Watershed moments

Sunday, 13 March 2022

I grew up on the shores and waters of the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed here in Towson. First, it was all about the picnics my family enjoyed in the wooded area just off of Dulaney Valley Road. The site closed when I was in my late teens because of fights and unruly behavior that kept breaking out in what was always a sanctuary for me. Now, it is a parking area for hunters and walkers.

When I got a little older, my father started taking me on long walks in the woods along narrow footpaths that would lead to obscure shores where the fish were supposed to be plentiful. Sometimes they were, especially the bluegills and the crappie. We even caught a bass or two if were were lucky. But that wasn’t what those long walks in the woods were all about; it was about spending time with my dad in those quiet moments, singing little songs to the fishies to jump on the bait so we could reel them in.

Soon, I graduated to being old enough to take a boat out on the water, and we fished some of the hidden fishing holes that were supposed to be secret. Here’s where we caught the odd fish: sometimes a carp, sometimes a northern pickerel, and always a good laugh cracking stupid jokes that no one would ever understand.

As I became more independent, I would often go to Loch Raven with friends to hike, or enjoy the sunset, or just to get away from the world for a few hours. It was still my sanctuary, and we savored those quiet moments together.

Now, as I return to the trails and shores as an older man, now that my children are all nearly grown, and now that I have endured the experiences of loss and hardship, this watershed brings its own watershed moments in my life.

Today, we stopped by to take some photos, and as I meandered through the mucky trails and brittle brambles, I realized that Loch Raven has been there for me in so many turning points of my life. And that’s true for so many others, too. As you walk along the shores, you can’t help but see memorials, or initials etched in trees, or sacred grounds where lives have been lost tragically.

Just a few years ago, I happened upon a car where somebody had died, and as they removed her body from the car, her white hand slipped from their grip, and it offered me – us- a final wave goodbye, a salute to all Loch Raven has provided, perhaps, or a reminder to cherish what we do have – what we have always had – in and around this watershed we drive through nearly every day of our lives.

A watershed, by definition, includes all of the surrounding area around a body of water that captures runoff and contributes to the overall ecosystem that reservoir, or river, or bay, creates.

I can’t help but think that we comprise a watershed area, too, in our friendships, our relationships, our neighbors, our everyone that matters in our lives. If we saw our connections being as vital to our own ecosystems as the watershed area is around Loch Raven, or Chesapeake Bay, or any other body of water, then maybe we would do a better job of taking care of each other.

It’s so easy to neglect that, as it is easy to neglect the land around Loch Raven. But it has been a lifetime sanctuary of memories and experiences to so many, as we have been to each other in our own communities.

Watershedding over watersheds. I appreciate the water a little more today, as I appreciate you a little more, too.

Slow Down: Abandon the Speed of Your Newsfeed

photo: rus vanwestervelt, loch raven reservoir, baltimore, md

photo: rus vanwestervelt, loch raven reservoir, baltimore, md

My newsfeeds on multiple social media sites stream by me at a too-fast rate, pushing news and updates across my screen faster than I can refresh them. Emails await my replies in an overflowing inbox, and text messages are still unanswered from last night.

The world is too much with us…. wrote William Wordsworth in a sonnet he penned 212 years ago. Talk about words standing the test of time.

It is easy to get caught up in the rush of our digital world, isn’t it? With everything screaming by us at speeds that were incomprehensible earlier in our own lifetimes, we find ourselves feeling the need to keep up and match that speed so that we can stay in the flow of this ever-pressing world.

I think otherwise. In fact, I don’t buy it for a nanosecond.

I’m standing here on the banks of Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore, watching the colors of the rising sun sift through a patch of lazy steam making its own ascent from the still waters. There is nothing “fast” about this process. It moves independently, a natural beauty both fluid and brilliant in its display. I am mesmerized by how unfazed it is by my presence. I am a witness to its tranquil unfolding. I am open to all it has to teach me.

I come out here to be reminded of what matters most in my world. At times, like now, I have to remember what I am not, as much as who I am.

I feel my pulse align with my natural surroundings; my muscles relax, and my feet feel rooted in the damp, dewy grasses here at the edge of the waters. This is what life is about; this is what I am about.

