Living here, where the Potomac River runs into the Chesapeake Bay, you will learn about time. Old tobacco barns crumble in fields along rural roads. Watermen gather crabs with shells, point to point, inches smaller than when they filled the wooden bushel baskets of childhood. Still these old life ways are not extinguished, only dimmer.
At the end of my paved street, a dirt path continues through loblolly pines and opens to the widest vista: a window of water and air, water and sky, nothing else. A never-ending variation of landscapes arises from these two elements.
Day to day, with weather and seasons, the water changes from deep blue or turquoise-tinted to choppy and olive brown. Sometimes the tide comes in surprisingly clear and cold, as if the bay’s been flushed through, and then I wade out. There are mornings when the water is as calm and smooth as silver glass, with so much mist it’s hard to tell where milky gray sky ends and bay begins.
At the surf’s edge, tiny rivulets of cool water cut through the top layer of firm wet sand and expose darker mineral grains below, carving delicate branching patterns of white sand streaked with black. A stream of flotsam washes ashore here: scraggly fuchsia filamentous algae; crab pot floats faded to pastel; green cellophane sea lettuce; driftwood; jellyfish with magenta mandala-like designs.
During night thunderstorms over the bay, lightening jumps from cloud to cloud in the wide sky. Each storm re-forms the sand spit that separates the marsh from the bay. Most days, a narrow channel of water—easy to jump over—flows across the spit, out to the bay at low tide, back into the marsh at high. After storms, the channel turns into a rushing river, traversable only with a log bridge.
Walking along Saint Mary’s beaches, where wind and water persistently shape the land, where light and sky transform water, there is no distinction between time and change. And the mystery of the disappearing past feels more gentle—less like loss—more like the hand of nature sculpting sand and clay.