Brooding Over a Bulwark Brain – Fort McHenry

Labor Day weekend we started in Frederick, Maryland for a college friend’s wedding. The first Saturday of the month the historic downtown has a special event where people are encouraged to shop local. It was great to see so many people shopping in independent stores and restaurants. While we were there, we stopped into an Antiques Emporium and Ken was drawn to one dealer’s corner. There he found masculine items, including a set of cannon balls for sale.  The tag’s label reads, “Historic cannon ball stand garden Monument with 4, 9 pounder shot And a huge shot from sea coast Canonnon, from Fort McHenry, Balto.” There was also a warning about how heavy the big shot is. After much deliberation, he purchased the cannon balls, and that led us onto another adventure Monday. 

“Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm, and round it the setting waters are laid to rest.” -Marcus Aurelius 

You know when you think something is cool, and then people around you are assholes about it and put it down? Well that kind of happened with the cannon balls. Our friends joked that they were probably fake. Our families asked if they would blow up on us. So I decided to do some research. While my research is scant, I am fairly certain that the smaller cannonballs are British, based on the size and weight. They would have been used on ships, because these are too heavy for field artillery. If they are not British, then they would have been used inside Fort McHenry during or around the time of the War of 1812. The big, heavy cannonball is likely from Fort McHenry, since it would be much to heavy for field artillery. 

On Labor Day we took a few of Ken’s family members up to Fort McHenry and Baltimore’s inner harbor by boat. Traveling across the bay was very choppy. There was a lot of boat traffic, and some wind. On top of that we were running late, per usual, so rather than slowly moving up and down as we traveled east to west, we did a lot of slamming up and down in rapid succession. Once we got into the Magothy River, the waters calmed down significantly. We met Ken’s dad, aunts and uncle at The Point in Arnold, MD and headed back towards the Chesapeake Bay. Being out on the water was especially soothing after my first week at a new job, a busy weekend wedding catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in years. Sitting out on the bow of the boat, I was able to let some of my stress of co-parenting with an ex roll away. Amazingly, I was not stressed about the new job. The first week went well, and I was looking forward to learning more in a new career. Since we were no longer in a rush, we cut across a lot of the chop more smoothly. We talked about going to see Fort McHenry since we had just purchased relics.  There was some confusion on the boat about whether Fort McHenry was involved in the American Revolution, or the War of 1812, but we all knew how it was Francis Scott Key who wrote the Star Spangled Banner based on a battle he witnessed there. Key was a lawyer, who wrote poetry in his spare time. He had negotiated the release of an American soldier from a British warship, and although it had been successful, he was held on a treaty ship while the British attempted to invade Baltimore. They needed to prevent him from warning his countrymen that they were on their way up the Chesapeake Bay. The British navy was the strongest of the time, and America was still a new country with less reinforcements. After researching bombs versus cannonballs, I am very glad that we don’t have a bomb in our house. The British bombs were hollowed out mortar shells filled with 10-15 pounds of gunpowder. They weighed up to 200 pounds. The bombs were lit, launched, and exploded showering shrapnel down, hence “the bombs bursting in air.” 

“He that lives upon Hope dies farting.” – Poor Richard

As we made our way from the Bay into the Patapsco River, we passed an abandoned fort south of the Key Bridge. Google told us what we were looking at is Fort Carroll, which was built in 1847 under the supervision of Robert E Lee. It was designed and constructed as another protection for Baltimore, but it was never used in active duty. The fort was named after Charles Carroll, the longest surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, who was still alive when the idea to put a fort there was first proposed. Today the fort covers the entire land mass, and a few seagulls stood in holes  where cannons once protruded, but were never shot. Fort Carroll was used for artillery storage, since by the time the Spanish-American war broke out the battalions were out of date. Time is an interesting thing. The last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence died in 1832, 56 years after he signed the living document. Fort Carroll required an upgrade 50 years after its construction. It was renovated in 1900, but still remained unused and it was finally abandoned by the Army in 1920. Some things are meant to last, most technology is not. 

After passing under the Key Bridge, Baltimore’s skyscrapers began to show their true height on the horizon. We passed by container ships, and the cranes used to load and unload massive boxes of stuff we move about the world. It was a contrast to the local shop on the first Saturday of September in Frederick. Fort McHenry sits on a peninsula two miles south of Baltimore city and from the water the first thing I noticed was the giant 13 star flag. Unlike the British naval ships, we were able to get close to the land. We saw several cannons pointing out from the embankments, aimed high to reach far. From September 13-14th, 1812, British naval ships bombed Fort McHenry, but they were unsuccessful in causing a lot of damage to the fort. The water was too shallow to use their bigger boats, and even in smaller boats that could get closer, many of their bombs and cannons fell short of the mark and down into the water. The Americans were also able to fortify the fort just before the battle, thanks to the British Colonel Arther Brooke, who decided to rest after a land skirmish with the Americans, giving his foes a head start to the fort. Most of the cannonballs shot from Fort McHenry landed in the water, as the ships were about 2 miles offshore. Nonetheless, the ships kept their distance, and eventually Brooke and company retreated. The morning of September 14th, a 30 by 42 flag was raised over Fort McHenry. On Labor Day we saw its replica. The fort flies 4 different size flags, based on the weather, but leaves the big one for special days. 

“Each of us will, in our own lives, face crisis. The stakes may be lower, but to us they will matter … An acrimonious divorce. A decision about the future of our career. A moment when the whole game depends on us. These situations will call upon our mental resources.” -Ryan Holiday

We continued to cruise past the fort and into Baltimore Harbor. The city looks so beautiful from the water. I rarely go into Baltimore, but I used to go out to bars and clubs there in my 20s. Passing by Fells Point, the Power Plant and the inner harbor allowed me to reflect on the different perspective I have now, both literally and metaphorically. This was the second time I had been in Baltimore by water, but I had never made it into the harbor itself before that day. I have only ever known teaching professionally. Changing careers was a difficult decision for me. I can be a little “Chicken Little” when I over analyze things. About two weeks prior to starting my new job I calculated how much our diabetes supplies would cost under my new insurance and had a small panic attack.  Chicken Little Liz spent a day running frantically espousing upcoming financial ruin. It was too late to beg for my teaching job back, so instead I prepared the best I could for this change. I had previously ordered and sparsely used a Clever Fox weekly planner (I am not sponsored by anyone). As the new job approached, I started to organize my tasks and goals. I found the most helpful thing in this planner is the Habits/Skills section where I write down a list that I come up with, and bubble in the circles on days I have completed those tasks. Those tasks are: gym, meditate, journal, read, write, stretch, nature. I was able to fortify my mind for the upcoming change by enforcing the habits I know serve me best in times of stress/change/challenge. I had to pick up a prescription already under my new insurance and it only cost me $19. My anxiety about the unknown was like Fort Carroll, kind of useless and inaccurate. On the contrary, using a planner to organize my tasks and goals allowed me to prepare for, and start my new job without Chicken Little Liz making her crazy thinking appearance. So far I’ve had a positive, successful foray into a new career. While at times I can get frustrated that I am not on autopilot, as I was able to do teaching, I have been able to maintain a clear, calm mind thanks to my desire to fill in as many bubbles as I can.


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