A Mindful Intimation

I am not part of a scrolling newsfeed, nor do I need to keep up with one. The speed of my life experience is not dependent upon, or a mirror of, the technology around me. I align myself with the rising mist on local pre-dawn waters. I will not allow the world to be too much with me — at least not the one filled with screaming technology that never rests. I set my pace; I am mindful of my independence and personal solitude. This is my world. This is my existence.


When A Classmate Dies: Gone But Not Forgotten

Gone1Our classmate, Pat Doyle, has died.

I didn’t receive the news from a call on my phone. Instead, I received it via status update, which scrolled across my screen like any other on my birthday as I thumbed through friends’ updates and birthday wishes. Wendy’s words were stuck somewhere between a meme about Mondays and a meteorologist’s mea culpa about his miscall on the latest winter storm.

I regretfully tell all of you that we lost a wonderful friend, Pat Doyle this last weekend.

I was immediately struck with the memory of the call I got in March 12 years ago. Phil was on the other end, shaken, trying to find the words to tell me that our younger friend, Donnon, had just passed away. It was the first experience for many of us in losing a classmate so early in our lives, which were forever changed by his death.

I read Wendy’s words as I had heard Phil’s: the reluctant bearer of bad news shared with a broken heart. It wasn’t hard for me to jump back another 25 years to 1989 when I had to make the phone calls to all of Dad’s friends after he had died. Nobody wants that job. Nobody.

When that announcement is made, though, it cements a certain bond between friends and loved ones; we inherit and share a stark and indefatigable certainty that nothing is guaranteed, our time together is limited, and we will forever be bound by the love and the loss of the passing of our friend.


When I arrived at Pat’s afternoon viewing, I heard the familiar voices flowing from the small Worthington Room just to my left. There they were, assembled together in the mix of tears and laughter, of hugs and shrugs, of generations of loved ones sharing in the grief and shock of Pat’s passing. I walked through the doorway, and it was like I had joined a sacred group of fellow grievers. In this room, despite our differences in age, demography, and even political or spiritual beliefs, we shared a common bond that would forever connect us.

Pat and I weren’t that close. You could say we were always one radio station away from each other. 98 Rock and B104.3 (Means Music!) might have been on different ends of the music spectrum, but they were always just a twist of the dial from each other, as we all are as classmates.

Immediately to my left and sitting on a small padded bench were two friends from Loch Raven. They called my name, and we shook hands, hugged, and shared memories of the good times and the shock of Pat’s passing. Another classmate entered the room, and when we hugged and talked about Pat’s final months, tears welling in our eyes, I realized that we were no longer classmates; we were brothers and sisters, siblings of the class of 1983. We did not stay in touch as often as we should, and we definitely did not see the world through similar eyes. Yet, in this small room in a funeral home wedged between a beltway and a busy intersection of car dealers and the National Guard Armory, classmates who shared math classes with Mr. Dwyer, Drama with Mr. DeVita, and English with the wit and charm of Eddie Marbury, we now shared a different kind of classroom, learning that love and friendship among the people you grew up with are the most important things we hang on to as we get older.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Gone2As I made my way through friends and loved ones to pay my respects and say goodbye to Pat, who lay hidden within the closed coffin at the other end of the room, I stopped to offer Wendy a hug. She kissed me on the cheek and spoke with genuine kindness, a concern for all of us, and a respect for the fragility of life and love. Pat is gone, yes. But in his passing we recognize that we are still here together, and the very least we can do is care for each other as we never have before. We are no different than the signatures scrawled colorfully across the pages of our yearbooks; we carry with us the unique beauty of our individuality. These lines of love, of which Pat is one, will bind us as brothers and sisters, now and forever.

This is what Wendy stirred within me, and I carried that feeling, that bond, as I approached Pat’s casket.

I placed my hand on the curve of the casket’s soft wood and closed my eyes. Pat, our brother, had left us, and it was time to say goodbye.

As I began to whisper my prayers, I felt a surge of energy that was bigger than me, bigger than this coffin or this room. From handshakes to hugs, from tears to prayers, I felt the energy of hundreds of brothers and sisters around me near and far, all remembering the phrase of our 1983 yearbook: Gone But Not Forgotten. Like a slide show, the pictures of Pat that everyone had shared ran through my mind against the soundtrack of muffled words of comfort behind me. Here we were, just like countless others who have faced the passing of a classmate, with the charge to live our lives more closely, more sincerely.

