Right on the Water

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 2, 2006

ST. MICHAELS, Md. -- It's tempting to seek deeper meaning and clues to character in the way Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld kick back in this lovely Eastern Shore community, where both have bought expensive waterfront estates.

Cheney shops for shotgun shells, Rumsfeld buys ice cream.

Rumsfeld's retreat -- a former bed and breakfast built in 1804, for which he paid $1.5 million six months after the invasion of Iraq -- is called Mount Misery. After he took title, two cannonballs were found on the four-acre property: weapons of mass destruction! -- circa 1812.

Cheney's place, named Ballintober after a previous owner's Irish ancestral home, was originally listed for $3.1 million, but the veep drove a hard bargain and paid $2.7 million in September. Among such amenities as a wisteria arbor and swimming pool on nine acres, Ballintober has radiant heat beneath the kitchen and living room floors, especially nice if the vice president pads around in his socks.

Cheney travels through town in brusque black-SUV convoys, emerging with wife Lynne to eat in the best restaurants. Rumsfeld has been spotted driving a Volkswagen Jetta and pumping his own gas. He goes on shopping missions with wife Joyce, lugging antique knickknacks in her wake.

"Like every other husband who comes to St. Michaels," says Peter Gregorio, a gallery owner, who imitates Rumsfeld in this role, trudging with shoulders hunched, bearing a just-purchased old washing tub sort of thing, as his wife presses onward. "One of the most powerful individuals in the world," Gregorio marvels. "I thought it was cute."

The most curious phenomenon of all, of course, is the underlying one: What is the significance of these two Bush Hawks, friends for more than 30 years, feathering nearly adjacent nests in the same hunting grounds? They are separated by two miles of narrow lanes -- nothing but cows and long driveways into the woods. Dock to dock, from Mount Misery on Broad Creek to Ballintober on San Domingo Creek, is about a three-mile sail among the herons and ospreys.

What gives? Is a secret weekend war cabinet forming? Are yachts and duck decoys part of the plan to transform the military? Did Cheney tire of his secure undisclosed hideaway and opt to join Rummy in his serene disclosed getaway?

Whither goes the neighborhood?

One Man's Retreat Is Another's Invasion

We are probably thinking too hard. The search for obscure meaning -- that reflex for overinterpretation -- is so Western Shore. The Bay Bridge is where you lighten up and leave behind your fevered quest for the matrix behind the mask.

Washington assumes the Eastern Shore revolves around it. The Shore is the Holodeck, the other side of the looking glass, the almost imaginary annex and prop closet where we keep in reserve the beach, sun, water, crabs, ducks, oysters, watermen and other endangered species. St. Michaels pops up on the plasma screen in our brains when we punch in "quaint," "historic" and "pricey hand-crafted water-themed tchotchke."

Now with Cheney and Rumsfeld out there somewhere in the tall grass, St. Michaels is the latest place to be sucked into potential Beltway drama, like poor Crawford, Tex.

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