||Where We Live
by Steve Carr
Riding into Summer
The Western Shore is brimming with beauty and rural dementia
When spring turns to summer around Bay country, the sensory world suddenly kicks into overdrive and everything changes, especially along the back roads less traveled.
The Western Shore is chock full of places just brimming with beauty and rural dementia. Thirty miles can sometimes feel like a trip to South Carolina.
I recently went for an amazing bike ride down in the Indian Head area, that narrow fish hook of land along the Potomac River south of Waldorf. A little-known Chesapeake backwater on the way to nowhere, it was a fine place to witness summer begin a bit before its official start on June 21. This historic peninsula, geographically defined by Mattawoman Creek to the north and Nanjemoy Creek and the Port Tobacco River to the south, with a million little swamps and forested hills in between, was just unveiling its summertime signals.
At 9am on a Sunday morning, it was already 80 degrees and humid, the first hot summer day of the year; it felt heavenly after weeks of northeasterly drizzle and temperatures in the low 60s.
For 30 miles around General Smallwood State Park, I followed highways and country lanes devoid of traffic and just bursting with summer.
The first thing I noticed was that in the last couple of days, maybe minutes, outside had become a jungle again, the trees turning the unplowed landscape into a deep leafy green. The smells of wild rose and butterfly-blossomed honey-suckle were almost overpowering as the bushes and vines crowded the roadway like a flower wall. Both are non-native invasives bent on taking over the entire coastal plain of Maryland, and both smell just like summer.
The thick, bushy spring-rain lawns of May were sprouting their white carpet of cottonball clover, and near the uncut edge of the road, bright white clumps of daisies mixed with yellow buttercups. At many of the houses I passed, pools were freshly filled and the plastic lawn furniture was spread out under shady trees. Summer weekends are for tending the yard, and everywhere suburban farmers were riding mowers or tractors.
Down Ironsides Road, I passed several rundown homes with mad-dogs chained to dog shacks, barking and snarling like lunch was going by. The surrounding farm fields were bristling with corn, and vegetable gardens taking root.
A brief detour down Friendship Landing Road took me to a filled public boat landing, where fishermen sporting lots of skin and NASCAR tank tops lined the docks with fishing poles in hand. The smell of sunscreen wafted on the wind like eau de beach. On a secluded stretch of shoreline, I jumped into a very refreshing but red tide-running Nanjemoy Creek.
Back on the road, I pedaled past an endless stream of summertime signs, mostly handmade, advertising summer camps, gospel jamborees, soccer clinics, Family Fun Days, softball tournaments, bluegrass blowouts, volunteer fire department crab feasts, charity fish fries, church barbeques and classic car shows. Every once in a while, a freshly-manicured baseball diamond appeared out of the summer haze like Field of Dreams.
Riverside Road was a roller coaster ride with steeply banked pine and beech wood forests lining both sides of the road and songbirds and woodpeckers darting in every direction. At the bottom of each big hill was an arrow arum- and water lily-covered swamp framed in wild pink azaleas.
I neared the end of my journey at the white frame Chicamuxen Methodist Church, which served as General Joseph Hookers headquarters when he and his 12,000 Union troops guarded the Potomac at the beginning of the Civil War. Golf-ball-sized bullet holes in the cast iron historical road sign near the church bore witness to the southern sympathies that still run deep in places like Charles County. And as every young man knows, summer is prime sign-shooting season.
My ride ended at the granite grave monument of General William Smallwood, a native Marylander who saved General Washington at the Battle of Long Island during the Revolutionary War and whose gallant troops earned Maryland the title of the Old Line State. After the war, the grizzled general returned home to become governor and hoodwink the rights to the Potomac River from Virginia. Smallwoods small, elegant, plantation house of Flemish-bond brick sits atop a big hill in the park. Its a grand old spot to spend a hazy summer day as you wonder how people got by without ice cold drinks or air conditioning.