Bay Ecosystem: Ocean Deoxygenation Changes Pose Real Threat to Marine Ecosystems by Amy Pelsinsky

An international team of scientists warns that the ocean may run out of breath unless action is taken to rein in climate change and nutrient pollution. In the first sweeping look at the causes, consequences and solutions to low oxygen worldwide, published in Science, researchers reveal that the amount of oxygen in the world’s oceans and coastal waters is steadily decreasing.

The oxygen content of the open ocean and coastal waters has been declining for at least the past half century as a result of human activities that have increased global temperatures and nutrients discharged to coastal waters.

“Oxygen is fundamental to life in the oceans,” said Denise Breitburg, lead author and marine ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. “The decline in ocean oxygen ranks among the most serious effects of human activities on the Earth’s environment.”

In the past 50 years, the amount of water in the open ocean with zero oxygen has gone up more than fourfold. In coastal water bodies, including estuaries and seas, low-oxygen sites have increased more than 10-fold since 1950. For the upper ocean, oxygen and heat content are highly correlated for the period of 1958-2015 with sharp increases in both deoxygenation and ocean heat content beginning in the mid 1980s.

Many areas around the globe are looking at how we used sound science to make wise environmental management decisions to improve the water quality of Chesapeake Bay.

The study came from a team of scientists from GO2NE (Global Ocean Oxygen Network), a new working group created in 2016 by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission that includes Mike Roman and Kenny Rose from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory.

The review paper is the first to take such a sweeping look at the causes, consequences and solutions to low oxygen worldwide, in both the open ocean and coastal waters. The article highlights the biggest dangers to the ocean and society, and what it will take to keep Earth’s waters healthy and productive.

The Stakes

In areas traditionally called “dead zones,” like those in Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, oxygen plummets to levels so low many animals suffocate and die. As fish avoid these zones, their habitats shrink and they become more vulnerable to predators or fishing. But the problem goes far beyond “dead zones,” the authors point out.

Even smaller oxygen declines can stunt growth in animals, hinder reproduction and lead to disease or even death. It also can trigger the release of dangerous chemicals such as nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas up to 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and toxic hydrogen sulfide. While some animals can thrive in dead zones, overall biodiversity falls.

The ongoing recovery of Chesapeake Bay, where nitrogen pollution has dropped 24 percent since its peak thanks to better sewage treatment, better farming practices and successful laws like the Clean Air Act, is an example of what’s possible to reverse this trend. While some low-oxygen zones persist, the area of the Chesapeake with zero oxygen has almost disappeared.

“Many areas around the globe are looking at how we used sound science to make wise environmental management decisions to improve the water quality of Chesapeake Bay,” said Roman, co-author of the report and director of the UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, Maryland.

Climate change is the key culprit in the open ocean. Warming surface waters make it harder for oxygen to reach the ocean interior. Furthermore, as the ocean as a whole gets warmer, it holds less oxygen. In coastal waters, excess nutrient pollution from land creates algal blooms, which drain oxygen as they die and decompose. In an unfortunate twist, animals also need more oxygen in warmer waters, even as it is disappearing.

People’s livelihoods are also on the line, the scientists reported, especially in developing nations. Smaller, artisanal fisheries may be unable to relocate when low oxygen destroys their harvests or forces fish to move elsewhere. In the Philippines, fish kills in a single town’s aquaculture pens cost more than $10 million. Coral reefs, a key tourism attraction in many countries, also can waste away without enough oxygen.

Some popular fisheries could benefit, at least in the short term. Nutrient pollution can stimulate production of food for fish. In addition, when fish are forced to crowd to escape low oxygen, they can become easier to catch. But in the long run, this could result in overfishing and damage to the economy.

“Getting the effects of low oxygen on fish populations and supporting food webs correct, especially as it worsens, will enable more effective analyses and decisions on how to sustainably manage many fisheries, from artisanal that support local communities to large-scale industrial fisheries,” said Rose, a co-author of the report and a professor at Horn Point Laboratory.

