Steve Carr articles

Chesapeake Bay with Steve Carr
Steve Carr, a local writer and activist, has a way with words....

Where We Live
by Steve Carr

Originally printed in Bay Weekly, the weekly newspaper of the Annapolis capital region, in print and online at www.bayweekly.com .

The Other Side of the River:

The Anacostia seems a long way from the Bay

Out here in Chesapeake Country, we may take an occasional trip to Washington to see a museum or the cherry blossoms. But beyond New York Avenue and Monuments Mall, the rest of D.C. is a mystery.

I go into our nation’s capital pretty regularly, and I have led many urban walks around places like Foggy Bottom, Sixteenth Avenue, and the Maine Avenue seafood market. But the one section of Washington that has always been terra incognita for me is Southeast. The very name conjures up burned-out tenements and street corner drug deals. I have often taken Kenilworth Avenue into town and driven by Benning Avenue thinking, What would happen if I broke down and had to go looking for help over there?

I found out this spring on the 2008 Anacostia Eco Tour with my friend Greg Drury, from Wholeness for Humanity, who was teaming up with Ed Brandt, from the Environmental Protection Agency on a ride themed One Bike Ride Closer To A Unified D.C.

The itinerary was intriguing: a 15-mile bike ride through the Anacostia Watershed.

The state of Maryland officially lists the headwaters of the Anacostia, in Prince George’s County, as a scenic river. But my limited glimpses, usually from the seat of a passing Metro train gliding past Kingman Island near RFK Stadium, was of a trash-strewn, mud flat, oil-sheen mess.

Here was my chance to see the Anacostia up close and personal.

We began our trip at the new U.S. Department of Transportation Building by the Navy Yard. I had ridden my bike there last fall, when the National’s new stadium was still an erector set hole in the ground surrounded by shabby shacks and vacant lots overgrown with weeds and littered with broken glass. Since then, this sporty economic engine had magically transformed the blighted area into high-rise glass office buildings and trendy restaurants.

Our group was comprised of government wonks, crunchy young environmentalists and D.C. bike police. The police were there to protect several D.C. big wigs. We headed off with a police escort. When we came to intersections, the police stopped traffic and we pedaled through like dignitaries.

The area northwest of the Anacostia is mostly mixed neighborhoods where soccer clinics bring people of all races and colors together to watch munchkins kick white balls across scraggly playgrounds. We visited the Virginia Avenue Community Garden where neighbors plant vegetables in a large field by the freeway.

After a stop at Judy’s Solar Home, we pedaled back to Nationals Park for a grand tour of the nation’s newest baseball stadium. During our little excursion, our guide Maggie explained that this is the first Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED, -certified green ballpark in the country because of its energy-efficient lighting, 6,300-square-foot green roof, electric golf carts, bike racks, and unique underground water filtration system.

We left the shiny glass baseball palace and headed across the busy South Capital Street Bridge, dodging busted bottles and zipping cars. We were suddenly on the Anacostia River Trail, paralleling the muddy river and looking at small marinas, colorful fishermen, Navy ships and stone-still herons.

We stopped at the Urban Tree House, where the Student Conservation Association teaches city kids about the environment. As part of the Great American Cleanup, local school children were picking up trash along the banks of the Anacostia.

Our next stop was Marvin Gaye Park, where we visited a farmers’ market in a building covered in glass murals made from pieces of colored glass, celebrating flowers, fish and D.C.’s king of soul.

As we rode through Southeast, 15 white folks on bikes, we got plenty of looks. But everyone was friendly. Many people laughed and waved.

What struck me most was how pretty most of the neighborhoods were. This was no ghetto. In fact, Annapolis Gardens and Obery Court in Annapolis look worse than any place we rode by in Southeast. The houses were modest and a bit rundown, but folks were planting flowers and cutting their grass just like around Annapolis on a spring Saturday.

As I rode my bike across the Benning Road Bridge, past those places that had always looked so scary from a distance in my car, I realized that it is this chasm of the unknown that makes us fear the Southeasts of the world.

And I heard the encouraging words of Amchat Edwards, the dreadlocked young black man, leading the cleanup at the Urban Tree House: “The Anacostia flows into the Potomac, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. So I guess you could say we all really share the same watershed.”

The Road Home:

Wounded Warriors conquer Annapolis

On the south lawn of the White House, on a gloriously sunny spring day, as President George W. Bush shook the hands of 25 brave vets on bicycles who had lost various limbs in Iraq, I began to cry. I had been invited to be a part of the Wounded Warrior Project, and this gathering in our nation’s capital was the kickoff for the White House to Lighthouse Soldier Ride.

In Annapolis, that’s Thomas Point Lighthouse. Out of the blue, Woody Groton, the group’s executive director, asked me to put together a challenging ride around town that would include a glimpse of the lighthouse.

I met the riders and their support crew at Jonas Green Park, after they finished a long ride from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore to Annapolis via the B&A Trail.

My old friend Dave Dionne, who is in charge of county trails, had led them. He introduced me to Woody.

Woody put this crazy dream together to rehabilitate wounded vets in both mind and body, to challenge them to seize their lives, to become something more than they ever were or thought they ever could be.

Volunteers from New York to Florida accompanied the riders on their quest, with aid from sponsors like U-Haul, providing the trucks to haul all the gear, and Trek, providing the tricked-out bikes for each rider.

Embraced as part of the Wounded Warrior family, soon, I was driving their giant U-Haul filled with all of the bikes and gear back to my house where it could be parked safely for the night. I hadn’t known these folks for an hour, and they trusted me with everything they owned.

Semper Fi, baby.

I had laid out a route that included virtually every major road in Annapolis: the Naval Academy Bridge, Main Street, Rowe Boulevard, Taylor Avenue, Spa Road, Hilltop Lane, Bay Ridge Avenue and the Eastport Bridge.

The ride included stops at City Dock for a warm welcome from city and state officials, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the Annapolis Police Station, Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, the Chesapeake Children’s Museum, and the Bay Ridge Community Pool before finishing back at City Dock at Armadillos.

Words seem puny to describe our ride. All I remember are images of great sadness, joy and triumph.

A dark-haired lady vet holding her carbon fiber leg behind her back before the ride, as she flirted with the boys.

A wounded young officer with only one leg and one arm, tenderly kissing his wife for almost a minute right before they began the grueling 25-mile ride.

Trying my best to stay out in front of three legless low-riders who raced one another the whole way, talking steadily about training for the Olympics together.

Two soldiers who had lost both of their legs, now rolling like wet Labs in the cool grass under a giant oak at our lunch stop at Maryland Hall.

The volunteers from American Legion Post 175 and Salute our Veterans passing out lunches and whispering words of encouragement to each of the hot and tired riders, as if they were their sons and daughters.

A veteran getting out of his car in the middle of the street to shake hands and thank riders when we stopped to fix a bike on Hilltop Lane.

The families who lined the route in Bay Ridge, waving homemade signs and flags.

Naval Academy graduate Andrew Kinnard, who lost both legs, encouraging the members of the Academy Cycling Team to be all they can be.

A soldier who had been in a coma for four months and who the doctors all thought should be dead, riding a tricycle around town as Parker Jones of Capital Cycle pushed him up each hill.

And the after-ride party at Armadillos, where Brendan the owner supplied not only free beer but foxy Miller Lite girls to serve it to the thirsty and triumphant soldiers.

The Wounded Riders represent both loss and inspiration. They come from towns large and small, from luxury and poverty. They each have a story to tell. But they are not superheroes. Some are bitter, and some are better. They are us. When we look at them we see ourselves and wonder: Could I rise above such wounds?

And so, the healing begins.

Terror in the Garden:

Stalked by a rabid raccoon

We had Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, formerly Horseheads Wetlands Park, in Grasonville, nearly to ourselves in early March. Cruising around, checking out the birds, Inna and I wandered to a boardwalk observation tower over a big marsh the Prospect Bay side of the park. The sun felt heavenly, and we were basking in the late-afternoon glow, when we heard a strange screeching below us. It sounded almost like a baby. Over the railing, I saw a raccoon staring up at me.

It did the most amazing thing: It slowly climbed up the side of the tower. When it got to the top of the post, it leaped, almost drunkenly, crash-landing on the deck. We were effectively trapped.

The raccoon eyed me with interest, then moved in my direction. When I climbed up on the railing in fear and amazement, he changed course and veered toward my friend, backed into the corner of the deck with nowhere to go. The raccoon wasn’t moving fast, or in a threatening manner, but he was walking as if on a mission.

Inna followed my lead and scooted up on the railing to get her feet off the deck and away from her furry antagonist.

The raccoon stopped in front of her, almost as if it were a tame pet. It seemed as confused as we were, shaking its head and looking around as if it were being buzzed by invisible flies. Then it stood up on its hind legs, ready to leap onto Inna’s lap. At the last second, she jumped down off the railing and kicked the raccoon squarely in the chest. It screamed and slammed into the railing; skittered across the deck almost blindly; tumbled down the steps; ambled drunkenly along the boardwalk to shore; then stood unsteadily at the end of the ramp, again blocking our only avenue of escape.

Now what should we do?

“It’s rabid,” I said.

That was the only way to explain this incredible chain of events.

Out on the far end of the boardwalk, where a small stream meandered into the bay, I found two big sticks. Ready to defend ourselves, we cautiously walked the boardwalk back toward shore.

By the time we got to land, the coon had vanished. But talk about weird. And scary, too.

We quickly made our way back to the ranger’s house to report our encounter.

A hiker had been attacked by a raccoon in that same area only an hour before, he told us. The raccoon had bitten the man’s jeans but had not broken the skin.


Rabies 101

We tend not to think of our local parks as havens for dangerous animals. But it is always wise to be alert no matter where you might be.

According to rabies.com, “Rabies is a preventable viral disease that causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). The virus exists in the saliva of mammals and is transmitted from animal to animal, or from animal to human, by biting and/or scratching. If left untreated in humans and animals, rabies is fatal.”

I called John Nickerson, of the Queen Anne’s County Public Health Department, who has been in the rabies business for 35 years, to learn more.

There are two kinds of rabies, the terrestrial strain, which can be spread by virtually any animal, and the bat strain, which comes primarily from silver-haired bats and is invariably fatal. Terrestrial cases are astronomically rare and are treated with a series of shots in the arm, not the foot-long needles in the belly nightmare that our parents used to warn us about. If treated promptly, terrestrial rabies is not lethal.

There has only been one documented case of a person dying from rabies in Maryland, and that was back in 1972, when a lady, walking her dog in Cecil County, was bitten on the neck by a rabid bat.

“Cats are what we fear the most,” said Nickerson, “because they can become rabid from contact with another animal, like a coon, and then a person can unknowingly pick them up and get bitten. And cat bites are puncture wounds, which get into the bloodstream much easier than, say, a dog, whose bite is more of a rip or tear. The key is to not pet animals unless you know they’re safe — not a squirrel, not a rabbit, not even a goat at the county fair. If you do get bitten, disinfect the wound immediately and go to the emergency room.”

And I would add: Practice your kicking.

Tired of Problems?:

Go off the beaten track

Most weekends, I go hashing. No, I’m not talking about quick jaunts to Amsterdam. The hashing to which I refer is a bit off the beaten track, but it’s totally legal.

“An exhilaratingly fun combination of running, orienteering and partying where bands of harriers and harriettes chase hares on four- to six-mile-long trails through town and country, all in search of exercise, camaraderie and good times”: That’s hashing, according to The Half-Mind Catalog. I belong to the Baltimore-Annapolis Hash House Harriers, BAH3 for short. We run every Sunday at 3pm. We’ve run every Sunday for almost 20 straight years. Every Sunday, come rain or shine, ice or Hurricane Isabel. The cost is $5, to cover the beer, water and snacks.

Our group prides itself on being a “drinking club with a running problem … where there are no rules.” Ritual is another story, for hashing is all about ritual.

In the Beginning

The ritual began, or so the story goes, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, in 1938, with some bored lads in the British Foreign Service who wanted to run around the local countryside and have a few cold ones along the way. They named their group after the Royal Selangor Club, the Hash House where they ate most of their meals, which were relentlessly bland. They brought the tradition from their days of English public schools, where games of paper chase or hare and hound runs dated back as far as the 18th century.

After World War II, hashing began to spread around the globe, like beer running downhill. Today, you’re likely to find a hashing group, or kennel, in most cities of any size anywhere you go. A week doesn’t go by when BAH3 doesn’t have visiting hashers who are doing business or vacationing in the area. In the last few, we’ve had a geezer from Sheffield, England; an American expatriate from Bangkok, Thailand; a Key West boat captain; and a Bostonian lady with a black lab.

Hashers come from all walks of life, but they tend to be eccentric free spirits. Most kennels are evenly split between men and women. People in the military are big fans of hashing, and there is even a Baghdad kennel in the Green Zone — with near beer, of course.

Southern Maryland now has its own kennel, out of Solomons. SMUTTy Crab HHH was founded Dec. 12 by Jim ‘Major Private Tickler’ Baker. It runs every third Saturday at noon. Learn more from Dan ‘Wind Up Toy’ Price at 301-342-5562.

Rules of the Rule-less

Kennels operate pretty much the same wherever you find them. I was welcomed to my first hash as a virgin and referred to as just Steve. Some five hashes in, I had revealed enough about myself to be named. Everyone who hashes regularly has a name, which travels with them wherever they hash. Most cannot be printed in a family newspaper. I got lucky. My name is May’oral Fixation, because I work in politics, smoke a pipe and can’t keep my yap shut. Many hashers wear customized choke collars with their names spelled out in little colorful beads. A BAH3 hash might take place in Patapsco Valley State Park or downtown Annapolis.

Wherever we go, we like it shiggy. That means we want to run through the nastiest terrain possible: steep slopes, slippery swamps, greenbriar and poison ivy thickets, raging rivers, muddy streams, rocky hillsides, slimy stormdrain tunnels under I-97. Bring it on. Blood, bruises and broken limbs are badges of honor, though not required.

It’s up to the hare of the week to decide where we will play. Several hashers usually team up to hare, sending out the driving directions via e-mail and posting them on the group’s website. From their starting point, the hares lay out a trail, using flower or chalk, temporary signals that vanish with the next rain.

The pack sets off en masse following the trail until they come to an X, which is a check. Here the game gets tricky. Falsely marked trails force the pack to work together like dogs trying to find the right scent. When three consecutive marks are found, the pack is off again to the call, On-On! The checks make it impossible for the faster running devils to get ahead because they have to check the false leads and find the right path while the slower harriers catch up. At about the halfway mark, the hare meets the group with beer and water.

It’s not about competition and there are no losers or winners. In fact, whoever finishes first must carry a brick the next time to slow them down.

On Palm Sunday, I’m haring at Rockburn Branch Park for the group’s 1,040th hash. The trail includes the usual shiggyfied fun. For two hours we can forget all the troubles of our crazy, stressful lives and act like little kids again, getting lost in the woods with our friends.

And in the end, we’ll do our usual circle-up, drink beer, make fun of each other and sing ribald songs until it’s time to go back to the real world.


Did You Vote?:

How Maryland can double its best turnout

We constantly extol the unique virtues of American democracy. We are trying to export our system to places like Africa and the Arab world. Yet, on average, only half the people in this country, state and county vote in any given election. What’s so democratic about that? When half the people choose not to participate in our electoral process, isn’t that cause for concern?

Maryland’s Feb. 12 Primary proves the system is in fact broke and needs fixing.

Here’s some of the problems — and how to fix them.
Vote on Saturdays

Right after I had voted, I went to my bank. All three tellers said No way when I asked whether they’d voted.

The problem was they had to work until five and then pick up their children, go home and start dinner, then get ready for work the next day.

If the goal is to eliminate working people from voting, then we are definitely on the right track. Many of the industrial nations of the world vote on Saturday, when most people don’t work. Their voter turnouts would put this country to shame.

Enfranchise Independents

Not letting independents vote in primaries is equally ridiculous. They pay taxes, too. How did the Democrats and Republicans ever get away with excluding them? It seems patently unconstitutional to exclude a significant, uncommitted voting block of the electorate. Frankly, it smells like political extortion.
Make Voting Easy

Another problem with our voting system is that it discriminates against poor people. If you don’t have a car, then how are you supposed to get to the polls? I have been working every election for years with an organization called Friends of Black Annapolitans. We provide free van rides to the polls for the folks who live in the public housing communities around Annapolis. We take hundreds of needy people, many of them veterans and seniors, to their polling places..

Weather is yet another block. This year, the Maryland primary was moved up from March so it could be part of the Potomac, or Chesapeake, Primary, which included Virginia and the District of Columbia. February is notoriously prone to bad weather. No surprise: An icy rain began to fall at about three in the afternoon. None of Annapolis’s bridges had been salted, and they turned to ice. The state shut the bridges down for the next five hours. Yes, polls were open an extra 90 minutes, but by that time, most people had been sitting in their cars for hours, the weather forecast was for more icy rain and everybody just wanted to get home after a nightmare day.

The biggest problem with our electoral system is the short time we have to vote. One day is simply not enough.

There is no compelling reason to limit voting to a single day.

We need only look at the state of Oregon for a voting model that makes sense. In 1998, the voters of Oregon passed a ballot measure directing all elections to be conducted by mail. Each registered voter receives a ballot by mail at least two weeks before the election. The voter fills out the ballot and then mails it back to the county. Traditional polling places are eliminated.

The goals of Vote by Mail were simple and easily measured: Oregon hoped to increase voter participation; eliminate the roadblocks that keep people from the polls; allow more time for people to study issues and candidates before marking their ballot; and save taxpayer dollars.

Did it work?

Record numbers of Oregonians registered to vote, and almost 87 percent of them cast ballots in the last election.

Vote by Mail also provides an automatic paper trail, addressing Maryland’s endless and expensive debate over the old punch-style ballots or optical scans.

Without polling places, poll workers aren’t needed. As a result, the Vote-by-Mail election is 30 percent cheaper.

Thirty-seven percent of eligible Maryland voters cast ballots last Tuesday; up from 27 percent in 2004.

Do you think that number would have been higher if we had been given two weeks to vote by mail?

Bay Cheer for a New Year:

Enough, already, with all the bad news

It’s a new year and I think we need to chart a fresh environmental course, starting with the way we keep trying to Save the Bay.

Every year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation gives us a lump of coal in our holiday stocking, informing us in exquisite detail about the horrid state of the Bay. Will Baker, the Foundation’s executive director, introduced this year’s report card with the solemn pronouncement, “The Chesapeake Bay is on life support, fighting for survival. Are we going to save it, or are we going to let it die?”

On a 100-point scale, the Bay rated a 28, one point lower that last year. And that was with an A+ for rockfish, which recent surveys show to be malnourished and infected with a hideous disease that eats them alive.

The goal of the Bay champions is to get the Bay back to the days when John Smith first explored the Chesapeake. His Bay got a 70 on its retrospective report card.

Our modern Bay received failing or near-failing marks in every other category but wetlands, forested buffers and crabs. That’s a little curious in that no one knows exactly how many acres of wetlands exist, forest buffers are getting chewed up like there’s no tomorrow and the crab season — at least around Annapolis — was pretty abysmal.

After a quarter-century of crying wolf and throwing millions of dollars at the problem, the Bay’s health continues to worsen. Clearly, we need to learn from our mistakes.

A Modest Proposal

In the spirit of innovation, I offer the following over-the-top suggestions that may more accurately reflect the way most folks feel about our Bay.

Let’s start with the big two, nitrogen and phosphorous. They get blamed for algal blooms, low dissolved oxygen and dead zones. Well, who can say for sure that those things are bad? I mean, we aren’t the only ones experiencing massive dead zones. Virtually every bay in the world has them. I recently visited Brazil; its Guanabara Bay is one big dead zone. But that doesn’t stop people from flocking to Rio.

We need to get those Bay scientists to teach the fish and crabs how to escape from the dead zone. If the critters knew where the fire exits were, they could survive.

Water clarity is another key indicator. The water is so laden with sediment that it’s too muddy for light to penetrate, thus making it hard for underwater grasses to grow. I remember when the shallow reaches of the Bay were covered in grasses like a giant mat of tangled snakes. It was a real nuisance, making it hard to swim, and they were always getting tangled in your engine prop.

Toxics are another of those ballyhooed benchmarks. We have been dumping every chemical we make into the water, either directly or indirectly, through our sewer systems, and what harm has it caused? Sure, a few fish have some weird mutations. But chemicals aren’t the problem; they’re the solution. The scientists just need to figure out which chemicals we should add to the Bay to offset the bad stuff. It’s Chemistry 101.

Oysters and shad both got Fs in the latest test, and that is just pure nonsense. First off, no one except my editor eats shad. It’s a bony, oily fish that few have ever even seen. And oysters are disgusting. They filter the Bay. Need I say more?

A recent report from the Inspector General’s Office concluded that growth and development are outpacing our efforts to restore the Bay. The report is just more of the same doomsday drivel.

Development can help save the Bay. People need to spread out and stop bunching together. Not only will this be good for the economy, but it moves people farther away from the Bay. How can that be bad? Our motto should be: Sprawl, Don’t Build a Wall.

More people than ever enjoyed the Bay last year, and who noticed any excess nitrogen or dead zones? No one other than the complaining scientists.

We need to stop with the report cards and the pronouncements of doom and start putting all of these environmental problems to work for us.

Who wants to go back to the days of John Smith anyhow? I say, stop living in the past. It’s time to embrace the new, modern, less cluttered Bay.

And let’s just let hurricanes and sea-level rise do the rest.


Making Annapolis Safe for the Peacemakers

How cool was it that the Middle East peace conference was held in Annapolis?

The camera crews started showing up almost a week in advance. Once Thanksgiving was over, the circus was in full swing, starting with a guy in a tweed suit from something called Village Video Communications, doing a live feed from under a tent with klieg lights on the beach by the Severn Inn, using the Naval Academy as his backdrop. Main Street was crawling with TV crews, stopping shoppers and tourists alike to ask what they thought of the peace conference coming to town.

Annapolis is not new to the peace game. She hosted the signing of the Treaty of Paris, ending the Revolutionary War. Annapolis also played host to yet another Annapolis Conference, when the fractious colonies first got together to review the Articles of Confederation in 1786. Annapolis is a small town where big things happen.

The day before the arrival of the peacemakers, the weather turned nasty.

It had been warm and dry for months, and now with the world showing up on our door, it was rainy and cold.

But later that evening, I walked outside and found the weather had turned almost sultry. It was still spitting rain, but it was warm and blustery as a humid south wind spread low fog and mist across the northern Bay. The wind gusted noisily as the last of the burnt orange, yellow and red leaves of 2007 flew north like prayer flags.

I live overlooking the Severn River. Across the river, every light was on at the Naval Academy, the athletic fields illuminated like day. Along the Hospital Point seawall, high-tech sentries stood guard. Behind them sat seven shiny white limousine station wagons, waiting to whisk away each dignitary as soon as they stepped out of their choppers the next morning.

Standing in the whistling wind, I felt like I was in some movie. I flashed back to Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games, when Harrison Ford is ambushed by IRA terrorists on Maryland Avenue. In the mood, I scanned the river, looking for signs of someone who didn’t fit in. I know the river — at least my stretch — and I would notice a boat or activity along the shoreline, that wasn’t right.

I came to my senses as the wind grew chilly in the ancient battle between north and south, cold air battling against the fast-moving warm juice. Storms soon broke out. The power went off sporadically. Annapolitans slept snugly in their beds as the leaders of Weapons World descended on Chesapeake Bay from on high.

The next morning I found a fleet of gunboats patrolling the Severn as a stiff west wind turned the river to whitecaps. Bright sunshine illuminated the white, puffball clouds gliding low and slow over the town as dark, winter storm cells loomed ominously on the horizon. Press vans lined Worden Field where the Mids parade, and ambulances and fire trucks stood ready by the landing strip.

The symbolism was spooky.

Knowing that the street closures near the Academy would create a traffic mess, I rode my bike into town.

Police of every stripe lined the roads and as I crested the Academy Bridge, green-and-white Huey helicopters dotted the western sky like thumping dragonflies. Two choppers set down to my left, and the police swarmed. Motorcades barreled down Rowe Boulevard and Taylor Avenue while sirens screamed and dogs barked. I was suddenly in the Green Zone.

At lunch, I wandered down to Randall Street to check out the protestors.

Three distinct groups were separated by a large contingent of police. A small band of Arabs stood silently on the sidewalk, waving hand-painted signs of support for a Palestinian state. A much larger group of Jewish folks spiritedly shouted and sang their opposition to the conference for selling out Israel. The last group, calling itself Neturei Karta International, was a mystery to me: Hasidic-looking Jews in black hats and coats, with their dark hair in ringlets and bushy beards, loudly protesting the very existence of Israel as a Zionist tool.

All were passionate but peaceful, and the police were tolerant and good-natured. This was not the 1960s.

Will the Annapolis Peace Conference set the stage for a lasting peace among Arabs and Jews? Who knows?

Returning to my cliff after the president and the foreign ambassadors had gone, I saluted the stars as a soft west wind played a sweet night song of joy through the dead leaves of summer. Out there, I swear I could hear the generations singing John Lennon’s words: All we are say-ing, is give peace a chance.


What’s in Your Water?:

What nobody knows can’t hurt you

First, we start with tons and tons of Prozac, along with all of the other jim-dandy anti-depressants on the market today. Then we mix in an unhealthy dose of Ritalin, birth control and antibiotics. To this noxious brew, we add copious amounts of Viagra, the little purple pill, pain relievers, muscle relaxers, and laxatives. Flush this toxic mix down the toilet, along with all of the outdated prescription drugs in our bathrooms, and what do we have? Our drinking water.

That’s right. What goes into our drinking water stays in our drinking water.

Every time we use the toilet, our bodies expel measurable amounts of whatever we have put into our systems that day. Many of the ingredients in the pills we consume like candy are not entirely processed; they are simply, and literally, pissed away. Pharmaceutical companies know this, and that’s why they ramp up the dosage. That’s why, for instance, you get 300 percent of the recommended daily dosage of Riboflavin or B12 when you take your daily vitamin.

No problem, right, because this toxic brew is filtered out at the water treatment plant? Wrong.

There are no filters for these chemicals. They are not even monitored.

When you hear about how badly Chesapeake Bay is polluted, the scientists and experts are essentially talking about two ingredients: nitrogen and phosphorous. That’s it. At this point, the chemical cocktail coming through the pipes from every household on public water and sewer is completely off the radar screen.

What health threat, if any, might such a chemical concoction pose for humans and the rest of the animal community? No one knows. Few are even studying the problem.

To complicate matters, farm animals are also being loaded up with all sorts of antibiotics and growth hormones that end up going directly into the nearest body of water. Add to this mess the myriad personal care products we rub into our bodies — cosmetics, lotions, sunscreens, bug sprays — and you have a recipe for disaster. We don’t even begin to know the health risk posed by this lengthy list of manmade products, and we know even less about what sorts of threats may ensue after they get mixed together in the nation’s water supply. Mix Backwoods Off with the latest cholesterol drug and what do you get? Who knows?

It All Comes Down to Money

It wasn’t until we started seeing mutated crabs, amphibians magically changing sex and rockfish with weird appendages that the scientific world wondered whether there might be a connection between the unseen chemicals in our rivers and what is looking like a planetary-wide genetic problem with many aquatic species.

Back in 2000, the United States Geological Survey took water samples in 139 streams in 30 states, including Maryland. In over 80 percent of the water samples, they found significant traces of at least one pharmaceutical product. Over 10 percent had more than 20 contaminants.

Many of the chemicals discovered in our waterways have been studied for years and discovered to be endocrine disrupters, which can wreak havoc on the immune system and hormonal balance of many aquatic species.

Isn’t it ironic that after spending so much money studying the environmental problems of the Chesapeake Bay for so long, no one has the foggiest idea what all these modern-day chemical wonders are doing to the health of fish and humans? Scientists can tell us exactly how much nitrogen is flowing out of the South River, but they can’t tell us why some of the catfish in Crab Creek look like something out of a science-fiction movie.

Why do we continue to ignore this health and safety issue? Why does the EPA not require wastewater treatment plants to test for these pharmaceutical time bombs? And why are there no guidelines for acceptable levels of these chemicals in our drinking water?

In the end, it comes down to money. Companies make millions off of these products, whereas monitoring every water plant and waterway would cost billions. Developing filters capable of removing these chemicals could cost trillions. Government simply does not have the money.

Susquehanna Riverkeeper Michael Helfrich offers this ominous warning, “Right now, no one’s paying attention to this chemical contamination, but this is a problem that will not go away.”


The Time of My Life:

Playing golden retriever for Brasil 1

I’m an average sailor who has been following the Whitbread — and now Volvo — Ocean Races since I was a boy. Every four years, I make sure I’m on the scene to do the dock tours and maritime festivals. This year I decided to take a different tack. I took two weeks off from work and volunteered in Baltimore, working on the boats as they were readied for the next leg to Portsmouth, England.

I spent my first week at Port Covington, where they were dry-docking the seven Volvo 70s. I got to hang with all of the different shore crews and do the grunt work that goes on behind the scenes, like wet-sanding the bottom of a 70-foot-long Grand Prix ocean racer. This was a side of the Volvo that few dream of.

Adopted into Brasil’s Family

As luck would have it, I got hooked up with the samba-time crazies from Brasil 1, everybody’s favorite.

One day, my main mission was to get them hooked up with water so they could hose off the boat and keep her clean. Each team’s hoses had metric nozzles, of no use here in the States. When I finally got Brasil 1 connected, I snuck up on the crew as they were working on the bow and let them have it, yelling “You are no longer a Third World nation!”

Another morning, I scrubbed every inch of Brasil’s inside. I lay in the cocoon-like bunk and swabbed the surrounding bulkheads. I sat on the toilet seat and sponged the cubbyhole bathroom, the crew toothbrushes still in their holders. I sat at the navigation station where a religious icon of Jesus hung above the computers, helping a storm-tossed sailor steer his boat. I can close my eyes and see every nook and cranny of Brasil.

At times the whole thing was surreal. After working down below in the close confines of Brasil one day, I went above and realized that everyone had left for lunch. I was all alone. On that gorgeous sunny afternoon, I sat at the helm and imagined sailing around the world. I watched the Pirates next door playing with their red and black pirate ship while Kimo Worthington — the head of the Pirates’ shore crew and one of the world’s greatest sailors — raced little battery-powered Volvo sailboats against one of the guys from Team Ericsson.

Friends and I set out to watch the in-port race; we went nuts when Brasil finished second. At the awards ceremony in the Inner Harbor that evening. I noticed my Brazilian buddies standing by the stage. I started to join them, but it hit me that this was their special moment, and I was just some wannabe world sailor who had no business intruding. So I backed away and watched the boys from Pirates get their award for finishing third and spray champagne all over each other like kids. The next thing I knew someone was dragging me by the arm while another handed me a cold beer. It was Clayton and Tim from Brasil’s shore crew. “Come! Join us. You’re part of our family.”

The Brasil team was incredibly gracious in victory. They insisted that the wet sand job we did on the boat’s hull made a big difference. Torben Grael — their skipper and a guy who has won more Olympic sailing medals than anyone alive — hugged me. After that, I was invited to the crew party where we ate big slabs of grilled Brazilian beef and drank Heineken; just red meat and beer.

Partying with the Best of Them

A big part of the Volvo stopover is partying. One night I went to a techno bar on Charles Street for a free blowout sponsored by Pirates and ended up pounding drinks with all these crazy people I had been reading about for months, sort of like hanging out with the Rolling Stones. The next night I went to the John Legend show at the newly renovated Hippodrome Theater, where high rollers from around the world hobnobbed with local dignitaries and rowdy sailors. The next night we had a suite overlooking first base for the O’s game against the Blue Jays. Work all day and play all night. That’s the Volvo.

By the time the Volvos came to Annapolis, I had assumed the role of Team Brasil’s pet golden retriever, and I played tour guide during their stay, helping them find dive tanks, get a stove fixed and navigate America’s sailing capital.

On Sunday, we sailed out alongside Brasil 1 as they headed for the restart. When they saw us, they waved madly and snapped pictures of us from their boat. As they sailed down the Bay in first place, we raised a cold beer and saluted our new friends from South America. Volvo’s time here gave me two of the best weeks of my life, and I wish it had never ended.

Hey, wait a second. I still have my press pass … Portsmouth, here I come.

When Fairy Tales Come True:

The Bay’s salvation is just around the corner from the next great study or computer model

Once upon a time, there was a phantasmagorical government program to save the Chesapeake Bay. Everybody in the realm was as happy as a clam, except, of course, the clams, which had long since died from too much sediment and disease. For many years the scientific alchemists spun their slender threads of hope into gold, and the people were joyful and content.

But the Bay continued its decline and storm clouds soon spread across the kingdom: The Bay is Dying.

Late last year, the federal General Accounting Office shed considerable light on this little fantasy. Our local senators, who finally started asking where all the Bay restoration money has gone, requested the audit.

The conclusion of the review was that our much-touted Bay Program is floundering in a sea of confusion.

“The Bay Program not only downplays the deteriorated condition of the Bay, but also confuses the reader by mixing information that is relevant with information that is irrelevant,” the audit reported.

The audit had more to criticize: Money has been continually misdirected; the Program’s model doesn’t work; there is no plan for reaching the program’s 102 restoration goals; and there is no comprehensive approach for measuring success.

I am reminded of a cartoon that once appeared in a local paper, showing a boatload of the Bay Program reports being dumped into the water to soak up the pollution.

The Bay Programmers just don’t get it. To them, it’s all about the three M’s: modeling, monitoring and muddling. The Bay’s salvation is just around the corner from the next great study or computer model.

But we have studied the Chesapeake Bay to death.


The Corps of Engineers produced a gargantuan study of the Bay way back in 1971. At almost two feet thick, it concluded that nitrogen and phosphorous were the two biggest threats to the Bay and targeted runoff from sewer treatment plants, the Susquehanna River, farms and airborne deposition as the main culprits.

In the ensuing 35 years, we have put monitoring buoys up and down the Bay, confirming the conclusions of the original study ad nauseum. We have funded studies out the yin-yang, from why the oysters are dying to how to win the hearts and minds of the public through fancy TV ads.

In response to the scathing GAO audit, the Bay savers chimed in with one loud voice. We need more money! This notion was given some credibility by the audit itself, which concluded that “Although $5.6 billion has been spent in the last decade, estimates for the amount of funding needed to restore the Bay far surpass these figures.”

Only in fantasyland would a quarter century of money down a rat hole illicit a resounding chorus of Give them more!

But in Bay World, we continually reward mismanagement and lack of inertia with increased funding.

The Bay Program has made a mockery of restoring America’s largest estuary. A recent executive report from the Program’s own Budget Steering Committee notes that “the lion’s share of the Bay Program’s energy has been devoted to: defining the criteria to support the overarching goal of protecting living resources, transforming these into standards, determining appropriate nutrient and sediment caps, preparing tributary strategies, ensuring that the needed monitoring program is in place to measure progress, and ensuring that the tracking and modeling tools are in place to assess and reassess management actions.”

This year, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest and company sponsored House Bill 4126, which would allocate $40 million a year for the Bay Program, with another $10 million a year for the Small Watershed Grants Program.

Whether $50 million a year is enough to restore the Bay is moot, because President Bush told the Maryland and Virginia Congressional delegations to go pound some Bay sand.

The Bush budget for 2007 includes $26 million for Bay restoration. That’s a $4 million increase. But it eliminates the Small Watershed Grants Program, the Targeted Watershed Grants Program and direct grants to sewer treatment plants. It slashes the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. In other words, every program that actually does something. Almost all of the Bay cleanup money will now go to science.

As long as we are still studying global warming or the impending demise of the Chesapeake Bay, there’s no reason to do anything to really save the Bay, let alone the planet.

We need not sacrifice or make any really tough decisions because it will be business as usual until the studies have all been completed.

When will that be?

When fairy tales come true.

Who’s Going to Save the Bay?:

Who’s Going to Save the Bay?
It’s time we stopped listening to all these mixed signals

It was a pretty easy winter, but the old man hung on like a pit bull. As March gave way to April, we were still getting a steady dose of wind, with temperatures in the 40s and buckets of rain.

Walking around Greenbury Point the other day, I was enduring what just might have been winter’s last gasp. The wind was blowing a steady 25 and gusting to 40. Only the birds seemed at home with the season. Migrating horned grebes were diving hungrily for marsh grass on the lee side of the point, out of the wind. Six turkey vultures soared effortlessly like black-winged yo-yos above the end of the point where the wind came barreling out of Annapolis Harbor like a runaway freight train.

One lone sailboat struggled past the spider buoy near the mouth of Back Creek, battling an endless line of white-capped waves and gale force winds. At times the boat was barely moving. Heading up, luffing out, bearing off, and steadily losing ground to the out-going tide, it was finding hard sailing on an empty Severn River.

My going was somewhat easier. Under one of the giant red and white radio towers, I stared up through the erector-set honeycomb of steel. A pair of osprey building their nest on an interior strut screamed at me to keep moving along.

Up the trail, a pair of young fox played tail tag, paying no notice to me until they almost ran me over. We stared, three foolish beasts out for a little romp on a Sunday afternoon. They decided I was harmless enough but still to be avoided. Nodding with what seemed almost human recognition, they darted into the dense woods, their winter browns and grays blending with the landscape.

