Ninety-one-year-old river warrior Bernie Fowler added some new followers at his 28th annual Wade-In to measure his beloved Patuxent River’s clarity by Sneaker Index.
Chesapeake chronicler Tom Horton flew in on water taxi. The Patuxent Voices sang a tribute, adding a capella artistry to Island Girl Deanna Dove’s folk hymns and bridging the gap opened by the 2010 death of Chesapeake bard Tom Wisner, Fowler’s inspiration in the now-famed ritual.
Gov. Larry Hogan was not among Fowler’s followers, though governors Bob Ehrlich and Martin O’Malley have joined Fowler’s past Wade-Ins.
For this year’s walk, Fowler wore brand new white tennis shoes. His battered original pair was retired last year and now belongs to history, preserved at Calvert Marine Museum.
His bright white shoes faded from view, obscured by murk, at 44 inches, as measured by long-time followers, powers in their own rights, Congressman Steny Hoyer and Maryland Senate President Thomas V. ‘Mike’ Miller, both representing Fowler’s district.
Forty-four inches is the highest in Wade-In history, though far short of the 63 inches of Fowler’s boyhood, the gold standard of his Index and quest.
Don’t go believing, however, that high visibility represents improved river quality.
The Patuxent has been studied every day for 90 of Fowler’s 91 years by the Chesapeake Biological Lab at the river’s mouth at Solomons, Lab director Tom Miller told this year’s gathering. “We know what the temperature and clarity of the river were on the day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor … on the day the planes struck the Twin Towers. Even on the evening the Beetles sung on the Ed Sullivan show,” he said.
By such scientific measures, the Patuxent is not a healthy river. It earned the low mark of D on the most recent Chesapeake Bay Report Card.
“We’re not sure Bernie will ever see his feet again,” his son Bernie Jr. said. But, he added, the goal “is worth continuing to fight for.”
Thus, the tradition continues, in hope of recruiting the next generation of warriors to fight for the river.