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Entries in road trip (321)


Blue Highways: Annapolis, Maryland

Unfolding the Map

We don't cross a state boundary yet, but we do cross another important boundary.  We have entered Part 10 of Blue Highways, the last part of the book.  So let's celebrate by hoisting a beer together with William Least Heat-Moon in Annapolis.  We won't be able to drink the Black Horse Ale he is drinking, since that beer has ceased being produced, but we can find myriads of other brews to appeal to all palates in this, the age of the microbrew.  Maryland has about 20 breweries, so we shouldn't have any trouble.  To find Annapolis, go to the map while you wait for your pour.  The little guy at the right is the Maryland state reptile, the diamondback terrapin.  The photo is by LTShears and is released into the public domain on Wikimedia Commons.

Book Quote

"I went north, crossed Chesapeake Bay, and stopped at the city market down among the eighteenth-century streets of Annapolis to eat a dozen fresh clams at Hannon's stone counter; for the road I bought a cut of smoked chub, a quart of slaw, and six bottles of Black Horse Ale."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 1

The dock in downtown Annapolis. Photo by Smallbones and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Annapolis, Maryland

I don't know much about Annapolis except that it's the home of the United States Naval Academy.  I was reminded about that because about three days before this post was written, Navy beat Army to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy in college football.

However, one thing stands out to me in LHM's quote: beer.  He buys six bottles of Black Horse Ale to take with him as he starts heading west again toward home.

Black Horse Ale apparently does not exist anymore.  In looking for Black Horse Ale on the internet, I first found a brew pub in Tennessee that I'm pretty sure was not the maker of the beer that LHM bought in Annapolis.  I also found a small brew pub in New York state.  Then, after a little more looking, I discovered that Black Horse Ale was an American brew by the Fred Koch Brewery that was introduced in the early 1960s.  The Fred Koch brands were eventually acquired by Genesee, which makes the popular Genesee Creme Ale, but they have retired the Fred Koch brands and are not making any beer under those labels anymore.

At one time, the Fred Koch Brewery was the second smallest brewer in the United States.  Yet today, there has been a renaissance in brewing.  If you are a beer connoissieur, you have to be happy to live in this day and age.  When I was growing up, my father and uncles drank cheap, widely distributed beers such as Miller, Pabst, Coors, Schlitz and Falstaff.  I believe that my first taste of a beer was a Falstaff beer back when I was not even into my early teens (I didn't like it).

Today, a trip to the supermarket beer aisle reveals a whole host of regional and micro-brews.  Everywhere you go, there are local, handcrafted beers to try.  When I lived in Milwaukee, Sprecher Brewing had started up in the home city of the "beer that made Milwaukee famous," as well as numerous other large brewing companies.  Sprecher was very popular.  My girlfriend lived around the corner from Lakefront Brewing, which every Saturday hosted three brewery tours - you wanted to go to the late tour because by then the owners of the brewery were suitably buzzed and often opened the taps.

When we moved to San Antonio, we learned that the cheap, mass produced beer was Lone Star ("the national beer of Texas) and Pearl.  But we also discovered the joys of having a cold Shiner Bock, brewed in Shiner, Texas by a Czech family brewing company, on a hot summer evening.

When we began living in New Orleans, we lamented that we never got to taste New Orleans' own Jax Beer (it went out of business in the 1970s), but we were more than happy enjoying an Abita Amber in the French Quarter at Molly's at the Market.

The number of breweries is exploding all over the country.  California, despite its reputation as a wine-producing state, has the most breweries of any state at 268, according to the Brewers Association.  However, the state with the most breweries per capita is Vermont, which has one brewery for every 26,000 people (as compared to California's one brewery per 139,000 people). If you're curious about how many breweries your state has, take a look at the PDF you can access from this page.

