It was May, when the east coast bursts into bloom and we celebrate our wedding anniversary so we set off for Maryland on our own version of the Spring Fling. The first stop was Annapolis where we toured the Naval Academy, visited gracious eighteenth century homes and took ship for a tour of the Chesapeake. Annapolis harborLovely evenings were spent at outdoor tables, watching smartly uniformed cadets move around the old town square. One evening they were squiring dates who were bright flashes of color underlining all the white. Then we crossed the Chesapeake bridge to the Eastern Shore, a completely different world.
The Eastern Shore is a mecca for nature lovers, American history buffs and artisans of boat construction. Two particular days will stay in my memory for a long time.

The first was marked by our discovery of the Harriet Tubman trail. Tubman was the famous conductor on the marked in any travel book we consulted.

Maryland Tubman house

House owned by freed blacks and part of the Tubman railroad.

¬†We found it described on a flier in one of the Visitors’ Centers and followed it via Bill’s cell phone. This led us to many small bay inlets where slaves gathered and Harriet’s rowboats put in. We also discovered tiny safe houses built of logs and learned that most of the Maryland blacks were, in fact, freed persons who made up a large segment of the Railway.

Maryland bird

Egret enjoying the waters of the bay.

The other memorable day started at the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. There we spent about 45 minutes in the Visitor Center, talking with Carol, one of the most helpful volunteers imaginable, checking out the books, guides and charts and watching with delight some nesting ospreys and two fledgling bald eagles (about three months old), both of which sets of birds were followed 24, 7 on camera.
From the Visitors’ Center we slowly drove the five miles from one end of the Refuge to the other, through several different habitats (salt water to the left of the road, sweet water to the right) and stopping at and between the various observation decks, which were equipped with stationary binoculars. We saw two adult bald eagles at a distance with the binoculars, then had our own encounter from a closer vantage point. As we were driving, Bill spotted the bird up in a tree to the left of the car. We stopped and watched as took off and down, swooping right in front of us to the freshwater lagoon on our right. Additionally we saw nesting ospreys, an egret or two, several different varieties of blue heron, vultures of various lineage and Canadian geese. Red-winged blackbirds darted in and out of the foliage all along the way.

At two points we interrupted the drive for walks–a half mile near the beginning of the drive and a two mile jaunt along the Tubman Road trail at the end. The latter road went through what was once the farm of the Tubman family who were the original owners of Harriet Tubman. The farm has now reverted to its wild state: woods, swamps and weedy meadow places. But here and there, old pieces of farm equipment rust into antique sculptures.
It was a completely level walk, the kind I like best, but challenging nonetheless. The trail could not completely circumvent the swamp areas so I would eyeball the path looking for what seemed solid ground and jump, neither a graceful exercise nor an entirely safe one. . Inevitably, I missed. The thick black swamp mud oozed over the soles of my sandals and up between my toes. I looked down and thought, “Well, my Teva sandals can be saved. Devoid of any natural fiber, they will scrub down nicely. So will my feet, composed entirely of natural fibers, as it were. Funny paradox, that.” I pulled my feet out of the sucking muck and we went on.

Another challenge lay in the insects which buzzed around us, settling on any bare flesh they could find. Of course, we had not brought any bug spray. When packing for a trip, I carefully set aside my notebook and pens, my Ipad freshly charged with new ebooks, the travel paperwork and my medications. Everything else is subject to the vagaries of my thoughtfulness in the days leading up to departure. So, no bug spray. I sighed. We could buy bug spray and calamine lotion on the way back to the hotel.

It was still early enough that I read Bill a piece from the guidebook about a 17th century church of historic interest that seemed nearby. With the guidebook and map, we set off to find it. We got to the intersection of Rte 16, on which the church was supposed to be found. We stopped for a moment–right or left. We turned left, but Bill thought that direction didn’t look promising and we didn’t go far that way. We went a couple of miles in the opposite direction, then Bill had recourse to the GPS program on his smart phone. Lulu, the name I give the voice in the machine, took us through a couple of turns and onto a road called “Egypt.” We looked at each other in bemusement. Egypt? In Eastern Maryland? The road name continued to puzzle us and “We’re on Egypt Road,” became our code for “We’re lost.” We kept following the directions and soon ended up right back where we had started on the intersection of Rte 16. Lulu announced triumphantly, “Your destination is on the right.” It wasn’t.

I had Bill park the car and I walked around, thinking perhaps the church was small enough to be hiding behind some of the larger commercial buildings. Instead I found a kind southern woman sitting in her car in her driveway
“May I ask you a question?” I called, before stepping on to her property.
“Of course, honey,” she replied, waving me forward.
When I asked about the church, she burst into rapturous descriptions, sprinkled with “honeys” and “dears.”
“It has the most wonderful benches right there. Be sure you sit and watch the sun go down. It is just the most wonderful, peaceful place.” Finally she did get to directions. “It’s just right on down that road, dearie.”
“Which direction,?”
“Why just down that road,” she said again, waving in a rather large circle.
“We’re parked facing north. Is that the direction to go in?”
“Just down the road,” she repeated, describing the same wide circle.
New Yorkers give directions brusquely and accurately. Angelenos smile, wave and keep jogging. For Marylanders, the request for directions seems to initiate an extended, if desultory, conversation and many generous, if vague, gestures. It must be the weather.

I got back in the car. “I think we need to make a U turn,” I told Bill. We did and after going down only one more wrong road that seemed to be indicated by the woman’s circling arm, we found the church. It was wonderful. There were monumentally marked graves of famous people, including members of the Carroll family of particular interest to me.

Carroll family monument

Carroll family monument

Charles Carroll was, of course, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the cousin of John Carroll, the first American Catholic bishop. The gardens and benches were everything she’d said they be, but we didn’t wait for the sunset. That late in May we would have had a wait of about four hours. We were hungry and had a restaurant recommendation from the knowledgeable Carol at the visitors’ center. It was time to move on.

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