By Carl Gold
In Marshy Point State Park
I start the day very early at Hammerman Beach. Years ago, an agreement was reached to allow long distance swimmers to train outside the ropes before the beaches open for public use. My cure for Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) begins, however, before I set foot in the water. I glance down and see fern moss near the base of the osprey nest in the parking lot. Emerald cushions with spores ready to explode with new single cell life cover the ground, inches away from asphalt. To the left a doe drinks from a vernal pool until she is startled by a car door closing.
I quickly swim out to the rope (those first few moments can be chilly especially early in the season) duck under it and head out in the direction of the Bay parallel to the shore. As I swim in the early diffused light from pier to pier (five hundred yards from the first pier to the last) my head turns to the right to catch a breath and a great blue heron is just a few feet away, patiently waiting for his breakfast to appear. Heading to the next pier and reveling in a good chop that forces me to practice bilateral breathing, a shadow appears on the water and I quickly look up – it’s an osprey grasping what looks like a channel catfish in her talons as she heads back to the nest at the parking lot. Submerged aquatic vegetation (sign of a healthy river) occasionally entangles my arms but all I have to do is relax my stroke and it slips away. On the return trip heading toward the railroad tracks, I hear beautiful singing in Spanish. It is a church group, ministers dressed in long white (and now soaking wet) robes, performing baptisms in the river. By now the sky is a cerulean shade and more great blue herons have left their rookery on the far side of the river to salute the newly baptized.
After getting my swim yardage in, I wheel my kayak to the farthest beach, put on my lifejacket and slip in to the river, this time on top. Close attention is necessary at the beginning as there is often a good shore breeze which creates that glorious chop. Once I get away from the shore it is easier to paddle as there is no backwash from the shore. As I head towards Dundee Creek, I sometimes lose count of how many eagles I see. Seemingly stoic and unperturbed by my ripples in the water they gaze down at me giving me the gift of getting close enough to see their eyes. If I’m really lucky some red winged blackbirds will pop up from the marsh and yell at me for disturbing them. When the crabs are running, I take care not to foul any trap lines – I’m always impressed how the crabbers keep them from tangling.
This has been a year unlike any other in my six decades. The isolation, the loss of contact with what Jane Brody refers to as consequential strangers, much less dear friends and family has been numbing. The sky, the River, the land and their inhabitants have been consistent reminders that not only does life go on, but it must go on. Eastern Baltimore County teems with life seen and unseen. We have an obligation to protect it.
Last summer when Covid locked us all down, the freedom to swim and kayak was sanity saving. All I had to do was open my eyes to appreciate the beauty all around me. This freedom is not guaranteed to last. If you have ever wondered what you can do to help, I have a modest proposal. Become a Maryland Master Naturalist!
The Maryland Master Naturalist (MMN) program is run by the University of Maryland Extension Service. It provides access to world class scientists who train participants to be citizen scientists who can share their love of the natural world with others. It explains exactly why the preservation and protection of our natural resources is so important.
I’ve wanted to take the MMN classes for years but they were never offered close enough to home or at workable times. One Covid silver lining was the announcement that virtual classes would be available. I leaped at this opportunity and by the time you read this (assuming I pass the exam) I’ll be a Master Naturalist trainee working hard on stewardship and spreading the word about the need to preserve it for future generations. Those of us fortunate enough to have discovered Eastern Baltimore County should share our love with others. The more folks who see this beauty the more likely we are to recruit people to preserve what we have. Climate change is no longer debatable and sea level rise is here to stay. I don’t know what the future of the C. P. Crane power generating plant is, but I know it’s future impacts all of Eastern Baltimore County including Marshy Point and Gunpowder Falls State Park, not to mention the health and safety of all Baltimore County residents. It’s truly jarring to round the tip of the marsh heading from Hammerman to Dundee and suddenly see the twin barbershop towers of the plant seconds after glimpsing an osprey nest filled with chicks.
I can’t wait to get back in and on the water with my new found knowledge and appreciation of what we have. And if you are in the Methuselah age group like me (actually you only have to be 62), the DNR will sell you a Golden Age Pass for $10.00 and you get in any state park for free for life. I hope to see you on, in or around the water.