21 August 2013 | San Domingo Creek, St. Michael's, Md.
Snarking in the rain
It's a rainy Sunday and Robert and I are walking with Madison along the St. Michael's Nature Trail that runs through the small park at the head of San Domingo Creek.
"What's that yellow flower?" I say, pointing at a plant with vetch-like leaves and pretty yellow flowers.
"Cassia fasciculata," Robert says.
"What's a cassia fasciculata? Does it have a common name?"
This sounds snarky because it is.
"I don't know."
We've had a version of this exchange a few times before. Robert's told me the Latin name of nearly every wildflower in the Western North Carolina mountains oh, a dozen times or so. I have a lousy memory and remembering words in a foreign language - a dead foreign language at that - is not a skill I seem able to master.
After we'd been married a few years and he'd repeated this drill several springs in a row, Robert started answering my inquiries by saying, "Same thing as last year."
We must not have encountered "cassia fasciculata" in Western North Carolina.
Ahhh, the Internet, well, it turns out Partridge Pea is one of the common names for "cassia fasciculata." Granted, it has a few others - sleeping plant, prairie partridge pea, showy partridge pea, prairie senna, large-flowered sensitive-pea, dwarf cassia, partridge pea senna, locust weed, golden cassia. This is why Robert never bothered learning common names. So? It seems to me you just pick one that you like.
I have it on the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that whatever you call it, it's a legume native to the eastern U.S. that is considered an excellent species for planting in disturbed areas for erosion control and improving soil fertility. It quickly covers an area, but doesn't prevent other plants from becoming established. A number of birds, including mallards and bobwhites eat the seeds, hence the common name. It's also considered an important honey plant.
An environmental pioneer
It turns out that we were on a section of the St. Michaels Nature Trail that borders the campus of Environmental Concern, a nonprofit wholesale nursery dedicated to restoring and preserving wetlands. As much time as we spent in St. Michaels in 2011 and even though it's right beside the park where we tie up our dingy, I'd somehow missed this treasure.
Environmental Concern was started in 1972 by Dr. Edgar Garbisch, a chemist who had spent part of his youth on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and was alarmed at the rate at which wetlands were being destroyed. The environmental movement was already in full swing, but while people understood the importance of clean water and air, swamps, bogs and marshes were still viewed as unhealthy and mosquito infested, best drained and turned to some productive use.
This same attitude resulted in the loss of all but a remnant of the mountain bogs once found in Western North Carolina.
Garbisch recognized the critical role wetlands play in a healthy ecosystem, but while there was plenty of information on how to destroy wetlands, there was no information on how to restore them. Through trial and error, he created a native plant nursery and developed the techniques for reestablishing wetlands. Then he added an education component to the nonprofit to help train others. Environmental Concern's materials are used in over 40 countries and throughout the U.S., according to its web site.
The campus was closed on Sunday, but we went back and spent a pleasant couple of hours touring it Monday. Garbisch died at the age of 79 in 2012, but the nursery he started, the first of its kind in the country, is still going strong.
A Tale of a Tug
In 2011 we anchored in Jackson Creek near a big red tug boat named Sture. Clearly meant for muscling around barges and big, commercial vessels, it looked out of place parked in front of a private residence in Jackson Creek, where it dwarfed most of the sailing yachts that anchored or tied up at the Deltaville Marina. This year, the big red tug was missing and I thought the creek had lost something of its personality.
But I should not have despaired for we were to encounter Sture farther up the bay, in the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. When we were here two years ago, a small wooden tug named "Delaware" was on the Museum's maritime railway undergoing extensive repairs. This year, fully rehabilitated, she's floating in a slip and there's a great exhibit about tugboats in one of the museum's buildings.
There in the exhibit was a photograph of Sture, along with Captain John M. Ward Jr., the third of four generations in Bay Freight, Inc., one of the small family-run tug companies that still operates on the bay. The accompanying information says that Bay Freight, owned and operated by the Ward family of Deltaville, Va., has grown from delivering crabs and watermelons around the bay to developing a niche pushing grain barges with a small fleet of tugs.
A St. Michael's kind of day
We had a late breakfast at the coffee shop on Saturday, toured the tug boat exhibit, stopped to admire the third of the John Smith boats built in the Chesapeake Bay in honor of the 400th anniversary of the exploration of the bay by the Jamestown settlers led by Smith, then wandered over to the St. Michael's winery for a wine tasting. We met a nice couple from Annapolis who were anchored not far from us, but around a point where we couldn't see their boat. The winery had some very nice wines including a chocolate zinfandel that I had thought I wouldn't like, but did - very much.
Afterwards we went to dinner at Gina's. We ate outside under the trees. The late afternoon was cool and pleasant, the food was delicious and there are congenial people all around. It was the perfect culmination to a lazy, lovely day.
It rained Sunday and we spent most of the day on the boat except for taking Madison in for walks on the St. Michael's Nature Trail.
The Forgotten War
Monday, we went back to the museum and toured a very well done exhibit on the War of 1812 which, according to the exhibit, is often called America's Forgotten War. If my knowledge going into the exhibit is any indication, forgotten is an appropriate moniker. The war's 200th anniversary in 2012 passed without much notice as far as I could tell - the museum exhibit being the first time I'd given it any thought whatsoever.
But it was an important war, declared and won by America against Britain and lasting from 1812 to 1815. Among the causes, the British had introduced restrictions to impede trade between the U.S. and France, with which Britain was at war. Britain was also impressing U.S. seamen into the Royal Navy. According to the exhibit, it was the War of 1812 that established the sovereignty of the U.S. on the world stage. Neither the British nor any other nation would again threaten America's ability to trade freely in markets around the world or to protect its citizens from seizure from foreign power.
The exhibit included a film about the "Merikins," slaves who escaped and fought for the British who promised them their freedom and a homestead of 16 acres of land to every head of household. They were recruited into six military companies, mainly from the shores of Virginia, Maryland and Georgia.
After the war they were resettled in Canada, Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago had recently become British territories and were not heavily populated. Ironically, the new settlers came to be known by the name of the place from which they'd come, the "Merikins." They carved a life out of a wilderness and their descendants, some of whom are interviewed in the film, have a very proud heritage.
Oars in the water
The light on our boat and a Dutch yacht anchored nearby was beautiful Monday night as the sun set while we were eating dinner in the cockpit, so I decided to row a few feet away and take a picture. I'm a very uncoordinated rower - can't seem to get both oars in the water at the same time (I know I'm leaving myself wide open here...), so Robert sat in the cockpit and laughed while he tried to tell me what to do. Meanwhile, Madison peered between the lifelines looking anxious. Pretty soon we were both laughing as I rowed in circles. I managed to get the dingy back to the boat without starting the engine, but it was a close thing.
We watched the almost full moon rise as we took Madison in for her evening constitutional.
Tuesday we motored across the bay to Harness Creek on the south side of Annapolis. We needed to get to the bank before it closed so Robert walked about 2.5 miles into Bay Ridge Center where there's a branch of our bank while Madison and I spent a couple of hours hanging out in Quiet Waters Park. He bought some strawberries and a few other supplies before returning to find Madison and me in one of the parks gazebos where we'd stretched out and napped after strolling around as much as Madison's 16-year-old legs were up to.
We'd spotted our friends Dena and Myron on Holdfast when we came into the creek, so on the way back we stopped to see if they'd like to join us for desert. We had a great visit cut short when Robert began exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion. He was fine within half an hour but 5-mile walks in the heat with no water are henceforth banned.
On Wednesday we moved around to pick up a mooring in Back Creek where we got the holding tank pumped out, got the water tanks filled and where for a small fee, we can do laundry and use the showers at Port Annapolis Marina.
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum