Like Water Running Over Loose Stones

Woods hug the backside of our property. In the summertime, when leaves are abundant, one cannot see any other houses. In the winter, in between the bare tree trunks, I glimpse the cold ground sloping down to the river and, to my right, the townhouses perpendicular to our street. The river is too far for me to see. It’s only twenty feet across, maybe a little more. The water is clear and when sunshine reaches the bottom of the valley, it shines like tinsel. There is a paved path through the woods that runs along the river and then turns away from it. The path is on higher ground. Several dirt trails lead down to the riverbed. In the spring, when the snow melts and it rains a lot, the river floods. If I walk on the pathway, I can see the long pools of standing water glistening through the trees.

When my children were little, we went to the river a lot. One could take the trail descending from the path or go down through the woods directly from our backyard. It was a delightful adventure each time. We jumped on boulders, threw twigs in the water, walked in the mud and gathered shiny pebbles and oddly shaped branches. Often, we just sat by the river and watched the water flow by. Birds stooped to drink. Wildflowers grew in the soft soil. I told my children that the river was called the Patuxent — the Middle Patuxent — and that the name came from the people who had lived in the area centuries ago. I had read that it meant “water running over loose stones.”

Each time we returned, my children’s eyes were shining brighter. They were a little closer to nature and smarter for it. One day, hiking near the river, we came upon a scruffy tent, a pair of frayed jeans drying on a branch, cooking equipment and the remnants of a fire. I realized that a homeless person had spent the night there, but I didn’t say anything to my children and allowed them to dream of a romantic Robinson Crusoe who had miraculously wandered into the tame wilderness of our neighborhood.

More recently, I went down to the river with my grandson, Alex. We spent a few hours exploring the river and when we returned, he had a broad smile on his face and his hair was full of thistles and mud.

A few years ago, at an event at the local library, I spoke about my novel No Portrait in the Gilded Frame. There, I met a gentleman representing a local literary publication, the Little Patuxent Review. The twin brother and a tributary of the Middle Patuxent River, the Little Patuxent River meanders through the town of Columbia, and as they merge, they form the Patuxent River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. Anything containing the word Patuxent in its name is Maryland through and through.

Curious, I bought a copy of the Little Patuxent Review. That issue was featuring a local artist. Impressed by the illustrations of his paintings and art objects, a close friend of mine visited the artist and requested permission to use one of his art works on the cover of a book he was writing about the Dada movement at the end of the First World War.

When a neighbor asked me if I were interested in serving on the board of the Little Patuxent Review, I responded enthusiastically. As a writer, I have always wanted to be involved with the effort that goes into producing a successful literary magazine, both on the creative and the business side. I went to a few meetings, presented my credentials and was approved to join the board.

The launch of the winter issue was hosted this month at the historic Oliver’s Carriage House. It was very well attended. Some of the contributors to this issue introduced themselves, answered questions from the audience and read from their excellent work. The quality was impressive, as was the variety of subjects they embraced. The magazine accepts submissions from writers, poets and artists nationwide. Local artists participated in the event, and their work drew inspiration from places like Australia, Hungary and Bulgaria, in addition to the United States. Ben Cricchi, a photographer who likes to select his subjects from the people he encounters in the streets of Baltimore (see the magazine cover above), spoke about his art and his choice of subjects. His delivery was lively and full of humor.

Somehow, this magazine, local, yet with a broad reach, is like the river flowing in my backyard. “Exploring Literature and the Arts,” it is a refreshing view of new and interesting artists, a small window on contemporary culture. I am happy to be an active supporter. Like the river, gathering strength from its many sources, creativity flows through its pages, enchanting, teaching and rewarding its readers.

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