Those Dog Days of Summer… by Craig Fuller

So, I worried a little about the Dog Days of Summer. I really enjoy summer, and I am more than a little attached to my Weimaraner, Maggie. My concern came from the notion of wanting neither of us to become lethargic with the summer heat. Thus, we committed – Maggie and me – not to let the heat get to us. We would stay active!

We try to start our day with breakfast on the screened porch. With a cooler morning temperature, we enjoy watching the Osprey fish as well as the watermen working away on Trippe Creek. No better way to plan the activities of the day.

Boating has become a favorite activity. My initial worry about Maggie relaxing on the Ranger Tug proved unnecessary as she adapted quickly this summer. She remains as attentive as any crew one could have; however, she has become a bit aggressive recently about claiming the captain’s chair! Applying full power is her specialty.

Then, there is a new alternative this summer, an RV. Having traveled a bit with me in a camper as a very young puppy, Maggie has taken to camping…well, camping with air conditioning. As this commentary is being composed, we sit in a beautiful nearby state park. I’m writing. She is sleeping. She’ll be ready to roll out of here tomorrow…

So, staying busy during the Dog Days of Summer deserves a reward…

While relaxing with the “reward,” I sought an appropriate quote to wrap up this piece. That’s when I discovered something that I have yet to reveal to Maggie. The Dog Days of Summer have nothing to do with dogs!

Turns out, it’s all about the dog star, Sirius, and its position in the night sky.

According to experts at the National Geographic, “…to the Greeks and Romans, the ‘dog days’ occurred around the day when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun, in late July. They referred to these days as the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever, or even catastrophe.”

So, imagine that. Well, it’s time for our night time walk and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the dog star in the sky tonight or tomorrow. Here’s to Sirius, the star! (Just don’t tell Maggie.)

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.

Squawking Chickens by Angela Rieck

In Tidewater Tales, John Barth likens our reaction to death to chickens in a chicken coop at the mercy of a large black snake.  When the snake kills a chicken, the other chickens squawk and run around nervously, but they soon return to their usual routine of eating, clucking and laying eggs. This is also a fair analogy for our responses to mass shootings.  The “chickens” (us), talk, criticize and demand gun control measures; while the NRA and its congressmen, lay low (like the black snake) until we quit squawking.

Today I am one of those squawkers.

I had hoped that after Sandy Hook, where 20 first graders and 6 adults were killed in a horrific act of gun violence; we would pass legislation to protect ourselves.

But the black snake just waited us out. 

In fact, after the Sandy Hook shooting nearly every state implemented new gun laws and almost two-thirds of those laws made access to guns easier (NY Times 2013). Two states that passed gun laws encouraging gun ownership were, you guessed it, Ohio and Texas.

Then I hoped that reforms might happen after the Parkland High School shooting which left 17 dead.  Some students took off from school to go around the country advocating for gun laws to protect us.  

But the black snake just waited.

Statistics show that there is little about gun ownership that is safe.  

The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms. Over a dozen studies have found that increasing guns in homes increases homicides or violence. States with the most guns and the most favorable gun laws report the most accidental shooting deaths. Accidents made up 1.3% of the 36,247 U.S. shooting deaths in 2015.

The most recent Walmart shooting put to bed the canard that the best weapons against gun violence are “good guys” with guns. No gun owners in Texas, a strong open carry state, were able to stop the rampage. It turns out protecting yourself and protecting others using guns are two completely different skills, according to law enforcement officials.

Most of us want responsible gun controls, 57% favor a ban on assault weapons, 90% approve of background checks. The NRA’s extreme positions and recent scandal demonstrate that they do not represent the rights of responsible gun owners.

Which causes me to be frustrated and wonder why responsible gun owners (who represent the vast majority of gun owners) are not incensed by how they are being used by the NRA. The NRA today is little more than a shill for gun manufacturers.  

Despite its obvious ties to gun manufacturers, the NRA has effectively sold fear, convincing its members that there will be a “domino effect” if we pass any laws to restrict gun ownership. Some have been convinced that the “government” will swoop down and take their guns away. (It is estimated that there are almost 400 million guns in America. Have you ever seen the government in action?  Does anyone really believe that that the government could do this?)