Some years ago, while I was in college, I discovered my first micro-brew.  Henry Weinhard's, an Oregon-made lager, became a popular beer at my college and it was the first time I drank a beer that wasn't one of the big labels.  I liked it because it was something new.  Then, one day while I was driving home from college during the holidays, I discovered that Hopland, a little town at the edge of my county named for the crop that was cultivated in the area (and which is one of the four essential ingredients of beer), had a brewery.  I soon began to see Mendocino Brewing Company's Red Tail Ale hit the shelves and for a while it became my favorite beer.  One year, when I was living out of state in Wisconsin and enjoying micro-brews and beers I had never heard of, I came home to find that my hometown of Fort Bragg had a new brewery.  North Coast Brewing, in the wake of the closure of our giant lumber mill, is now the biggest employer in my hometown and makes award winning beers such as Red Seal Ale, Scrimshaw Pilsner, Old No. 38 Stout, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Pranqster Belgian Golden Ale, and my favorite name, Brother Thelonious Belgian Abbey Ale.  It has bought the brand of an old California beer line called Acme and is turning out brews under that name as well.  Over in Boonville, a little town famous for creating its own language in the late 1800s, the Anderson Valley Brewing Company has been in operation since 1986 and making beers such as Boont Amber and Hop Ottin' IPA.  And the great thing is that now I can find these beers even in New Mexico where I live, as well as enjoy local favorites such as Marble Brewing, La Cumbre Brewing, Nexxus Brewing and others.

If you ask me why I like beer, especially the hoppy ones, I really don't have an answer for you.  There is something about it that fills one up, yet can cool one down on a hot day, is a social aid because it tends to be drunk with others, and with the number of breweries and selections seems to offer a limitless variety of flavors and styles.  The alcohol doesn't hurt either.  To me, a perfect beer has a smooth and seamless blending of ingredients both material and social.  I never thought, after having that Falstaff when I was young, that I would ever like beer.  Yet now it has become a regular part of my life as well as offering me new things to explore.  Whenever I go to a different place, I try to sample a local brew if there is one.  It doesn't matter if it is in the country or out.  Two years ago, I sat and drank Efes in Istanbul and watched people socialize in one of civilization's cradles.  It reminded me that beer is one of our oldest beverages, and has been one of the things that have brought people together (and served as one of the evil vices that have destroyed people and relationships) for millenia.  As I drink a beer, that hoppy, golden or dark liquid connects me in one unbroken stream to the dawn of civilization, and perhaps even before that.  Isn't it amazing how something I enjoy, but take for granted, can be so good and so signficant?

Musical Interlude

One of my favorite bands in Texas was Brave Combo, a radical polka-oriented band.  In this song that someone set to a video montage of their Europe trip, they lament that In Heaven There Is No Beer.


If you want to know more about Annapolis

Annapolis Convention and Visitors Bureau
Baydreaming: Annapolis
Capital Gazette (newspaper)
City of Annapolis
St. John's College
United States Naval Academy
Visitors Guide to Annapolis
Wikipedia: Annapolis

Next up: Prince Frederick, Maryland


Blue Highways: Tilghman Island, Maryland

Unfolding the Map

Here, on Tilghman Island at the very end of Part 9 in Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) appears to have hit on an important truth.  Coincidentally, it also appears to be an important truth that by different ways and in different time periods, I have discovered also.  To see where Tilghman Island, which led to LHM's understanding of his journey and transformation, is located...make your way to the map.  The graphic at right, by Timothy Knepp, is of Maryland's state fish, the striped bass.  It is hosted at Wikimedia Commons.

Book Quote

"A human being is not a waxen rubbing, a lifeless imprint taken from some great stony face.  Rather he is a Minuteman or a dog soldier at liberty to use the inclinations of the past as he sees fit.  He is free to perceive the matrix, and, within his limits, change from it.  By seeing both the futility in trying to relive the old life and the danger in trying to obliterate it, man can gain the capacity to make anew.  His very form depends not on repetition but upon variation from old patterns.  In response to stress, biological survival requires genetic change; it necessitates a turning away from doomed replication.  And what of history?  Was it different?

"Etymology: educate, from the Latin educare, 'lead out.'"

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 15

A skipjack on Tilghman Island. Skipjacks are a traditional boat used for oyster dredging. Photo by Acroterion and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Tilghman Island, Maryland

At this moment I feel incredibly close to William Least Heat-Moon, despite the fact that his quote was uttered thirty years ago and I "hear" it in my mind as I interpret it from the page.  However, in most of the particulars, I am reaching, at the cusp of my 49th year, the same place that took him approximately 12,000 miles and possibly a year or so of traveling.

