Time and the River

From The Chestertown Spy, 9/6/2022:

I’m convinced that this is a magical place. This past week, for example, the cumulus clouds that billow and reform every evening capture a pastel light that makes them shimmer and glow. Earlier in the day, fog or mist often sprawls across the river, softening the scene, bypassing time and harmonizing water, air, and shoreline. Mix in a fishing weir, a waterman, and a tall ship and suddenly you’re in a comfortable wrinkle—peaceful, serene, and oh-so-timeless.

I came here more than ten years ago, not even a blink compared to my from-here friends who have lived along this river for generations. But as recent a come-here as I am, I nevertheless feel a deep connection to this place. I’ve heard it said many times over by many different people that upon crossing our little bridge for the first time, they just knew this town, this place, was for them; that they were drawn here by an unseen hand, that it was meant to be. I felt that then and I still feel it a decade later, and I am grateful beyond measure for that.

We’re imperfect; I know that. We’re still struggling with our past, our present, and our future. We’re still learning what matters and what doesn’t. We simultaneously embrace change and resent change. We’re a little trapped in time, like the fish in that weir or the luff in that topsail. We’re moving with the tide and against it. There’s progress and tradition; innovation and stagnation; hope and remorse. But don’t give up: we’ll get it right.

I’ve made good friends here. Although this is hardly the Alaskan wilderness, like John McPhee, I feel as though I’ve come into my own country here. I was content before I arrived here; now I’m happy. That might not seem much of a difference, but it is. Until I crossed the bridge, I never imagined how a place could be such a comfort and such a challenge. Take our historic wooden home, for example. We love it to pieces but it’s a constant work-in-progress; just keeping up is both a duty and a labor of love. 

We’ve seen businesses thrive and fade, restaurants open and close, storefronts come and go. Just across the street from our front porch, there’s a big new renovation under way, complete with roof-top solar panels that will put an old building on a new grid. That kind of mechanical optimism moves us all forward while retaining what is important from our past. It keeps us rooted and growing at the same time.

Two weeks ago in this space, I mused about how both the small towns in which my parents were raised a hundred years ago had reinvented themselves, adapting to new cultural and economic realities. I see that happening here, too. And that’s a good thing. Stasis may bring with it a certain level of comfort, but it’s untenable in the long run. We’re learning as we grow and growing as we learn. I’m proud of that.

Someday, my wife and I hope to be able to add to our historic home, retaining its charm and character but updating it so we can age in place here. We’re not there yet, but it’s not far over the horizon. Meanwhile, like Jerome Kern’s tune, our own ol’ man river just keeps rolling along.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.

Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.net.

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