National Geographic : 1964 Sep
inhabited by earth's most fortunate people. Obviously, I do not view this region with detachment. I am a native and lifelong res ident of the Bay country-a Baltimorean, descendant of folk who from Revolutionary times knew the taste of fried soft crabs, the scent of wisteria growing against mellow brick, and the whistle of black-duck wings in a starlit winter sky. Thus my feelings for my native land some times cloud my vision. I had best begin with the cold facts and figures found on maps. Chesapeake Bay itself is a shallow, mostly brackish inland sea. The Atlantic created it long ago by drowning the lower reaches of the Susquehanna River. It is the largest estuary on the United States Atlantic coast. Sailing the 195 miles from Bay mouth to Susquehanna River, the helmsman need nev er vary his course by more than two compass points from due north. Should he head east or west, however, he would come upon cruis ing grounds to last his lifetime, for 48 prin cipal rivers with 102 meandering branches flow into the Bay, as well as countless creeks LIBRARY OF CONGRESS(OPPOSITE) AND KODACHROMEBY BATESLITTLEHALES © N.G.S. 372 and marshy sloughs (see map, pages 374-5). Someone once wrote that a chart of the Bay looks like the deck plan of an octopus. To me, who had a sailboat from boyhood, the little waters-"gunkholes," as the yachts man calls them-are the best of the Chesa peake, and that includes their wonderfully evocative names. The charts show a Crab Neck and Crab Alley Creek, as well as other creeks named Cuckold, Canoe Neck, Tar Cove, Bullbegger, Ape Hole, Plaindealing, and Antipoison. Capt. P. V. H. Weems of Annapolis, inven tor of navigation systems used on all the seas, once told me solemnly that Chesapeake tides ebb and flow upon 5,616 miles of shoreline. I asked him how he measured so exactly a shore constantly changed by wind, wave, and the tunnelings of muskrats. "Maybe I'm a few miles off," he admitted. "I overlooked the muskrats." Maryland and Virginia share the Chesa peake, which derives its name from an Indian word meaning "Great Shellfish Bay." Cutting the two states in twain, the Bay creates a very special land, the Eastern Shore, between the Chesapeake and the Atlantic Ocean. Of old English stock, Shore people have their own speechways, customs, and fierce pride. Shoremen are the quintessence of Bay men, and the late Sam Whalen of Love Point on Kent Island was the quintessence of Shoremen. He was also one of the best of thousands of good Chesapeake fishing guides. One day he and I were chumming for sea trout-weakfish-in the steamer channel between the Chester River mouth and Gibson Bayside residents have rarely lacked for food. Chesapeake Indians, like their coun terparts in North Carolina, feasted the year round on fish, crabs, and oysters. Theodore de Bry's 1590 engraving, based on a water color by Roanoke Island colonist John White, shows Carolina Indians lighting a fire on a hearth in their canoe; actually, they built such fires only at night to attract fish. Man in the stern lays aside his net to rake the shallows for oysters. In the distance, others drive fish into weirs or impale them on spears tipped with the "hollowe tayle of a certaine fishe like to a sea crabb." Nearly 400 years later, the Indians are gone, but Chesapeake oystermen still en joy the bounty of the Bay as they rake the bottom with hand-forged iron tongs.