Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Island That Time Forgot

The breeze played on the water and the salt spray washed the faces of the small crew as we headed out into the Miles River. Captain Rich Scofield guided Volunteer out into the water as we began to discuss what we might find on the blob of green that awaited our arrival in the middle of the River. Mike Hardesty, Assistant Director of the Chesapeake Semester and Ben Ford, Special Projects Coordinator, began talking in earnest about what their students might learn from a trip over to Long Point Island. Ecology, history, land-use, and Tom Horton’s book “Bay Country” were all mentioned as they discussed the potential lesson plans that could be developed around this ancient island.
Entrance to Long Point Island.
We puttsed up to a small dock on the far shore and Rob Forloney from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum hopped ashore to tie up. As he did, a man started slowly walking toward the dock. “Hi. You must be the group from Washington College” he said as he approached the boat. He introduced himself as Jimmy Rouse, the owner of Long Point Island. As we all hopped back in the boat and started out for the Island, Jimmy began to tell stories of growing up on that Island. “We spent summers out here. There were three huge black walnut trees that we sold for lumber…we used the money from those trees to build the bulkheads…My father and his brothers build the cabins themselves.” Jimmy told us that he remembers when the island was connected to the mainland. In fact his family supervised driving bulldozers across the narrow land bridge onto the island for agricultural purposes.
Finally we bumped up against the dock and hopped onto shore. In front of us was a beautiful wooden cabin nestled under a canopy of mature oaks and pines. I could just imagine Thoreau walking out of the front door and sauntering off through the trees. “We can have this fixed up,” Jimmy’s wife said as we walked through the front door of the cabin. Mike immediately started pacing around happy as a kid in a candy shop, or as an environmentalist in a cabin in the woods. I could hear snippets of excited mutterings concerning team building and campfires. As my eyes drifted from the windows to the trees I couldn’t help but wondering about the incredible stories a place like this would hold. Cutoff from the mainland for over a hundred years, farmed until the 1920’s and then logged in the 1970’s, some of these trees had seen it all. The entire history of western civilization locked away in the rings of the white oak that swayed silently in the summer breeze. They had seen farmers tear up the soil to put in irrigation ditches. They had seen loggers tear down huge black walnut trees leaving gaping wounds in the canopy. They had seen children racing through the woods, combing the beaches for arrowheads, and studying the birds as they hopped through the undergrowth. Now they were watching a new group move through. A group that would fill the air with campfire smoke, good whole-body laughs, and exclamations of wonder and discovery.
The CES crew explores the forest on Long Point Island.
“Would you like to walk the length of the island?” Jimmy asked. Between the cabin and the far beach we discussed the history of the land at length. We were immersed in a discussion about the evolution of agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay region when we were interrupted by a Velociraptor. Well, at least it sounded like a Velociraptor, but after a little bit of searching we discovered that there was a heron rookery on the island.  For the next few minutes we watched as adult herons went to and from the nest bringing food for their young. In the distance we could hear the plaintive chirping of Osprey and Eagles. Beneath our feet the spent bodies of horseshoe crabs reminded us of the passing of the seasons, and brought us back to the task at hand. It might’ve been then, maybe it was while we were looking for raspberry bushes in one of the tangles of underbrush, or it might’ve been when we were all sitting on the porch of one of the cabins talking about the challenges and changes of the Chesapeake. Regardless of when it happened, we didn’t notice it until we were all loaded back on the boat and we began thinking about getting home that Rob said, “I think my watch stopped!”
None of us could figure out why that might’ve happened at the time, but I think now that I know the answer. I don’t think anything went wrong; I think that the Chesapeake, for just a brief moment, managed to break through all of our planning and give us an invitation. The Chesapeake called us with herons, the circling Osprey, the bodies of horseshoe crabs, and the slow march of box turtles.  For those of us who were there and for the students who will arrive there in a few short weeks with the Chesapeake Semester, Long Point Island will always be a place to stand still. A place to let the Chesapeake lap the soles of your feet and the quiet oaks shelter you, beckoning your return to peace, quiet, and good earth. 
Ben's box turtle.
This article was written by Rachel Field, Program and Intern Coordinator for the Center for Environment & Society.

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