I lowered my head, kissed the soft, warm wood where my hand had been, and offered peace and promise to live and love more genuinely.

It is the least we can do to stay close, to live with a daring charge to remember this fragility of life, and to carry our brothers and sisters tomorrow as we do today.


gone3 pat

The Sweetness of Solitude

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have struggled, lately, to follow Emerson’s advice. I guess I let the world around me — especially the social media world — derail my focus that keeps me centered in solitude while immersed in the big crowd. I had to leave that crowd for a week to regroup, gather some strength, and resurface.

I don’t see anything wrong with that. I think we need to take a walkabout every now and then to find that focus again. It’s easy to be so derailed in the mind-blowing speed of the world that now whips around us.

I am blessed to have a friend who never ceases to provide a balanced dose of wisdom when I need it the most. Last week, as we were doing a ten-mile bike ride on the NCR Trail in northern Baltimore County, I was explaining to Trina why I deactivated my Facebook account.

“I needed to find that balance, Trina. I needed to get back to that core, that center and refocus.”

She didn’t respond immediately, but when she finally spoke, her words nearly made me steer completely off the trail and into the muddy trenches.

“Finding balance is not always a 50-50 thing. You just have to find the right percentages of the different things in your life that create that balance within you.”

Such simple advice, yet so very profound.

I don’t need to remove parts of my life that are causing me stress or concern; I need to evaluate how much I have allowed those things to permeate my every move. Social media is a perfect example. I realized, just in one week, how important my friends are to me online, and how essential those connections are for the work I am doing with Lines of Love, the fight against bullying, and the promotion of peace and living life fully.

Despite my efforts — even in one week — to do that without social media seemed like the worst exercise in futility I could ever attempt.

And so I am back, with my tail tucked a little between my legs, for being so dramatic with my parting. But at that time, I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t find that anchor to pull me out of that frustration, so I gave up and gave in.

This message to me is much bigger than social media, too. I am overwhelmed by the travesties and tragedies on our planet, taking place every single day. Yet, I choose to stay in the game, fighting back with love and faith. I must do the same thing online — have the same understanding that, in the not-so-little world of online social networking, the same travesties and tragedies are happening.

By giving in, by giving up, I am giving them the satisfaction (indirectly so) that they got to me. They pushed me away. And in that, they gained some strength.

I won’t give them that satisfaction. And I hope you won’t either. We cannot run from the hardest challenges we face; we must greet them and defeat them with the same loving kindness that nurtured us when we were newborns.

We must keep with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude as we live in this world, real or virtual (are they even that different anymore?).

And to do that, we need to be together, we need to unite, we need to run into — and not away from — the challenges we face.

All this, and with a happy heart to embrace life fully and with peace toward ourselves as well as toward others.


Reflections On This New Day

As the sun began to rise this morning, and I sat along the banks of the Loch Raven Reservoir taking random photos of the water and the wildlife, I was struck with a thought that I had forgotten long ago.

With the exception of a few runners passing by who were training for an upcoming race, I felt as if every image, every sound was my own. My immersion in the natural world seemed seamless. I let the bright, early rays of the sun find their way in and through me, as well as the sounds of the splish-splash waters, where drops remained suspended in mid-air, caught by the strong winds as several Canadian geese took flight. Then– to feel those very drops of water as that same steady breeze, cool and brisk, blew my way and mixed with the warmth of the sun’s intensity on my skin.

Alive, was all I could think. Alive.

It was in that moment that I remembered that I am not separate from all of this. It is easy for us to think there are two worlds out there: the natural and the man-made. Although it may be true that a clear distinction exists between the two, there is one element of each that is constant: the human being.

Unlike our man-made creations, we as individuals are not separate from the natural world. We are as much a part of it as the rising sun, the startled deer, the daffodils that have all awakened a bit early in these deceptively warm February days. We made the mistake long ago to separate ourselves from the beauty and the spirit of the natural world. On mornings like this, I feel reconnected to the energy we are all provided.

It’s always here, everywhere, for us to access. All we need to do is realize that we have the power and the opportunity to open the door, step outside, and realize that, in this morning, this moment, anything is possible.