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In the Beginning: Bay Reflection from Vol. I No 1

Often our best learning comes from questions rather than from answers, from wondering about seemingly small details or great mysteries …

The Bay. When said and heard that way, the words mean more than a dictionary’s definition, more than a body of water, sheltered somehow from a larger lake or sea. The Bay means that a person knows about a special place.
    This awareness is a gift to the people who have it, a relationship to the place and to other people who share the knowledge. The more we learn, from the Bay and from Bay people, the more valuable the gift becomes.
    Often our best learning comes from questions rather than from answers, from wondering about seemingly small details or great mysteries. In this column, observations about nature and the Bay come from one small place of land, marsh and water in a community on the Western Shore of the Chesapeake — Fairhaven.
    If Fairhaven were Flamingo or Panacea or Coconut Grove, we would be on bays named Florida, Appalachicola and Biscayne. Every bay is different, but there are some things that many bays have in common. Most bays share what also makes each bay unique: their particular characteristics are greatly influenced by other, distant places.
    Look at the pines that grow wild around the Chesapeake. Close to water on the Western Shore, and through much of what’s left of the natural pinewood flats of the Eastern Shore, the dominant native pine is the loblolly.
    The tree is as southern as it sounds, one of the many signs that the Bay, our Bay, is the northernmost part of the south. With long soft needles, and flowers so rich with pollen that spring winds can fill the air with clouds of golden dust, the loblolly clings to our coast but ranges far into the southern U.S.
    We found our home on the Bay in 1980, quite by accident, when we got lost looking for another great southern tree, the cypress. Although the Bay’s influence allows cypresses to grow naturally up into southern New Jersey and Delaware, one of the northernmost genuine cypress swamps, Battle Creek, is in Maryland near Prince Frederick, in Calvert County.
    Although we did eventually get to the sanctuary, some very right wrong turns took us first to Fairhaven, miles to the north. There, the smallest of bridges separated the Bay from a shallow, marsh-rimmed pond. To the north and west, the marshes edged into wooded hills where a few houses could barely be seen. The pond’s many acres were clustered with herons and egrets, overflown by terns and gulls. Out on the Bay, osprey were nesting on the channel markers.
    Ever since, we’ve nested in one of the houses in the hills. In continuous celebration, cypresses we planted that first year are now tall enough to walk under. The cypresses grow near the marsh close to a freshwater spring, with their feet wet and the muck around them punctuated with earthen cones made by crawfish. A few evergreen southern bayberry bushes are in the shrubby fringe between the marsh and the woods, where tall loblolly pines stand out. The scene could almost be along the Georgia coast, perhaps even the Everglades.