I moved on to the seawall overlooking historic Annapolis. From this vantage, the water looked like an epic painting of the ocean. Gunmetal gray with streaks of brown mud, the cresting waves crashed into each other, carrying tons of sediment out into the main stem of Chesapeake Bay, where a large blue container ship from a distant land rode the stormy current toward Baltimore.

It had been raining for weeks. Worm-choking rain. The Greenbury Point Trail was littered with crinkled pink and brown worms forced to the surface because the ground is saturated after so many dueling downpours. I don’t know why the poor little buggers shrivel up and die when they get above ground, but they looked like something that might go on top of a fancy salad.

Mixed Signals
There’s a bottom line here: A boatload of stuff washes into the Bay when it rains two-and-a-half inches in 24 hours. Yet no one has the slightest idea what it means for the health of the Bay.

Recent reports have heralded the modest increase in the oyster harvest of 2004 — albeit using mechanical dredges on mostly state-created commercial bars. But all over the Bay, emaciated rockfish have been found covered with nasty-looking sores and lesions. Then again, the winter crab survey indicates it might be a boomer summer for blue crabs. But catfish with grotesque purple tumors on their mouths have recently been caught in fairly high numbers on the South River.

Recent studies suggest that all of the fresh water from the spring rains has reduced the spread of pathogens like dermo. But it also looks like all that fresh water from the March rains has increased killer algal blooms that steal all the oxygen.

How the heck is anybody supposed to make sense of these mixed signals?

I think we need to stop listening to the special reports and start focusing on the little picture. Let’s try bringing back the Bay one creek at a time.

That is exactly what is happening in Annapolis. There are now three watershed conservancies, on Weems, Spa and Back creeks. With help from the city, citizens from all walks of life have come together to monitor and restore the creeks near their homes. On the South River, local volunteers are planting living shorelines, cleaning up streams and monitoring sediment violations.

Springtime breathes new life into everything, us included. We get outside and do the Earth Day dance with the kids and dogs. Does it make any difference? No one knows for sure, any more than we know where all that sediment and polluted runoff is going.

I guess the real question is whether you believe the experts and the politicians will ever really Save the Bay.

’Cause if you don’t believe the politics, then that just leaves us.

Wading In to the Mess We’ve Made:

Wading In to the Mess We’ve Made
Beneath the fun and games there is an underlying truth: Every year, it gets harder and harder to see our toes

On the first Saturday morning in June, people wade in to Annapolis’ four large creeks that flow into the Severn River: Weems, College, Spa and Back creeks. Environmental activists, parents, kids, dogs and rubber duckies: Everyone joins hands and slowly walks out from the shore until we can no longer see our feet.

We try to maintain some uniformity by wading in at the same spots each year: at the Tucker Street boat launch, Calvary Methodist Church, the Truxtun Park boat ramp and the Eastport Maritime Museum. Back Creek draws the biggest crowd. There you’ll find Mayor Ellen Moyer and other honchos, squealing like little kids as they wade.

The first Wade-In party was cooked up by former waterman and state senator Bernie Fowler on the Patuxent River more than a decade ago. Following in Fowler’s footsteps, some folks wear white sneakers that will stand out more clearly, while others go with the bare feet approach. There are few rules. That’s one reason wade-ins are so easily and often replicated. Just get a bunch of friends together and walk out into the water until everyone agrees they can’t see their toes anymore. Then someone puts a measuring stick on the bottom and you get to see how deep it is where you are standing

The general idea is that the deeper you can see, the clearer the water, and the clearer the water, the healthier the Bay. It ain’t rocket science. But like the Farmer’s Almanac and old wives’ tales, there’s a lesson to be learned here.

A good wade-in has several goals. First and foremost is to have fun.

The second is to get people more in touch with their surroundings, thinking about water quality and the health of Chesapeake Bay.

Of course conditions change each year. Sometimes it’s nice, and sometimes it’s rainy. The tides are different each time. How can you draw any meaningful conclusions from something with so many variables?

You can’t. Last year it was raining to beat the band, so there was lots of sediment in the creeks. As you might expect, last year’s numbers were the worst on record.

The Murky Picture
I keep track of the numbers for the city each year, and I am starting to think the numbers do in fact paint a pretty true picture of what’s happening to the Bay. Beneath the surface of the fun and games there is an underlying truth: Every year, it gets harder and harder to see our toes.

When we first started doing this around Annapolis, we could see down a little over three feet in College Creek. Last year it was nine inches. In Spa Creek, we have gone from two feet to a foot. And on Back Creek, visibility has been reduced from nearly four feet to 17 inches.

The only creek to show any improvement is Weems Creek, where state, county and city governments have collectively invested several million dollars worth of environmental restoration projects over the last few years. The rain gardens, forest buffers, conservation easements, stormwater retrofits, oyster plantings and living shorelines seem to have made a difference in water clarity. Slowly but surely, the creek is coming back. Even on a rainy day when every creek in Annapolis looked like mud soup, Weems was still pretty clear.

But Are We Trying?
The downward spiral in water quality around Annapolis is, of course, mirrored Baywide. Not only is water clarity in the tank, but so is nearly everything else. I don’t want to bum you out, folks, but we are running out of time here.

Studies of the Bay’s major commercial and indicator species shows that only three out of 22 are holding their own. Even the eel population is down. When I was growing up along the Severn, eels were everywhere. Now they are virtually non-existent in much of the Bay.

Rockfish become infected with a killer disease called myobacteriosis, which is also known as fish-handlers disease, because it can be spread to humans through open sores and cuts. Menhaden numbers are plummeting; oysters are dying from infectious diseases; crab harvests keep dropping.

Even more troubling is the floating dead zone that takes over huge swaths of the Bay each summer. The United Nations — that’s right, the U.N. — warned in a recent report that this is fast becoming one of the biggest environmental threats on the planet.

It’s getting closer, too. Beaches closed by local health departments. Cancer rates through the roof.

As I stood in the cloudy waters of Back Creek, my arms around my friends, mugging once again for the cameras, suddenly I could hear Bob Dylan singing about a hard rain that was going to fall. What exactly is it that we all keep smiling about?

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Riding into Summer:
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 Hooker’s 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. Smallwood’s small, elegant, plantation house of Flemish-bond brick sits atop a big hill in the park. It’s a grand old spot to spend a hazy summer day as you wonder how people got by without ice cold drinks or air conditioning

Chaos Theory:
Chaos Theory
Strange Bay-fellows at the cutting edge of doing nothing

The environmental news these last few weeks has been zany, like somebody put something in the water. Might these oddities be connected in some mysterious way?

The first surprise was the AP headline “Greenpeace To Float into Menhaden Bay Debate.” Greenpeace’s appearance on the Bay was noted by Ronnie Jett, a member of the Northumberland County Board of Supervisors and owner of a seafood business in Reedville, Virginia, who’d seen strangers taking pictures and launching inflatable boats near his restaurant.

Greenpeace landed in Reedville because Houston-based Omega Protein employs 250 natives to turn menhaden baitfish into slimy goo that ends up as animal feed and an ingredient in various health supplements.

But menhaden have been feeding the Bay’s predator fish — blues and stripers — for eons, thus making them the Bay’s key indicator species. The Bay’s food chain depends on giant schools of these bite-sized, little silver-sided dinner rolls. Their numbers are at an all time low.

The large commercial fishing operations, like the one out of Reedville, have been harvesting menhaden like there was no tomorrow. Now the Greenpeace troops are going to try and shut them down.

Weirder Still
The news gets weirder still.

Now comes an e-mail from Mike Tidwell, the respected director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. Mike and several other environmental activists were camped out in Lafayette Park across from the White House with their laptops, fasting for “three full days” to spread the word that America’s insatiable appetite for fossil fuels is creating a climate crisis that will doom the planet. President George W. Bush was out of town in Scotland at the time, but I’m guessing that a little weekend fasting probably wasn’t going to change this nation’s energy policy even if he’d been around.

Speaking of energy, the Environmental Protection Agency sent me a snappy news release heralding their new strategy for dealing with the airborne chemical bombardment of the Bay each day. They are working closely with the governors of Maryland and Virginia, and the mayor of Washington to form the Interstate Air Quality Council to, they say, “streamline planning to meet new federal standards for ozone and fine particulates in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region.”

If you think this effort sounds a lot like fasting in front of the White House, you might be right. This new group is going to collaborate with the Metropolitan Washington Air Council, which has been on the cutting edge of doing nothing to improve our region’s air quality for many years now.

EPA has also signed the final PM2.5 Precursor Rule, which requires the Baltimore area to have its “conformity determination” approved by the federal government no later than next April. I am encouraged to see that if we can’t reduce the tons of wind-blown and storm-laced nitrogen, ammonia, sulfur oxides and volatile organic compounds entering the Chesapeake each year, then we can at least create a new muddle-fuddle language that no one understands but makes it sound like we are actually saving the Bay.

Pay Up
Just when I was feeling like the world’s gone crazy, up popped Colleen Kelleher, a WTOP reporter, with an interesting story about how recreational boaters are willing to pay for better water quality. It turns out that people who own sailboats are willing to fork over exactly $93.26 a year. Power boaters who keep their boats in the water year round will pay $77.98, followed by the folks who haul their boats around on trailers at $30.25. I’m not sure what this means, or where the experts came up with these down-to-the-last-penny numbers, but it’s clear from this study that recreational boaters see a link between fishing and dirty water. And that’s encouraging.

Poor water quality and sick fish are now part of our daily lives here in Chesapeakeville. But recent reports — you’ve seen the pictures in the papers and on the news — about crabs with multiple claws, and crabs that are part male and female, have got the scientists scratching their collective heads.

There’s a connection among these recent events. Air quality impacts water quality, the fish get sick, over-harvesting knocks down reeling species — then people slowly notice that something’s wrong. The next thing you know, Greenpeace is there with their banners and Zodiacs; you’ve got enviros starving themselves in front of the White House; government studies and commissions kick into high gear; strangely mutated creatures surfacing — while our leaders go fishing for more tax revenue.

So, tell me, how much are you willing to pay to save the Bay
© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

An American Fish Story:

An American Fish Story
Under the surface of the Bay, yesterday’s success story can turn into today’s failure

I went to an interesting lecture the other night at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, featuring a fella named Dick Russell who just wrote a book called Striper Wars: An American Fish Story.

Dick Russell is an unassuming amateur naturalist who grew up fishing for rockfish as a boy up on Martha’s Vineyard. In the 1970s, when the striper numbers plummeted off the charts, Dick got involved in the battle to save his favorite fish, and his new book chronicles these events.

The rockfish is truly an amazing creature whose story is a part of our nation’s saga. It inhabits the tidal waters along the Atlantic Coast from Nova Scotia to North Carolina, spawning in the Hudson River, Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake Bay. Stripers kept the colonists alive during their first year in America. The nation’s first conservation laws were aimed at protecting stripers. The first federal environmental impact study was focused on the striper decline. The first fish tested for PCBs was the striper, and this study culminated in a national ban of those poisonous plastics.

The striper story is primarily one of salvation. The states and federal governments often point with pride to the rockfish moratorium of the 1980s, which brought this gallant fish back from the brink of extinction. Scientists repeatedly use the rockfish management model as a touchstone for other endangered species, like menhaden.

But was it really an example of everyone coming together for the greater good? And did the subsequent five-year moratorium on catching stripers really ensure their survival?

All Hell Broke Loose
The striper ban came about after a recreational fisherman named Bob Pond, the inventor of the first wooden plug — known as the Atom Lure — filed a petition with the federal government asking that stripers be placed on the Endangered Species List. After that, all hell broke loose.

The West Side Highway in New York City came under attack because it would have removed docks where most juvenile stripers over-wintered. Sports Illustrated then did a stinging exposé on stripers being sucked into the cooling tubes of the Indian Point nuclear reactor. Finally the conservationists went after the trap-net fishermen of Rhode Island, who had three members on the Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission, using their position to stymie all attempts at reducing catch limits on stripers.

The folks from Stripers Unlimited then filed ethics charges against the Rhode Island fishermen, claiming they had a conflict of interest. The sport fishermen won in federal court. Then a crazy thing happened. The Rhode Island trap netters selfishly said, Well, if we can’t catch stripers, then no one can. They immediately supported a rockfish ban along the entire Atlantic, and America’s greatest game-management story was born. Striper numbers went from four million to 56 million in a few short years, and the natural order was restored.

Or was it?

Happily Ever After?
The latest fish surveys indicate that almost 70 percent of the rockfish along the Atlantic seaboard are slowly dying from a microbacterial infection that manifests itself in a myriad of ways. Some stripers have misshapen humps in their backs, while others have pink lesions that can infect humans who touch them. Still others have tail fins that look like they have been nibbled away. Scientists call this the wasting disease, and it is fatal.

There are tons of infected rockfish. The culprit this time around seems, once again, to be over-harvesting, but not of rockfish. Now over-harvested are the menhaden on which the stripers depend upon for their daily diet. Menhaden numbers are way down, and fishery scientists believe this has stressed the stripers to the point where they have contracted the wasting disease.

The menhaden fishermen say this is all a load of hooey and refuse to consider harvesting caps. They point to dead zones, urban and farm runoff, sewer treatment plants and population pressure from the 16 million people living in the watershed as the real culprits for the striper decline.

And so we come full circle. Recreational fishermen are filing petitions with the federal government, asking that rockfish be put on the Endangered Species List once again. The feds and Atlantic Marine Fisheries Commission have waded into the fray. It’s anybody’s guess how this will all play out.

The thing that strikes me about this crazy fish story is just how tenuous life around the Chesapeake Bay is. Out there, under the surface of the tortured waters of the Bay, yesterday’s success story can turn into today’s failure.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

What One Degree Has Added to Atlantic Storms:

What One Degree Has Added to Atlantic Storms
Hurricanes have not only increased in number, they have also gotten bigger while the season has gotten longer

I’ve gotten back into competitive sailing after almost 30 years away from the game, so I’ve been spending a lot of time out on the water. Sailing has become a sort of Bay window for me to gaze into the often-stormy waters of a Chesapeake spring and summer, when it seems like we have been dealing non-stop with the remnants of tropical depressions and hurricanes.

Like after a recent Wednesday Night race at the Annapolis Yacht Club, we were motoring back into Back Creek as this living, breathing, trash-talking black storm rolled in from the west and enveloped Annapolis. The sky was 20 shades of gray as the tempest drifted menacingly along the Eastport side of the creek like a sharp knife. We were floating by on its roiling edge, like cruising through the eye of a hurricane. No wind. Just nasty, charcoal briquet clouds and lightning that sizzled when it popped, and that magical glow you see when sunlight gets sucked into the belly of a whirlwind and turns golden. We were so close we could smell it.

We weren’t so lucky the following Wednesday night, when we started off on a river of glass. Imagine over 100 boats of all shapes and sizes, their crews enjoying a cold beer after a busy day in Stressville, drifting slowly toward the Eastern Shore with the outgoing current. I laid on the rail dreaming of weird, bait-headed monsters when a killer line squall descended from the east and blew the hell out of every boat in the fleet. Fifteen minutes later, the storm was gone and an enormous orangeade moon came bursting up over the eastern horizon as a tomato sun was setting atop the shining dome of the Naval Academy Chapel to the west, lighting up the stained-glass windows from within. The yin and the yang.

Storms on the Chesapeake always make sailing pretty sketchy, especially when there is lightning and you’re sailing at night. Take this year’s Governor’s Cup Race to St. Mary’s. Those poor buggers had a rough sail heading south into the heart of the bad weather as thunder-boomers tapped out a steady beat. Several boats were struck, but there were no casualties. You can bet those crazy sailors will be back next year, because being out in storms at night on the Bay, with lots of stoner lightning, is a frenetic dance through heaven and hell. Racing on open water with no horizon, using GPS bearings to navigate as building-sized freighters zip by spewing master-blaster waves. Drifting silently under the stars. Skinny-dipping in deep, dark water at midnight to cool off. Dodging the sea nettles and thunderbolts. Being wild and free. These are the days of our lives.

Wilder Than You Want to Meet
A lot of sailors I meet these days are talking about this as the worst hurricane season on record. Some folks think it spells doom for the low-lying communities, while some believe it will cleanse the Bay, like a power flush. Nobody really knows.

What can you say about a hurricane like Katrina? We are talking about mind-numbing power. The thing was bigger than Florida, over 200 miles wide. It was like the Borg. Resistance is futile.

I got curious about these storms of the century and went looking at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration website as Katrina drew a bead on the Big Easy. NOAA has the neatest hurricane model that tracks hurricanes by decade. Man, you should see what one degree warmer did to the Atlantic storms. The hurricanes have not only increased in number, they have also gotten bigger, while the season has gotten longer. Their paths are much more erratic. And we’re just getting started here. It’s going to get much, much worse.

The Gulf Coast will never be the same after Katrina, like New York and America changed after 9/11. Welcome to global warming, my friends. The next big hurricane could land almost anywhere between the Chesapeake and Galveston. Maybe we need a planetary war on hurricanes. Or perhaps it takes a real disaster to make people comprehend that it’s not the smartest survival strategy to build a city under sea level on the ocean. One thing is pretty certain: The nature of a hurricane is still mysterious and unpredictable, but it’s safe to say that living near big water these days is like living inside a bowling pin just waiting for the next strike.

There’s an old seafaring adage that goes Red sky at morning sailors take warning. Well, I think it’s a new dawn, folks, and we can all consider ourselves warned.

The Green, Green Grass of Home:

The Green, Green Grass of Home
Green-celled wanderers stain our Bay a vegetable-broth mahogany

Sometimes looks can be deceiving. Like the calm before the storm, the Bay has a way of lulling us into a dreamy complacency. It just looks so nice.

We always hear about how the Bay is dying because of farmers and aging sewer treatment plants, but grass is also a big problem, especially where there’s lots of money, big homes and manicured lawns. Many homeowners have some hot-shot landscaping company descend each week like an invading army, armed with riding mowers, industrial-strength weed trimmers and those deafening leaf blowers that turn the neighborhood into the inside of a chainsaw. As they are packing up their noisy tools and heading out to the next job, they often let loose with a myriad of turf-grow products that will produce the greenest lawns you’ve ever seen.

As fast as grass grows around here without any encouragement, why would anyone put fertilizer down to speed up the process?

Just for the record, every time you cut the grass, the clippings dump more nitrogen on your lawn than it ever really needs. Spreading fertilizer on a Maryland lawn is like putting sugar on candy.

But what do green lawns have to do with Bay problems, you ask?

Nitrogen. Nitrogen. And more nitrogen.

How Long Can You Hold Your Breath?
Lest you doubt my word, take a quick look at our local rivers. What do you see? That’s right. They are red. And no, that’s not sediment. What you’re seeing is mahogany tide.

I was swimming in front of my home the other day. Dodging jellyfish and working on my crab pots, I scooped up a glass of water from the Severn. It looked like vegetable broth. It was as thick and lush as a freshly mowed lawn.

What I was gazing at were zillions and zillions of phytoplankton, which is the Latin word for green-celled wanderers. Basically, these guys are algae, which form giant blooms just like a waterborne lawn and stain the rivers as they blossom and grow. The ones that cause the mahogany tide are called dinoflagellates, which have been here since the dawn of time. Left to their own devices, these algal blooms stay within manageable proportions.

What’s feeding these little microscopic critters is the stuff that comes off of our lawns after a rainstorm. Fertilizer. Those chemicals do exactly the same thing in the water that they do on our lawns.

These little microscopic creatures are incredibly short-lived. They float near the surface, sucking up all that nitrogen and converting sunlight into more organic material. Then they die.

That’s where the trouble starts. After a few days without rain, their food source — the nitrogen — dries up, and they expire. When they die, they drift to the bottom of the Bay, where they use up valuable oxygen as they decompose.

This lack of oxygen in the Bay is a very big problem and getting worse each year.

What makes this whole thing so insidious is that nothing looks amiss. Everything looks to be in order. But it’s not. It’s so out of whack it’s scary.

Recent surveys indicate 36 percent of the Bay is without oxygen. That’s more than one-third of the Bay devoid of life, from the benthic organisms in the mud to the rockfish at the top of the food chain. Float into one of these dead-air pockets, and you are a goner.

Imagine you’re a hard crab making your way up College Creek to shed your shell. You are swimming along the bottom, getting ready to turn soft. You’re trying to avoid the bizillion crab pots and all the other crabs that will eat you in a heartbeat.

Suddenly there is no air. You take a gulp of water, but there’s no oxygen in it. You stop. You look around in confusion, then growing terror. What happened to the oxygen? Where did it go? What should you do now? You drink in desperately for some air, but there’s none to be found. What direction should you go to find the precious oxygen? Upstream? Downstream? Toward the surface? You’re running out of air now. You swim in circles and then head back out the way you came in, growing weaker from lack of air.

How long can you hold your breath?

Not long.

The Church of the Great Outdoors:

The Church of the Great Outdoors
by Steve Carr
After 2,000 years of human occupation, Java Farm is returning to nature in only 40 years of lying fallow

As the one day in the week we’re likely to have some free time, Sunday is a day for reflection. Many folks go to church, and I think that’s a good thing.

Worship has the power to plug us into the things that really matter. Call it God. Call it Gaia. Call it the Man in the Moon. Organized religion, with all of its rituals, songs and prayers, can guide us along the path to "good".

I go to church religiously, but my Sunday's services are outside, in forgotten backwaters where nature still dances the light fantastic.

Last Sunday, I worshipped at the church of the – Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, otherwise known as Java Farm.

I hadn’t been there for over 10 years, but I figured the trails would still preach a rewarding Sunday service.

On South River Clubhouse Road, the rolling farm fields were covered in a sparkling blanket of dew, and blanket-backed horses and bushy cows almost glowed in the bright morning sun, a wispy steam rising off of every living thing. Cresting a short hill, I pulled into a gravel turnout by a tiny white wooden clubhouse. The roadside marker proclaimed that this historic landmark was the oldest social club in the country, dating back to 1700. Not much bigger than a one-room schoolhouse, it stands atop a knoll surrounded by giant hardwoods. Both simplicity and location give it a warm feeling of continuity and grace.

Then I turned down Contees Wharf Road onto one of the few remaining dirt roads around these parts. This road used to be a bustling thoroughfare connecting Contees Wharf with a nautical world stretching all the way to China. It was a social and economic hub of southern Maryland. Steamboats like the Emma Giles carried goods and people from this thriving tobacco port until the early 1900s.Today all that remains are a few land-rich farmers and over 2,600 acres of federal woods and wetlands bordering the sleepy little Rhode River. Science and farming now rule the day.
Lessons of the Land

At my service, interpretive signs along the Java Trail trace the path humans have followed in this coastal paradise, starting with the Piscataway Indians who flourished for nearly 2,000 years and who are now pretty much gone. The Indians burned the woods to herd game to slaughter. They also built small dams and netted, trapped or speared heaps of local seafood. Small-scale agriculture played a minor role in their daily lives, but they were for the most part hunters and gatherers. After prospering for millennia, the Piscataway were eventually overwhelmed by our European ancestors and vanished in a generation.

What lesson can we learn from the Indians of the Chesapeake? How about Nothing lasts forever?

Soon after came the ambitious folks who built the South River Social Club. Thomas Sparrow’s two-and-a-half-story, fire-gutted mansion still stands on a lonely hill above the entrance to this Smithsonian center, a reminder that history often repeats itself. Tidewater tobacco was sold in London and Amsterdam. And many a gentleman planter of the 1800s fell into catastrophic debt because they got less for their tobacco than the seed they bought on credit. Ultimately many were forced into bankruptcy and ruin.

Easy lesson there: Don’t live beyond your means.

The fields of Java Farm were next transformed into a regional dairy farm, producing the only state-certified milk for the people of Annapolis. Intensive animal farming eventually took its toll on the land, eroding stream valleys and fouling the water. By World War II, the world had so changed that dairy farming in Southern Anne Arundel County was no longer profitable. The farm’s owner, Robert L. Forest, eventually closed his dairy business and donated the entire property to the Smithsonian when he died in 1962.

After just 40 years of lying fallow, it is impossible to imagine open fields covered with Holstein cows and grain silos at Java Farm.

The final leg of the trail is about Java’s return to nature. Fields become forests, while wetlands buffer the fragile land and sea. Java Farm is slowly transforming itself back into a natural watershed filter. The story comes full circle.

The lesson is simple: Nature can heal itself if given a chance.

As I walked back to my truck, my head was spinning with history lessons. In over 2,000 years of constant human occupation along the Rhode River, I take my turn to ponder the survival scars and signposts. Now I thank God for this sacred ground.

Chesapeake's Three Stooges:

Chesapeake’s Three Stooges
After 30 years of “saving the Bay,” where the heck are we?

I grew up watching The Three Stooges, and I often find myself looking at the world through the eyes of those three crazy knuckleheads. The skit that seems to define our existence is the one where Moe slaps Larry, Larry slaps Curly, then Curly turns to slap someone — but there’s no one left to slap.

