The Unexpected Present

Falling in Love with the Chesapeake Bay

Sugarloaf Mountain View

Twenty-five years ago, I fell in love with the Chesapeake Bay. I’m not sure where I saw the ad for an art director, but I was ready for a change from working in a University of Maryland academic environment to working at Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Nature’s Environment. My dream job brought me to Annapolis– on the circle where the Maryland state capitol has stood for hundreds of years, on the docks of Maritime history, in and around and into the heart of the largest estuary in North America, Chesapeake Bay.

My passion for the Natural World was instilled in me at a young age. Growing up in Clifton, New Jersey, farmland was initially considered the “countryside,” where a copse of trees could hide interesting markers, and days were spent outdoors until dark. I also became an ardent treehugger after reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. My first environmental poster design at age 14 won a prize at one of the early Earth Day celebrations. It was a graphic of a concerned citizen (in bellbottoms) holding a sign while engulfed in a cloud of dark, sooty car emissions. It read: Pollution Is A People Problem. Crusader Rabbit for a Cause was my calling.

Chesapeake Bay is two hundred miles long from its northern headwaters (Cooperstown, NY; I’ve been to the headwaters) in the Susquehanna River to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean. Over 150 major rivers and streams flow into the Bay’s 64,299-square-mile watershed. Although, at the time, I knew little about this marvel, I learned quickly of the dangers that pollution wreaks over the long haul. During meetings, there was always talk about how a restoration campaign or environmental law might impact the livelihoods of the people living and working on and around the Bay. In any case, I was ready to take up the defensible cause and Save the Bay.

I designed new bumper stickers and created the brand standards and marketing campaigns. Powerful and persuasive Images were at my fingertips. When the Public Affairs group visited the islands for an immersive experience, the Senior Naturalist led an open classroom about the vast diversity and its dependence on the Bay. During lecture sessions, I learned to tie a fly, handle rod, and reel, then, navigating through the winding estuary guts at sunrise, caught my first Rockfish. I couldn’t decide if I was an otter (making work look like play) or an osprey (overview of the big picture for an impactful vision). I wanted to be both.

Artists, writers, photographers, bards, and storytellers captured the Bay’s mystique and majesty. Its birds and bay creatures, oysters and osprey migrations, Great Blue Herons, legends and lore of the Blue Crab and seasonal changes—and sea chanties aboard the Skipjack for an impromptu TGIF message sent around the building: “Time to sail into the sunset.” When the Captain offered me the wheel, I was hooked and learned to sail from Rock Hall. The Eastern Shore made a lasting impression on me. I wanted to share it with Yuri.

When we had the opportunity to move to Chestertown from New Jersey, I was transported back in time, back in the day of living and working as a creative director and environmentalist. I dug out the remnants of Maryland Shore memorabilia and outerwear and made sure they were packed together in transport. Artwork, books, maps, and articles were organized for the discoveries we were about to embark upon. Needless to say, the timeline from the planned immersion course of art, music, and oysters detoured into today’s difficult road for Yuri’s recovery from our Agro-Chemical surroundings.

The cornfields have become the base for genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant grains. Loaded with glyphosate, most processed foods are now made with GMOs. Genetically engineered ingredients tend to be heavily contaminated with toxic herbicides and carry potential health risks. Studies show proinflammatory T cells and Lipocalin-2, a marker of intestinal inflammation, increased after just a low-dose glyphosate exposure and has been associated with respiratory effects (asthma). Yet, glyphosate (Monsanto’s RoundUp) remains on the shelves and is the world’s most widely used weed killer.

The surprising factor is that the general public knows little about the terrible effects of chemicals and pesticides on chronic respiratory ailments and their detrimental effects on the Chesapeake Bay. Modern use of artificial fertilizers containing toxic chemicals nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium has affected the watersheds; the drainage basin carries the minerals to its mouth, where particulates and toxic chemicals accumulate, disturbing the natural balance. Prevention and reversal of eutrophication (progressively enriched with minerals and nutrients = Algae bloom) must minimize point source pollution from sewage and nutrient pollution from agriculture. These are the things I learned during my tenure with CBF.

Learning that CBF’s State of the Bay report card offered a D+ grade earlier this year was disconcerting. Being surrounded by factory farming that replaced family farms was an eye-opener that I had not thought about, nor expected, the impact breathing microscopic fungal spores from the air would have on our lives. If it wasn’t for side remarks, sly innuendos, and blank stares of disbelief, “This is unheard of, but it’s possible,” murmurs I would still be scratching my head, staring at the ceiling at night, wondering –what was happening? Why is this happening?

However, the pieces combined with documenting everything that happened made my decision clear and imperative to get Yuri out of the cornfields and the Lowlands, an incredibly wondrous ecoregion that includes most of Delaware, the coastal plain in Maryland, District of Columbia, and coastal Virginia south to the James River. It’s beautiful country, but we can’t stay. It’s not an environmentally safe sector.

Yuri has been doing well at convalescence in his “dorm” room in Rockville. We’ve taken short outings. Last Sunday, we found a lovely cafe for brunch. We rode along the countryside roads through the Golden light, dodging past us– its flickering film frames seared the last warm glow of sunlight into my Mind Palace before sinking behind Sugarloaf Mountain, an isolated ridge rising above a peneplain amid an Autumn palette of colors.

Alas, as fate would have it, we’re facing a seven-day antibiotic setback. It surprised me since Yuri’s progress has been progressing positively. It is taking longer. The past seven months wreaked havoc on Yuri, the likes of which I could never have imagined, but the prescribed rest provides the healing necessary for the Art of Recovery. I fall in love with him every day. He’s a fighter. And we’re not giving up. We’re headed for the hills; I hope there is no fault line.

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