|You cannot walk the shores of the Chesapeake Bay or travel its tributaries
without treading on history. It’s all here—shark teeth from the
Miocene epoch 10 to 20 million years ago, stone tools from paleo-Indian tribes,
lost towns whose names are whispers in time, colonial plantation homes still
shaded in magnolias, Revolutionary forts, sad, simple graves of Civil War dead.
In many places on the Bay, the modern world of highways and strip malls tramples
on and obscures this past. But in the quiet solitude of Tuckahoe Creek on Maryland’s
upper Eastern Shore, you can, quite simply, time travel.
This is what Carl Scheffel is doing on a fine autumn day, though to the uninitiated
it seems he is just paddling his small dory down the broad back of the river.
To fold yourself into a small boat, though, and silently travel the sinuous
path this waterway has carved for thousands of years is to open yourself to
the possibilities of a tangible, reachable past. Scheffel, executive director
of the Old Harford Town Maritime Center in nearby Denton, Maryland, comes here
often to get an unadulterated feel for what once was. Some twenty-five miles
long from its mouth on the upper Choptank River to its navigable end north of
Hillsboro, the Tuckahoe squirms like a snake into the Delmarva hinterland. Native
Americans hunted and fished its banks and woodlands as long as 10,000 years
ago. Frederick Douglass, who helped awaken a nation to the inhumanity and degradation
of slavery, spent his early years exploring its shores. One hundred-fifty years
ago, the Tuckahoe was a veritable riverine highway, a thriving trade route for
steamboats that negotiated its tight turns and powerful currents to land at
wharves named Wayman and New Bridge, Cowards and Coveys, moving goods and people
between the Eastern Shore and Baltimore.
|This story is an excerpt from Window on the Chesapeake by Wendy Mitman
Clarke. To order this book, visit the Mariner's Museum.
Today the river is silent, save for the keen of an osprey or the prehistoric
squawk of a blue heron. Twisting and turning, the river carries a powerful current
that drops the water as much as four feet on a falling tide. The riverscape
is a layered mosaic. Floating meadows of yellow pond lilies border broad fields
of reeds and grasses, which give way to a low shoreline topped with mile after
mile of oaks and sycamores, maples and sweet gums. It would seem, in all this
unmolested solitude, that the river’s busy past could not possibly be
real. But traces of it are still here to touch, if you know what to reach for.