Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I first encountered "Smedly" while walking in a long un-used transportation corridor near the Harford/Baltimore County area of Central Maryland. This part of the State was once served by a robust rail system, which to this day, bears obvious, and in some places massive disturbance of landscape and habitat. Throughout the area, 100 foot high earthworks are testament to the needs of a bygone era's desire to make an efficient link through the farmland into the then rural lands reaching toward Baltimore City. These moments of progress continue to this day, as the landscape becomes more urbanized. It is a study in land use and planning, but behind it all, is the fact of this compact and somewhat tortuous landscape carved both by the plentiful streams and the river that flows naturally through the steep gorge that necessitated the railway to span this terrain. This activity occurred around the turn of the century, or a little later, and the histrionics necessary to pull off this feat of engineering must have been a marvel of the times.
But there is a human story that emerges, as well. A whiskey maker by the name of "Smedly" seems to have produced his own brand of the demon alcohol, and the consumption thereof seems to have engendered a sort of backwoods clubhouse created by a number of artifacts, from the signature bottles he used, to his penchant for keeping old rusty rigs. We surmise that a number of his contemporaries holed up in a little known camp on the Gunpowder Falls (on the stretch several miles below the current Pretty Boy Dam). The remains of a Studebaker can be found there, and to this day, many young men, with low standards and a taste for rot-gut, can be heard, on a clear cold night, bent on deviance and destruction. Thus it will ever be, it seems, and we pray that these nee'r-do wells will some day see the light of salvation. But for now, there's howlin' down by the river, and the still is afir'in, and the cold earth suits any and all comers. Watch your step, and hold onto your jug!

Friday, April 23, 2010


Folks here at the offices of Carton Donofrio Partners sometimes seem to lead a double life. By day, one can encounter the most empathetic and gracious of demeanors. We are, for the most part, a generous and may I say, an even-handed and easy-going lot. We enjoy helping one another when needed, and are almost always available for a good listen. But there are times when a little bit more focused and directive action is called for. One among us has been in a particularly difficult situation over the last year. Fighting bureaucracy with school systems, trying to get the best for a child and a family, keeping all members of a family able to get what is only their due...it may take a village to raise a child, but a little bit of sustained, polite, and insistent/consistent stone-in your shoe works pretty good, as well! Let's just say that things turned out alright, and our extended family has reason to feel great about being able to help the bureaucracy help itself. It's not something we normally get involved in, except when it's close to home.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The ALZ nether world

I function. It's not pretty, but I function. I work-around. I play the odds. If I think I am repeating myself, I try to cover. I use probability. I watch for subtle cues that people are becoming uncomfortable, I try to stay in a kind of neutral zone, vague, yes, sometimes, but not so noticeable for the most part. I definitely try to scope out ahead of time, when it is possible...review the names of people I am likely to encounter, have a little talk with my wife ahead of time, remember that everyone f**cks-up some times. Some days are better than others.The fog rolls in, but it usually burns off. A guilty pleasure is watching so-called "normal acuities" mess up. Any port in a storm, right? On the other hand, I love it when I see someone struggling, and I can be of unobtrusive help. The more you look, the more you see. Cognition is dynamic. Remaining open to input at a low level of attention-getting creates space to learn, help, and hopefully, laugh. There is no fun in the sad-face. Often times, we all have a way to help one another, not just in the ALZ world, but everywhere. I'm in for the longest haul I can handle. My organism wants me around, and I got no beef with that!

Today's the Day April 21, 2010

The leading edge of the songbird migration has arrived in Central Maryland. As usual, the thrushes led the way (family Turdidae), including the American Robin (which actually can be found almost any month of the year in our area), but more delightfully, the large number of species beyond Robins...These include Eastern Bluebird, the gently downward sonic spiraling of the Veery (which I heard and saw yesterday afternoon and is what tipped me off to the presence of the early arrivals;) in that group we can expect to see the Wood Thrush and the Hermit Thrush any minute now! The songs of the thrush family are, in my judgement, their most wonderful aspect, and they are relatively easy to remember (I can whistle and "call in," the Wood Thrush, for instance), and the Veery, which is also fairly easy to identify and mimic by the "downward spiral" in sound, which is the way I always think of it...There is weather coming in, so I am trying to get what observation I can today. I have to say, that birds have been with me since I was a lad of four years old. In fact, my earliest memory is the spring day when a crow tried to pick a clothespin off the clothesline that scared my mother!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hot Feet

Several years ago, my wife Deb and I spent three months in Iceland. It blew our minds...partly because of my boyhood love of geology, partly because of the strange light of the midnight sun, partly because the artifacts of massive, cataclysmic geological shifts in the planet are so completely obvious that you wonder how in the hell does this green ball survive? With the current state of the planet showing signs of duress, it isn't too far-fetched to ruminate about the end times. But I'm not going there today. When we were in Iceland, there were little make- shift huts, almost like those portable spot-a-pots you see on construction sites, but inside of these enclosures were hot, steamy, tiny saunas, courtesy of the MAGMA! Natural sauna for one and all! In several places, we found that we could have both cold and sub-scalding water side by side. Of course, footwear tended to get a little strange, when you realized after 30 minutes or so that your feet were really HOT, but for the most part, it was really fun and invigorating. The locals like to remind folks that some of the most impressive natural terrain was created in a matter of days, when tons and tons of ice suddenly liquidated, creating gigantic fissures in the earth. I'll be on the lookout for a newly discovered sauna near YOU! Hic finis est

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Happy to be confused

OK. So there is this family of birds, known as flycatchers, that start calling, somewhat repetitively, in early spring. These birds eat bugs, like mosquitos, gnats, and other somewhat annoying (to humans) flying insects. In the Peterson's Field Guide (if you don't have one, get it, it is the basic bible for identifying the birds of North America); and while they are not particularly exciting, they are the only game in town in the early spring-time. It seems that the birders always want the birds to show up earlier than they do, but then that is just a human failing, but not a heinous one--it is born of the love of nature, and the desire to see every species possible, given constraints of travel, money, and the trade off of just identifying a bird vs. really getting to know a species. Be that as it may, early Spring is a time of longing...it seems that the birds always wait to arrive, in fact they may actually be dawdling, quite possibly just to annoy us, or to reinforce the desire that builds as we heighten our longing for the species' returns. But I digress. The family known as Empidonax includes Acadian, Yellow-bellied, Least, Willow, and Alder. Sadly, for the over-achiever, it can be pretty difficult to tell one from another, but it can be done, especially if you have a brother like mine. He is a bird genius.

Monday, April 12, 2010

They're ba-ack (returning Warblers)

I am at work this morning. It's a pleasant enough morning. The sky is a jocular, happy, blue. Nearly anyone would walk outside and remark on the pleasing air, the gentle light, the near stillness of an early spring, a robin-shell day. Yesterday, I spent a little while (seven hours) wandering about, looking for signs of returning migratory song birds, not daring to think that the migration had brought any warblers yet; but lo and behold, at the end of the day, the Louisiana Waterthrush, Seiurus motacilla, became the first returning warbler of the season, for me. As the scarecrow would say, Oh, joy, Oh Rapture! As usual, there were no crowds of avid birders (thank God), but there was a nice long look at a fairly elusive species, and hence, my schedule for today may be disrupted. I will pretend to work at my desk for awhile, doing whatever work that I can, accomplishing what is strictly necessary, and then, in the early afternoon, a desk will be empty, but I am always available by cell, and actually, there may be far more work done when I am not around. Hic finis est.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Insidious, crass, Promotion...for a good cause...Birds!

I have been watching birds in the city of Baltimore for several decades...and for most of that time, from the same perch in the 100 block of North Charles Street. While Scarlett and Beauregard are long gone, I have remained to see many waves of subsequent avian activity from the peregrines to the rodents they sometimes ate. At this time, My co-workers and those who have any interest in the natural world are being treated to a pair of American Kestrels (Falco Sparvarius), or Sparrow Hawks), that like to perch on the cooling equipment across the street, allowing fine views of the compact little predators as they wait, usually in the morning, for a passing morsel. With the good scope, the cinnamon brown and slatey grey wings offset each other handsomely, and when their heads turn, the dark "whiskers" or side-burns offer a striking and unusual pattern. So much for productivity! I hope they stick around for awhile, but then again, the song birds are coming and they may be shortly up-staged! Hic finis est!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The enlightened one?

I have a dog named "Buddha." He is a yellow lab. Many yellow labs are gentle, obedient, and respectful. My yellow lab is not in any way, that. Some might say that just naming a dog "Buddha" is asking for trouble. They may well be right. I am coming to the conclusion that we have significant cognitive dissonance in our choice of name. We have Shiva in Buddha's clothing. The Destroyer is ascendent. The Buddha waits its day. But there is some hope for change. After trying to find him for hours in the woods and fields yesterday, with an occasional phone message from neighbors who either wanted to shoot him, or raise a posse to find him, he sauntered up the driveway, dragging various animal parts, and undeniable evidence of significant mud baths in the streams and decrepit ornamental ponds that once were the wonder of our area. We hosed him off, dried him off, and he ran right into the house and into his crate, and in minutes, he was snoring away. I followed not too soon after, carrying dozens and dozens of daffodils picked from the steep sided ravine where every year they appear for a few weeks in jocular profusion. In another week or two, the mountain laurel will begin to open its buds amid the song bird invasion and we will be in full regalia. All love.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The 12 Steps of Dementia (with apologies to AA)

1. We admitted we were powerless over ALZ, that our lives had become increasingly unpredictable.
2. Came to believe that a partnership with the disease could extend acuity and functional relationships.
3. Made a decision to support efforts to mitigate, treat, and confront ALZ, and to help others through the process of detection, diagnosis, and acceptance.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral, therapeutic, and spiritual inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to our loved ones and those who care for us, that we are frightened, but still hopeful.
6. Were entirely ready to avail ourselves of the goodness and mercy of God as we understand God.
7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings, as God sees fit.
8. Made a list of all persons we have harmed, and remain willing to make amends to them all.
9. Continue to take personal inventory and when wrong, promptly admit it.
10. Continue to make direct amends promptly and forthrightly.
11. With God's help, continue to fight against despair, even in the midst of decline.
12. Continue to thank God for the blessing of existence.