While I have only lived in Chestertown for one out of the nineteen years I have been alive, I have been quick to call it my home. I root part of this back to the various similarities I find between Chestertown, MD and Flemington, NJ. The familiar mom & pop shops lining the historic main street, the eagles that soar above and plunge into the river, the slow rumble of a pick-up being started I can hear from my dorm room at school and my bedroom at home. Something about this home-grown, family-fueled, small town in the middle of nowhere, MD, has pulled me in and made me feel at home. But all the while, there has been one unsettling factor that doesn’t seem to strike anyone else as a big deal: the mountains. Or, lack thereof, I should say. Growing up along the Appalachian Trail, my childhood was filled with exciting hiking and camping trips along the mountains, and tubing and kayaking along the water gap. For my entire life, part of my horizon, the landscape I watched with every sunrise and sunset, was the delicate blue shadow of the mountains in the distance.
While this may not seem like a big deal, I find that this perfectly represents the struggle I have had thus far developing a personal ethic regarding the Chesapeake Bay. Most of the friends I have made down here at Washington College grew up in Maryland and grew up with the culture of crabs and oysters and protecting the largest estuary in the United States. I, however, probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about the Chesapeake Bay until it was woven into my curriculum in an Environmental Science class. The biggest two environmental ethics I had developed while growing up in New Jersey was to protect the shore and its marine life, or to protect the mountains that were just a part of the landscape surrounding me. I developed these ethics not because of some deep morals my parents instilled on me as a child, but because these ethics represented the aesthetics that gave much of my life a natural beauty: the early mornings that I would get to the beach with my siblings just in time to watch the sunrise and fall asleep into the afternoon with the sun pulsing down and the waves crashing at our toes; the late nights lying in a sleeping bag, listening to the cicadas and crickets coupled by the cracking campfire up in the mountains. These aesthetics became an avid part of my life, shaping my love of nature and the care I have for the environment.
However, the Chesapeake Bay region is not an aesthetic I had ever experienced until recently. Coming to Maryland from New Jersey made me feel a little out of place, as I sat down at the first crab feast of the year after I had first moved in, and stared down at a full crab: shell, eyes, intestines and all. Being involved in every community event possible and keeping my mind open to new suggestions was quite enough to help me settle in, but I still lack the true Chesapeake Bay ethic that every good Marylander carries with them through life. In Wendall Berry’s piece, he recounts the aesthetics he experiences, adding that “The differences between knowing a place and living in it, between cherishing a place and living responsibly in it… are critical differences, and understanding them has been perhaps the chief necessity of my experience,” (Berry, p. 729). This is what I am struggling with now. Not having lived in the Chesapeake Bay region for long, I haven’t developed the need to cherish and live responsibly in it. However, the recent aesthetics I’ve experienced sailing the Chester River on the Elsworth and Annie D. have given me much hope that this semester will allow me to develop my own Chesapeake Bay ethic like those who have lived here their whole lives.