County Executive Robert R. Neall has announced the county winners ofthe fourth annual "Maryland You Are Beautiful" Senior Citizen Creative Writing Contest, sponsored by the Office of the Governor and the Maryland Office on Aging. A grand-prize winner will be selected from the first-place winners of each county contest. This year's topic is "Maryland Through Your Eyes."
The county's first-place winner is Ross Coggins, a foreign service officer with the Agency for International Development. A resident of Sherwood Forest, he is married and has two daughters and three grandchildren. He plans to retire this year in Sherwood Forest and devote himself to creative writing.
Neall also announced the following winners: Catherine Neilson of Arnold, second place; Thelma V. Pollock of Pasadena, third place; Thomas C. Evans of Davidsonville and Claude Hudgins of Annapolis, honorable mention. All participants in the contest, which drew 30 entries, will be honored at a ceremony May 20 at Pascal Senior Center in Glen Burnie.
Following is Coggins' essay:
When I came to Maryland atthe age of 49, I felt cheated. By what measure of justice was it granted to these people to be born in such a place when I had been consigned to the grubby vistas of East Texas?
To live beside the Severnas it glides serenely to the Bay is especially pleasurable to one whose river experiences had been limited to the Trinity, that muddy stream that dwindles in drought and disastrously overflows its low bankswhen the spring rains fall. Fishing there generally meant stringing trotlines to catch the sluggish scavenger catfish, which would be cordially despised by those seeking rockfish or blues around the Chesapeake region.
To my eyes, the trees in Maryland inspired a wonder that moved me to settle in Sherwood Forest, a community set in hundredsof acres of untouched forest where the deer, the red fox, the raccoon, the squirrel and the chipmunk live in undisturbed harmony with their human neighbors. An incredible array of birds come to my deck to compare my winter offerings with those of my neighbors and, if they approve, they gather for an impromptu aviary fashion show which no Paris couturier could match. I think you'd have to grow up with the scantshade of mesquite, scrub oaks and spindly pines in order to appreciate the lush green forests of Maryland.
Another welcome perspectiveto me was the panoply of cultural and recreational resources Maryland provides. It is still a source of wonder to me that I have convenient access to the bay and the beaches, to the Orioles, to incomparableseafood, and to countless libraries, concerts, hospitals and historic sites.
It has taken me a long time to figure out the people. They struck me as strangely taciturn about these extraordinary surroundings. If we could put Sherwood Forest down in Navarro County, Texas, we could sell tickets and grow rich. Yet these Marylanders viewed it all with a kind of obnoxious tranquillity. They didn't brag, showing apreference for understatement which is irritating to someone from a place where you even boasted of your "open spaces." They didn't hesitate to speak a discouraging word!
It finally dawned on me that they are more shrewd than taciturn. They want to keep all of this quiet lest they be overrun by the locationally deprived. I think they want to prevent the Californication of this relatively pristine state.
It is also probably true that, as the view of the mountain is clearerfrom the plain, seeing Maryland with a newcomer's eyes provides one with a marvelous and unique perspective. You have at least the advantage over old-timers in Maryland.
With the passage of time, you also experience subtle personality changes without even being aware of it. I no longer want to shout, jump or clap when I sail on or walk beside the Severn. Outwardly, I probably looked unmoved when the mother raccoon brought her cubs to my door in the spring. I have even relinquished my bragging rights when friends and relatives from Texas come for visits. In fact, the last time I was back there and heard the constantly reiterated theme, "I'll bet you're glad to be back in Texas,"I just smiled and said, "Yeah."
And when they asked me how life was in Maryland, I replied, "It's OK."