I’ve been sailing a lot this year, and I’ve seen pretty clearly that the Bay is hurting. All spring and summer there have been red tides and algal blooms choking off the oxygen. This is a nitrogen imbalance directly related to our lush lawn fetish and run-amuck agriculture. In August, when almost half the Bay was a dead zone from lack of oxygen, there were massive fish kills in every river and creek around the upper Bay. If you were out on the water, you could not miss the constant death dance as fish and crabs swam frantically to the surface in search of air, while laughing gulls and Forster’s terns had a field day snagging the easy pickings.

A big part of the problem is that development regulations within the Critical Area are a joke. We allow humongo houses and massive stone walls to be constructed along almost every inch of shoreline. We discourage loss of wetlands — while permitting homeowners to erect faux lighthouses and gazebos at the water’s edge. We let environmental protection take a back seat to property rights by granting variances and special exceptions, even when the applicant is a professional contractor who illegally constructs a mega-mansion with palm trees on an island in the Magothy River.

As I sailed the Bay this summer, I was equally struck by the air of desperate denial that permeates our fisheries. Have you ever seen so many crab pots? I saw crab pots near the Eastern Shore in 70 feet of water. Meanwhile, every restaurant you see features all-you-can-eat crab specials. I went fishing off of Bloody Point in July, and the first striper I caught was covered in hideous red lesions. I threw it back and put my fishing pole away for the rest of the season. Clams, of course, are long gone. Oysters are holding on for their dear lives.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s annual State of the Bay report card pretty much mirrors what I’ve seen in my travels. They awarded the Bay a score of 27, which they call a D. That grade was clearly based on a very generous curve. They gave failing marks for too much nitrogen, poor water clarity, depleted oxygen and oysters. Crabs got a C. For some inexplicable reason, they gave an A+ for rockfish, when more than half the species is infected with a killer wasting disease.

Will Baker, Foundation president, said, “Every American ought to be ashamed that ‘America’s Bay’ has been degraded to the extent that it has.”

Amen, Brother Baker, but what does this all mean? Last year’s score sucked too. As did the year’s before, and the year’s before that.

Does anybody really care anymore? After 30 years of “saving the Bay,” where the heck are we? We’re like the kid in some remedial inner-city school, who keeps failing each year until no one even notices any more.

Sixteen million people living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and another 100,000 people move here every year. When and where does it stop? Does anyone truly believe that we will restore the Chesapeake with this kind of relentless pressure at work and play?

Baker went on to say, “The Chesapeake Bay enjoys enormous public support, but what’s lacking is the political will to implement existing plans that have proven to reduce pollution.”

That’s right. We allow recreational crabbers to run their thousand-foot-long trot lines every day of the summer — but we balk at a $5 a year crab license to help preserve the fishery. We let homeowners cut every tree along their shoreline, then hit them with a $500 fine if they get caught — which is extremely rare. We permit the destruction of a tenth of an acre of wetlands here and a tenth of an acre there because the loss is so infinitesimally small — without admitting that it all adds up. We let people chop down large diameter trees near wetlands — as long as they replace them with one-inch saplings.

Like the Three Stooges, we are slapping ourselves silly. Moe is us, pounding on the Bay every day with our consumptive need for more and more. Larry represents all of the well-meaning folks trying in vain to study and scold the problem away. And Curly is, of course, the Bay itself.

I keep wondering when Curly will get out of line and come looking for Moe.

Winter Shades:

Winter Shades
Nature has finished a masterpiece entitled Bay Gray

It’s cold ’round here in winter. Oh sure, it’s been a mild one so far, like it’s maybe North Carolina instead of the frigid Northeast, but winter’s still made some harsh changes to our surroundings.

Winter deadens everything, and colors seem less vibrant and alive. We bundle up and bumble along, missing the subtle contrasts as the countryside turns from green to brown, and the cold wind rules.

Walking around an old farm on the Broadneck Peninsula, I was enjoying the afternoon mass in the church of nature. At first the landscape looked rather dreary and forlorn. The water and the sky seemed to blend together almost seamlessly. In between, the skeleton trees rocked back and forth on the horizon like giant paintbrushes finishing off a masterpiece entitled Bay Gray.

Down the trail, I realized that the water of Whitehall Bay was not really gray but rather moonlit quicksilver. It didn’t flow but shimmered. Without wind or boat wakes, the surface appeared almost solid, like you could walk on it.

The next thing that caught my eye was ducks, mostly scaup, with a few buffleheads, canvasbacks and coots scattered here and there. For some reason, scaup really like Annapolis and have been wintering here in large numbers for the past few years. They have elegant black heads, black-and-white speckled backs and light-gray belly and sides. Those are, of course, the males. As with most species in the animal kingdom — except humans and a few other oddities — the males are quite colorful while the females look rather drab.

On some limestone boulders I sat and watched a very large freighter make its way slowly toward Baltimore, barely fitting under the Bay Bridge and looking psychedelic when the sun suddenly broke through the clouds and lit the ship with a day-glo orange spotlight.

Back at the duck follies, ring-billed gulls were causing trouble. Scaup are diving ducks, so they were constantly vanishing underwater before bobbing back up with whatever plant seed or crustacean they happened to find on the bottom. The punkster gulls shadowed the scaup to steal food, but the ducks were just too slick, and the gulls nabbed only the occasional scrap. Wouldn’t it just be easier to go find your own food? I asked them.

The sky turned dark as cloud fleets rolled in from the west and the sun played peek-a-boo from behind the moving slideshow of cirrus gray curtains. Airplane contrails sketched long white lines across the horizon, only to turn into puffy clouds that joined the procession heading toward the Eastern Shore.

Sure, vegetation goes dormant and loses its color in winter. It’s morphed into downtime mode, shedding its vibrant greens and flowery brilliance for something equally mesmerizing. From phragmites to fescue, the grasses go from green to a dry and brittle straw. They chatter in the breeze, each variety making a slightly different sound, like musical instruments in some north-wind orchestra.

The woods along Burly Creek offered another lesson in faded colors. We all know that evergreens stay green year round, but they are few and far between in the rich loamy soils of the coastal plain. Much of the remaining green comes from clumps of that non-native but sweet-smelling pest honeysuckle. It climbs into small trees and balls at the top like a leafy hat. We don’t even notice during the summer when this Asian transplant is spreading a mile a minute. But come winter, the green tree we think we’re seeing is a red bud or poplar whose canopy has been smothered by hibernating honeysuckle.

Other invasive plants add color to the winter landscape. Multiflora rose thickets are like a tangle of red snakes. English ivy wraps itself around the nearest anything and makes for the sky. And the greenbrier complements the color scheme by blanketing the woody lowlands like green razor wire.

Winter has painted a masterpiece. But as I get older, the cold becomes harder to handle. We really haven’t had any bone-chilling storms yet, but you can bet there are still a few nasty blizzards heading our way before the warmth of spring arrives for good.

The way I look at it, every winter day that goes by without the polar freeze is one less day we can get hammered. And hey, we only have six more weeks until we can burn our socks.

When Fairy Tales Come True:

When Fairy Tales Come True
The Bay’s salvation is just around the corner from the next great study or computer model

Once upon a time, there was a phantasmagorical government program to save the Chesapeake Bay. Everybody in the realm was as happy as a clam, except, of course, the clams, which had long since died from too much sediment and disease. For many years the scientific alchemists spun their slender threads of hope into gold, and the people were joyful and content.

But the Bay continued its decline and storm clouds soon spread across the kingdom: The Bay is Dying.

Late last year, the federal General Accounting Office shed considerable light on this little fantasy. Our local senators, who finally started asking where all the Bay restoration money has gone, requested the audit.

The conclusion of the review was that our much-touted Bay Program is floundering in a sea of confusion.

“The Bay Program not only downplays the deteriorated condition of the Bay, but also confuses the reader by mixing information that is relevant with information that is irrelevant,” the audit reported.

The audit had more to criticize: Money has been continually misdirected; the Program’s model doesn’t work; there is no plan for reaching the program’s 102 restoration goals; and there is no comprehensive approach for measuring success.

I am reminded of a cartoon that once appeared in a local paper, showing a boatload of the Bay Program reports being dumped into the water to soak up the pollution.

The Bay Programmers just don’t get it. To them, it’s all about the three M’s: modeling, monitoring and muddling. The Bay’s salvation is just around the corner from the next great study or computer model.

But we have studied the Chesapeake Bay to death.


The Corps of Engineers produced a gargantuan study of the Bay way back in 1971. At almost two feet thick, it concluded that nitrogen and phosphorous were the two biggest threats to the Bay and targeted runoff from sewer treatment plants, the Susquehanna River, farms and airborne deposition as the main culprits.

In the ensuing 35 years, we have put monitoring buoys up and down the Bay, confirming the conclusions of the original study ad nauseum. We have funded studies out the yin-yang, from why the oysters are dying to how to win the hearts and minds of the public through fancy TV ads.

In response to the scathing GAO audit, the Bay savers chimed in with one loud voice. We need more money! This notion was given some credibility by the audit itself, which concluded that “Although $5.6 billion has been spent in the last decade, estimates for the amount of funding needed to restore the Bay far surpass these figures.”

Only in fantasyland would a quarter century of money down a rat hole illicit a resounding chorus of Give them more!

But in Bay World, we continually reward mismanagement and lack of inertia with increased funding.

The Bay Program has made a mockery of restoring America’s largest estuary. A recent executive report from the Program’s own Budget Steering Committee notes that “the lion’s share of the Bay Program’s energy has been devoted to: defining the criteria to support the overarching goal of protecting living resources, transforming these into standards, determining appropriate nutrient and sediment caps, preparing tributary strategies, ensuring that the needed monitoring program is in place to measure progress, and ensuring that the tracking and modeling tools are in place to assess and reassess management actions.”

This year, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest and company sponsored House Bill 4126, which would allocate $40 million a year for the Bay Program, with another $10 million a year for the Small Watershed Grants Program.

Whether $50 million a year is enough to restore the Bay is moot, because President Bush told the Maryland and Virginia Congressional delegations to go pound some Bay sand.

The Bush budget for 2007 includes $26 million for Bay restoration. That’s a $4 million increase. But it eliminates the Small Watershed Grants Program, the Targeted Watershed Grants Program and direct grants to sewer treatment plants. It slashes the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. In other words, every program that actually does something. Almost all of the Bay cleanup money will now go to science.

As long as we are still studying global warming or the impending demise of the Chesapeake Bay, there’s no reason to do anything to really save the Bay, let alone the planet.

We need not sacrifice or make any really tough decisions because it will be business as usual until the studies have all been completed.

When will that be?

When fairy tales come true.

Ten Ways to Save the Bay:

Ten Ways To Save the Bay
Here’s how to do it

Readers had lots to say about When Fairy Tales Come True, the critical piece I did on the General Accounting Office’s stinging audit of the Chesapeake Bay Program (Vol. xiv, No. 12: March 23). Many asked the same thing: What’s the solution?

Let’s start with two basic assumptions. First, most people are fed up with all the money that’s being spent on studying the Bay’s steady decline. Second, we should have the same expert panel who performed the recent GAO audit review the Chesapeake Bay Program’s next annual report and grade its progress.

That said, I offer 10 ways to save the Bay.

1. Local governments need to do a better job of regulating and protecting their back yards. Zoning ordinances should establish clear capacity limits. We can’t just keep cramming more and more people into the watershed and expect the health of the Bay to improve.

2. If we ever want to clean up the Bay, we need to go after the scofflaws, make the charges stick and then get them to clean up their act. Illegal construction should be dealt with swiftly. We need to hire more inspectors and then give them the authority to write immediate fines and penalties.

3. We know that arsenic in the Bay has gone up 20 percent since the 1970s. Of this total, approximately four percent comes from point-source pollution at industrial sites. The rest comes from piers, bulkheads, decks and other structures that drain directly into the Chesapeake. There are also other dangerous pollutants that are bad for the Bay, like chromium and PCBs. These toxics pose an even greater health risk than nitrogen and phosphorous, yet their presence in the environment is largely ignored.

4. The 1,650 local governments scattered across Bay Country should be playing a much greater role in the Bay Program. The Bay Program’s Community Partners Program rewards towns and counties that have adopted environmental regulations and practices that can benefit the Bay and mitigate development. To date, 73 awards have been given out. That means we only have 1,577 communities to go.

5. We also need to put more funding into the Small Watershed Grants Program. This is the only contact most local governments have with the Bay Program. If we assume the goal is to engage every municipality, the current funding level of $2 million translates into $1,212 for each.

6. On the same note, we need to soften the blow to local governments from unfunded mandates, like the Clean Water Act, by increasing Program grants beyond Small Watershed Grants. Locals need help funding their Bay restoration efforts. They don’t currently receive that financial assistance, leaving them to believe that the Bay Program expects them to sacrifice limited dollars to fix someone else’s problem.

7. We need to get each jurisdiction hooked on the notion that Bay restoration efforts actually impact their communities and that they can benefit from the Program. We must also bring New York, Delaware and West Virginia into the Bay family. If we can hook the local governments in each state, we will then have a significant and powerful congressional voting block (12 senators and 41 representatives) that sings with one voice on behalf of increased Bay funding.

8. We need to provide staff to go around the Bay conducting non-punitive assessments and audits of each of the 1,650 municipalities and jurisdictions. We then need to take the next step of providing free technical assistance so that each government entity can learn how to implement smart-growth initiatives. Local governments are being told to clean up the Bay. Many simply don’t know how.

9. As part of this outreach to local governments, the Bay Program should provide funding for the Peer Match Program so that environmentally friendly cities like Annapolis can help train sister cities. The people running Frederick are going to listen to the first-hand experiences of their counterparts in a similar town before they follow directions from scientists or the federal government. Annapolis helped do this last year with Lancaster Township and Aberdeen; both subsequently won environmental gold medals. A paltry $7,000 was budgeted for this entire Bay-wide initiative.

10. Regardless of federal funding levels, we should spend the money as follows:

• Sewer Treatment Plant Retrofits: 50 percent

• Agriculture: 20 percent

• Local Governments: 20 percent

• Administration/Monitoring/Studies: 10 percent

It isn’t the Chesapeake Bay Program’s fault the Bay is dying. The people running that aren’t the bad guys. They want to save the Bay as much the next person. But Congress needs to push them toward fixing, rather than studying. The best fixes happen at the local level. In the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Well done is better than well said.”

No Worries, Mate:

No Worries, Mate

Brasil 1 races to a third-place finish in the 24-mile in-port race at Portsmouth

I crossed the pond to Portsmouth

to see my friends from Brasil1

and to write a story about a

drowned sailor and a lost

sailboat. But that was

never the real story.
story and photos by Steve Carr

Portsmouth, England—It took the Volvo Ocean racers about 10 days to cross the North Atlantic from New York to Portsmouth, England. During that treacherous voyage, a Dutch lad named Hans Horrevoets was lost overboard; shortly after, the Spanish boat Movistar was abandoned when its keel malfunctioned and took on water.

One of Europe’s tallest structures, the 557-foot Spinnaker Tower, left, overlooks Portsmouth Harbor.

I had become quite friendly with the team from Brasil during their stopover in Baltimore and Annapolis, so I decided to fly across the big pond for a surprise visit. I had several goals in mind. First, I wanted to find out the real story — the story behind the headlines — on the loss of life and ship during Leg 7. I also wanted to see how the Brits did Volvo. Last but not least, I wanted to party samba-style with my Brazilian friends in a foreign city by the sea.

Finding Portsmouth

I flew all night and landed at Gatwick Airport mid-morning, having grabbed little sleep. An hour later, I was motoring down the M23 in my rental car, driving on the left-hand side of the road and taking in the lush English countryside.

This was what the Brits refer to as a bank holiday weekend, and just like in Maryland, everyone was trying to reach the beach. As I neared the seaside towns of Brighton, Arundel and Chichester, I queued up in the endless lines of beachgoers, navigating roundabouts and traffic lights. It felt just like coming into the bottleneck towns of Easton and Cambridge on my way to Ocean City.

Arriving in Portsmouth at noon, I followed the signs to Gunwharf Quay, a revitalized complex of trendy shops and restaurants overlooking Portsmouth Harbor, where the six Volvo boats were to be moored. Framing the anchorage is one of Europe’s tallest free-standing structures, the Spinnaker Tower. Rising 557 feet above England’s second busiest harbor, the glistening white concrete tower looks like a spinnaker blowing in the breeze.

I could see the flag-bedecked masts of the Volvo racers straight ahead as I emerged from the underground parking lot. I was so excited, I almost started running. But only three of the Volvos were there, and Brasil wasn’t one of them.

Lucas Brun, a Brazilian crewing on ABN AMRO 2, the boat where Hans had been lost, directed me to the historic Portsmouth Naval Yard a couple blocks away, where some of the boats were still being serviced after their brutal Atlantic crossing.

Portsmouth has been Britain’s principal naval facility since the 15th century, and at any given time, there will be at least 10 Sheffield Class destroyers, aircraft carriers and other vessels of war being refitted for duty. Large gray cranes dot the skyline like prehistoric birds.

This was no free-wheeling Baltimore. Security was tight, with machine-gun toting soldiers all over the place, especially inside the gates of the Naval Base. At the first secure entrance, I discovered my pass only worked on the Chesapeake, and I was dead in the water. But as my Brasil buds often say, No worries, mate. At the media center, I talked my way into a dock pass and was off to the races.

History was deeper, too. Along the way I encountered a myriad of old sailing ships: HMS Warrior, Britain’s first ironclad, built in 1860; the four-master Mary Rose, which was built in 1509 and sank within eyesight of Henry the VIII’s army along Southsea Common while engaging the French in battle; HMS Victory, the three-masted flagship of Admiral Horatio Nelson when he defeated the combined French and Spanish fleets off Trafalgar, Spain in 1805.


Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805 aboard the HMS Victory.

Busily preparing the boat for sail near the rear of the Naval Yard, the Brasil shore crew embraced me like their long-lost golden retriever. I was dressed in team colors and was informed that we had to have the boat safely moored in her Gunwharf Quay anchorage by four that afternoon.

First I needed a hotel room and a place to park my rental car. As I walked back into town I ran into Ricardo, Brasil’s diver, and he gave me another dock pass in case the one I had didn’t work.

My next stop was the Keppel’s Head Hotel right outside Gunwharf Quay. The manager explained that every accommodation in town was probably full because of the Volvo race. I pointed to my blue shirt and told him I was with Team Brasil. He flashed a big smile and said he had been reading about the race all week. “I would just love to see those ships,” he said.

I pulled out my spare dock pass and handed it to him with a wink. “No worries, mate.”

The next thing I knew I was parking my car in the hotel lot and carrying my bag up to a spacious room overlooking the ferryboat launch to the Isle of Wight, which sits a few miles across The Solent from Portsmouth.

Back at Brasil, by four o’clock we had the boat ready to rock. We motored to our dock space at the now-bustling Gunwharf Quay as a Dutch tall ship from Amsterdam was arriving. All six Volvo boats were now together again. It was Friday. Happy hour beckoned. So we headed over to a two-story glass and stainless steel bar called TIGER TIGER.

This was the official hangout for all the racing teams, a phenomenon I hadn’t encountered during the B&A stop, where each crew had its own team bar. But the AMRO syndicate, whose motto is Making More Possible, had been the recipient of a huge infusion of corporate cash after the death of Hans. AMRO shared the wealth by running an open bar tab for anyone affiliated with any of the racing teams.

The 16th century Keppel’s Head Hotel.

“They just went over the 100,000 pound mark ($160,000),” the manager told me. “And the weekend’s still early.”

Waking up in a time-warped fog the next morning, I stumbled into the Keppel’s Head’s Victorian dining room for a hearty English breakfast before returning to the Gunwharf dock, where I spent the only sunny day of my trip working on Brasil.

That afternoon, we took her for a practice sail to see if our repairs had been successful. I will forever cherish my sail on Brasil, listening to the groans of the stays as we went to weather, feeling the incredible acceleration when a wind gust knocked us over, sailing with the happy crew in their spectacular blue and yellow racing machine. I felt like I was riding atop a living, breathing animal: a modern sea dragon.

Race 1

My next mission was to find Emma, who runs the Volvo Extreme 40 races. Volvo Extreme 40s are carbon-fiber, 40-foot catamarans that consistently sail at 25 knots or better. At the Vigo, Capetown, Rio and Baltimore stops, the 40s staged five days of racing, with an overall winner to be crowned at the final series next wee

The crew of ABN AMRO 1 celebrates at the Gunwharf Quay dock after winning the in-port race.

k in Rotterdam.

I found Emma tucked away in a trailer inside one of the shipyard’s cavernous warehouses. After offering my services, I was soon speeding out of Portsmouth Harbor with an around-the-world sailor from England named Tasmin, in a 20-foot inflatable rib sporting a 200-horsepower Volvo Penta inboard engine. Our job was to set the marks for the races. I had done this in Baltimore, but out in the three-foot chop and 20-knot winds of The Solent — the channel between the Isle of Wight and the mainland — mark-setting was a whole new ballgame.

We had little trouble setting the windward mark near Southsea Castle, where thousands of British families on holiday lined the Millennium Walk along the shoreline. But things got a bit dicey when we started to set the leeward mark off the long pier in front of a large white amusement park that reminded me of Atlantic City. I had set the anchor and was savagely (and profanely) trying to unravel the line that had turned into a ball of snakes when I heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching Volvo 40. I looked back over my shoulder, and there was Basilica bearing down on us at about 20 knots and up on one pontoon.

“Keep the boat behind the buoy ’cause we are now the mark,” I said to Tasmin.

I held firmly to the buoy so it didn’t drift any farther as the other four racing cats screamed by, not in the least bit fazed by the goofy guy from Maryland who obviously had the good sense not to keep playing out the line and turn the leeward mark into a moving target.
A Short Memorial

Inside the Hans Horrevoets memorial tent at Portsmouth.

Monday, May 29 broke ugly, wet and cold. At 11am, the fleet got a much-needed blessing. An English minister in flowing white robes stood high above Gunwharf Quay, surrounded by hundreds of spectators and crews, reading a brief homily for Hans Horrevoets. Other than the small tent erected above the docks for people to reflect and perhaps sign a book of condolences, this was the only allusion to the accident that claimed the life of the 32-year-old Dutch sail maker and father of two. The chaplain read the poem “Down to the Sea in Ships,” then asked for a moment of silence. There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen. Crew on every boat broke down. It was the saddest minute of my life, yet, in many ways, the luckiest.

Race 2

I was going to be spending the whole day strapped into a 20-foot rib with no seats as we followed around the 24-mile in-port race course in eight-foot seas with a 30-knot breeze sharp with off-and-on pelting needle rain. The Volvos sliced through the nasty chop and wind with a grace that made the ocean seem almost tame. On the rib, going incredibly fast as we shadowed Brasil for over four hours, I was constantly in fear for my life. I never felt safe, not for a second.

Two Volvo Extreme 40 catamarans race outside Portsmouth Harbor.

Since the start of the Volvo Ocean Race, we have heard about how the big-butt design of AMRO 1 makes it faster than the other boats in heavy weather. But on the Chesapeake, the winds never got strong enough to let Black Betty strut her stuff. Out on The Solent, she was in her element, and that boat muscled her way past the rest of the fleet, easily finishing first, with Pirates a distant second, then Brasil a close third.

A Long Wedding

After the race, we took the Brasil rib across the harbor to Endeavor Quay, a marina rented by the ABN AMRO syndicate for a gala blowout in honor of the Saturday wedding between Mike Sanderson (aka Moose), the skipper of the winning AMRO 1, and Emma Riley, an around-the-world sailor from Portsmouth. The entire collective spirit and energy of the Volvo family had slowly been building all week for the in-port race and wedding bash. Everyone was embracing the light of hope as they put to rest their fallen companion.

With wild abandon, the liquor flowed and the music played inside the main tent.

A Dutch tallship cruises down The Solent during the in-port race.

There was a mechanical moose to ride and fancy food galore. The entertainment featured the Volvo Ocean Race Band, comprised of sailors and shore crew from the teams, and they were a total hoot. The Legends of Rock, featured lounge singers impersonating Neil Diamond, Elvis and Marilyn Manson. Mike and Emma danced almost every song, and the party went until the wee hours of the morning.

A Long Goodbye

I came over to Portsmouth to see my friends from Brasil and to write a story about a drowned sailor and a lost sailboat. But that was never the real story.

Here’s the real story. And I didn’t need to go to Portsmouth to find it.

A friend’s mother died of cancer many years ago. Each year, my friend does the Relay for Life, where she and her teammates walk around a track all night to raise money for cancer research. At midnight, they light candles in paper bags with the name of their loved one attached. My friend always dedicates her luminaria in memory of her mom. This year she did one for Hans Horrevoets. She never met him, and she doesn’t even sail. But his spirit touched her heart.

And that, my friends, is what the Volvo Ocean Race is really all about.
Besides the Boats

Portsmouth is like Annapolis’ big brother, a historic Navy town by the water, but significantly bigger and more cranked, with bustling ferry docks for the gargantuan Brittany ferries that run across the English Channel daily from France, a sprawling train station, Victoria Park, St. Thomas Cathedral, Charles Dickens’ birthplace, the Royal Garrison Church and high-rise public housing buildings on the outskirts of town.

I made a 10-mile walk-about of the town, settling into a cycle of walking for an hour, then stopping in at a pub for a pint. Many hours later I ended my day back at the sea, where the Millennium Walk along the ocean led me to my hotel as the sun was setting into storm clouds.

By car, I visited the nearby Portchester Castle, where the Romans constructed a 10-foot-wide by 20-foot-tall defensive wall at the harbor’s edge in the third century. In the 12th century, Henry I built a medieval castle, complete with a surrounding moat, inside the perimeter walls. In 1133, he founded an Augustinian priory, later St. Mary’s Church, within the fortress.

As I sat atop the ancient walls, large clumps of wildflowers growing out of the crumbling mortar, the church bell rang. Soon there came a slow procession of old couples from the town walking hand-in-hand to their parish church. I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.

–Steve Carr

What's with this weather?:

What’s With This Weather?
We’re looking into the cold and heartless eyes of global warming

How much stranger can our weather get? First, it’s drier than a bone for weeks on end; then it’s like Scotland in the rainy season.

Sailing almost every weekend, I saw a spring like nothing we’ve ever seen. By June, it is usually starting to get hot, dry, and the Bay is as calm as Walden Pond — but with lots of boat wakes. This June was non-stop crash and burn out on the water, with winds wailing like a banshee and waves sloshing around like the North Sea.

During the Ted Osius Cup June 10 and 11, the winds were blowing a steady 25 knots and gusting to 40. The seas were in the three-foot range and getting increasingly squirrelly as the day progressed. My position is up near the mast, where I get the full fire-hose effect, and the whole day was like trying to dance on a fish. We ripped our spinnaker, and people were getting knocked off boats like rag dolls.

It was a day on the Chesapeake that I will long remember because it reminded me how quickly you can get in over your head. On these windy days that have come to be the norm this racing season, it’s better to be safe than fast. You will break before the boat does. A valuable lesson, indeed.

The Rains of June

Then, after what seemed like months without any significant rain — and after setting all sorts of records for days without any stormy relief — the dam finally broke.

Racing in the Annapolis Annual Regatta was the same old bang-the-gong number with small-craft warnings and heavy seas. The forecast was for Tropical Storm No Name to stall off the Atlantic coast for a few days and dump copious amounts of rain accompanied by thunder and lightning.

We headed toward the starting line, over by the Eastern Shore, expecting a rough day on the water. The wind and seas complied with the forecast, but the rain stayed to the south, and the sun broiled us to crisp golden brown.

As evening settled in, the storm clouds slowly swept in from the south, lightning piercing the sky like fireworks. But still no rain. About 10pm, it finally started to rain. That was Saturday night.

Two days later, it was still coming in wave after wave of line squall. At times when there was no wind, it looked like the rain was being dumped straight out of the world’s largest bucket, accompanied by a bass drum rumble that rose with the rain’s intensity.

By Monday, the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area was under water. The national news grabbed hold of the story, and CNN was following the disaster like Iraq and the fires out west.

Much of the federal government was closed, Metro and the MARC lines were under water, and most of the roads into the Nation’s Capital were looking like raging rivers. A mudslide covered the boardwalk on B Street at Chesapeake Beach. A 100-year-old elm tree fell near the front door of the White House. Communities from Howard County to Alexandria were being evacuated. The Capital Beltway was closed between I-295 and Telegraph Road. Sections of I-95 were impassable. And the Anne Arundel County Emergency Operation Center was activated in advance of a predicted storm surge of four feet.

In the initial 24 hours of the storm, a month’s worth of rain fell throughout the region: Annapolis 7.11 inches, Columbia 8.42 inches, the National Arboretum 7.37 inches.

What’s Next?

We know how to get prepared for a winter blizzard. We load up on milk and tp and hunker down. We are getting better at the hurricane drill, running off to Home Depot for the portable generators and window boards. But when a no-name storm can virtually shut down the entire Chesapeake Bay region without warning and turn it on its ear in a matter of 24 brief hours, what’s next?

There are places in Dorchester County where roads and vital bridges are simply gone. These routes are the inhabitants’ only links to the outside world. Will we all soon have to revert back to Colonial days and travel by boat?

The simple truth is that we are now looking into the cold and heartless eyes of global warming. Severe and unpredictable weather will be its indelible trademark. Make no mistake: It is going to change each of our lives dramatically whether Congress or the president ever wakes up.

Meanwhile, there’s always another weekend sailboat race. I think I’m going to do something I never thought I’d do. I’m going to purchase one of those inflatable life vests to wear when the winds are howling. Better safe than sorry. When I’m not sailing, I can always use it at home.

The Bird that Tried to Save the Bay:

The Bird that Tried to Save the Bay
The great blue heron thrives, while the Bay’s health continues to deteriorate

The great blue heron has become the poster child for the Chesapeake Bay. You can’t go anywhere these days without running into its proud mug. Everyone wants a piece of the action — from business brochures to state road signs. The great blue has become the Bay’s unofficial logo.

The heron’s immense popularity would seem to defy logic. You can’t eat one, and tastiness is usually why we develop a deep affection for one of the Bay’s critical critters. You can’t hold one in your hands and get all warm and snugly with it. And they aren’t what you might call friendly; haughty is more like it.

They are regal birds, with their bright yellow beaks, ruffled-grey neck feathers and that shiny black cowlick atop their white head. But it wasn’t until graphic artists started displaying them on signs and license plates that we began to realize just how cool they really are.

Back in the 1970s, when state Sen. Gerry Winegrad was pushing through the Chesapeake Bay Initiatives and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation was just getting started, they needed a symbol, something that would spark people’s imaginations and make them care about the Bay. The foundation was cranking out pamphlets about how important it was to Save The Bay, and they often adopted the great blue heron as a mascot. Before the movement to preserve the health and well-being of the Bay became popular, it was rare to see a picture of a heron. But when the Bay warriors finally got cranked up, they rode into battle with the great blue on their shields.

Then a subtle thing began to happen. The heron wove its way into our mental tapestries. Like a subliminal message flashing a brief image of popcorn during a movie, every visual signal we received regarding the plight of the Bay featured a a blue heron. So, in a very real sense, the great blue became the lightning rod for Bay protection, making us care about this grand body of water that we were slowly destroying.

Heron as Phoenix

The great blue heron looks prehistoric, and in fact they go back millions of years in the fossil record. They were among North America’s first birds, along with loons, gulls, cormorants and ducks.

The heron’s amazing ability to thrive has made it one of the Bay’s great success stories. But this has not always been the case. For hundreds of years, they were hunted for sport, and their delicate feathers were prized for their decorative value.

In the 1950s and ’60s, heron numbers plummeted because of pesticides like DDT that made their eggshells so fragile they broke before the young could hatch.

At about the same time we banned DDT, the cumulative impact of everything we were dumping into the Chesapeake — from unregulated sewerage to chemical cocktails to a million and one other acts of mindless mischief — began to drive the heron into oblivion. In addition, human encroachment along the watery edges of the Bay, in the form of development and bulkheading, stole the heron’s prime habitat.

Then a funny thing happened. Call it adaptation. Call it dumb luck. Heron numbers inexplicably started to go up. And since 1985, when the state Department of Natural Resources began annual heron surveys, the number of nesting pairs has doubled to over 6,000 in Maryland. In addition, there are now 123 recorded colonies scattered across the Bay.

I have my own resident great blue who lives pretty close to my home and who sits for hours each day on one of the pilings by my neighbor’s pier. He stares into the water, patiently waiting for a fish. Time seems to stand still as he waits, like a Zen master, his neck craned slightly at an angle, peering into the murky shallows for his next meal.

Who among us has not seen what I just described? It is perhaps, the one Bay scene we all can relate to; the solitary heron standing like a sentinel, performing its slow-motion hunting dance along the shoreline. Heron is always there, indifferent to humankind and the world around it. Striking with its spear-like yellow bill in a flash and then swallowing — almost comically — a fish or a crab down its long, undulating neck; seeming to gloat with satisfaction at its success, then returning to the hunt. Ever the hunt.

It’s 2006. The great blues have done their best. But the Bay’s health continues to deteriorate. All we can seem to do is monitor its steady decline. What we need is a new Bay symbol. How about a rockfish covered with bright red tumors?

Farewell, Marion Warren:

Farewell, Marion Warren
The indispensable man who captured the wondrous story of our lives and the vanishing world around us

Marion Warren, the Ansel Adams of Chesapeake Bay, died last week. In recent years, he had battled various illnesses that laid him low but never sapped his desire to catch another fleeting image of the world around him. So many pictures. So little time.

America abounds with tales of Midwestern farm boys who ventured east to see the world and to make a name for themselves. Marion Warren was such a young man, who left his family’s Missouri farm and migrated east, settling with his wife Mary in the little town of Annapolis, where they raised a family and changed our perception of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay forever.

One of my first childhood memories involves Marion Warren. My father was an amateur photographer, and Marion lived only a few houses away, in a modest red brick Colonial on Baltimore and Annapolis Boulevard. In those days, Annapolis was a tiny backwater with few services, and getting camera equipment on usually involved a trip up the Ritchie Highway to Baltimore.

To augment his income, Marion fixed cameras out of a small studio in the back of his house. My dad took me with him whenever he wanted to buy some fancy new photographic gadget or to get his Leica cameras serviced.

I loved walking around Marion’s cluttered studio, looking at pictures of what to me at the time were foreign images: hunters huddled in a Chester River duck blind; muscled black men working gigantic chopsticks as they tonged for oysters off Bloody Point; farmers atop sturdy tractors, plowing fields of shiny tobacco as dust and seagulls billowed in their wakes. These were the images of the Chesapeake Bay that Marion Warren was beginning to chronicle. But to a small child from Annapolis, Marion’s pictures were almost whimsical.
Lessons from a Master

I learned a wonderful lesson during my visits to the Warren home. Marion’s pictures were, of course, in black and white.

I was talking with Marion a few years back as we were checking out some old dilapidated barns down in Calvert County near Port Tobacco. It was a hot, humid, summer day, and the haze bleached the colors of the Port Tobacco River and everything around it.

I passed Marion a bottle of cold water and said, “Black and white photography is to color as radio is to television. When a person listens to a baseball game on the radio, or looks at that aerial shot you made of the Bay Bridge bathed in moonlight, our minds are free to wander and dream. Color prints and TV do all the work. They leave nothing to the imagination.”

Marion smiled and said, “Where’s the fun in that?”

As a teenager, I lost track of Marion, but I do remember that he was the only adult I knew of who regularly rode a bike. I’d see this gangly guy, all arms and legs, pedaling across the Severn River Bridge on his way to and from work. As a 52-year-old who still gets around on a bicycle, I wonder whether this too was not another life-lesson learned from my old friend.

Marion and I next crossed paths when we were active in the Severn River Association. We used to do nature walks and talk about the changes to our fragile rivers.

When I returned to Annapolis after 15 years living at the Grand Canyon, I ran into Marion on Maryland Avenue, near where he had once operated the M.E. Warren Photo Gallery. He complimented an essay I had recently had published in a local paper, then said off-handedly, “We should do a book together.”

A few years later, we collaborated with local cartoonist Eric Smith on a Bay book called Water Views. During the winter of 2003, we three amigos traveled around the Bay, doing book signings together.

By that time, Marion’s health was pretty bad, and throat cancer had left him almost speechless. But Marion had transcended speech. His dancing eyes and eager smile conveyed the joy he felt about you, and his friends and strangers, his work and the Bay — everything.

In Hard Bean Book Store on that December, I realized that I had never seen Marion Warren lose his cool — or even raise his voice. I watched him nod and smile kindly at people who told him that Bringing Back the Bay had changed their lives, and I realized that Marion Warren was indeed a sort of modern mystic. Like all medicine men with the power to reveal life’s truths, Marion Warren had a peaceful grace that allowed him to see through the shadows, into the very heart of the Bay’s people and places he so diligently loved to chronicle over the course of the last half-century.

So many pictures. So little time.

Other Side of the River
The Road Home
Terror in the Garden
Tired of Problems?
Did You Vote?
Bay Cheer for a New Year
What’s in Your Water?
The Time of My Life
When Fairy Tales Come True
Who’s Going to Save the Bay?
Wading In to the Mess...
Riding into Summer
Chaos Theory
An American Fish Story
What One Degree Has Added to Atlantic Storms
The Green, Green Grass of Home
The Church of the Great Outdoors
Chesapeake's Three Stooges
Winter Shades
When Fairy Tales Come True
Ten Ways to Save the Bay
No Worries, Mate
What's with this weather?
The Bird that Tried to Save the Bay
Farewell, Marion Warren