But something must be done.  While many of the proposed solutions such as; red flag laws, background check and a ban on assault weapons, will do little to bring down the number of deaths; IT IS A START.  

Can we let common sense prevail? Gun owners are already protected by the constitution. 

Something as simple as banning assault weapons would have had a significant impact on the death toll in the Ohio shootings, where the shooter was able to kill 9 people and injure 27 others in less than a minute. He fired at least 41 times before six officers responded and killed him. And in El Paso, police responded within six minutes, by then the gunman had fled, leaving 22 people dead. The police have been able to respond very quickly and effectively to many mass shootings (the glaring exception being Parkland), but assault weapons are faster, than, well “a speeding bullet.”

There is an inconvenient truth here, the 10-year ban on assault weapons which ended in 2004 had no impact on the number of gun-related deaths.  This is because there are so many gun related deaths each year and only a tiny fraction of gun deaths are the result of mass killings.

But what if a ban on assault weapons saved the life of one innocent victim, as it would have in Ohio or Texas or Sandy Hook or the nightclub shooting in Florida…would it be worth it?  

Now back to my chicken coop analogy, the good news is that we are not chickens.  We can sign petitions; we can notify our representatives and we can write checks and keep up the pressure in the hopes that someday our lawmakers listen to the voice of the majority. 

We can find where that black snake is hiding.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Focus On Talbot: Big News At County Council by Dan Watson

Credit where credit is due: The Talbot County Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to grant citizens an opportunity to speak at every Council Meeting. This is a major development, signaling a new willingness to hear in open session from the local residents about whatever is on their minds.

While Council Members expounded in turn on the merits of this idea, the proposal apparently originated, according to one member, from Keasha Haythe, who noted the need for such engagement and contacted Corey Pack to suggest it be implemented. Mr. Pack brought the idea forward. (Ms. Haythe, as you will recall, was a County Council candidate in 2018, finishing just 226 votes out of the running.)

The Council had a staffer survey many other County and municipal governments and learned that every one except Talbot permits citizens to speak up at Council meetings. Accordingly, the Council decided to go with it.

(Ironically, the County Council’s existing Rules of Procedure already states this: “Public Participation: During regular business meetings…a reasonable amount of time will be provided for members of the public to address the Council on pertinent matters.” [Section 1.E] Apparently the Council has ignored that provision for at least 20 years, and a quiescent public went along. Unbeknownst to most citizens, we also have an express right to petition the Council directly at Council meetings. [Section IV.B])

Public participation suddenly being welcomed at Council meetings is great news, and it will be incumbent upon engaged citizens not to abuse that opportunity. As discussed by Council Members on Tuesday night, there are many public and political issues that are totally outside the County’s purview, so there is no purpose bringing up your concerns with the NASA space program. More to the point, it is incumbent on all of us, if feeling a need to speak at all, to be concise, well organized, and to the point.

While procedures have not been finalized, apparently the Council will ask that a sign-up sheet be used. Speakers will be limited to some reasonable time period, perhaps three minutes, although Mr. Pack (and others) made clear that time limits would not be strictly imposed if a cogent presentation were underway. Council members also urged citizens to first take their concerns on specific topics to existing Boards (e.g., Parks and Recreation if the issue concerns a playground) rather than starting at the Council level. The Council also urged that any written materials be submitted to Council members in advance of someone speaking, just to make such exchanges more productive.

Another important development occurred on Tuesday evening, when all five Council members spoke at some length welcoming the upcoming work sessions on Short Term Vacation Rental (“STR”) regulations. The council clearly set forth a broad mandate that the STR Board listen to the public and “let’s get it right” on all issues of concern. Two public work sessions are being held by the STR Board at the Wye Room of the Community Center on Route 50, the first on Thursday August 22 at 1:00 PM and the second on Thursday August 29 at 6:00 PM. The Board requests that written comments to be submitted prior to the work sessions.

Finally on Tuesday night the Council voted to release immediately the ten emails and eight text messages they have been withholding from the public since February under a claim of executive privilege, the theory being that their release was contrary to the public interest. The vote, taken in open session, was 4-0 with Mr. Pack abstaining.

Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years. 

The American Dream by Jamie Kirkpatrick

If you’re old enough to remember The Beverly Hillbillies, you’re probably old enough to forget them, too. But in case you either too young to know what I’m talking about or you need a quick refresher, The Beverly Hillbillies was a 60s television show about the Clampett family, Ozark hillbillies who struck oil and are now living the high life in California. According to the show’s theme song which has been inexplicably stuck in my head for more than a week now, Jed Clampett, the widowed family patriarch, “was a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed,” until (so the song continues) “one day he was out shootin’ for some food when up from the ground came a bubblin’ crude. Black gold. Texas tea.”

That lousy shot makes Jed a millionaire and so he packs up three generations of his wacky extended family and moves them all to Beverly Hills. (“Swimming pools. Movie stars.”) It is the quintessential American Dream story—except that it isn’t. The American Dream, our national ethos, is the idealized notion that anyone’s highest goals and aspirations can be achieved if he/she just works hard enough. The problem is that in Jed’s case, it wasn’t hard work that got him and his kin to posh Beverly Hills; it was dumb luck. He missed the squirrel but hit the jackpot.

Today, the American Dream is a bit trickier to conceptualize, let alone achieve. It conjures up images of migrant families from Central America, refugees from the Middle East and Central Asia, apparently even people from Baltimore. The 99% clawing their long, slow way up toward the 1%. Pretty long odds, if you ask me. Maybe even unreachable, as far away from fulfillment as Don Quixote’s unreachable star.

It was James Truslow Adams who first introduced us to the notion of an American Dream in his 1931 book, “The Epic of America.” In it, Adams wrote about “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Adams knew of what he wrote. His paternal grandfather had deep Virginia roots, but his father had been born in Caracas, Venezuela. (His paternal grandmother was of Basque descent.) If ancestry.com had existed back in Adams’ day, it would surely have shown his DNA to be a bit of this and that—like most of us. But unlike many of us, Adams was lucky. He came from families of considerable means so his road to Dreamland was paved if not with gold, then at least with some pretty smooth macadam. So smooth, in fact, that it took Adams to a Pulitzer Prize in 1921—pretty impressive for a Venezuelan-born historian and freelance writer.

Adams believed the engine of the American Dream was education: from vocational training to the liberal arts and the classics and everything in between. Education was the quintessential American antidote to the rigidity of the European class-based model. To Adams, a willingness to work hard and to acquire knowledge could equip anyone with wings to rise and to be sure, we can still see instances of that today. But we also see something else: people struggling, falling behind, people for whom the dream is fading, even becoming a nightmare.

I wonder what Mr. Adams would think of today’s version of the American Dream. How would he accommodate all those seeking asylum at the border, all those tired, poor souls yearning to breath free who are wading the Rio Grande instead of sailing into New York harbor? Mr. Adams died in 1949—more than a decade before the Clampetts moved to Beverly Hills or, for that matter, before the Jeffersons (another TV family) started moving on up from Queens to Manhattan. Would he be inclusive and share his American Dream with them, too? Or would his American Dream be exclusive—whiter, angrier, more prone to violence?

What about yours?

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” was released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Out and About (Sort of): Appreciated by Howard Freedlander

I paid my respects Saturday morning to a person who’s very much alive. His business, however, is closing Thursday, Aug. 15 for reasons beyond his control.

For the first time, we spoke as friends. We conducted no business. We both sat down on worn furniture. He sat back flashing his wonderful smile as he discussed his tenure as the face for 20 years of the go-to shoe repair business in Easton. His customers came from far and wide, I suspect.

Of course, I’m talking about Leroy Potter, who has worked nearly 55 years at Caldwell Shoe Repair, located since the 1960s in a small brick building at 15 N. West Street in Easton. His craftsmanship, his welcoming demeanor and promptness were all high-caliber. Potter has managed the shop since 1999.

The shop opened in 1935, operated by Charles Caldwell and his brother Stanley. Charlene Caldwell DeShields, Charles’ daughter, took over ownership after her father and uncle died in the late 1990s.

The shop always seemed shop-worn. Shoes and purses lay everywhere. The machinery looked old and dirty, sodden with coagulated glue. Yet, Potter would quickly find one’s shoes with little or no effort. He never seemed hurried or harassed. Your shoes were always ready when he said they would be, and flawlessly repaired.

Potter recently retired after 44 years with the Talbot County Public School System, 30 as head custodian at Easton Elementary School. I believe he spent part of his career at Easton Middle School, which my daughters attended. Unfailingly he would ask about my oldest daughter, who somehow grabbed his attention. He remembered her name.

I was not alone Saturday morning as I sat with Potter. One gentleman arrived full of bonhomie, obviously as fond as I of the smiling, reserved cobbler. He too wondered what life would be like without Leroy’s reliable skill and professional approach. This man, unknown to me, and I were tripping over each in praise of a man and special small business in a non-descript building.

Potter said he had been the beneficiary of similar visits from long-satisfied customers ever since the local media announced the closing.

He told me a story about a woman who lives in England and would bring her shoes—and a gift—every Christmas to the shop. As it turns out, I know this woman, who was raised here. She, like this writer, enjoys acquiring shoes and then taking care of them.  

Potter mentioned maybe continuing as a cobbler on his own. The business is looking for a smaller space, according to a Star Democrat article. I encouraged that possibility. My guess is that he would have a steady, loyal stream of business. I would happily join those who like to deal with Leroy Potter.

Perhaps it’s my age and outlook, but I bemoan the loss of community assets, be it Caldwell Shoe Repair or the News Center, which closed last summer, or the Ben Franklin Crafts store. While small business sell products and services, they also generate emotional connections. The space and employees become part of our lives and memories.

Godspeed, Leroy Potter.

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

The Invasion Of The K-Cups by George Merrill

It was a casual remark. It changed my thinking. It changed my life.

Last Thanksgiving our family were all seated at the dinner table. Leighton, my very bright teen aged granddaughter, and I both like coffee. We were talking that day about different brands and how we make coffee in the morning.

I said that I had a Keurig coffeemaker that makes one cup. It sits in my studio. Every morning after I’ve had my first up of half and half during breakfast, I go over to my studio to write. I make a second cup there with the Kuerig – industrial strength, seriously caffeinated. Sometimes, when I have a need to become wired, I’ll have second cup.

She began to tell us what she’d learned in school when they studied environmental issues.

They learned that the K-Cups, which have grown so popular by making coffee so simple and convenient to brew – not to mention the easy disposal of the grounds – are not breaking down in landfills. Their numbers are exponentially increasing with no end in sight.

I felt a chill as I listened.

The K-Cup has a peculiar combination of elements; plastic, aluminum, and organic material (coffee grounds). and a paper filter. Separately the elements might break down over time. A complete K-Cup when discarded will not. Leighton told us, “The amount of K-Cups that have been trashed in landfills could wrap around the planet 10 times.”

Convenience may be what’s killing us. So many of the manufactured products that make our lives pleasant and easy, as we’re learning, “do not go gentle into that good night.” They resist decomposition long after we’ve tossed them out, and I’d add, long after we die. They last a million years in some cases. To our credit, human beings are more considerate in that regard. We decay decently and what’s most important, in a timely manner; in most cases, eight to ten years. After we’ve been tossed away we will totally decompose except for bones. They can last hundreds of years. Not to worry; they never pose any environmental degradation and if they are old enough, may tell us a lot about some of the weird habits in which our ancient ancestors indulged.

Leighton’s comment stuck with me; it nagged me, actually. It was making me very uneasy. Nevertheless, every morning I’d still go to my studio, pop a K- Cup into the Keurig and in minutes I’d have a hot cup of coffee. Day after day, I’d continue the routine, but with this difference; I grew increasingly conscious of the small wastepaper basket near where the Keurig unit sits. That’s where I throw the used cups after I’ve made coffee from the Kuerig. But when I’d look down into the basket I’d see a week’s worth of discarded K-Cups. Like the quick and uncontrolled growth of cancer cells, their escalating numbers scared me.

How powerful convenience, familiarity and ease can be in perpetuating our own destructive behavior. Habits can be addictive. How we are saved from these addictions may take a long time.

I had my first experience with this disturbing pattern of addiction when I quit smoking thirty years ago. I’d been smoking since I was twelve and I did, indeed, inhale a half a pack or more of unfiltered camels a day. Like the incident with the Keurig, when I was made aware of how profoundly destructive I was being, it didn’t change my behavior. The seductions of the things that bring comfort and convenience to our lives ‘do not go gentle.”

