Chesapeake Outdoors

Seen with Clear Eyes

by C.D. Dollar

Dave Harp has traveled the world looking through a camera lens for the perfect picture. He has photographed the world's finest yachts as they competed in Perth, Australia for America's Cup. He's been to Panama three times within a year, photographing the canal to understand its ecological impact.

On the 40th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion at Normandy, he spent 10 days retracing the path the Allies carved out to change the course of history.

But he always returns to Chesapeake Bay.

You can see his vivid imagery in his critically acclaimed books with Tom Horton, Water's Way and Swanfall.

To get the best photos, Harp advises, "get out" into the resource, experiencing nature on her own terms. That generally means rising an hour or so before daybreak, regardless of weather. Some of his best work has been when rain, fog or mist reveal the raw energy of the Bay.

Recently, a handful of outdoor educators and I viewed Chesapeake Country through Harp's keen lens. With slides, he led us through the fundamentals of lighting, film speed, f/stop, lens choice and composition. But he saved the best piece of advice for the hours just before dawn, that time of transition when night gives way to day.

When I awoke, the sky over Bishop's Head (a marshy finger of land saddled by the Honga River and Fishing Bay) was adorned with sapphires and rubies, the air crisp and clear. Shortly, flickers of sunlight seeped through as we walked up the gravel road flanked by lowland marsh. A blue heron flew low and a pair of ducks, (gadwalls or mallards?) edged out over the marsh to open waters of Fishing Bay.

The sun rapidly made its daily ascent from a blazing crescent peering over the water to an inferno red as the gates of Dante's imagination. Harp noted subtle beauties: spears of light bouncing off frosted marsh reeds, long glimmering shadows cast by loblollies where an eagles' nest is reported.

By now morning had set in, closing our window of optimum light. Too much light, Harp reminds, makes for poor contrasts and boring pictures.

Our journey continued in a 21-foot open skiff past Bloodsworth Island. A U.S. Navy bombing practice target, it is officially off-limits - though a pair of nesting peregrine falcons put a halt to the war games before relocating on Smith Island.

Another small invasion force has established a presence. A blue heron rookery, actually called heronry, thrives among the few trees left. Between mid-March and June, the breeding pairs - yellow billed with plumes on the back and breast - produce about four light bluish eggs to hatch in four weeks.

Far in the distance, a thin white ribbon streamed northward: a massive flock of tundra swans making for the Susquehanna River, then continuing to the upper reaches of Canada, another sign that winter's end is imminent.

Harp's next project with Horton will detail the wonders of Dorchester County and all such hidden treasures.

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VolumeVI Number 10
March 12-18, 1998
New Bay Times

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