A guide to some armchair exploring

ON THE BAY

January 08, 1994|By TOM HORTON

What should one read to become educated about the Chesapeake Bay? You could do worse than to sample from the following list.

It is personal, not comprehensive, favors the readable over the technical and, for space reasons, ignores most fiction, photo books and children's literature.

Keeping current

For in-depth, comprehensive, lucid coverage of the huge range of bay environmental issues, you can't beat the Bay Journal, available free, monthly, from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay in Towson.

The Journal technically is a creature of the federal-multistate Chesapeake Bay Program, but it rarely reads like a press release. Its editor, Karl Blankenship, is a first-rate journalist, and gives you informed coverage.

A newcomer on the scene is New Bay Times, a lively, well-written and eclectic publication now nearly a year old and published twice monthly, from Deale, Md.

For fans of Bill Burton, longtime outdoor writer for The Evening Sun, New Bay Times is where he "retired" his column.

Perennial favorites

Aldo Leopold's "Sand County Almanac" has nothing about the )) bay, but his classic essays from a scrub farm in the sand hills of Wisconsin say all you need to know about loving and caring for any region on earth. Maybe my favorite environmental book.

Neither is Donald Culross Peattie's "Natural History of Trees" about a specific region, but it is a superb mix of botanical, historical and aesthetic description of most of the major species in our Chesapeake forests.

For poetry, it is true that the late Gilbert Byron, who lived, Thoreau-like, on a Talbot County cove for 50 years, was no Dylan Thomas or Robert Frost. But they never wrote of tongers and proggers in the marshes, and of shad and loons and the moon on Eastern Shore creeks. Gilbert did, and better than anyone I know.

Much of his material is out of print now, but a fine novel, "The Lord's Oysters," is in paperback, and Washington College has just published selected poems.

Recommended reading

Bargain of the decade is "Shoremen," a 1974 anthology of Eastern Shore prose and verse, spanning 1700 to modern times. You still see fresh copies in bookstores for about $6.

"The Bay," by the late Gilbert Klingel, sold scarcely at all when its critically acclaimed essays were published in 1951.

It probably does better now in its paperback resurrection, as we have come to treasure what was taken for granted 40 years ago.

There is not much more praise one can heap on Willy Warner's "Beautiful Swimmers," the classic on blue crabs, watermen and the Chesapeake.

Without having read it, you cannot call yourself Chesapeake literate.

The book's only crime is that it has overshadowed Warner's second book, "Distant Water," a chronicle of the global factory fishing fleets, and just as good a read as "Swimmers."

"In River Time -- The Way of the James," is the happy result of Virginia English professor Ann Woodlief's courage to cross professional boundaries.

She has produced an easy flowing, yet provocative eco-history: how peoples throughout time have differently viewed the

bay's third largest tributary, and how those views shaped the river.

A modest book, "Watermen," by Randall Peffer, is a very personal portrait of the author's year with Tilghman Islanders in the 1970s.

It's a slice of bayside life that is both appreciative and unvarnished.

One of the more insightful little books written about the Eastern Shore in recent decades is Boyd Gibbons' "Wye Island," the saga of James Rouse's failed attempt to develop perhaps the choicest real estate on the Delmarva Peninsula.

The book, published in 1977, still has a lot to say to those who wonder whether development won't turn the Land of Pleasant Living into New Jersey South in coming decades.

One of the most unpretentious books on the list may be the

pleasantest reading: "Birds and Marshes of the Chesapeake Bay Country," by Brooke Meanley.

These are the field notes of a professional naturalist who roamed the bay's fecund fringes for decades, with a keen eye for natural detail and a wealth of human anecdotes.

New in 1993

A spiritual heir to Mr. Meanley, blessed like him with a teacher's bent for explanation, is John Page Williams, who practically invented environmental education in his career with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. In the space of about a year, he has cranked out two fine books, "Exploring the Chesapeake in Small Boats" and his latest, "Chesapeake Almanac."

Together, they will guide and enrich a lifetime of travels on the bay.

"Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks," by Pat Vojtech, may be the first book on these historic oystering craft -- which is astounding when you consider all the feature articles on them each year.

It has some striking photos, vivid stories of the individual captains, and the best list I've ever seen about the origins and specifications of all known skipjacks (more than 500 in all).

Reference

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