I have written in these posts about my family history: the dysfunction, the alcoholism, the sexual abuse, and other various things that served as one big traumatic wound on my childhood.  The large malignant stone that was thrown into my family pond sent ripples out through time and space that still reverberate through my life today.  Like actual ripples from a stone, as I move farther away from the origin the disturbances come farther apart.  Yet the way I have dealt with life disturbances has remained constant.

I began therapy at my university when I was nineteen years old, and have continued it through my life.  For the most part my various therapies had a pattern to them.  I would have a crisis in my life for some reason.  I would seek out a therapist and tell him/her my story.  Weekly, I would spend time rehashing my childhood traumas in some way until there was nothing more left to say, and then I would stop therapy until the next crisis came along.  That has been my response to crisis for 25 years.

And the crises would continue to come.  What I did not understand was that I had developed certain ways of dealing with crisis - patterns that were based on old traumas and information and not really in tune with the present.  These patterns often were just as destructive to my self-esteem as the original trauma.  I would react to things with anger, guilt and shame, which would often send me into spirals of destructive thinking.  The various attempts at therapy were bandages, dressing the wound when something ripped off the scab, but they weren't helping me grow.  By allowing me to dwell in my past trauma I was not moving forward and healing.

As LHM writes, and I'm repeating it because it has become important to me: "By seeing both the futility in trying to relive the old life and the danger in trying to obliterate it, man can gain the capacity to make anew.  His very form depends not on repetition but upon variation from old patterns.  In response to stress, biological survival requires genetic change; it necessitates a turning away from doomed replication."  It took a number of years and a new type of therapy for me to learn what LHM learned on his Blue Highways trip.  Isn't it amazing how different people get to the same place?

I finally began to change my patterns when I began seeing a therapist trained in a technique called "somatic transformation."  It was maddening to see her sometimes because she did not allow me to relive my trauma.  I wanted to tell my stories, and think through problems, and she would stop me.  My response to crisis, she explained, was buried in my neural pathways and to change them I would have to retrain myself.  The key was to recognize what my body, not my brain, was communicating with me and to trust my instincts.  Instead of reliving trauma, I could become aware of the negative emotions triggered and with practice train myself to keep emotionally regulated rather than head down a self-destructive thought spiral.

The patterns that have triggered those spirals have been harder to address, because they are deep-seated and they have become part of my relationships.  My wife and I, for example, have been working on patterns that we have established that take us into emotionally unregulated states.  Sometimes a tone of voice, action, word, or assumption will lead to a series of events that leave us both angry and upset.  These patterns disrupt our communication and leave lingering resentments.  However, we have made great strides in our relationship brought about by awareness of our patterns and some new tools that we can use to maintain our emotional composure.  If one or the other of us is having a bad emotional time that is unrelated to the other, we have learned that we don't have to take responsibility for the other's feelings and emotions all the time, which was a key stumbling block.

And what of LHM's question about history?  I've written in a previous post that a favorite Mark Twain quote of mine is "history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."  Oh, how I've learned that!   Present crises are never the same as past crises, but the present does recall the past.  But I'm also aware of another old trope attributed to Albert Einstein but probably from the Narcotics Anonymous "Basic Text" circa 1980:  "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results."  In the microcosm of my life, if the present rhymes with the past maybe I can be forgiven for not recognizing the patterns for a while and repeating my mistakes.  My journey is now one of new self-discovery that is in some fundamental ways reshaping my life.  My history is still there, but it doesn't need to determine my future.  In the macrocosm of humanity, perhaps we should remember that we are not slaves of history.  Humans can rewrite the patterns in how we deal with crises.  We can learn from the past, but only we determine our futures.

Musical Interlude

I had always associated this song, Shout by Tears for Fears, with therapy.  I had trouble finding a suitable song about transformation so I thought this would do.  After all, Tears for Fears was known for writing songs about primal scream therapy.  While their first album was conceptually about that type of therapy, this song off their second album was actually about protest, so I was wrong.  But, I put it here anyway because I guess I still have work to do on my sticking to outmoded patterns!  By the way, primal scream therapy is based in reliving trauma and so it's exactly the opposite of what I am now doing in my therapy.

If you want to know more about Tilghman Island

Baydreaming: Tilghman Island
Tilghman Island
Tilghman Island: The Pearl of the Chesapeake Bay
Wikipedia: Tilghman Island

Next up: Annapolis, Maryland


Blue Highways: St. Michaels, Maryland

Unfolding the Map

What's in a name?  What's in my name?  In this post, I'm going to be a little self-indulgent and reflect on the meaning of the name Michael.  It seems that if names are any indication of what we are supposed to represent, both St. Michaels and I have a lot to live up to.  To see where St. Michaels is located, the map will be your guide.  At right is the state flower of Maryland, the Black-Eyed Susan.  Photo by Lorax, found at Wikimedia Commons, and used under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Book Quote

"On the way was St. Michaels, 'the town that fooled the British' by inventing the blackout.  During the War of 1812, word reached the citizens that a night bombardment was imminent.  Residents doused all lights except candles in second-story windows and lanterns they hung in treetops.  British gunners misread the lights, miscalculated trajectories, and overshot the town.  The trick preserved numerous colonial buildings, including one home where a stray cannonball fell through the roof and bounced down the stairway past the startled lady of the house."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 15

St. Michaels, Maryland. Photo by Acroterion and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

St. Michaels, Maryland

The blackout story is interesting, but I want to focus on the name of St. Michaels, Maryland.  Part of the reason is personal.  My name is Michael.  But part of the reason is a curiosity of mine.  Michael has been one of the most enduring popular names for boys.  But for the life of me, I don't understand why.

Of course, there is the religious connection.  A long time ago, when I first discovered that names could mean something (before that, I thought Michael was just Michael), I discovered that Michael is a Hebrew name, and not only that, but the conjoining of two Hebrew words: micha and elMicha means "in the likeness of" or "like" and el means God.  So in my first understandings of my name, I was, mistakenly, pleased to note that my name meant "he who is like God!"  I was able to lord it over my lesser-monickered friends until looking again, I was puzzled to find that it was actually a question: "Who is like God?"  I didn't understand it at the time.  My friends never bought my argument that I was like God anyway.

The question only makes sense when you attach the name Michael to the most important entity associated with it, the archangel Michael, the most important angel in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Along with two other archangels, Gabriel and Raphael, Michael is a major figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  In Judaism, Michael is the protector of Israel and identified as a "prince of the first rank" of angels.  He also identifies himself as a commander in the army of the Lord.  In the Christian tradition, particularly the Book of Revelation, Michael defeats Satan in heaven and as a result, Satan is thrown down to earth.  Michael is also identified as the angel that will herald the second coming of Christ.  He is considered the patron saint of healing and the prince of the Seraphim.  He is seen to have four main offices: to fight Satan, to rescue souls at the hour of death, to be the champion of God's people, and to bring souls to judgment.  In some variants of Christianity, like the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists, Michael is practically synonymous with Jesus Christ, and the Mormons believe that Michael is Adam in his heavenly form.  Michael is also mentioned in the Koran as Mikail, one of the archangels along with Jibreel (Gabriel), where the prophet warns that anyone who is an enemy to God, his angels and messengers, and Jibreel and Mikail, will find God as their enemy.

Thus, Michael serves as a sort of heavenly reality check.  If one sees the name Michael as a question, "Who is like God?", the answer is expected to be "nobody."  Thus, Michael is supposed to remind us of both the power and majesty of God while at the same time revealing to us that nobody can be like God.

Certainly the story of how I got this name, the name of the first among the angels, does not fit with the implied majesty of Michael.  I was adopted at two years old.  At that time, people were calling me "Mike."  I had gotten used to that name and so for my adoptive parents, changing it was out of the question.  But my mother didn't like "Mike" and therefore used the formal version of the name, "Michael."  In other words, my parents didn't put much thought into the name.  They didn't name me after the archangel, or because of the symbolism of the name.  They simply took the diminutive name that I came with and formalized it.

I wish that I could live up to the name always, but like most people, I have my times when I perhaps imperfectly resemble a fuzzy copy of Michael's strength, loyalty, courage, and majesty.  There have been other times when I more accurately resemble something quite different. In a way, it's difficult to live up to the name of someone who carries the power of God and reminds us of what we are not.  Perhaps that's why, at least in English-speaking nations, we don't name any of our children Jesus.  Who can live up to that?  People do name their children Joshua, which is probably closer to Jesus' actual name in Aramaic.

If you're named after something archetypal, something that calls to mind the most noble and perfect of human natures, does it mean that there is an unwritten or unsaid expectation that you live up to those ideals?  By extension, if you live in a community named St. Michaels, or any of the many other communities named after Biblical or holy places, was there an assumption that the citizens of those places will embody such principles?