Winning the War: A Three-Pronged Approach

To keep low oxygen in check, the scientists said the world needs to take on the issue from three angles:

Address the causes: nutrient pollution and climate change. While neither issue is simple or easy, the steps needed to win can benefit people as well as the environment. Better septic systems and sanitation can protect human health and keep pollution out of the water. Cutting fossil fuel emissions not only cuts greenhouse gases and fights climate change, but also slashes dangerous air pollutants like mercury.

Protect vulnerable marine life. With some low oxygen unavoidable, it is crucial to protect at-risk fisheries from further stress. According to the GO2NE team, this could mean creating marine protected areas or no-catch zones in areas animals use to escape low oxygen, or switching to fish that are not as threatened by falling oxygen levels.

Improve low-oxygen tracking worldwide. Scientists have a decent grasp of how much oxygen the ocean could lose in the future, but they do not know exactly where those low-oxygen zones will be. Enhanced monitoring, especially in developing countries, and numerical models will help pinpoint which places are most at risk and determine the most effective solutions.

The Global Ocean Oxygen Network (GO2NE) is a scientific working group organized by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Established in 2016, its scientists from around the world are committed to providing a global and multidisciplinary view of deoxygenation, advising policymakers on countering low oxygen and preserving marine resources.

Amy Pelsinsky is Director of Communications at  the University Of Maryland’s Center For Environmental Science. For more information please go here


Publisher Notes: The Spy in 2018

Waiting for the Stage William Caton Woodville (National Gallery of Art). Forwarded by Spy Agent Glass

For almost nine years now, I have made it a practice to insulate the Chestertown Spy and Talbot Spy from any comparison to other print or online publications. In simple terms, this has meant that I have never participated in any professional association nor have I been a subscriber to the Star Democrat and Kent County News.

Like any act of innovation, it is not in the creator’s best interest to compare one’s new enterprise to models that are not direct competition. From its earliest beginning in the spring of 2009, The Spy was developing an entirely different news source targeted at community education first and foremost. It also began as a “no-profit” turned non-profit business that aimed at successful sustainability rather than return on investment.

All of that has worked in our favor as we recently completed eight years of operation. Unlike countless other start-ups, particularly in small communities throughout the country, the Spy has been able to grow in its reach (one million plus hits a year) while maintaining the trust of our readers and the confidence of our sponsors.

But like every other curious person in the world, I couldn’t help but wonder about the “other guys.” And last November I broke these vows of separation in two ways: 1) I attended a conference devoted to independent local online newspapers and 2) took out subscriptions for Chesapeake Publishing’s local papers.

In Chicago, over 150 publications and their representatives gathered for four days to discuss best practices and new trends in this growing field. And it was heartening to hear in some ways that not one these other online ventures had found on a sustainable business concept like the Spy model.

The other trend was that very few of these newspapers moved beyond their primary focus of covering local government issues.  In most cases, there was no attempt to include local arts and culture, or there were only token steps to publish press releases related to these subjects. And few, if any, had taken advantage of multimedia like original content video, which has been the Spy’s primary tool since we began with now close to 2,000 videos online.

In the case of both the Star Democrat and the Kent County News, my response is only one of respect for these “newspapers of record.” Unlike the Spy, these printed news sources must take on the responsibility, and the expense, of covering such local topics as crime, sports, weather, legal notices, and obituaries, all of which is not in the Spy portfolio.  It was a relief to note the unique difference between the Spy and these legacy papers, and the complementary nature the Spy plays to their hard work.

And so the Spy starts the new year with a renewed confidence but also profound gratitude to its writers, columnists, poets, and the kind and thoughtful support from the Spy’s fiscal agent, the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, as well as the Spy’s talented and generous board of advisors for making it the success it has become.

Beyond our investment in technology, the Spy has been particularly proud of the extraordinary trust our 100,000 readers a year have in these two online news sources. In the midst of what might be one of the most challenging times for public discourse and the public’s trust in news in our country’s history, every week the Spy has become a safe harbor for serious and thought-provoking perspectives. I am indebted to our remarkably distinguished columnists and friends Howard Freedlander, Craig Fuller, Jimmie Galbreath, Jamie Kirkpatrick, Mary McCoy, George Merrill, David Montgomery, Nancy Mugele, Al Sikes, and Amy Steward for sharing their very different points of view with the community. Likewise, we are grateful to our readers willing to engage in civilized debate in response to those opinions by offering up their comments.

