Before the swamp, well I lived Up North on the continent, first on the Piedmont Plateau and later at a fork in a river and then later still in the desert and finally on a glacial terminal mound. Before The Swamp is where I recollect and reconnect with memories of watery times gone by.
I take that back. I mean “especially” in a gutter. Why? Call me a child of the suburbs perhaps. But for me growing up as a pre-teenage kid, to this day I can still remember having fun watching (and racing) leaves in the gutter after a good rain. Another favorite activity was damming up the water to watch a pool form behind the leaves, and also expanding the makeshift levee to pool the water halfway across the street only to punch a hole in it and watch the water water flow. Simpler times they were, simpler times. Those days may have passed but I’m reminded of them every time it rains and I go to the gutter to watch (and listen) to the water flow.
And who’s to say it wouldn’t have been the perfect spot. At the confluence of where the Chesapeake and its main tributary meet, two centuries ago it was hard to argue it wasn’t the perfect spot. Eventually of course they picked Washington D.C., in part because the Potomac was a deeper water port, and Havre De Grace was shallower and silting in. Or maybe there were other reasons, too. My point: Havre De Grace went on to miss out on being the state capital (to Annapolis) and county seat (to Bel Air), too. Talk about a fall from grace! Or maybe not. Havre De Grace has an eclectic charm all its own, and is somehow preserved in time. So maybe swinging and missing at all three was its saving grace.
It makes me think about Maryland at large as being my “home state.” People always ask me: “Bob, where are you from?” My knee-jerk reaction is to say Maryland (the full state). But really when I think about it there are only two counties of the 23 that I know really well — Harford and Baltimore Counties — and can truly lay claim to knowing if not as good as the back of my hand, then as well as the bottom of my feet will ever know.
Or is it the watersheds I know best? As a kid my brother and I worshipped Deer Creek. Sometimes we told our parents we were going to church we’d drive there instead. The Gunpowder was our other spot. Unlike Deer Creek that flowed into the Susquehanna River, the Gunpowder emptied straight into the Bay. Both cut deep valleys into the Piedmont Plateau imparting a rolling landscape in reverse: the highest spots the highest remnants of the flat plateau and the waterways forming the base of the large hills.
So, am I a Marylander or a Harford/Baltimore Countian? Probably a Deer Creeker describes me best. Standing on top of the King and Queen Seat looking down, sometimes I wonder why I ever left.
It’s also the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
I am proud to report that I made it there once. There’s a hazy photo of it somewhere that somehow along the way got lost: Just the four of us, my brother and long-time friends Chad and Geoff. It was inclement weather and the four of us were unprepared but resolute. Our only rain gear was double-ply plastic garbage bags.
Nearing the peak we encountered a dense fog and in the distance, above us, two hikers in bright orange Gortex jackets and pants in retreat. They somberly reported they hadn’t made it to the peak. “Too foggy to continue.” But it was onward and upward for us, heavy with poorly-packed bags on our back and one of us (who shall remain nameless — okay, it was Geoff) was carrying all his supplies in a now famous Adolfo duffle-style bag which he carried by his side with one hand. We dead reckoned up the rocks until finally we found our mark: a wood sign among the rocks in what must have been a thirty-foot visibility thick-as-pea-soup view.
Not too much longer we were joined at the top by the two guys in the bright orange Gortex. “Hey bud,” Geoff greeted one of them, looking half confused. “Didn’t you say you were turning back?” The one gave a sheepish look before the other spoke up: “Something about seeing four guys wearing garbage bags as rain gear carrying their gear in a non-water resistant Adolfo Sports Bag gave us a change of heart.”
Later that same trip we found ourselves hiking down the Cathedral Trail. Nearing the bottom to Chimney Pond Camp, several day-hikers climbing up greeted us with strangely similar comments: “Whoa, check out these guys hiking down Cathedral.” Their amazement infused us with a great sense of pride which grew each time we heard it said (and quite literally it must have been at least a dozen).
Eventually we made it to the bottom at which was a giant sign: “Warning: Do Not Climb Down Cathedral Trail!” The trail was too steep, rocky and slippery to safely descend.
Of course, no such warnings apply if you’re toting an Adolfo Sports Bag!
One fall long ago I visited my brother in the Hudson River Valley. I had just returned east after living a few years in the Sonoran Desert corner of the Great American Southwest studying (you guessed it) water.
The back story is that Arizona didn’t have any (water), or not much of it — with every drop being all the more precious because of its scarce state. Also conspicuously absent were “seasons.” Not that the natives wouldn’t scoff indignantly at my insinuation of seasonlessness: “Of course we have seasons!” was the usual rebuttal. Yes, I get it: the saguaros are less green in fall, or are the more green — one or the other, or maybe they were the same and other things changed. In a nutshell, I didn’t stay long enough to get into seasonal sync with the Southwest at the same time I lost sync with the old rhythms of the Northeast.
Opening my brother’s fridge, I was shocked: Apples were packed everywhere – up on the egg racks, behind the butter, in every unused drawer. It was fridge full of apples and barely nothing else. Not having much of a choice, I grabbed (you guessed it) an apple and posed the stupidest question I’d ever before or ever since asked: “Are the apples good to eat?”
“Unless you like them in spring when they’re really ripe on the vine!” came a reply from the other room.
Boy did I feel dumb. The consolation prize was the apple was as good as it looked and sounded. Just a big old crunch on that first bite. It was October in Dutchess County, New York. Of course the apples were good! What part of fall didn’t I understand?
It goes in the record books as my first hydrologic memory, not as a Floridian – where it made landfall, but as a native Marylander where I was born, and where the storm passed through on its way up the Atlantic Coast.
I was only 3 years old at the time.
My mother and father judiciously had us take cover under ground, not for the reason we didn’t have shutters on our windows – we did, but because those shutters were fake!
The so called “ornamental shutters” were made of flimsy plastic, manufactured too narrow to cover the full width of glass, and – the final insult – drilled permanently into the wall siding. They looked great on a sunny day, but that was about the good of them!
But Marylanders are nothing if not innovative – and so we found shelter in the basement until the storm passed.