Bay Reflections

 Vol. 10, No. 43

October 24-30, 2002

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Fall Guy
by Steve Carr

I hate fall. It smacks of the end. The leaves are dropping like flies, and the trees are being laid bare like beggars in the wind. Fall elicits the same feeling I used to get when I was a child, and summer was ending and I knew that school was right around the corner. Fall is like seasonal life support. It’s the last dying gasp before winter lowers the boom.

I love fall. Fall in the Chesapeake Bay is so darn beautiful that it defies description. The crimson/yellow trees shaded against the backdrop of blue water and the baked brown grasses of the Bay are enough to take your breath away. The sky turns a deep blue that matches the water. The sun sinks lower in the west and turns each sunset into a scarlet cloudburst. Stars appear in the sky that we had forgotten were even up there. And the moon seems bigger and brighter than we had ever remembered. A Chesapeake Bay fall is like landing inside a giant pumpkin pie.

I think it’s the water that makes fall in the Chesapeake so magical. But it’s not just the water. Lots of pretty places have water. A pristine lake or a crystal mountain stream surrounded by golden aspens or shimmering silver maples can be spectacular indeed.

But the Bay is a different story. It’s as much about smell and sounds as it is about what you see. To smell a dying marsh as geese wheel over a freshly plowed cornfield with the setting sun turning the whole sky a shade of pink that doesn’t even have a name: That is enough to make a heathen dream of God.

Clearly, I am ambivalent about the change in seasons.

Fall is the best time to explore the Chesapeake Bay by small boat. The big power boats are being hauled out of the water and covered in shrink-wrap for the winter, and canoes and kayaks are free once more to take to the main stems of the Bay. The Rhode, the Chester, the Nanticoke — all the rivers that were turned into churning bathtubs in the spring and summer by the wakes of a zillion pleasure boats — suddenly in fall, they go back to being water-glass mirrors into the very heart and soul of the Bay.

There is nothing on earth quite like running with an outgoing tide and a stiff northerly breeze in a canoe, right down the main channel of the Severn River on a sunny fall afternoon. The sandstone cliffs glow so red they seem like they’re on fire, and the poplars shine so yellow they can shame a black-eyed Susan. As you steer your canoe with the swiftly moving current, you notice that you’re going so fast your little boat is actually making a wake, and you realize you haven’t paddled in nearly 15 minutes. Spiderwebs blow by in the wind and catch the sunlight like strands of silver lace. The air is so clear that you can reach right out and touch the Eastern Shore. You pass an abandoned osprey nest atop a channel marker as a raft of canvasback ducks explodes from the surface of a sheltered cove.

Steering closer to shore, you spot a blue heron perched silently above the water, and he eyes you with a solitary indifference. The tall phragmites grasses along the shoreline bend in the breeze like bobbing feathers as a mob of red-winged blackbirds plays a noisy game of tag amidst the reeds. Small minnows move in slow motion along the shallows as a blue crab scurries down river, heading for the ocean. Strands of pond weed swirl within the eddy line, and the bottom of the river seems almost bare.

You steer back into the main channel with a line of honking geese high above you, following the river home. Sea gulls dance on the wind while Forster’s terns do dive bomb runs on a school of churning menhaden relentlessly pursued by a pack of striped bass and big blues. A lone Boston Whaler motors into the midst of this roiling confusion, and the two fishermen onboard start pulling in large rockfish as fast as they can cast their lines into the water. A mud-stained work boat passes this spectacle, its deck piled high with crab pots being hauled home at season’s end.

As you near your take-out point at the mouth of the river, you spot a trail of golden leaves being carried out to sea in the tide line, and the Bay beckons to you with a siren song. “Don’t stop,” the Bay whispers softly.
“There won’t be another day like this one until the next fall rolls around.”

A past president of the Severn River Association, Steve Carr reflects from Ferry Farms.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly