ACOUPLE of observations from Midwesterners visiting the MiddleAtlantic for the first time gave a Marylander a nice twist to the cliche, "Travel is broadening." These fine points of perspective were born walking during the American Volkssport Association's recent convention at UMBC of about 1,000 recreational hikers from 45 states and three countries.
First, during a 6.2-mile walk around downtown Baltimore that began and ended at Rash Field, two young marrieds from Rapid City, S.D., repeatedly marveled at the city's array of churches and diversity of faiths. Every church along the route warranted a photograph.
They asked about several old church towers off in the distance and seemed interested in hearing about the Jesuits' blocky St. ++ Ignatius cum Centre Stage building.
Mount Vernon Place United Methodist's gritty, Gothic grandeur consumed five or six frames, minimum. Old St. Paul's at Charles and Lexington and a few minutes later Grace and St. Peter's Episcopal at Park and Monument evoked "wows." Bolton Hill's ** stately Brown Memorial Presbyterian and imposing Corpus Christi each broke the walking pace for several minutes of closer inspection. At Preston and Maryland, they found the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation's curving stone architecture intriguing.
After more than an hour of this, as their Baltimore-born guide struggled through mental cobwebs for a bumbling fact or two about the place in city history of the Basilica of the Assumption and the Archdiocese of Baltimore's "power tower" across the street, one of them observed: "There're so many Catholic churches." Both were no doubt fascinated, as only travelers can be, with a description of this colony's roots in catholic tolerance. (What do South Dakota schools teach, anyway?)
The day before, a gray-haired woman from "the plains of southern Minnesota" set her Maryland guide to thinking that lingers on. Roadside on a muggy, showery day at Antietam battlefield, she shifted abruptly out of conversational niceties:
"What I want to know is who owns all the trees we've seen? The government? It must be. We don't have anything like this where we live."
She and her husband developed their woodsy impression during 25 miles of convention walks in greater Philadelphia, then driving Interstate 95 south and Interstate 70 west for a day of hikes at Antietam and Harper's Ferry.
"Well, some are in parks, but mostly the land's in private ownership," the Marylander replied. He added snippets about extensive gypsy moth damage in recent years to wooded acreage along I-95 and some local governments being concerned currently about replacing trees knocked down for development.
"Well, I'd certainly favor that if I lived here," the woman replied. "This part of the country is so lush."
Pretty in many places, no argument. But Jamaica is lush, not the I-95 and I-70 corridors. Right?