As publisher, it would have been impossible to fulfill our mission last year without the generous contributions of our writers and volunteer editors. Those include Jane Jewell and Peter Heck in their coverage of Kent County, Jenn Martella for Talbot County, Jean Sanders for maintaining our high quality of design and our Facebook presence, the marketing strategic support of Bill Rolle and Mary Kramer, and Neoma Rohman and Derek Beck for website support. We are also indebted to our content partners, the Delmarva Review, Capital News Service, the Bay Journal, Maryland Reporter and Talbot Historical Society for their invaluable service to our region.

One of the reasons that the Spy has maintained its existence for eight years is to keep the organization financially nimble and free of debt. One way we accomplish this is that neither the Spies nor our parent, the Community Newspaper Project Fund, have any full-time employees, including this publisher. Instead, we offer modest stipends for our writers and greatly benefit from the volunteer support of others.

We will continue that tradition in 2018 with a few changes in editorial priorities and staffing.

To emphasize our commitment to public affairs, we have renamed our Occurrences section just that to reflect the Spy’s coverage of local issues facing the community rather than the need to produce daily headlines. While we suspect that most of our readers understand this subtle but significant difference, it helps to reinforce our mission to educate the community through “long-form” coverage of timely issues.

This year Jenn Martella will take on a managing editor role for the Spy. Jenn created the Spy’s popular Habitat section for Chestertown and Talbot County, and we have asked her to extend that coverage to include our culture and arts as well as direct the Spy’s ongoing sponsorship/ad program from Mary who is leaving the Spy after six years of very committed service to our mission.

2018 will also be the first year that the Spy will have an annual giving campaign to encourage our readers to donate what they might to keep the Spy solvent. While we are committed to maintaining the newspapers free to every member of the community, like every nonprofit organization, we must also find an easy way for those who appreciate our role on the Eastern Shore to support the Spy on a monthly or yearly basis.

Lastly, pundits are predicting 2018 to be a gruelling time in American politics as the country faces a Congressional election in November. It is unlikely the Mid-Shore will avoid this environment as challengers continue to sign up to oppose Congressman Andy Harris for the 1st Congressional District race from both parties. Once again, the Spy is determined to be a safe harbor for debate and will be making this race a public affairs priority over the next eleven months. We look forward to working with all political parties to ensure constructive dialogue in what might be one of the most critical elections in our country’s history.

Dave Wheelan
Publisher and Executive Editor



Grants in Action: The Ladies of Nia and Women & Girls Fund Prepare Young Girls for Real World

While the accomplishments of the BAAM program in Talbot County has become well known for its mentoring programs for young boys, it was comforting for the Spy to learn the other day that there was a Mid-Shore equivalent just for girls, thanks in part due to the sponsorship of the Women & Girls Fund.

Nine years ago, six young women took a “girls trip” to reunite with childhood friendships from Lockerman Middle School in Denton many years after they had graduated from college and had started professional careers. As Malica Dunnock, one of the ringleaders of the group recounted in her interview with Spy, every woman on that trip had an extraordinary sense of being blessed to find a way to higher education and all the promises that it brings to young people. And like many who have had good future like this, the ladies quickly moved on to talk about ways to help a new generation of girls have that same experience

That was when this special friendship circle formed of The Ladies of Nia, which borrows the African term for “purpose” in the organization’s title, which has been working with dozens of girls growing up in and around Denton to find a path forward to the same opportunities as the founders.

The Spy talked to both Malica and Alice Ryan, the founder of the Women & Girls Fund, about The Ladies of Nia, their young students, and their special partnership.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Women & Girls Fund or to help support its work please go here 

Food Friday: ‘Tis the Season!

These are busy days in the world famous Spy Test Kitchen. We have been super busy baking and stirring and slow-cooking. If you had stopped by on Tuesday you would have been impressed by our relentless good cheer, and our frenetic demeanor. ’Tis the season to be very busy and multitask!

Our first task was preparing some slow-cooker beef short ribs that Mr. Friday was going to prepare over the weekend. His best laid plans went awry, and the dinner fell to me. The first thing I had to do was excavate for the slow-cooker, which I eventually found on the floor of the pantry, behind the dog food storage container, next to the stash of Diet Dr. Pepper.

