[Chesapeake Quarterly masthead]
Volume 1, Number 1
Table of Contents
Download pdf

Learning to Value the Bay

Striped Bass There is no question that our views of the Chesapeake Bay, and of nature in general, continually shift over time, moving through cycles of political and cultural change. Consider, for example, two excerpts, written at opposite ends of the Twentieth Century. The first comes from the 1923 edition of Swepson Earle's The Chesapeake Bay Country: "I think it very desirable that the attention of present and future generations be called to the thousands of acres of fertile lands with picturesque building sites awaiting the coming of those who wish to find homes in this delightful part of our country."

The second passage, published in 1987, comes from Tom Horton's similarly titled book, Bay Country: "We bay dwellers move in a far richer and more extensive matrix of subtle relations and ancient connections with nature than we can yet explain or admit. Often we sense it . . . in the vague, pleasurable homecoming we feel amid particular unchanged landscapes; and in the quick, secret dismay we feel, watching the legal rights of private property development overwhelm the rights of the forest and its wildlife."

Such passages trace a conspicuous swing between visions of the Bay as a place primarily for human habitation, a perspective Captain John Smith would have recognized, and the Bay as a place of natural mystery, a perspective Henry David Thoreau would have found familiar.

Part of this appreciation derives from a predictable nostalgia. Beyond a wistful wishing for the past, though, lies a more profound shift in sentiment.

Aldo Leopold, following a tradition launched in Europe in the nineteenth century and most notably in America with the writings of Emerson and Thoreau, helped to articulate in Sand County Almanac (1949) in a more modern, more technically savvy context, the value of the natural world. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) focused national attention on the threat of contaminants in the environment, and largely galvanized the modern environmental movement. Annie Dillard and William Warner, whose books Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) and Beautiful Swimmers (1976) each won a Pulitzer Prize, shared intimate glimpses of the Blue Ridge and the Bay. These and other works articulate the ways in which we have come to value nature and the Chesapeake.

Top of Page

[Chesapeake Quarterly]
Other Issues

[Chesapeake Quarterly Bar]
[Maryland Sea Grant][NOAA]