I believe that the answer is yes but not necessarily overtly.  We give children and places such names because we all strive to be the fullest of what we understand humanity to be.  Yet we all know that nobody can live up to ideals that we set for ourselves.  That's why they are ideals.  All of us are often less than ideal.  But, except for a very few, we wish and we strive to be good people.  We can even argue that those who are often not good people, who may even seem eveil, may be trying to reach a sort of perfection only they can understand; one which puts them very far apart from the rest of us.  I can never truly be my name, Michael, in the historical, literary and religious meaning of the name.  But I can be "Michael."  In other words, I can do the best I can to be a good person and live up to I expect of me.  And when I fail, I can always ask "Who is like God?"

Musical Interlude

When the Saints Go Marching In is a gospel and jazz standard.  The line that appeals to me is the one that says "how I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in."  It is performed by the incomparable Louis Armstrong in this video, with a number of other very fine musicians.  I like to think that if there is a celestial orchestra, Armstrong and the other passed musicians will be jazzing up the heavenly arrangement.

Here's an extra video of Dave Brubeck's Take Five.  Brubeck was a jazz piano icon who just passed away a day or so ago and will certainly be part of that great jazz arrangement in the hereafter.

If you want to know more about St. Michaels

Baydreaming: Saint Michaels
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
Town of St. Michaels
Wikipedia: Saint Michaels

Next up: Tilghman Island, Maryland


Blue Highways: Bellevue, Maryland

Unfolding the Map

Another ferry crossing, this time from Oxford to Bellevue, Maryland.  William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) mentions that this ferry is the oldest operating ferry in the U.S., but he doesn't mention a very interesting part of its early history: women owner-operators ran the ferry in some of its earliest times.  To see where this historic ferry is located, go to the map.  At right is a leaf of the white oak, the Maryland state tree.

Book Quote

"I took the Tred Avon ferry, at three centuries the oldest operating cable-free ferry in the United States, to Bellevue and drove out the double-fingered peninsula toward Tilghman Island."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 15

The Tred Avon ferry, also known as the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, near Oxford, Maryland. Photo by Acroterion and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Bellevue, Maryland

I was struck first by the description "the oldest operating cable-free ferry in the United States."  While that might not seem remarkable, you must remember that in these days of powerful diesel engines, we rarely think about how things worked before.  Let me give you a little perspective.  The Tred Avon Ferry, also known as the Oxford-Bellevue ferry, was first started in 1683, well before motors were invented for boat travel.

The first Tred Avon ferry, according to their website, was a scow and it was driven by the side-to-side sweep of a large oar attached to the back of the boat.  Such boats were very difficult to operate because you had to find a man that was skilled in steering yet strong enough to sweep the oar to move the boat.  Such men were hard to find.  A sail could help when the wind was up, but given that the ferry had regular schedules one couldn't count on the wind being right all the time.  However, the service was essential because without crossing by ferry, the alternative was a 25-mile detour which, in the days of horses and carriages, make a day or two difference.  Even in our age of fast-moving autos, the ferry cuts about 30 minutes off of a trip.

The ferry was, and has always been, a subsidized service of Talbot County, Maryland.  The first operator of the ferry, a Richard Royston, received 2500 pounds of tobacco a year in exchange for operating the ferry service.  He later turned out to be a forger who was sentenced to be publicly whipped, and after his death at sea he was formally condemned in the Maryland Assembly as a "notoriously scandalous" man.  Later operators of the ferry also received compensation, with the payment of tobacco eventually turning into monetary subsidization.

The ferry has made strides since those days.  Sails and scupper oars were replaced by engines, and boats went from scows to types that could carry cars and people.  But what's really fascinating about this ferry is not it's establishment or the type of boats it has used.  It's the people who have operated it.  The names and dates that jump out to me as I read through its history are the following:

1690s - Amy Jensen

early 1700s - Judith Bennett

1737 - Catherine Bennett

1750s - Elizabeth Skinner

I think it's obvious why these names captured my attention, but I'll belabor the point.  In a time where women, at least officially, were considered to be essential to the home, too inferior and delicate to trouble themselves about politics and business, and were denied the right to formally and officially participate in the political process, we find that four women owned and operated an essential service in Maryland.

At second glance, this might not be as amazing as it appears.  The fact of the matter is that the colonies at this time were mostly wilderness, and the people who lived there true pioneers.  Regardless of what the official status of women might be in such places, in reality women had to be ready to do whatever was expected of men, and often a lot more.  They not only had to be able to keep house and raise children, but also be ready to take on the role of a man especially if he became laid up or if he died.  Women on the frontier belied the notion that women were frail things, too delicate to overexert themselves about the troubles of the world.  Those notions were born in the salons of men of culture and power, supported by religious interpretation led by males in religious heirarchy, and perpetuated in the populace.

When women have been thrust into situations where they have been allowed to use their ingenuity and strength, they easily keep up with men and often exceed them. When women have been given the opportunity to challenge themselves, they rise to it.  In the recent elections in the United States, the role of women in society continued to be debated, with some arguing that women have lost their purpose as a part of a larger war on men and should focus on a more limited role.  There was continued debate about choices about occupations and personal decisions that women should be allowed in society.  Data show that women are still underpaid compared to men for performing similar roles.  Despite that they are just greater than 50% of the population, they continue to be underrepresented in legal, scientific and technical professions, business leadership and in politics.  While nobody in the United States questions whether women can meet the challenges and problems of the world anymore, there has still been a backlash against women going outside of "traditional roles" even though it is often necessary and required if families are to survive in today's world.  And in some other parts of the world, tradition has locked women into a mediaeval conception of what they are capable of, and what they are allowed to do.

Yet if we look at history, we can see that regardless of the restrictions on women, events and situations have empowered some remarkable women representing all classes of society.  Women stand out as leaders in history not only because they went against the norm, but also because they did amazing things.  How many more remarkable women have escaped our awareness because history didn't record their exploits?

That is why these names, obscured to me until reading about the interesting history of the Tred Avon ferry, are so significant.  They stand in stark contrast to prevailing notions of the time, such as that women are not truly capable of running a business.  Really, there are two things that stand behind these notions and suspicions: that women aren't to be trusted and that men will lose their favored place in society.  And yet, when we really look at history, and observe the actions of our foremothers, our wives, our sisters and our daughters, we all know that there is no truth behind those notions.  The female owners and operators of small frontier ferry are another small but important proof added to the record of the accomplishments and abilities of remarkable women.  Today, a quick look at the ferry's website reveals that one of the captains of the ferry, and a co-owner, is a woman named Judy Bixler.  She continues the tradition of the unique contributions that women have made to the oldest American ferry service.

For myself, I look forward to the day when the idea of "unique," "amazing" and "remarkable" women ceases to be so surprising.

Musical Interlude

I was trying to find a suitable song to fit the post.  I ended up with this surprise discovery of Celebrate Woman by the 2beat Band.  I doubly like the song because I can use it on the Global Music Show that my wife and I do on our local radio station.


If you want to know more about Bellevue

Annapolis Landscape TV on Youtube: Oxford-Bellevue Ferry
Washington Post slideshow: Oxford-Bellevue Ferry
Wikipedia: Bellevue

Next up: St. Michaels, Maryland


Blue Highways: Oxford, Maryland

Unfolding the Map

Traveling up the Chesapeake Bay with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), we hit Oxford, Maryland.  A quiet waterfront town, his description of houses and fences gives me pause to reflect on my own current foray into looking for a house.  At right is the Maryland state bird, the Baltimore oriole as seen on Wikimedia Commons.  If you want to find Oxford, there's no better place than the map.

Book Quote

"On a peninsula between the Choptank and Tred Avon rivers, I came to Oxford, a seventeenth-century village of brick sidewalks and nineteenth-century houses.  Only a few small streets branched off the main trunk, Robert Morris Street, a way of aesthetically cohesive homes and yards fenced by the Oxford picket - a slat with a design at the top that looks like an ace of clubs with a hole shot in it.  The pickets were popular, even though painting the holes could take all spring."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 15

Downtown Oxford, Maryland. Photo by Wikipedian1234 and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Oxford, Maryland

My wife and I have stopped thinking about talking about buying a house, and we have moved to talking about and then thinking about buying a house.  If that seems confusing, well, that's just the way we operate.

The quote above, with its references to a picturesque village, nineteenth-century houses and picket fences, fits with my current thoughts toward finding and making a home for ourselves.  We have been starting to move our thoughts toward what kinds of houses we would like, what neighborhoods we would like to live in, and how much house we can afford.  Do we want two bedrooms or three, 1 or two bathrooms, perhaps a garage?  How big of a yard?  Most people do this sometime in their 20s or 30s, but not me and my wife.  We're waiting until I'm almost 50 to seriously consider buying our first house.

I suppose the type of house is also on the table.  It seems that in this particular area where LHM traveled in Blue Highways, "telescope" houses were plentiful.  I had never heard of these type of houses  until reading about them in the book.  They are houses that started as small units, and then larger units were built onto the smaller ones until the houses look like the components of a telescope.  In New Orleans, had we bought there, chances are that we would have found a "shotgun" house, so named because once you entered the door, each room followed the next in a straight line back to the kitchen.  The idea was you could have fired a shotgun from the front door and the pellets would travel out the back door without hitting anything (although that doesn't make much sense because shotgun pellets spread out as they travel - a rifle house would be a better name for these houses).  We rented a shotgun house for a year when we lived in New Orleans.  Actually, it was a double shotgun because it had two shotgun apartments on each side of the house, and it could be a bit of a pain when we guests because they had to walk through our bedroom to get to the bathroom.  People buying homes in New Orleans often would fix these houses up to live in and, if they were a double shotgun, to rent out one side to pay the mortgage.

Midwestern style brick houses never seem to be out of style anywhere - we'd see them wherever Midwesterners came to settle outside the Midwest.  In Milwaukee, smack dab in the Midwest, these houses were always wonders to me.  Even the ones that looked like they had the most age on the outside often had elaborate and beautiful woodwork inside.  They were always at least two stories, and sometimes three.  Many of our friends who bought houses had these style of houses, usually fixer-uppers that were bought cheap and became lifelong projects.

Out in Northern California, the ranch house reigned supreme, at least in the rural areas where I grew up.  These tended to sprawl out.  My mom's house, for example, has a large living room with two small bedrooms off one side and a kitchen off the other.  A long hallway travels laterally from the living room, past a multipurpose room and a bathroom to another medium-sized bedroom and another small bathroom adjacent to the first.  When I grew up, we added a room and therefore augmented the space in the house, though it is strange as the room is aesthetically separate from the rest of the house, even though it is connected by two doors, simply because it sits lower than the rest of the building.

In Albuquerque, the Southwestern style of house predominates.  Many houses, modeled after the dwellings in Native American pueblos, have a pueblo-style to them.  The most sought-after are adobe houses.  Built of bricks made of mud and straw, they are plastered with additional mud and are therefore reddish-brown, almost as if they have sprung from the earth itself.  They are perfect for desert living, as they tend to stay cool in the hot summers but trap heat from the sun in the winter.  From above they look rectangular, but from street level their corners are softened and rounded and they are often surrounded by adobe walls.  I find them very pleasant and relaxing, especially with a nice xeriscaped garden in front and in back.  Of course, other styles of housing are available, including faux-adobes which are made with modern materials but are fashioned to look like adobe houses.  That's the kind of house we rent currently.

So, there are a lot of things for us to consider, including price.  I was surprised to find that even with my salary alone, we could afford a lot more house than I had expected.  Now it's just up to us to decide, take a look at a few things, and eventually make a decision on one we like and for which we are willing to make an offer.

That's scarier than it sounds.  Doing so means that we will be responsible for repairs and upgrades.  We will have to make decisions about remodeling should any come up.  It will be the biggest investment of money we will ever make.  It will anchor us in a way that we've never been anchored before.

But, as I think about it, I really want to create and nurture a garden.  I want a place to display arts picked up around the world in the way I want to display them.  I want a room where I can put our beautiful Turkish carpet.  And I want to grow up, to be an adult, and feel a sense of belonging and home that I haven't felt for a long time.  And even though I probably won't have a picket fence, a low adobe wall would be a nice touch if we can find it.

Musical Interlude

I couldn't find a song that I knew that fit this post, so figured I put on my discovery of The Fall's My New Home.

If you want to know more about Oxford Oxford
The Oxford Museum
Town of Oxford
Wikipedia: Oxford

Next up:  Bellevue, Maryland