Finding Home Away from Home

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.

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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.

 

The Fear of Forgetting

Everyday, we use technology that allows us to capture the moments that fly by in front of us. We have cameras that can somehow replicate the things we see with our very own eyes. Pictures we take help us strengthen our memories and supplement the stories we hear. They have become such a vital part of our daily lives, but what is so appealing about photography?

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Photography is an important aspect of our journeys for Chesapeake Semester. Capturing the colors and emotions we see and feel in a moment is a unique task, one that we will be working on throughout the semester. The importance of this stresses a concept that I think was well represented in Trace by Lauret Savoy. Savoy explores the places where she and her kin were raised and talks about the history that is often hidden behind new or distracting buildings and monuments. She does this because the history is such an integral part of the landscape, but is often forgotten. By exploring this, she challenges the fear of these important historical strides being forgotten. She summarizes this by saying “[that] public history often fails to mention the back story, the why behind this geography,” (Savoy, p. 163).

While Savoy is concerned with history that is already forgotten in many of the public’s eyes, our use of photography on our journeys will be concerned with preventing it. We are all subject to the fear of forgetting, maybe the greatest fear of our generation. We are scared that we will never again see a sunset as rich and dimensional as the one we are seeing now, or that we will never again see a honey bee land on a buttery Black-eyed Susan, or that we will never again get to stare up into a deep black 2 AM sky dotted with constellations in all directions. So, to cope with this fear, we take pictures. We fear these moments will be forgotten and that if we someday try to recall on these memories, our minds will fail us. This is much like Savoy’s attempt to explore her landscape and call on history to explain to her how someone/thing got to be where it is, essentially, the “back story”. She fears without her doing this and learning about why Washington D.C. is what it is, the history will just fade until it no longer exists.

It is the same reason many people write journals, or the reason we are keeping blog posts throughout the semester. By recording and recounting the moments we experience, we can abolish the fear of forgetting and we can be certain that our memories will not fade or disappear. Photography is so important in our daily lives for this reason. Sure, sometimes staring at the crashing waves through a camera lens is not nearly as satisfying as using our own eyes, but we have this unique ability to freeze time in one brief moment and tightly hold on to it. We don’t have to ever be worried about losing that moment. With photography, like Savoy in her explorations, we can bury our fear of forgetting.