|Kurt Plinke, Artist and Naturalist
Between the Waters
life, Art and The Nature of things Between the Atlantic and the Chesapeake
We've lived along the Choptank River on Maryland's Eastern Shore for well over thirty years now.
When we moved here, the land from the Bay Bridge to our place near Greensboro felt sadly empty and the drive seemed to take forever. Piloting our car along Route 50 and Route 404 was almost lonely, with a few bucolic farms and old homes nestled among long expanses of woods, marshes and neatly plowed fields. Unless it was a holiday weekend, even during beach season the road was never truly crowded. If you were one of those going home after a weekend at Ocean City, you probably stopped just before Kent Island at Holly's for a bite to eat. There weren't many other restaurants. The marshes near the bay were seas of grass, with a few old snags sticking up, perches for eagles, ospreys and dinosaur-like cormorants.
Today I taught a workshop at KIFA in Stevensville on Kent Island. It was a great day, with a group of painters who all did a great job as we developed a typical old Eastern Shore barn scene. But what struck me as I drove to Kent Island and back was the immense amount of change that has taken place all along the way.
Just leaving our place, the road is now lined with houses where there used to be woods and fields. Farmland has been subdivided and homes are being built where old farmsteads
used to stand. I'm not saying all of the farmland is gone... far from it. I still drove past a vast amount of farmland. But now some of those fields no longer grow crops, instead they farm the sun, covered as far as you can see with solar panels. That's not a bad thing, although I wonder why we have to cover some of the best farmland with something other than plants. As I travelled west, there seemed to be more and more change. Stores, restaurants and offices dot the former natural landscape. Much of the marsh is now filled with condominium complexes rising above the wetlands, and bordered by restaurants and shops.
Even the few places that were longstanding waypoints have changed. Holly's is long-gone, replaced by another Royal Farms convenience store. And while Royal Farms does make some good fried chicken, it's not a cultural stop for generations. It's just another Royal Farms, replacing homemade mashed potatoes with factory-processed potato logs.
The drawbridge has been superseded at the narrows by a tall bridge, which overlooks a vast armada of sailboat masts all moored at huge marinas. The old drawbridge is still there, dormant in the shadows of the newer span. Restaurants and dockside bars crowd the narrows, and traffic on some weekends brings Route 50 to a standstill.
For the last thirty years, the people I have come to know and love on the Shore have a certain rhythm to their lives. In the springtime, they fished for herring, rock and perch as they ran the rivers. Then they planted. In the summer, they tended their gardens and they crabbed, taking their sturdy workboats out on the bay and it's tributaries for rock, blues, and to run a line for bushels of crabs. In the early fall, Blinds were constructed in the marshes, and tree stands were tended so that later, duck, geese and deer could be collected and put up for winter. All this time, they kept a weather eye for storms.
Today, however, there is a new rhythm. It doesn't completely take over the others, but it lays on them like a big wet blanket. It is known as Beach Traffic. Even now during off-season, a weather eye is blinded by traffic everyplace that there is a path to the ocean. Route 50 and Route 404 are virtual parking lots much of the time during peak season. It seems, too that the pace has increased dramatically. Everyone is in a hurry, ad they want everything now.
It was nice to be able to stop at the Safeway on Kent Island and find an actual wide selection of groceries. On the other hand, the cashier was shouting, and everyone had someplace to go. Even in the parking lot, people were edgy and quick to temper. Many of the shoppers used the automatic check-out, avoiding the cashiers and the lines. The Safeway used to be a field, where fresh corn was collected, and the farmer was a quiet man. Things change.
I'm pretty sure our children will say the same thing, lamenting the loss of a long-standing Royal Farms store, where they could find real fried chicken, and be served by a real cashier.
Kurt Plinke: About Life, Art and the Nature of Things on the Eastern Shore
I write about things I've noticed, places I've been, plans I've made and paintings I've finished or am thinking about.
See recent naturalist observations I have posted on iNaturalist: