times a few weeks ago. Dorcas Reilly died in New Jersey. She was 92. Reilly invented the almost ubiquitous Green Bean Casserole that appears on so many Thanksgiving dinner tables. Modestly, Reilly asserted she was just part of the team that developed the dish at Campbell’s Soup in Camden, New Jersey in 1955. They were looking for a tasty, economical side dish. It has just six ingredients, and it can be easily assembled by anyone. It became an institution; it was America at its most homogenous and bland. Campbell’s estimates that 20 million green bean casseroles will be prepared in the United States this Thanksgiving. Imagine being the person who was responsible for such an institution. Will you have a green bean casserole on your table?

Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole (originally called Green Bean Bake)

1 10 3/4-ounce can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
A dash of pepper
4 cups cut green beans
1-1/3 cups of French fried onions

Mix soup, milk, soy, pepper, beans and 2/3 cup onions in 1-1/2-quart casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until hot. Stir. Sprinkle with remaining onions. Bake five minutes. Serves six.

The genius was adding the crunchy French fried onions, which I could happily eat by the handful, out of the can, any day of the week. It is a Thanksgiving moment I relish!

But we live in different times, and as much as we would like to remember our childhood holidays, there are new memories to be made. So when you are helping in someone else’s kitchen this year, be aware of the minefield of kale salads and chestnut brioche stuffings. Bring some nice wine and offer to wash and dry the dishes. There is a new crop of home cooks ready to stretch their wings, and they are going to smoke turkeys in the Big Green Egg. And they have their own green bean casserole recipes.

Thank you, Dorcas Reilly, for so many memorable Thanksgivings.

This is a labor-intensive recipe, best brought to a potluck Thanksgiving, when you can boast about making the mushroom sauce from scratch. No sodium-riddled canned soup for you!

This must be prepared on-site, so be sure that there will be an available burner, or two:

This recipe can be made in advance, but it eliminates all the fun of the French fried onions, and it makes you make bread crumbs! Shocking!

This is a thrifty version, that is probably healthier, because it introduces another vegetable. But it, too, eliminates the French fried onions. Obviously not my first choice: You can make this in advance, though it will require about 15 minutes in the oven, to warm up before serving.

I like this, even though shallots are used. But I think this will appeal to the sensibilities of our gourmands-in-training hosts this year. I’ll just smuggle in a can of French fried onions to snack on while assisting in the food prep and the wine tasting.

Get organized! The Thanksgiving clock is ticking down!

“What we’re really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving?”
Erma Bombeck

The Spy Columnists: George Merrill

It seems somehow fitting that the Spy will be ending our series on our public affairs columnists with George Merrill on Election Day. Perhaps the most apolitical of the five writers that volunteer each week to offer their unique point of view with our readers, George, an ordained Episcopal minister, has been the most inclined to bring public debates down to questions of spirituality and the workings of the soul.

While George does not skirt the issues of the day, his Sunday essays have been more about his only reaction to the challenges of life than focusing on the foibles of a particular politician or policy. His intense interest in his own makeup encourages the reader to explore their own sense of soul as they work through the news of the day.

Now eighty-four years old, Merrill has also reached a point where he can, he laughingly notes, “say anything I want,” knowing full well that this sense of liberation has allowed him the freedom to explore and take delight in what he doesn’t know as much as the wisdom that comes with living over eight decades.

In his Spy interview, George talks about his writing style, spirituality and politics, and the pure enjoyment he has in taking pen to paper.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length

A Way Of Life by George Merrill

Media reports suggest an economic upturn, even increased employment, while at the same time, reports also indicate that the nation’s social fabric is unraveling. What’s going on?

Are there two issues running concurrently in our country? It seems counter-intuitive to me to believe that a rising economy with improved employment would not stem the grievances being aired about our adversarial way of life? Still, there’s no doubt that we Americans are feeling less safe. Chronic lying and relentless character assassinations by our leaders are creating tension and encouraging distrust of our neighbors, both native born and immigrants. It’s very common to hear people say they feel helpless.

It’s not a new thought that man does not live by bread alone.

In a recent column, conservative pundit George Will described what he sees as the modern dilemma with which we live today.

He notes how the nation’s most-discussed political problem is entangled with the least understood public health problem. “The political problem is a furious partisanship. The public health problem is loneliness . . . Americans are richer, more informed and ‘connected’ than ever while unhappier, more isolated and less fulfilled.”
There’s something to this. Insurance giant Cigna conducted a survey to explore Americans’ mental states to see if they correlated with our physical health concerns. The survey revealed complaints of loneliness by 48 percent of Americans. Baby boomers scored 42 points. Members of generation Z born between the mid-nineties and early two thousand said they felt lonely and isolated and that their relationships were not meaningful.

There’s an old story about a team of technical advisors dispatched from the states to a Polynesian island in the Pacific. They went to help with agriculture. The natives’ lives were oriented around watering their crops that grew in fields on top of a hill. Their water came from a river below flowing in the valley. Irrigating required enormous effort and took almost the entire tribe’s time. Buckets of water were carried up the mountain daily.

The team saw immediately how labor intensive their lives were. They knew ways in which they could reduce the burden of labor and time the natives spent in tending their crops – simply by mechanizing the delivery of water to the crops. Pumps were brought in and pipes laid so the water could be efficiently delivered, leaving the natives with the kind of leisure time they’d not known before.

After the irrigation system was up and running, the natives grew bewildered.

Soon, unprecedented behavior appeared among the members of the native community. Children began to defy their elders. The men began drinking. Spousal abuse became endemic. Fights were frequent and a murder occurred, the first in tribal memory. An attitude of malcontent and malaise began pervading the lives of natives who once lived satisfying lives by sharing in the manual task of watering their crops.

Watering the crops by hand was far more than just work or even survival. Men and women talked to and connected with each other daily while they went up and down the hill. The children worked along with elders, everyone was integrated into a way of life that had meaning well beyond the particular task of feeding themselves. From one point of view, with mechanized irrigation the natives never had it so good. What nobody had foreseen, however, was how this arduous but well-functioning way of life that brought peace and harmony to the community had been decimated with what we, by western standards, would call progress.

The team had their hearts in the right place but they lacked understanding of the values natives held and how critical this difficult work was to their way of life. Labor was playing the determining role in creating social cohesion and community, more than the attempts to bring progress did.

Trump has, by word, deed and innuendo, legitimized hatred, and has bred a brutal climate that polarizes our citizens. It’s become a way of life. My question is if economic and employment improve, will our social climate grow kinder and gentler, or is there something else fueling the hostile climate? I believe that the president by his leadership has drawn from the social order, all the toxins that had been latent or partially contained. Instead of using the power of the presidency to mitigate these harmful toxins for the common good, he has exacerbated the toxicity to serve his own purposes. Congressional republicans don’t seem at all troubled.

A way of life, rooted in basic human values can sustain a community though the most difficult times. Consider the remarkable story of the Amish community.

In October of ’06 a small Amish community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania was stricken with a horror of unimaginable proportion. Ten Amish children were killed in their school in a mass shooting. Only five survived. There have been more shootings in the twelve years since the one in the tiny Pennsylvania village, some with much higher death tolls. But the Amish school shooting moved our country in a way other shootings had not. The attacker preyed on the most innocent and defenseless members of a bucolic and pacifist religious community. Within hours, the Amish announced they had forgiven him. This reaction of the Amish community stunned those familiar only with the Amish rejection of modern technology. Many were unaware of the community’s deep faith and how it guides their daily lives. In the face of unspeakable tragedy and violence a community that cultivated essential goodness, although bloodied, survived with grace and dignity.

Their way of life helped to heal the community, even the family of the perpetrator.

The Amish forgave the man who killed five of their children. They embraced the man’s widow to comfort her. The community responded not with rancor, anger or hatred. They responded with love and forgiveness. Not only does character count but it may be the singularly greatest asset in sustaining community life.

“We have to forgive,” said Aaron Beiler, 66, whose farm is just a few miles away from Nickel Mines where the shooting took place.

I often wonder if I would have had the moral fiber and the depth of character to meet such tragedy with that kind of grace and magnanimity. The truth is that many Amish did feel just such outrage because they are, like all of us, human. Brutal and retaliatory instincts exist in all of us. We are both lamb and lion; whichever one is regularly fed and encouraged, takes us over. Managing our instincts is a matter of our values. The more humane values guiding a way of life can transform the raging inner landscape of pain, anger, and vengefulness first into one of sadness and mourning, and finally into forgiveness.

I propose that the real challenge for Americans today may be less about money and jobs, than the way of life we’re beginning to settle for.

Without a vision, the people perish.

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

Food Friday: Halloween Leftovers

Skulking in my front hall is a large stainless steel bowl, brimming with evil intent and oodles of leftover Halloween candy. Being new to our neighborhood I didn’t know what to expect in the way of trick or treaters. I didn’t know if this was a street that the kids flocked to or shunned. So I bought a lot of Halloween candy. Just in case.

Our next door neighbors’ house seemed like it would be a real draw for the thrill seekers: there is an well-lighted, moving skeleton of a fire-breathing dragon, and another skeleton (human) that is either escaping from, or getting ready to leap down into, the chimney. Strings of purple and green lights flash along the roofline. Scary robotic cats line the front porch. There are dozens of foam gravestones, planted with precision in the middle of the lawn, and lighted ghosts and jack o’lanterns are lurking among the shrubberies. The kids will either hit this place like crazy, or will be deathly afraid of it.

Our current neighbors’ is a relatively restrained display of plastic-y Halloween zeal. We once lived down the block from people who went overboard on Halloween. One fabled year they built a corn maze in their front yard, and had a Freddy Krueger wannabee periodically rev up a real chain saw. There was a mysterious, silent figure holding s scythe. Our children, admittedly tiny and rational, refused to set foot on the property, even with the promise that there were full-size Snickers bars available to those who made it through the labyrinthian challenge.

I guess I can’t take it personally that our modest Halloween display was not alluring enough to draw crowds. We have half a dozen lighted pumpkins and a pair of black plastic flamingo skeletons poked into the urns with the Martha-approved rust-colored chrysanthemums. Maybe it was the tasteful hydrangea wreath with a chrysanthemum-coordinated rust-colored bow that sent them back into the night.

Two little girls braved knocking at our front door. They were a little taken aback when Luke the wonder dog barked with all the ferocity he normally reserves for the regular home invasions by the UPS guy. But when he was penned up in the kitchen, the girls took their fair share of Halloween treats, and not a goodie more. Which leaves me with this bowl brimming with quality candy.

I didn’t want us to be the bad neighbors who handed out raisins or popcorn balls. But I didn’t want to be the ones handing out the full-size Snickers, either. There has to be a happy medium between excess and handing out the wrong kind of candy. Did I want us to be known as the People Who Dole Out Dum Dum Lollipops at Halloween? Of course not. Sugarless gum? Hell, no. We had snack-size Reese’s peanut butter cups, glow-in-the-dark Twix bars (also snack-size), and the new-fangled dark chocolate (snack-size) Twix bars. Better than Tootsie rolls, but not as good as Bendicks Bitter Mints.

I doubt if our visiting princesses were super impressed by our candy. We had merely lived up to the neighborhood contract and had plenty o’candy ready for the invading hoarde of trick or treaters. Maybe next year we will get a few more. In the meantime, what to do with all that leftover chocolate?

The savory leftovers at Thanksgiving are one thing. Who doesn’t like sitting down with a nice turkey sandwich and a sliver of pie after all the pesky relatives have gone home? The idea of baking with leftover Halloween candy is mildly nauseating. I can’t face Hershey Kisses at the best of times, but to think of them as a massive decorative component is really quite beyond me. M&Ms and candy corn? I guess it depends on your sweet tooth. Here are some links to recipes that might just bail you out.

I am going to take the high road with our leftover candy, and donate it to folks who might appreciate it as much as the little princesses, if not more.

That way Luke the wonder dog and I might not have to take an extra-long walk this afternoon. It can be snack-sized.

‘Mr. Wonka: “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.”
Charlie Bucket: “What happened?”
Mr. Wonka: “He lived happily ever after.”’
― Roald Dahl

Expert Witness: Former EPA Chesapeake Director Nick DiPasquale on Conowingo and the Problem of Pennsylvania

It seems that more often than not, whenever the Spy seeks to interview an expert on the some of the topical issues of the day, one is just around the corner. This is one of the great benefits of serving a region that has become the home of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of retired professionals from almost every field of concentration. From members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, professors, scholars, CEOs, or government executives, the Mid-Shore is blessed with disproportionately well populated with people who really do know what they are talking about.

So when we were eager to find another expert to interview in our ongoing coverage of the Conowingo Dam and the impact of upstream pollution problems from Pennsylvania, as if by magic, the Spy was notified that Nick DiPasquale, who had recently retired as the Director of the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, had just bought a house in the historic district in Chestertown.

Even if we only looked at Nick’s tenure running the Chesapeake Bay program, it would be interesting to learn first hand his impressions of the health of this critical ecosystem. But what turned out to be so beneficial in helping our readers understand the complexity of Bay challenges was his remarkable career before the EPA when he had also served as the Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and as Deputy Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The Spy sat down with Nick at the Spy HQ in Chestertown a few weeks ago to talk about some of the Bay’s most significant challenges with a specific focus on the Conowingo Dam and how Pennsylvania must dramatically change its policies to seriously regulate the damaging agricultural run0ff that contributes so substantially to the Bay’s poor environmental health.

This video is approximately twelve minutes in length.