Dock of the Bay
Vol. 9, No. 25
June 21-27, 2001
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For the Bay’s Most Determined Swimmer, Back to the School

Bay swimmer Joe Stewart, left, receives the Sierra Club of Southern Maryland’s Bernie Fowler Award for Conservation and Environmental Action.
Photograph courtesy of Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin

Chesapeake Bay just isn't the primest swimming hole to jump in these days. After all, why in the age of chlorinated pools swim among the oily sheens left behind by pleasure boaters or in the nutrients of chicken-farm runoff?

Seems like sound logic. But not for Joe Stewart, who’s made a philanthropic career of swimming the Bay and its tributaries. His logic is not mine nor, perhaps, yours.

"The water was cold, and I didn’t have on a wetsuit," says Stewart of a recent marathon swim around Tilghman Island. A kayaker paddled alongside for support. "By the time I got halfway around the island, my teeth were chattering. I had to keep convincing my kayaker that I wasn’t losing my mind by impressing him with my knowledge of geography."

An open–water swimmer for 11 years, Stewart has been founding and running charity swims for the past 10. The first was the Swim for Life, started on Gunpowder River in 1992 and now held on Chester River. Most recently, he founded the six-year-old Eastern Shore Marathon Swim, an event that switches location each year.

Hereabouts, Stewart is best known for founding the annual Potomac River Swim for the Environment, an eight-year-old, 7.5-mile marathon crossing from Hull Neck, Virginia, to Point Lookout, Maryland.

"At the time, I just saw this as my own personal vision quest," says Stewart of his Potomac swim. Already busy with one big charity swim, this was his chance to make wakes without the pressures of organizing a big event. "I decided I wanted to write a poem about it, and I wrote the first line on one of my maps, right at where I would be swimming. I stuck it up in my sun visor in my car. I'd stop at a stoplight and pull it out and look at it, thinking, 'I'm going to swim across that'."

Stewart survived the swim, donated the pledge money he'd raised to local environmental groups and finished the poem. His swim piqued interest, and his route to solitary introspection was widened into busy shipping lanes for fund-raising.

To date, with the three swims Stewart has founded, some $150,000 in pledges has been raised to benefit area aids and environmental groups. But planning all the swims and organizing all the swimmers and lining up swim beneficiaries and mingling with everybody on swim day has left Stewart little time and energy to, well, swim. Which is what he was trying to do in the first place.

"By the time I was in the water, I was tired," says Stewart. It got to the point, he says, that instead of swimming the whole marathon, he would have to settle for a relay or swim an early test run, even months in advance.

Thus, says Stewart, it's time to bow out gracefully and pass each swim's baton to another so that founder Stewart may again swim free. As of this year, he’s resigning as the big fish to rejoin the school of swimmers.

"The thing that I will miss the most will be the sense of community I have found in doing these events," says Stewart. "It's been a wonderful experience to have all these people come together." The sentiments have been returned. On June 2, Stewart was awarded the Bernie Fowler Award for Conservation and Environmental Action in Southern Maryland by Sierra Club of Southern Maryland for his efforts with the Potomac River Swim.

In the meantime, Stewart has applied for the chance to carry the Olympic torch and waits for an answer. He's also planning yet another water crossing; come May 2002 he’ll swim a new fund-raiser across the mouth of the Patapsco River.

Says Stewart, "I'm gonna keep swimming."

- Mark Burns

Clean Marinas Save Fishes and Bay

When times at the top are good they can be very good, and the end results can be spectacular.
Chesapeake Country is a really nice place to live, with good fresh air, great water, lots to eat and drink and the young 'uns grow like Topsy. Young oysters, crabs, clams, fish, barnacles and an incredible cornucopia of other creatures and plants swim along in the top half inch of the Bay and grow our future. Maybe a better future than it used to be. Maybe not.

Shpritz a little gasoline or any other oil on top of the top half inch, and the rosy vision of a vast protein factory fades. Add some heavy metals and toxins and other weird stuff you wouldn't want on your corn flakes, throw in lots of mysterious glop from bilges and cargo tanks and other nefarious sources, and you won't need candles for your seafood dinner. If the soft blue flames that rise from the Bay are not bright enough for your festive evening, the glow from the three-headed life form on your plate should provide ample illumination.

Fortunately, there are still ways to avoid that future. Among the good guys making a difference are the participants in the Maryland Clean Marina Initiative and those who patronize their facilities.

There are 208,000 boats registered in Maryland, served by 600 boating facilities, including marinas, boat yards, yacht clubs and the occasional marine museum. In terms of tonnage and traffic, each is a small seaport, run by a business person who doesn't want to lose clients. Each client is an amateur ship owner who, with friends and family, handles lots of stuff like gasoline and diesel, bottom paint, human effluvia, cleansers, detergents, garbage and fish guts every time they enter the premises.