Long before I finally quit smoking I was serving a parish in New York City. The rector and I both smoked. He liked using cigarette holders, the kind which we’d often seen FDR using. I thought they were neat and began using one. Their filters have to be changed periodically. One day as I took the filter from the holder, the most hideous yellow slime oozed down all over my fingers. I thought “Mother of God, all this slime goes into my lungs?” In the crazy way we deny in order to perpetuate the nutty stuff we do, I stopped – not smoking, mind you, but stopped using the holder. That way I wouldn’t have to look at the pus-like substance entering my lungs with every puff. I continued to smoke.

I quit 24 years later.

I have to say there was no drama in my final quitting. I’d tried many times before. It came to me one day in what I can only describe as a still small voice that whispered in my ear: “I want to live.” I just quit. I have to say that even to this day I still miss it.

My deliverance from the scourge of the K-Cups followed a similar pattern, but it didn’t take as long.

Leighton told me about the environmental dangers of K-Cups last Thanksgiving. For the following eight months, I dodged and ducked the truths my conscience threw at me as I brewed my coffee. That was until just a day ago.

I know this will sound just as crazy as the cigarette business, but I was fully aware when I initially got the Keurig that there was a reusable K-Cup alternative. It’s a small basket that could be hand filled with coffee enough for a cup and be used identically as K-Cups could. This would leave no environmental impact. The down side of course was that it was not convenient; I had to get the coffee, spoon it out into the tiny paper basket in the receptacle, then insert it where I’d normally just pop in the K-Cup.

And so, the other day I had my first cup of seriously caffeinated coffee by a means safer for me and the world but infinitely more inconvenient.

And so, when on the second day I made coffee, again in the Keurig, but this time by the alternative method, I felt elated, freed. When I’d look down to the wastebasket where there had once been piles of K-Cups, I didn’t see one single discarded K-Cup. In the thousand steps I hoped I might take to save the world, I’d made one first step for mankind.
First, something had to make me aware. In this case it was learning what Leighton knew from school. That stuck. It nagged at me for a long time.

Being aware is one thing. I suspect that awareness begins, but is rarely heeded at first because of the inconveniences and discomforts that acting on the awareness may impose.

There are informed people and prominent scientific agencies telling us daily that environmental degradations are now blatantly obvious and have reached crisis proportions both on the land, sea and in the air. Action is desperately needed.

I believe we are at that stage today with this issue as I was when I first noticed how my cigarette holder’s filter was full of yellow slime and my wastebasket was always filled with discarded K-Cups. It repulsed me, but not enough to act.

I pray we will take the evidence, heed the sane voices sooner. It’s really a matter of life and death.

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.

Spy Diner Report: 98 Cannon Could be a Jewel

The name, 98 Cannon / Riverfront Grille, conveniently provides the street address in Chestertown, Maryland, but it understates just how delightful this fully renovated restaurant environment has now become sitting on the Chester River.
While the new dining establishment is still working out a few startup hiccups, this combination of food, wine, and the Chester River are starting to come together nicely with a dramatic and modern look for Kent County dining.
The entrance is new and attractive.
Inside, a bright and open interior leads onto a large deck for dining.
The bar is large and a noticeable juicer suggested fresh squeezed lime juice margaritas would not (and, they did not) disappoint!
However, if beer is your thing, it appears there are 12 on tap to select from.
After enjoying a drink and visit at the bar with the friendly staff, dinner on the deck was a delightful experience. Seafood dishes attracted most of our group of diners all of whom enjoyed their selections. However, the special offering of the evening from the skillful chef came in the form of two small filet mignon steaks over mashed potatoes with mushrooms, and it was exquisite.
The homemade dessert selection tempted most of us. Each person raved about their selection. The key lime pie as well as the apple crisp with a giant scoop of ice cream were each stunning.
Whether one arrives by boat (the best way to get there so you can stay the night) or by car, riverfront dining at 98 Cannon in Chestertown is looking like a very promising new addition on the Chester Waterfront.
For more on 98 Cannon please go here:

Spy Review: Emmons, Harvey, and Turrell by Steve Parks

The opening-night reception, drawing more people than you’ll encounter at other times in the Academy Art Museum galleries, was no occasion to absorb—much less appreciate—the content of the major new exhibition, Amze Emmons’ “Pattern Drift,” or figure out what the artist is trying to say.

