Burton on the Bay:
Bill Burton's Year in Review
From Bill Burton, the dean of Maryland outdoor writers, we learn about life as well as wildlife

The Sporting Life

There's not a body of water nor a stretch of wilderness in Maryland Bill Burton hasn't fished or hunted. So when he speaks on the sporting life, he speaks with authority.

If you want a fish big enough that no exaggeration is necessary, the last weekend of April and much of May is prime time, he wrote as Maryland's last rockfishing season of the 20th century opened.

Six months later, we learned that the last year of the 20th century was extraordinary, especially in its final rockfishing weeks:

I've fished Maryland's striped bass regularly since I arrived in the summer of '56, and as the past season was drawing to a close, we had the best fishing for rock since I've been hereabouts.


Burton's clearly the guy to turn to when you want learn the right way to catch a fish, including charter boat etiquette. On that he advised us in the wake of Hurricane Irene:

Hurricanes are an exception. Except for something like that, fishermen are expected to show at the docks in the morning for decision time.

This morning, Captain Bruce Scheible of Point Lookout took one look, and the decision was made. "Poker day," he said as he looked to his long dock, of which the T-end was wiped out by the 80-knot winds of Floyd last month and is currently being restored.


Forty-three years in Chesapeake Country, much of it outdoors, gives Burton a long perspective on the Bay, so when he sounds the alarm - as he did May 20-26 in his column "No Orioles in Baltimore," you know there's fire as well as smoke:

We love the Chesapeake so we build on its shores. And we know what that means: Degradation of the Bay.

We love the woodlands and their bird and animal life, so we cut the trees so we can live in the woodlands. What little bit we're doing won't hurt that much, we rationalize


Tamer Pleasures

Tamer moments with nature satisfy Burton as much as hunting and fishing. Among those, as every regular reader knows, are bird- and squirrel-watching from his home overlooking Stoney Creek.

Mornings when I sit on the nearby bench for my bowl of cereal, one or both catbirds will aight on the perimeter of the feeder less than six feet away and scold me to depart. From the porch, I've seen them do the same to squirrels, also a few curious blackbirds, he wrote in "Backyard Birding" (July 8-14).


But the bird he wrote about July 29-Aug. 4 hasn't shown up in his backyard yet. "A Welcome Bird Is the Pelican" documents the colonization of Chesapeake Country by what Burton calls "the commercial fisherman of the bird world":

Herons aren't known for being gregarious or good tempered. Pelicans are more sociable, less wary of man and equally fascinating. Big and clumsy as they seem, they can dive beneath the surface and grab a bucket of water with fish inside before the latter can get away.


Human Highs and Lows

Burton's just as fascinated with the works of humankind, though in these the wry old Burton often sees "a silver cloud with a black lining," as he did Dec. 9-15 in "The Bay's Biggest Deal":

What single event has changed the face of Maryland more in a hundred years, no a thousand years, than the erection of the fascinating metal complex - all 4.3 miles of it - that connects this side of the Chesapeake with the flatlands to the east of the brine?


Nor can he resist a good human character. So he rejoiced at the return of his old whipping boy - William Donald Schaefer - to public life as Maryland's comptroller:

King Crab, you were missed. As long as you are up to the rigors of public life, there will always be a niche for you in Maryland from the outhouses of the Eastern Shore - your words, not mine - to the mountains of Garrett County, where the rural folks appreciated you more.


Burton's seen a lot of folly in his life, but not enough to dull his sense of wonder. At the death of 'Joltin' Joe' DiMaggio, Burton wrote:

He had all the materials - and displayed them best at a time when this nation needed a hero.

The Yankee Clipper's 50-game hitting streak took our minds briefly from the hard times lingering from the great Depression and from news reports of the pounding the British were taking from Hitler


The Good Old Days

Old times fuel many of his columns these days, to the delight of many readers and irritation of a few. He's especially good at using them to wring your heart, as he did in his last column of this year, "The Christmas that Almost Wasn't":

Grandma and Auntie worked more industriously than Santa through that Christmas night, and the true spirit reigned in the morning.

There was a tree and the trimmings, including real candles. Auntie and Grandma had cut it during the night. They had gathered holly and princess pine by lantern light for a wreath, baked cookies and boiled fudge. One of Auntie's cotton stockings filled with sweets was hung behind the stove for me, and an odd assortment of used and unused gifts found in the attic, bureau drawers and closets were wrapped in tissue paper and under the tree for all.

Burton took the occasion of this century-ending year to recall the great captains he's known on Chesapeake Bay. About one, Chuck Klein still working out of Rod 'n' Reel in Chesapeake Beach, he wrote:

Packed atop each other, his rock, blues and trout would probably reach the moon.

Burton also looked back at not-always-so-sustainable early-century hunting ways in Chesapeake Country:

Those were the free-wheeling days. While fish and fowl were abundant, laws and regulations were minimal. It was a time when the by-word was catch, shoot and trap as many as you can: a resilient Mother Nature replenishes stocks. She did that well into the 20th century.



The older Bill Burton gets - and he turned 73 Dec. 15 - the funnier he gets, as we saw in his birthday column, Dec. 16-22, "The Spice of Shopping for the Spouse": I saw this yellow low-cut dress with a mini-skirt at the bottom and a lot of Spanish-dancer ruffles in between ...

He had another bit of fun with animal-righters who want him to renounce ownership of his beloved Frieda Lawrence in favor of guardianship:

Suppose the power-that-be gets the notion that I'm depriving Frieda by not feeding her top-of-the-line Gourmet cat food instead of the less expensive though not bottom-of-the-line Friskies she appears to be quite content with? Will a tin of tuna be adequate pay for a cat who captures a mouse?


And, for the 20th century, folks, that's Enough said.

| Issue 52 |

Volume VII Number 52
December 30, 1999 - January 5, 2000
New Bay Times

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