We all know that Mr. Murphy, he of Murphy's law, never sleeps or takes a vacation. People screw up. Factor in liberal amounts of gravity and greed, leaven with apathy and indifference, season with alcohol, and you can end up with fishies that swim in small circles on their backs in water that you wouldn't want to be downwind of.

The Clean Marina program tries to be "a meaningful and attainable" series of objectives to remedy the situation, one marina at a time. The program also aims to "encourage changing attitudes and business practices in a more environmentally friendly direction," says Beth Valentine of Maryland Department of Natural Resources, one of the major architects of the initiative.

To join up, marinas pledge to "keep Maryland's waterways free of harmful chemicals, excess nutrients and debris." They keep the pledge by assessing their Bay friendliness in areas ranging from spill-proof oil changes to oyster restoration.

Being clean takes a lot of care and a lot of work, but Clean Marina participants say it’s worth the trouble.

"It raises the level of service we provide, which in turn raises the level of customers that use the facility," said Tom Wilhelm, manager of Herrington Harbour North. "It's the right thing to do."

Captain Jon Sheller of Rockhold Creek Marina agrees: "It's our way of keeping the Bay and tributaries clean. It's a good investment in the future."

- Christopher Jensen

What’s a Guy Like You Doing in a Place Like This?

It was just another Sunday night in Annapolis. I was tending bar at Carrol’s Creek Cafe in Eastport, just another shift of slinging beers and running food.

About halfway through my shift, this guy walks up to the bar.

“Hey, can I get two Anchor Steam drafts and a margarita on the rocks with salt?” he asks.

I look at him. I know his face from somewhere. I turn to get glasses, then stop and turn back.

“Did you ever read the book A Perfect Storm,” I ask, thinking I’ll say, you look just like the guy that wrote that book.

“ I wrote it,” he says.

“Holy s--t! You’re Sebastian Junger!” I exclaim.

The next few minutes were a whirlwind. I wanted to tell him that the writing and structure, the mix of story, personalities and background information in his book were incredible and that I couldn’t imagine the work, dedication and stamina that went into a book like his.

I stammered something like, “Man, that was a great book, I’ve read it like four times,” as I reached out to shake his hand.

While I’m raising the glass to the beer taps and pouring tequilla, I’m thinking do I want a picture, an autograph? No, I just peppered Junger with questions.

What are you working on now? Are you researching another book? Who do you work for?

It’s amazing the things you know about people that you’ve never met. I read that he had bought a bar with some friends. (He had said ‘now that I have somewhere to go that I can drink for free, I don’t know if I’ll go anywhere else.’)

I don’t know if he was thinking, ‘just give me my drinks dammit,’ but he took the time to answer my questions.

“My next book is called Fire. It’s a collection of stories I’ve written. … I’m researching another book. … I do a lot of foreign correspondence for magazines. I’m leaving for eastern Europe in a few weeks.”

I handed him his drinks, took his $20 and gave him change.

Just before he walked away, I wanted to say one more thing. In one of the paperback editions of A Perfect Storm, in his afterword, Junger writes that he was a free-lance commercial logger, “wondering at age 30 exactly where my life was going.”

I told him this passage always stuck with me. What I wanted to put into words was, we all have thoughts like that everyday, but you’re the one that saw a story that no one else did, you kept banging into the wall, you did the research and wrote a story that had to be heard. That is a beautiful thing.

More important than an autograph, better than a photograph, I could tell everyone I bought Sebastian Junger a round of beers.

But I thought he’d be taller.

- Christopher Heagy

Calvert, An Old Path Answers New Questions

Only when the last tree has been cut, the last farm sold; when all the crabs, fish and oysters caught, the Bay poisoned. Only then will we realize that we cannot eat money.
- Robert P. Burnett 1996

A hot, hazy sun seared through ominous gray clouds as Barbara Burnett, on the knoll overlooking the lush green pasture, loaded film into her camera. Soon friends would gather to share in the dedication of her dream.

Down the hill, two early arrivers walked a man–made, rock circle inside a fence of tobacco stakes lashed with hemp. Each walked methodically, pausing, then moving forward.

Each was taking a personal journey on this newly created labyrinth at Calvert Homestead, the Historic Lyle Simmons House on Sixes Road in Prince Frederick.

“We’d been married for less than a year,” said recent widow Patsy Marshall of Owings. Before the dedication ceremony, she was walking the labyrinth looking for what she called “closure.”

“When we bought our house in Owings, we came here looking for plants. My husband fell in love with this place. He had always wanted a farm just like this one. He’s finally gotten his wish,” added Marshall who fought tears as she described the bench placed here in her husband’s memory.

The labyrinth was a new dream for Calvert Homestead owner Barbara Burnett, whose life was shattered last year with the loss her husband of 18 years, 51-year-old Robert, to cancer. With the help of others, she has created the Robert P. Burnett Cancer Respite Foundation.

“I kept busy after Robby died,” said Burnett. “So busy I didn’t have time to think about it. Then one day it
hit, hit hard and hurt deep. I was devastated.”

That’s when Burnett decided to build a labyrinth.

Over the millennia labyrinths have been around, they have been revered as sacred places. Described by their number of circuits or rings, they have one entrance and one well-defined path, which leads to the center and back out. In size, they can range from a small design on a stone to a walkway over 40 feet in diameter.

Walking back and forth on the path — or tracing a smaller path with your fingers — you turn 180 degrees each time you enter a different circuit.

Today’s labyrinths come in all sizes and shapes. Some are temporary, made of masking tape or string. Permanent ones are built from stone, cut into turf, formed in mounds of earth or trimmed in vegetation.
They’re used for weddings, marriage vow renewals, illness, recovery, meditation, reflection, prayer, comfort, grief, relationships, parents seeking guidance and teens looking for answers.

Some people walk the labyrinth to clear the mind. Others enter with a question. It’s said that time in the center offers safe haven to examine old wounds, feel pain and take the first steps toward healing.

“It’s more of a healing place for me,” said Burnett. “Every day since its beginning, I’ve been here walking, thinking. It’s been very emotional. I felt like the stones almost talked, guiding me. That’s how I knew where to place that old gate at the entrance. We’d bought it at an auction together and never found the proper place to hang it. This is where it was meant to be.”

The crowd had grown to about 40 when Burnett took center stage. Thanking all that helped make her dream reality, she turned to the labyrinth’s young builders.

“These young kids have started a seed,” said Burnett of the nine young adults from Cook’s Memorial Presbyterian Church, Youth for Christ. They had traveled to Maryland from Charlotte, North Carolina, to build the labyrinth as a labor of love.

“My hope is one day you’ll be able to return and bring your own children and show them what you did. The land and the labyrinth will still be here,” promised Burnett.

The June 15 dedication marked the end for the young people, ages 13 to 16, who had called Calvert Homestead home for a week. Camping in tents, designing and building the labyrinth, fossil hunting at Scientist Cliffs, going to an Orioles game, visiting the nation’s capital were memories they would cherish.

As they accepted special thank-you gifts from Burnett, wooden labyrinth plaques, each shared a reflection and placed their own stones where they felt they were destined to lay. The mission they’d named Mission Possible had come full circle.

“It made me feel good to be a part of something that will continue to touch the heart of others,” said 15-year-old Thomas Forehand, who designed the seven-circuit labyrinth after the famous 11-circuit Chartres labyrinth in the famed cathedral in France.

Other helpers came from closer to home. College senior Joshua Brauns of Broomes Island created an angel to watch over the labyrinth. His sister, Julia, designed the first stepping stone placed at the “mouth” or entrance.

Others gave, too. Chaney Enterprises supplied Maryland white stone for the circuit walls. Robert P. Burnett Cancer Respite Foundation board members Ira and Becki Mendelson donated food for the dedication.

Now it’s come to be, for all who might need it.

“I needed it,” says Burnett. “Friends of mine needed it, too.”

Do you? You’re welcome to visit and decide for yourself.

- Connie Darag

Way Downstream ...

In Virginia, conch fisherman are only using half as many threatened horseshoe crabs for bait, thanks to the invention of a bait bag at the Virginia Insitute of Science. The bag, developed by a man named, aptly, Robert Fisher, prevents scavengers from eating the horseshoes so they last longer, the Hampton Roads Daily Press reports …

In Finland, Nokia, the manufacturer of the cell phones that many of us carry, said it hopes to develop a biodegradable phone in two to three years. Phones that disappear over time would alleviate landfill clutter; about a half-billion cell phones are sold each year, and people switch phones every two years or so …

In Peru, you can adopt a tarantula or even a crocodile if you’re game. They’re residents of the hard-pressed Park of Legends Zoo in Lima, and the catch is that while the animals become yours, they stay at the zoo. The “prices” — ranging from $15 to $10,200 — pay for a year’s food for the creatures. In return, you get a certificate, a year’s free admission and your photo taken with your new pet …

In Russia, four former Soviet republics on the Caspian Sea agreed last week to stop overharvesting the world’s most precious wildlife resource — caviar, a $1 billion-a-year industry. Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan agreed to fight black market killing of endangered sturgeon for their eggs — the caviar — in return for avoiding United Nations-ordered cuts in legal caviar production …

Our Creature Feature comes from Scotland, where a lovesick peacock named Percy was keeping guests awake at the fancy Dalhouse Courte Hotel near Edinburgh. You’d be upset, too, if someone brazenly snatched your mate, which is what happened one night to Percy’s Henrietta while she roosted on nine eggs.

Percy’s mournful squawks triggered an all-points bulletin for Henrietta and, according to late word, she’d been discovered perched high in a tree down the road. But alas, she wouldn’t come down; it was unclear whether she was shook up from her ordeal or pondering a life free of noisy old Percy.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly