I live on Herring Creek, in Tall Timbers, Maryland, where giant pines pierce the clouds with sharp needle fingers. Where massive oaks shoot bark-covered rockets up into the sky. Tall Timbers. A town perpetually growing the inspiration for its name.
More oblique is the name of the town where I grew up, 13 miles across the St. Mary’s County peninsula as the crow flies, or the osprey, or the heron. California, Maryland got its name because Mill Creek empties into the Patuxent River, close to where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay, which meets the Atlantic Ocean, which embraces the Pacific Ocean at South America’s Cape Horn. San Francisco was the destination hopeful 49ers had in mind as they began their 17,000 mile sea voyage during the 1849 Gold Rush. “You know,” locals might say, “Where those idiots are hopping ship to find gold in California.” Or, with more compassion perhaps, “You know, where those folks are coming back from California, nothin’ but holes in their pockets.” California, Maryland. A town bearing perpetual witness to the dance between hope and despair.
The landmass of St. Mary’s County is 360 square miles, penetrated through and through by some 600 miles of shoreline. In these parts, you can’t go far without seeing water, and if you’re not seeing it, you can pretty much bet it’s there. Some secret cove whispering its way among listening trees. Some hidden thread of creek sewing itself into the fabric of earth. Water is a constant presence here, like the inning and outing of breath in my body, and it teaches me how to live, this permeating flow, it teaches me I am neither island nor mainland but peninsula, attached by a slender thread of flesh to the cosmic fabric. Part of the whole, I am distinguishable from it, vulnerable to penetrating forces and factors both hopeful and despairing, growing into the inspiration for my existence as the whole of which I am a part also and perpetually grows.