Celebrating Earth Day in the Middle of the Chesapeake Bay

It’s been twenty five years since I started making the ferry trip from Crisfield, Maryland over to Smith Island – a small fishing community in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.  I know it’s been that long because of a  black and white photograph of me with a plaster cast on my right arm  “chicken necking” for crabs on a dock in the small town of Tylerton, Maryland – one of the three towns that make up the island community.   This past weekend two friends, my husband and I made the trip –as we do a couple times a year – to spend the weekend, paddling and exploring the island, catching up with old friends and spending a little time re-charging.

My work at National Wildlife Federation focuses on federal policy – the people who make it and the people who try to influence it – to protect the Chesapeake Bay.  It’s an incredible job, and one that I am thankful for all the time, but not one that gets me out on the water very often.  I spend a lot of time at meetings and on conference calls working on policy strategy, trying to figure out what laws will give us the best shot at clean water in the region.  What is missing sometimes is remembering why I started down this path and chose this profession out of  thousands of options.

Sunday afternoon when the tide was flooding, we took our kayaks and headed south out Tyler’s Creek to what the islanders  call “Refrigerator gut” through Fishing Creek – planning the trip just right so we worked hard against tide and wind on the way out and sailed back to Tylerton.  The trip, which straddled the Maryland-Virginia line, was punctuated with many signs of spring including several oyster catchers and diamond back terrapins peaking over the smooth, calm waters we found in the creek.   The dance of winter jelly fish around our boats proved the water still cold.  We hugged the marsh islands back to Tylerton basking in the warm afternoon sun.

Every dip of my paddle was a personal celebration of Earth Day and the harsh beauty of the marsh environment’s turn from winter to spring.  But it was also a 4.5 mile reminder of what made my childhood special and why I spend my days at a desk, on the phone or trying to make the case to a decision maker about an important vote that will protect water quality.  And a reminder that I need to do it more often.