A Fit Retirement with Janet Pfeffer: Leone Tillman

Janet is perhaps Talbot County’s most popular exercise instructor of a certain age. With a long-standing following at the Saint Michaels Family Y, Londonderry, and the Oxford Community Center for her classes, she has seen inspiring examples of transformation with her friends and students as they move from a rewarding professional career to a physically fit and purposeful retirement life.

We are happy to report that Janet accepted a Spy proposal to seek out some of these fit and purposeful retirees to share their unique stories over the next year.

Janet continues this series with her friend, Leone Tillman. Leone retired from the State of Maryland’s Department of Corrections after twenty-eight years. As he pondered his retirement, he realized, like many Americans retiring early, that he needed a part time job to make it all work, and found his dream job working a few days a week at the Talbot County Free Library in Easton.

In his conversation with Janet, Leone talks about his career and his fulfilling and fit retirement at the Bullitt House recently.

This video is approximately four minutes in length.


Hope by Angela Rieck

Early spring has it all. The landscape is shaking off its winter doldrums.  Bright green shoots are appearing on seemingly dead shrubbery. The trees cast a light green or red tint, letting us know that large expansive leaves are growing inside of them. The grass has turned a bright green and evergreens are getting their color.  

But what this season offers the most is hope.  This is the going to be the year.

As I fill my bird feeders, I convince myself that this is going to be the year that I get something other than brown birds, black birds or squirrels.  I am not asking for much, just a cardinal or two, or a blue jay or a house finch. I am not even asking for goldfinches or woodpeckers, just some color.  This is going to be the year. I fill my feeders with sunflower seeds, Nyger seeds, mealworms and a sugar solution for my hummingbirds.

This is going to be the year that my gooseneck Loosestrife remains contained, this is going to be the year that my Astilbe blooms like it did in NJ.  This is going to be the year that my nonstop roses really are nonstop.

All around me is hope, the daffodils provide bright yellow color when the sun is hidden by clouds.  Multi-colored tulips stand upright saluting spring. Flowering cherry and pear trees provide soft, puffy, pastel pink and white clouds against the sky. The Red Bud trees send pink-purple branches into the sky. My Helleborus has abundant, bushes of flowers.

Yes, this is the year, we’ll get rain at just the right time, the coffee grounds will work and I will have blue Hydrangeas.  The crab grass will refuse to germinate.

I can feel the hope and promise in the cool air as I happily weed, fertilize, remove debris and mulch my garden.

Suddenly, I hear the unmistakable caw-caw sounds overhead, I look up to see blackbirds circling my yard.  

I go inside.  I am not ready to give up on hope just yet.

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: A Picture of Talbot Today by Dan Watson

Here goes a snapshot of Talbot County, Maryland, and we’re all in it somewhere—so look up and smile!

In the very first “Focus on Talbot” piece a month ago, I expressed the hope that these observations on our community will weave together, not just to describe where we are and what’s going on today, but to spotlight the unique (but squanderable) attributes of Talbot County that can deliver a bright and prosperous future for us and our kids—both financially and as a really great place to live. It need not be “either/or.” It really can be “both/and.”

The point of today’s column is to set up a framework for discourse to follow, a useful way of looking at Talbot County, past, present and future.

Talbot County is made up of (1) a “Rural Environment”, (2) a “Built Environment,” and (3) “the Water.” Roughly 25 miles long and 25 wide, Talbot’s shape is actually a bit weird due to our peninsulas; the implications of that will be a column in itself. Talbot’s topography seems flat, but not quite…and that has implications. And, to our detriment, the “edges” between these different segments of our County are often pretty fuzzy—yet another point of discussion.

Note that there is no “natural environment;” one hears the term occasionally, but I’m pretty sure there is not a single acre of land (or probably water bottom) in all of Talbot County that in the 350 years since settlement has not at one time or another been cut, graded, cleared, planted, dredged or otherwise modified by the hand of man. One can argue the notion that we ourselves are products of nature, and so indeed all that we’ve wrought is “natural”…but I’ll leave that argument to others.

Talbot’s “Built Environment” centers on our 5 incorporated towns: Easton, St. Michaels, Oxford, Trappe, and…can you name the fifth? Our handiwork makes up the towns, but goes far beyond as well: residences, shopping centers, parking lots and service roads, utility boxes and power lines, historic churches and cultural centers, subdivisions, fast food shops, abandoned motels, brand new schools, historic villages, and all that signage.

The “Rural Environment” in Talbot is also man-made—lovely farm fields sculpted and leveled and drained over the decades (centuries, really)—not for our aesthetic benefit, but driven by the rational considerations of the agriculture business. Roughly 100,000 acres are being farmed, almost 60% of our land area, and another 40,000 acres is in forestland (over 20% of land area, all per MD Dept of Planning, 2010). The tree lines you see are often hiding the natural drainage streams that feed our creeks and rivers. And there are plenty of ancillary structures in our rural landscape, most integral to the farm scene (e.g., industrial storage silos), some less clearly so, like a field of solar panels. And most all of this tied together by a web of narrow country roadways, maintained by the County.

“The Water” comprises 44% of Talbot County! One might assume at least that part of our County has never changed. Wrong. The scenic view from the shoreline, that great sunset, is as pretty as ever. And the configuration of our waterways has remained the same over the centuries (though old maps reveal subtle alterations even there). But the water quality and the flora and fauna of the rivers have eroded dramatically since settlement, since the boom of oystering in the 1880’s, since the age of market hunting for waterfowl, since the invention of the power dredge and the trotline and the hydraulic clam dredge, since the introduction of (still-imperfect!) wastewater treatment systems in the 1920s, and the more recent realization that stormwater flows from both urban zones and ag fields adversely impact local waters. It’s super complicated, affecting most directly the watermen trying hard to sustain a traditional way of life, but in fact impacting every citizen of Talbot.

So there it is: The Rural Environment. The Built Environment. The Water. A framework for a longer, deeper discussion and understanding of this special place. Stay tuned.

Note: The fifth incorporated town–population 94 in Talbot–is Queen Anne, Metropolis of the Tuckahoe! Curiously, part of Queen Anne sits within the County to our north.

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. 

Piazza Navona by Jamie Kirkpatrick

Long before Dan Brown made it a crime scene in one of his grisly thrillers, I had come to the conclusion that the Piazza Navona in Rome was a very “thin place.” In fact, I had even gone so far in my young (mind you, this was fifty years ago!) brain to think it was the really the center of the known universe, so perfect was it in concept, design, symmetry, and aesthetic harmony that everything else in the world must revolve around its sublime axis. Even now, all these years later, I think maybe I was privy to some cosmic secret.

I was lucky. I stumbled on the Piazza Navona one summer day having wandered through a warren of streets in a workingman’s neighborhood in Rome. Suddenly, in early morning light, the space just seemed to magically appear out of thin air. It was still a quiet time of day: no streams of gawking tourists, no caricature artists, just a pair of blue-habited nuns walking out of the old convent that used to overlook the square. I sat down to take it all in—the play of light and water and granite—lost in that ephemeral suspended moment of time that is the hallmark of a truly thin place.

Today’s piazza is an ancient place. Built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian in the first Century AD, it follows the oblong form of an open arena where ancient Romans used to congregate to watch games. It was officially designated a public space in the 15th Century. Today, art historians acknowledge the piazza as a superb example of Baroque Roman architecture, but I’m sticking with my own new-age designation: it’s a superbly thin place.

If God is in the details, then the Piazza Navona must surely be a part of heaven. In the center, the Fountain of Four Rivers (the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges, Asia, and the Rio de la Plata, the Americas) dominates the space. Designed by Lorenzo Bernini in 1651, the fountain adds a rather base human emotion to an otherwise divine vision. One of its stone gods faces the church of Sant’Agnese, designed and built by Francesco Borromini, a contemporary and rival of Signor Bernini. Apparently Signor Bernini didn’t think much of Borromini’s architectural acumen because the god of Bernini’s fountain has his hand raised in a cowering gesture as though one of Borromini’s Adam-and-Eve towers is about to topple over on his stone head. Today, that demeaning message would probably be delivered in a tweet.

There are two other fountains in the Piazza. The Fontana del Moro (the Moorish Fountain) is located at the southern end of the Piazza while the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune’s Fountain) provides balance at the northern end. On a hot summer day, the splash and spray of the three fountains add a refreshing note to the cobblestones of the Piazza and the graceful facades of the surrounding buildings.

Be that as it may, it’s the life around and within the Piazza Navona that gives it a beating heart. There are bars and cafés, gelateria, ristoranti; people eating, drinking, talking, laughing, gesturing—after all, this is Italy. And yet, for all the buzz of the place (especially on a warm summer evening), there is a pervading sense of serenity and heavenly peace hovering over all the earthly activity in the Piazza. Even the jealousy and rivalry of some of the hands that created certain elements of the space seem to join in celebration of the gift they bequeathed to us. They must have had God whispering in their ears.

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): Loss and Resurrection by Howard Freedlander

In a seven-day period ending the past Sunday, two people whom I liked and respected died and, then, another person came back from domestic strife and serious injury to reclaim the spotlight as one of the world’s currently superior golfers.

Funny how life brings sorrow and redemption in a never-ending cycle.

Though perhaps unknown to many who pay little or no attention to state politics, Delegate Mike Busch, longtime speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, died on Sunday, April 7 of pneumonia after struggling the past few years with serious health problems. He was a good and decent person. He ennobled public service.

Once an excellent football player in college and high school, he played the game of politics to win as the Democratic leader in the House. Based on comments by Republican legislators, he also played fairly. He always knew there was another day; alliances often shift in political combat.

A friend in the legislature wrote in response to my expression of sadness, “Without question, he was one of a kind, masterful and the finest of the finest. Personally, he has been a friend for many, many years, and it pained me to see him diminish during the Session, but I also understand he was in it for the long haul.”

I recall when I was serving as a deputy treasurer for the State of Maryland, he appeared in my office while hoping to see Treasurer Nancy Kopp. He sat down and started talking about sports, one of his favorite subjects. My sport was lacrosse; his was football. We played at schools in Philadelphia, he at Temple and I at the University of Pennsylvania. Our chat was easy and effortless.

I suspect that I experienced Mike Busch’s style; friendly and down-to-earth. He was immensely likable and very effective. Delegates referred to him as “coach” for his ability to bring consensus to a sometimes disruptive Democratic caucus.

Another quality person and longtime friend, Dr. Bob Blatchley, an Easton psychologist, died last week of Parkinson’s disease. With his wife, Virginia, he developed a practice devoted to families. I hazard to say that Bob and Virginia provided professional counseling support to many who remain appreciative.

As it turned out, Bob was raised not very far from me in northwest Baltimore. We attended rival high schools. We developed a friendship in Easton and belonged to the same club. I sadly watched as he dealt with a debilitating disease.

And just this past Sunday, I joined millions of viewers to watch as Tiger Woods battled from behind to win his fifth Masters at the renowned Augusta National Golf Club. He hadn’t won a major tournament in six years and the Masters in 11.

A fan with no expertise, I love to watch golf. I remain wondrous of how professional golfers can control their emotions as putts roll out of holes (cups), and powerfully hit shots land in water and sand traps (bunkers). I’m screaming from my easy chair. Yet they overcome their disappointment as another shot or challenging hole awaits.

The crowd at the luxurious golf club clearly were pulling for what had once been a common occurrence: another dramatic victory by a gifted, tough-minded athlete whose nickname is an immediate identifier worldwide. Tiger overcame a publicized split with his former wife and serious knee, neck and back problems.

Sports provide lessons for life. What I saw at this Masters was a man committed to regain his once magical touch as one of golf’s greatest. His legend of fans stuck with him over the years, hoping that Tiger would overcome difficult professional and personal setbacks. He did just that.

Death is inevitable, leaving in its wake grief over an emotional loss and gratitude for having shared time with the deceased. Resurrection of a career and reputation, through grit and determination, too begs admiration.

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.

Are There Answers? By Al Sikes

Easter week in my faith tradition—Christianity—is rich with questions and necessary introspection.

Jesus Christ is tortured, crucified, and resurrected. Power, the human intoxicant prevailed, at least until “the stone was moved back.” A more intense human drama, swirling around deep religious and temporal cleavages, is hard to imagine. In both human and religious history, there is not a more dramatic context serving up more vital questions.

This week then presents the final chapters: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and then Easter Day. But, allow me to use this drama to ask other than just religious questions. Questions that are both religious (recurring in most faiths) yet, quite human.

Love is the essence of the Judeo-Christian faith. Divine commandments are clearly stated. Yet we know that humanity has a difficult and, for some, impossible relationship with love. Indeed some who disparage faith, in a divine being, use the impossibility of enduring love as proof of hope over reality.

Christianity recognizes the intractable difficulty and assures us that we can ask for and receive forgiveness when our passions or intellect preempt our devotion. Some, noting the apparent ease of forgiveness, suggest we engage in “cheap grace.” Recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, the German theologian who gave up his life challenging Hitler, words: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

I have now strayed into territory that should be left to those who have made faith and its attendant callings their life’s work. Let me instead translate the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves into a single word: empathy.

What would the United States be like if we had more empathetic capitalism, for example? Does empathy toward employees and customers undermine the profitable provision of products and services? Or does “hard market” capitalism eventually undermine free markets?

Much is written about self-love in the context of helicopter parenting, selfies, narcissistic leaders, celebrities and the like. Love or empathy cannot exist without some level of humility. Only by recognizing our own vulnerabilities can we find genuine, empathetic expression for others.
Can empathy exist when it is largely expressed within an affinity circle? Is empathy simply a tool when expressed by politicians? When self-love is both ascendant and ubiquitous is the culture healthy?

Questions beg questions, but attention spans say wrap it up. So, in this most holy of weeks, in my faith tradition, I simply leave you with questions. But, I would submit, that exploring for answers to life’s most important questions is itself a good journey.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Woo Woo by George Merrill

Heard the expression, ‘Woo woo?’

It’s how skeptics describe those of us who can’t credibly be called nut jobs but who nevertheless hold unconventional beliefs that lack common sense or have little or no scientific validation. Those beliefs may include certain spiritual manifestations, having mystical experiences or employing ancient forms of medicine. I’m woo woo.

I am not offended by its flippant implications. There is a difference between being woo woo and being a nut job. Being woo woo, if you ride gently with this condition and don’t get strident or dogmatic, is like surfing; it can lift you up enough to offer you new glimpses of what’s beneath the surface of life’s happenings but still land you on a shore. It can be a wonderful ride. A nut job typically rides the same old again and again and gets furious because he gets nowhere.

Woo woo’s blessings offer the possibility for discovery. The old and familiar can become new and amazing. I have had such experiences in my life. I was a boy then and at first, and dared not tell anyone as they might think I was a nut job. Actually, I thought I was a nut job which is why it took me so many years to claim the experiences as my own; to welcome them as gifts, mystical ones, and to be grateful that I’d been given them.

I’ll briefly describe two.

I’m a native of Staten Island. My family roots go back to the late 1600’s with the arrival of Richard Merrill and Sarah Wells from England. They owned a farm. My family and I used to take late fall walks on the rural parts of the Island. A favorite was on a hill above historic Richmondtown, near St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

One day we went to walk the field. It was fall, cool and clear. The air was brisk with a briny tang as the wind blew in from the Atlantic over Raritan Bay. The golden hay covering the field undulated like a lion’s mane heaving in the wind. In the distance, I could see the spire of St. Andrews.

I was standing near a small stand of trees. I began to sense that the entire scene was getting brighter, the way people often claim they feel before fainting. I felt steady on my feet, clear headed, but I began to see the landscape before me vibrating, as if every blade of hay, tree leaves, their trunks even the sky were all pulsing with auras of energy. It was mesmerizing.

I remained transfixed. It lasted but a minute or two. When the landscape seemed normal again, I did feel (but not understand) as though I may have momentarily seen deeper into what vivifies life itself.

I had neither life experience nor even a vocabulary to give the moment expression. Over the years I recollected it from time to time, wondered its meaning, but could make no sense of it. I had another experience similar – another hilltop moment- when on a high point on the Island overlooking Manhattan and New York Harbor where, for a minute or so, the scene before me seemed to vibrate and pulse with energy, as if the whole world had a heartbeat. The inanimate Manhattan skyline, also shivered with energy.

