The morning dewdrops on a thousand spiderwebs hung in the meadow and the river like glass, fog obliterating its far shore. It’s a salt-tanged river that winds into the Chesapeake Bay. It flows by our house which is my grandmother’s house, built on a shell midden left by centuries of indigenous people come to gather oysters in summer to eat and to smoke for the months ahead.
In my own childhood summers, I learned to swim off the old steamboat wharf that stretches out to deep water, deep enough for a keeled sailboat to tie up. Uncles helped us aboard and handed picnic baskets across. Strapped into orange life preservers, our trio of cousins, Harry, Gray, and I, would perch on the bow to squeal and hold on for dear life when the sloop heeled and spray flew all about us. Then come evening, back on land but feeling the boat still rocking, back in our many-windowed house, Grandma, all comfort and love, would come with a steaming platter of sweet corn picked that very day right here on our own farm.
For three and a half centuries, my family lived here. The ancestors came on ships and cleared the forest, along with the native people, who went off to subsist somehow in marshy places. We still find their arrowheads and shards of corncob-printed pottery and hence our farm is called “Indiantown.” The ancestors built a fine brick house, that is, no doubt, their slaves did, and at first with slaves, then with day laborers, they planted and harvested and worried their way through the hazards of British rule, the Civil War, droughts, and the great peach blight, just as we worry now about Roundup-ready crops, sea level rise, and ever-hotter summers.
On long walks with my cousins, we find flurries of bees and butterflies around the blossoming milkweed in June and sweetgum saplings flaring scarlet in late October. But in winter, I walk alone through snow-dusted corn stubble and watch as a fox streaks away then stops and turns to pierce me through with its fire-bright eyes.