Great Falls

For most visitors to Washington, DC, the edifices of this country's history and workings as a democratic state are the regions must-see attractions. Monumental structures clad in white marble, steel, and glass, Classical or boldly modern in style, symbols of human progress, justice, and freedom. Memorials to men and women whose words and deeds have profoundly influenced the history and identity of the United States of America. Shrines to the dreams of an immigrant people. Many of them impressive, designed to convey a reverence for the ideals of a nation.

Yet marvelous as these sites are, they have only existed for a brief moment, the blink of an eye, compared to the land itself. To experience what is truly awe inspiring about America, a short excursion up the Potomac River to Great Falls sets things in perspective. This morning, shortly after daybreak, that's where I went.


The well groomed trails and boardwalks in the parks on both the Maryland and Virginia sides of the river offer access to a spectacular display of nature's power. Thundering cascades cut through a maze of jagged rocks laid bare by eons of constant erosion, the many falls enveloped in mist. Prehistoric looking turkey vultures glide in and out. Close to the roiling water, the roar is deafening, and the force of the current is deadly. It is an extraordinary place.

This terrible season of political discord has left many of us weary of the catchphrases of American populism, notions of what this country should be. I don't want to look at the Capitol or the Mall. But spending the morning in that small but relatively unspoiled spot just up river from the epicenter of our dysfunctional, squabbling bureaucracy, and now as I write watching a tremendous rainstorm fall from the sky, I am reassured that one way or another, we must ultimately and inevitably yield to the power of the natural world.



Coming storm



Between my home and studio next to the Susquehanna River and the Rutt HandCrafted Cabinetry plant in New Holland lie thousands of acres of some of our country's most fertile and productive farmland. In eastern Lancaster county, most of that land is divided into modest sized family farms, many of them Amish and Mennonite. During the growing season, it seems at times that the appearance of those fields changes almost as rapidly as the clouds passing overhead. This morning, I set out a little earlier than usual for my weekly product development team meeting, intent on spending a brief interlude amidst the crops with my sketchbook.

In the high summer, driving these narrow backroads through the tall corn is like following a dry, winding streambed down seemingly endless lush green canyons, the corn coming almost to the edges of the pavement. Especially in this season of tumultuous political discontent, it is a comfort to me to be lost in those quiet fields, if only for a little while. I'm reminded that storms come and go, change is constant and inevitable, and somehow there is always growth.


Nest not empty

As I watch my children go out into the world, establishing their young adult lives, I feel, as many parents do, happy that they're finding their way, and sad that their years living under my roof are coming to an end. But right now, for a few days, I'm enjoying the rare pleasure of all three of them being right here at home, all at the same time, and it isn't an obligatory holiday visit. They're here because they want to be here.

The house is still home base for my son Gabe, but as soon as he can manage it, he's eager to be independent. The girls have been mostly away at college for the past four years and only home for vacations. Noble has been able to visit fairly often and easily, just an hour's train ride away in Philadelphia, but Nora has spent part of high school and all of her college years in Mexico, a longer trip and much less frequent. She's home now for a couple of weeks, but with a new full time job as a photographer in Guadalajara, her stateside vacations are becoming shorter. Watching her in the living room this evening, intently editing photos on her laptop computer after dinner, I was struck that she and her siblings really are growing up.

Change comes hard. For twenty three years, I've shaped my career around what I've seen as the priorities of family life. It's often been stressful and exhausting, trying to keep all the balls in the air. I've dropped a few of them more than once, but I've always picked them up and kept on juggling. I know that this long phase is nearing an end. Yet while it's strenuous at times, I'm not ready yet. I'm glad that, for a little longer, my nest is not empty.