In Terre Haute, Indiana, where I grew up, the Wabash River is the largest body of water nearby, and it used to be part of the town’s lifeblood and the inspiration for songs (“Oh, the moonlight’s fair tonight along the Wabash . . .”). Over the last 70 years, however, locals consider the still-beautiful Wabash to be little more than a barrier to cross on the way to Illinois and a nuisance when it floods.
In contrast, the Chesapeake Bay is just too darn big to be taken for granted. After all, a meteor strike made the Bay’s 200-mile-long basin over 35 million years ago, and 10,000 years ago rising sea levels along with the flow of the Susquehanna filled up the basin to a current average depth of 21 feet. According to the National Ocean Service, the Bay is North America’s largest estuary. Its watershed covers 64,000 square miles. Over 150 rivers and streams drain into the Bay. More than 300 species of fish, shellfish, and crab and a wide array of other wildlife call the Bay home. In other words, rather than being a barrier to getting somewhere, the Bay is itself a destination.
When I commuted to work, it was the Bay that made a home in Annapolis worthwhile. The Bay made my weekends seem like mini vacations. When I saw the Bay from what would become our backyard, it was shimmering with bright sun shining on small whitecaps caused by a strong, steady breeze. Love at first sight! But after living here a while, I know that the Bay also offers a rough side with big waves that throw water over our bulkhead, a calm side where you would swear it’s not water but smooth, gray-blue gel, a frosty side that turns shoreline grasses into icicles, and many other sides in between.
The most heavenly thing about the Bay is its partnership with the sky, particularly during sunrise and sunset when the colors in both sky and water are magnificent. At sunset, even blue herons stop to perch on a pier and watch.
On summer afternoons, the ospreys appear to be hoisted high into the sky to swirl and glide and then plunged down to the water, coming up triumphantly with fish in mouth, ready to do it again after dinner. Swans, ducks, gulls, and geese bob and dive for fun and food but always fly to their nests as the sun sets, creating silhouettes in the sky.
I’m happy to risk hurricanes to live by the Bay, to watch its moods, colors, and flows, and to observe the creatures that it fosters, but although my husband and I have a pier we do not yet have a boat. One day we might very well possibly get one, but for now we landlubbing Hoosiers are quite content just to gaze at the Bay for hours on end in our rocking chairs on our deck. You can take the girl out of Indiana, but you can’t take the Hoosier out of the girl.