AMZE EMMONS, Background Frequency, 2010, Screen print

I struggled to glimpse the wall labels, denoting the title of each seemingly inscrutable image amid people balancing canapes and plastic cups of wine. I gave up, knowing I’d return Monday morning to see each of Emmons’ 100-plus pieces in splendid isolation—briefly interrupted by dismissal of a kids’ class upstairs at the museum. Later, Emmons prepared for his three-day artist-in-residence workshop.

The problem with “Pattern Drift” is that there’s way more than meets the eye. Which may not be that unusual in a visual art exhibition—yes, we who appreciate art beyond pretty pictures get that—but Emmons’ architecturally based prints, drawings and cartoon inclinations are almost infuriatingly barren. To view them is to imagine a world left behind, structurally intact but devoid of human life after—what?—a nerve-gas holocaust? (A dog, the only figure I spotted in the show, reminded me of the nuclear-disaster classic “On the Beach.”)

For instance, there are no closing hours at major airports around the globe these days. Yet, if you take in “Pattern Drift” chronologically, clockwise from the first gallery to the left upon entering the museum, you’ll encounter a few takes on “Personal Baggage,” depicting luggage-claim architecture devoid both of landing passengers and arriving suitcases. I found those images sterile. But as I made my way around the “Modern Traveler” iconography of everyday life, from “Urban Lift,” an elevator interior, to “Insinuated Economy,” a plastic-poles and vinyl-ribbon maze to the head of the line, I started to get it. 

In the opposite gallery, orange traffic cones and concrete traffic barriers become a recurring theme. “Monument Parade” strings together a non-navigable array of cones strung together by yellow crime-scene tape. But the most currently relevant images are under the rubric of “The Great Machine”: Three abandoned voting stations, devoid of voters, are scattered amid trash and a “VOTE HERE” sign. In “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” two plastic chairs are set before a tangle of concertina wire. 

The less-satisfying final galleries at the rear of the museum are highlighted by a cartoonish depiction of an ice chest, like those found outside liquor stores or gas stations, opposite a table of perishables in need of refrigeration, and “Breakfast,” a food truck piled high enough to include a mid rise domicile.

Whether “Pattern Drift,” an architecturally driven show, is satisfying artistically is in the eye of the viewer. But, together with its teasingly enigmatic titles, this singularly focused exhibition attempts, if not altogether succeeds, in eliciting thoughtful engagement. Just take your time to process.

HEATHER HARVEY

Borrowing a Celtic term for her first exhibition in Easton, where she collects discarded material and turns it into art at her studio, Heather Harvey combines scientific curiosity with found

“All the Tomorrows” by Heather Harvey

objects to create installations that express her vision of “The Thin Place.” Not that I’ve encountered such a place, but it’s said to be a permeable divide between living and dead, heaven and earth, commonplace and out of this world. Three installations and a dozen watercolors explore this theme through very different means and skill sets. You wouldn’t guess the installations and paintings are by the same artist. 

Two poster-sized paintings greet the viewer who takes the stairs to Academy’s second-floor gallery space. But these cheerful abstracts don’t prepare you for the turmoil a few steps ahead. “Up,” a 2019 installation—all works in this show were created this year—suspends large pieces of plastic, metal and wood debris as if caught in a stop-action tornado. Similarly, “All the Tomorrows,” a collage of mostly identifiable objects—measuring tape, ribbons, plastic and cardboard packing material as well as broken eyeglasses and a child’s sandal—appear to be streaming in a ferocious wind temporarily holding its breath. Somewhat more subdued, “Order of Things,” projects pure disorder in its amalgam of crumbling plaster on twisted wire, tinsel from a bygone Christmas tree and a collapsed smiling-sun balloon. Each piece suggests chaos, a maelstrom of that which once was, now ripped asunder. 

Harvey’s paintings, by contrast, radiate a geometric sense of order. “Belonging” brings to mind celestial objects clumped together against a field of vectors, while “Joy” evokes orbiting spheres in a bright peach-and-lime universe. “Nothingness Shows Through” begs the question: Is this the Big Bang or is that dark center a black hole? By contrast, “Hobe Sound, 1-17-19 [for Mary Oliver],” is far more personal, denoting the place and time of death of a poet friend of Harvey’s while reflecting both gloom over loss and celebration of a life fully lived.

Will you know, after viewing this show, what a “thin place” is? I can’t say, but it’s a phat place to visit.

JAMES TURRELL

James Turrell, Mapping Spaces 2, 1987, Aquatint, photoetching, soft-ground etching and drypoint in colors, AAM 2018.14

“Mapping Places” is not quite an exhibit. Rather, it’s five new acquisitions added to the Academy Art Museum’s permanent collection showcased in its lobby. For a half century, James Turrell has worked with light and space as he says, “to create an experience of wordless thought, to make the quality and sensation of light itself something really quite tactile.” 

These five pieces were created by Turrell in 1987 as a print reference to portions of an unprecedented artwork being created within the volcanic Roden Crater in Arizona’s Painted Desert. Enumerated 1 through 5, each “mapping space” offers the artist’s take on human visual and psychological perception. One evokes an image we’ve all seen: Moonlight, perhaps, reflected on a dark body of water.  Another projects a mapping device over what appears to be a wood-grain plain. Or is it a desert seen from the sky? Another is a photo of the Roden Crater itself with what appears to be beacon of light at its core. 

All are worthy additions to the Academy’s collection. But none can possibly hold a candle, so to speak, to the actual Roden Crater project, the culmination of a lifetime of work in the field of light as perception. Maybe that could one day be an ambitious Academy-sponsored road trip.

 

Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and critic now living in Easton.

AMZE EMMONS: “Pattern Drift”
HEATHER HARVEY: “The Thin Line”
JAMES TURRELL: “Mapping Spaces”
Through Sept. 30, Academy Art Museum, 106 South St., Easton (soon to have new Harrison Street entrance); academyartmuseum.org, 410-822-4787

 

 

 

Sad Times for Perennial Gardeners

I am a gardener, so I know suffering.

I am not sure who said, “nature abhors a garden” (it has been attributed to author Michael Pollan). I don’t know about that, but I do know that “nature abhors MY garden.”

By midsummer, I wonder if I should put my suffering plants out of their misery. The hot, humid summer has reduced my hydrangeas to wilted leaves, dried flower heads and rust spots.  

My lawn has dried up, some annuals have browned and even one rosebush died.  I don’t blame them, I wouldn’t want to stay out in this heat either.

Even the blackbirds have tired of taunting me and headed to more productive farmland.

It is just me and my spent flower heads, tired bushes, wilting hydrangea, dried up daylilies, brown loosestrife, slug-eaten hosta, suffering annuals, powdery mildew-stained coreopsis and other unhappy plants. 

My underground sprinkler system couldn’t keep up while I was away on vacation and some of my thirsty plants, like astilbe, just dried up.

My pots are annoyed as well, the caladiums, used to Florida weather, appear to believe that this climate is worse.

To be fair, some plants are doing well, crab grass, wild violets, wild grape and other weeds appear to be thriving.

Autumn gardeners may be enjoying the grasses, sedum, mums, and asters.  But my garden lacks the sun and space necessary for those plants.

So being a gardener, I know that I must continue to suffer. I go out in the early morning, dutifully weeding, watering, snipping off dead flower heads, removing dead leaves and pretending that my garden will recover.  

No, we gardeners cannot give up.  

After all, there is always next spring.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

 

Focus on Talbot:  Email From My Brother

Earlier this week I received this email from my brother who lives in Nashville.  I’m sure it’s as relevant in the Talbot community as anywhere else in the country.  Maybe it will help you, or help you help someone you love.

________________

Dear Sibs,

I would like to share with you my long history with Chronic Depressive Disorder, hoping it might help initiate meaningful and open dialogue within our extended family.  

Genetics is an important component of this disease.  Out of our combined 21 grand kids and 1 great grandchild, the odds are that as many as 4 or 5 may suffer from its effects.  Also, this generation may be more at risk because of the cruelty of social media, the never-ending images of mass shootings and threats from climate change.  It is a serious disorder that is hard to measure, understand and treat.   Like other serious diseases (i.e., diabetes, epilepsy, high blood pressure, etc.) it is treatable with medication and therapies.   

 “Disease” is a good term because if I go 1 or 2 weeks without my medication my thoughts slowly and automatically become highly self-critical, negative, ruminating and distorted.  These thoughts provoke strong physical responses (i.e., nausea, dry heaves, fatigue, nervousness, sleeplessness, exhaustion, irritability and regrettable anger).  Not to simplify it, but having these physical responses validates the truthfulness and accuracy of the distorted thoughts, therefore making them true.  The prolonged rumination of distorted thoughts and physical responses lead to more self-critical thoughts and worse physical reactions.  This perpetual vicious cycle can be so painful that one simply wants to die – literally.  

I never attempted suicide, but did spend a lot of time during my major episodes thinking and planning it out.  When you’re depressed, ideation (thinking of suicide) feels kind of good.  It’s an escape into a fantasy that seems like a reasonable and understandable solution.   It is extremely dangerous because there’s a fine line between reality and fantasy in a depressed state.   Suicide in all age groups has increased significantly in recent years and is now epidemic.

I unquestionably felt for decades that depression was a personal weakness, a character flaw and a negative trait that needed to be hidden.  This belief was engrained in my early childhood and adolescent psyche by the culture of the 1950’s and 60’s.  In many American families raised at that time, stoicism was not only a virtue but an essential quality for a guy.

I tried to hide my depressive disorder my whole life.  I just recently told my daughters (now 35 and 37) about the details.  Perhaps this disclosure will help others to open up sooner and feel less alone.

Here is my history with depression from the inside out:

My first severe depressive episode came when I was 19 and a sophomore in college.  It was 1970 and I didn’t know what I was experiencing and neither did anyone else.   I was spinning down into a very dark place.  There were little or no mental health options to turn to in those days, even if you knew what was bothering you.  My friends and family were agitated and perplexed by my moodiness.  In response I began to develop some life-long avoidant personality tactics, like spending hundreds of hours alone learning to play the guitar.  Solitude became safer and more comfortable for me.  It still is.

I remember Dad driving me back to College Park demanding that I better “snap out of feeling sorry for myself or else”.  I took the “or else” as the stoppage of him paying for tuition, room and board.  I would have to drop out, lose my deferment, get drafted and go to Viet Nam.  My draft lottery # was 20.  I tried to snap out of it. 

The effects from this episode lasted another 2 or 3 years, but I did “pull myself up by my own boot straps”.  I recovered without any interventions and made it through PT school.  

After graduation and a move to Nashville for music, things were going along swimmingly for 6 years. I was working as a PT and playing in a band.  We recorded an album and went on the road for 18 months, including the month of May in Holland! 

However, back in Nashville in the summer of 1980 at age 29, I had my 2nd major episode of “psychotic” depression.  It was even worse than the one I had 10 years earlier.  I was hospitalized for 6 weeks.

Afterwards, I recovered slowly but quickly went back to work.   We started a family and I continued playing music with the band.  Ever since (almost 40 years!) I’ve been on one type of antidepressant or another, along with intermittent psychotherapy.  Depression ebbs and flows with its own underlying current and never completely disappears.  It’s a difficult thing for someone to fully accept.

In the mid to late 1980’s I felt good enough to complete a graduate program in developmental Psychology at Vanderbilt.  In part I was interested in the curriculum because I thought I could find that golden nugget of knowledge that would free me.   I was wrong about that, but did learn more about it.

In 1995 I had a great idea and started a small software business.  With the help of many talented people and investors the company grew over the next 19 years.  It was acquired by a larger software company in 2014.  “All is well that ends well”, many benefited and the American dream lives on.  It was quite an adventure.

However, since depression doesn’t care about that, I relapsed in 2015 at the age of 64 into another major episode.  We managed this time to receive all necessary treatments on an outpatient basis.  This included a combination of genetically targeted medications and psychotherapy.  I’m feeling better these days, but now accept I have a condition that needs continuous management.  

Please don’t think my life is nothing but gloom, despair and agony on me, it is not.  Depression is a disorder that needs to be openly discussed and confronted at an early age.  Feel free to share this email or the attached version with anyone who would be interested or might benefit.

One more important thing – I’m an avid believer in prayer.   I have prayed thousands of times over the years for relief.  Now I think there might be a bigger reason I had to experience it and I hope this email is part of it. 

Love,

G

Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years. 

 

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