I was a few years older then, maybe eighteen when that happened. Over the years I began taking such moments seriously as one way of knowing. I had been introduced to Impressionist artists where I noticed how the colors in their paintings had a vibrancy that, too, trembled with inner energy.

Mystical experiences, as I’ve come to understand them, are more likely to occur when we’re younger. I believe this is because as we grow older we construct psychological firewalls to protect us from greater awareness. Awareness can be unsettling. It may leave us out of control.

I never spoke of the experiences to anyone. Maybe they were like the Bible records Mary’s reaction when the angel visits her; she is left wondering what manner of salutation this could be. It was so out of the ordinary. It took me half a lifetime of experience and enough of a vocabulary to even describe for myself what happened. It wasn’t migraines. I knew I had been visited with a fleeting moment of intimacy with whatever it is that constitutes the heart of the universe.

I’ve learned in the meantime that since 1960 science has been investigating the prime building blocks of the universe once assumed to be atoms. Some researchers believe the more fundamental units of all matter are vibrations. A theory has emerged popularly known as the ‘string theory.’ It posits that everything, our bodies included, the planets and the entire natural world is composed of strings that vibrate, and that there is, not only metaphorically, but literally a music of the spheres. These vibrations perform their cosmic symphony, and their combined orchestrations determine how we comprehend what transpires within us, as well as heightening our consciousness of the world around us.

The mystical experiences reported in the great religions can seem bizarre. I imagine them as blips of basic truths, a peek through the keyhole of the universe In reading about scientific discoveries I’ve found liberation from much of the post-modern world’s spiritual vacuity. The wonders of discovery create spiritual adventures; I am seized by what’s amazing and reverberate with the awe of it.

I’ve wondered whether mathematicians and physicists approach God (at least those who are inclined to) more humbly than theologians. Theology gets preoccupied with establishing moral high ground than standing in awe of a stupendous creation. Math equations demonstrate how stunningly intricate we’re fashioned – “wonderfully and fearfully made” a psalmist once wrote – and how breathtaking a universe we live in. As a boy, long before Einstein formulated the equation E=mc2 he dreamed of riding on a light beam. Call it woo woo if you must but look where it led.

I write this with the belief there are many of us who have had experiences of heightened awareness that don’t seem to fit anywhere. The inclination, because they seem goofy, is to dismiss them. I offer the thought that they may be invitations to discover in the commonplace of our everyday world, what’s extraordinary.

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.

Two Friends Talking: Self-Awareness

Welcome back to the Talbot Spy’s most recent effort in using the podcast model as one of our many tools in telling stories. While we welcome our readers to watch these broadcasts, they have been created with listening in mind, without significant editing, and to be enjoyed as a long-form presentation.

And that is undoubtedly the intention here as the Spy starts a new series entitled “Two Friends Talking.” Knowing of the joy, humor, and a good bit of wisdom that comes when two close friends sit over coffee and chat about a serious subject, the Spy was eager to find some way to share the remarkably educational moments that come with that exchange. Beyond the hard talk of local politics or neighborhood chatter, these conversations can unexpectedly drift from the mundane to the intellectually-demanding task of understanding the meaning of words like faith, compassion, death, kindness or forgiveness.

While many nationally-broadcast programs bring well-known personalities together for such dialogues, the Spy wanted to bring this kind of exchange to the local level; respectfully listening to, and learning from, the heart-to-heart talks of those in Talbot County known in the community as being both wise and candidly self-aware.

Two of those that truly fit that bill are Amy Haines (founder and owner of Out of the Fire) and her friend of many years, artist and educator Sue Stockman. And with the Spy’s eternal gratitude, these fearless two have agreed to be part of this experiment.

Once a month, Amy and Sue will randomly select a word out of a large bowl filled with dozens of words that the two agreed in advance on as worthy of a conversation. All of which was to take place one Sunday every month in Amy’s cozy basement.

Beginning each program with the aromatherapeutic benefit of burning a bit of palo santo, Amy and Sue plop down on the sofa with that one word for thirty minutes for thought-provoking, humorous, and sometimes touching moments of reflection.

This month: Self-Awareness.


