Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Town Point: Sad end of an era

On Monday morning I opened an email from my friend Patti in Baltimore that was titled simply "sad news." Without even opening Patti's email I knew intuitively what the sad news was. The lease on our summer rental in Dorchester County on the Eastern shore of Maryland had ended. For years, more for Patti and her family than for me, we rented a rustic cabin on the banks of the brackish and tidal Fishing Creek River that fed into the Chesapeake Bay. Finished, over - just like that.

Evening settles into dusk over Fishing Creek.

Why? It's a long story which I am only partially knowledgeable. For the past several years, and particularly the last couple of years, the landlady had grown increasingly odd and difficult to deal with. I'd met her a few times and she was always cordial to me, but I never had to discuss the business end of our lease with her, as did our friend Brian. Apparently, this year, she was so over-the-top in her demands and assertions, that her increasing oddness and unreasonableness could no longer be ignored. Like that, our time at Town Point on Fishing Creek was over.

Difficult to see, but this view is of a small bay on the south side of the lawn. On the other side, you can barely see it, is the landlady's grand house. This bay is full of wildlife, including a very successful Osprey nest where the birds return year after year to hatch, fledge and teach their young how to fish over the river. A Great Blue Heron - my friend, Patti, called it our heron - was a daily visitor.

The cabin had once been a waterman's house. The original house is the center part, but over the years it had been added to on each side. The river is flowing just where this sentence appears. For all I can recall, I may have even been standing in the river when I took this photo.

The table is set for our evening meal.

We always ate on the screened porch. Sometimes our evening meals were quite grand. I happen to clearly recall, since this was only last July, that for the evening meal above we served Maryland crab cakes and Maryland Silver Queen corn-on-the-cob. For those who are reading this and who may not be acquainted with the local food of the Eastern shore of Maryland - these two foods are without comparison anywhere. Most late Saturday mornings required a trip to Kool Ice, the local fish market in town, where we purchased fish of all sorts - lump crab, croaker, snapper, etc. - for our evening meal. In the past couple of years, we had begun to frequent Emily's, a beautiful roadside produce stand, for corn, tomatoes, melons and pies fresh-baked by Emily's mother.  When Patti's father, Jack, led the evening meal grace he always ended with "many a fine meal has been enjoyed at this table."

After breakfast or dinner the table was cleared, the bridge cards often came out, teams were decided, and many hours of this fine game were enjoyed while listening to the sounds of the river - crab boats at work or Laughing Gulls flying out from or back to their evening roost nearer the bay.

The driveway to our cabin was a mile long through 40 acres of pine forest.

At night the Chuck-will's Widows called continuously ... chuck-wills widow, chuck-wills widow, chuck-wills widow ... a vigorous and beautiful call that many, birders and non-birders alike, enjoyed. Morning walks along the driveway often revealed many stunning sights. A doe with fawn looking my way at the sound of my footprints on the path, occasionally the local and rare Delmarva Squirrel could be seen scurrying across the driveway, Wild Turkey scuttling away, Bob-white calling at the woods' edge, a Barred Owl pair calling to each other in the early, gray morning mist ... I never did keep an official "yard list" of birds I found here, but it would have been long. In the meadow, where our driveway turned from south to west, was where I learned the full song of a Grasshopper Sparrow - not just the buzzy, insect like call - but the complex, high-pitched series of notes that this wonderful little bird is able to throw forth. My bed was a couch on the screened porch. In spring, I was awakened in the morning by loons calling on the river. Brown-headed Nuthatches liked to stop by a dead tree in the yard and their squeaky little calls announced their presence. One night in particular was very special; Friday, June 14th, 2002 from 2:00 am through 5:00 am I heard a Black Rail calling incessantly - keekeedur, keekeedur, keekeedur - from a marshy area on the south side of the cabin. This sound was like crack to me; every time I returned I wanted to hear the Black Rail call again and again. The following night, Saturday, it rained heavily and I never heard the Black Rail again. Nevertheless, at night I laid awake as long as I could to listen for its call.  

I have no bird photos from Town Point, but I did find this unidentified dragonfly that I photographed on the front yard stones.  Some little bit of plastic garbage seems to have captured its attention.
Turtle stop, turtle stop!

This guy above was found trying to make its way across the driveway on my visit to Town Point last July. I admit to a great fondness for turtles. As a kid, this was the only pet I was allowed to have, and even then, only in summer. I treated my turtles well feeding them raw hamburger in their big basin. But, at the end of the summer, I always had to return them to the lake. Since my childhood, I have always been able to spot a turtle crossing the road at almost any distance. I stop the car, get out, pick up the turtle and place it off the road in the direction it was moving. Look how beautiful this Box Turtle is!  Town Point was also where I saw my first ever Spotted Turtles in the drainage ditches along the driveway. Now, that's a cute turtle.  We took photos but, of course, I can't find them now.  The drainage ditches were also known to be a fine spot for some pretty large snappers.

The marsh at Hog Island

My visits to Town Point always included birding in Blackwater NWR, Elliot Island, Hooper's Island, Taylors Island or Hog Island, above, where last summer Steve Sanford, Gail Franz and I went to look for Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows. We didn't find any on that day, but the experience of going to Hog Island (or any of the islands) is of stepping back in time.  At Hog Island, we were surrounded by nothing but the huge marsh and its lonely beauty.

Blackwater NWR is one of my favorite places. In 2002, I trained for the Labor Day weekend five day Dalmac bike ride from Lansing to Mackinac in Michigan by riding a 45 mile route through and all around Blackwater NWR. This was the finest cycling I have ever enjoyed - even with the very clear memory of once riding along Egypt Road when a dog came flying across its front yard and very nearly caught my left ankle. I didn't know, until then, that my legs had so much spin in them. After that day, I rode down Maple Dam Road.

KydeKY on her dog bed on the porch last July

All of our dogs enjoyed Town Point as much as we did. None of us will be able to think of time spent on the farm without also thinking about our dogs. Tuxedo, Tipper, Ky, Daphne, and the incomparable Skylar. Town Point is a dogs' haven and our dogs enjoyed it as much as we did.

My friends, Colleen McLean and Gail Franz

For, if anything, Town Point was all about relaxing. This was the essence of the place. We loved it all the more for the stolen leisure we were able to enjoy.

There's no way that our time at Town Point and all of the memories we have - I didn't mention the obligatory visits to Packing House Antiques, Felman's Antiques in Salisbury or Goose on the Roof Antiques along eastbound Route 50, stopping at Foxwell's in Easton on the way home; the birthday and Father's Day celebrations, the kayacks, swimming with sea nettles and nurse's sharks and many, many others - can ever be fully recalled in this brief and simple recollection. But, I hope you get the idea of what a great place and great time we all had at our Town Point. Daily life reminds us all of how nothing is forever. The loss of Town Point brings this into full focus. Life goes on and new adventures, places and joys will come with it.

Dusk settles into night over Fishing Creek

Postscript: So many of my visits to Town Point were photo-less. I guess I just took for granted that it would always be there. Fortunately, I have the above photos from my July, 2008 week long visit to tell this story. Unfortunately, these photos do not include the Chappells, Brian Torrance, Allen and others who have enjoyed Town Point for many more years than I have. I know this loss is much harder for them.

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