By the Byways – Crisfield

The southernmost place on the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byways map is Crisfield, Maryland [insert Maryland state Scenic Byways website.  A visit from Easton takes you 87 miles along the Scenic Byway and there are a number of interesting stops along the way. On this day, direct to Crisfield was the plan with a few decades having passed since the last visit.

One is immediately struck by the contrasts. Fast food places with long established seafood diners along the route…no longer the train track, but highway 413 about as straight as the rail. The route ending at the decades-old pier with a skyline that now shows condominiums next to the fresh seafood delivery trucks.


A fascinating history has not made the struggle in the present any easier. However, a determined community offers its visitor a number of enjoyable sites, tours, meals and activities.

Located on Tangier Sound, Crisfield was originally a small fishing village, Annemessex Neck. As Europeans colonized the area, it was renamed Somers Cove. The active fishing village grew and reportedly, in 1804 there were over 100 buildings in the area, making it one of the largest places on the Delmarva Peninsula.  The growth continued as the town became known as Crisfield for the man who decided to bring the Pennsylvania Railroad to the fishing village in 1866. The fishing village grew to become known as the “Seafood Capital of the World.”

Crisfield would grow to about 25,000 people in 1904 making it the second largest city in Maryland after Baltimore. And, seafood from Crisfield was being shipped throughout the country.

Decades later, as the health of the Chesapeake Bay declined, the way of life for the watermen became more difficult. Then, in 1976 the railroad shut down.

Today, with not quite 3,000 residents, Crisfield remains a tourist location and jump off point to Smith Island and Tangier Island. There are seafood restaurants and beautiful camping areas and of course an historic marina. There is even an airstrip for the adventuresome pilots.


TripAdvisor provides interesting options for visitors to consider 

This southernmost point of Chesapeake Country delivers on its promise as scenic, especially when viewed through the lens of its rich history.

Scenes from the Dog Park by Angela Rieck

Dog Parks are the new water coolers.  Yea, it surprised me too. You know the proverbial water cooler where office workers gossip and connect, that has been replaced by dog parks.

After my world imploded, I went to the Key West to hide out and recover, well mostly hide out.  I had been invited to take my dogs to the dog park. I finally summoned the courage to go this year; it took a little while, but eventually I got it.

Key West is a dog town like St Michaels, MD.  It has several dog parks and even a beach for dogs.  Dog owners routinely allow their dogs to run freely along the piers, seeking new furry and non furry friends.  

But the actual dog park has become a kind of social club, a perfect place for introverts or extroverts.  There is no commitment, you can come if you want. Eventually people time their visits to socialize with the same people. Tourists and residents alike come to sit in a circle and catch up on local news and events. People of all ages, all incomes, all races, all orientations, come to the dog park to find acceptance. Even people who don’t own dogs drop by. A homeless man just comes in to pet the dogs.

As a widow, I have met other members of that awful club, we tend to sit together quietly, talking about our lives without judgement or fear, in a mutual understanding of the un-understandable.

It is a place of generosity and connection. I have received kind offers from businesses for discounts, assistance and I have offered the same.  

The sparse research supports my experience. The COLA (Citizens for Off-Leash Areas) organization reports that participants surveyed indicated that they never knew their neighbors before going to the dog park.  Dog parks seem to be most effective when they are within walking distance of the community.

A 2014 study published in Leisure Sciences, an Interdisciplinary Journal affiliated with the Harvard Kennedy School, found that dog parks helped residents build relationships and enhance communities. In particular, they discovered:

  • At dog parks, pets serve as avatars, allowing owners to meet people through their pets.

  • The demographics of park visitors are irrelevant in forming relationships, friendships are formed unrelated to politics, race, gender, age, religion or sexual orientation.

  • Dog parks provide a place for owners to get information about local services as well as referrals related to housing and employment. Some owners have shared resources such as offering to carpool or tutor a child.

  • Some relationships extend outside the park and regulars refer to their park as their “community.”

According to a 2018 poll conducted by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), 91% of Americans believe dog parks provide benefits to the communities they serve.

Maybe there is an opportunity to create something in St Michaels (we have one in Oxford).  St. Michaels is ideal because it is a walkable town and it is a tourist town that is dog friendly. Somehow dog parks bring out the better angels of our nature.

Oh, and the dogs like it too.

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.


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