Here is Mr. Friday’s recipe for Slow-Cooker Beef Short Ribs:

1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 1/2 pounds boneless beef short ribs (Mr. Friday bought bone-in, sigh)
1/4 cup butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup beef broth
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons catsup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon chili powder

Put flour, salt and pepper in a bag. Add the ribs and shake to coat.
Brown the ribs in butter in a large frying pan.
Put the ribs in the slow cooker.
Add onions and garlic to the frying pan, stirring until fragrant and translucent. Then add the rest of the ingredients, and bring to a boil. Pour the liquid over the ribs. Cover and cook for 9 hours.

I got a little nervous about leaving the meat for 9 hours, so after 7 hours, at 4:00, in the middle of cookie frenzy, I turned the slow cooker off for a couple of hours. When Mr. Friday strolled in at 6:30 he was greeted by a large quantity of steaming, fragrant ribs. My work was done.

Our little family is a bit scattered this Christmas. So I am facing unexpected control issues, and have felt the need to send nostalgic boxes of home-baked cookies to folks. I have mentioned that we moved this year – what I haven’t confessed is that we still have boxes of books in a storage unit. And in one of those Citizen Kane boxes is my batter-splattered, grease-flecked, rolled-in-flour copy of The Joy of Cooking, stuffed with a handful of index cards scrawled with ancestral recipes. To my great relief, I did unearth a little Christmas cookie recipe book I put together for a Christmas gift many years ago. In it was the family recipe for gingersnaps. This was my grandmother’s recipe:

Grandmama’s Gingersnaps
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.
Sift together the dry ingredients above. This is crucial – follow the steps here.
Add the dry ingredients to:
3/4 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

Mix thoroughly. Roll mixture into small balls and then roll the balls in a bowl of granulated sugar.
Flatten the balls onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets with a small glass.
Bake for 12-15 minutes. Cool on racks, although they are quite delicious with a nice cold glass of milk.

These immediately transported me to Connecticut in the 1960s.

And then there was the Chex Mix, which should make the Tall One and the Pouting Princess think of the Florida kitchen in the 1990s and the aughts. We never really followed the recipe on the package, except as a guideline for the amount of butter and the oven temperature. We tended to toss in a lot of different ingredients over the years, doubling the amount of pretzels, and sometimes using Slap Yo’ Mama instead of Lawry’s Seasoning Salt. We like goldfish, and honey nut Cheerios, and adding M&Ms after the mixture has cooled. You can have fun with it, too.

The Original Chex ™ Party Mix

3 cups each Corn Chex, Rice Chex, Wheat Chex
1 cup mixed nuts
1 cup bite-size pretzels
1 cup garlic-flavor bite-size bagel chips or regular-size chip, broken into 1-inch pieces (I doubt that this is a historically accurate recipe – for surely there were no bagel chips when I was little)
6 tablespoons butter or margarine (oh, puhlease, margarine?)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt (here is my plug for Lawry’s Seasoning Salt)
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder

(Don’t even think about using the microwave.)

Pre-heat oven to 250° F. Put cereal and seasoning mixture into ungreased roasting pan and bake for 1 hour stirring every 15 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool, about 15 minutes.

(What we do, and I type with years of experience, is first melt the butter in the turkey roasting pan [so it gets used more than twice a year], and then add the Worcestershire sauce, the Lawry’s seasoning salt, and the onion and the garlic powders. Then we stir in the cereals, goldfish, pretzels, nuts, Cheerios, bacon bits, taco seasoning, marshmallows, Cheese-its, dried fruit, coconut, chocolate chips, cinnamon, sprinkles, wasabi peas, chow mein noodles, Cocoa Puffs, Cheetos, pecans, popcorn, animal crackers. You name it. (Obviously, things that melt get added last.)

Tuesday was a busy day. And today I am baking more cookies to get the boxes off the kitchen table and down to the post office. ’Tis the season indeed.

“In my South, the most treasured things passed down from generation to generation are the family recipes.”
― Robert St. John

Local Author Sophie Moss’ ‘Wind Chime Summer” Becomes Third Novel

Local author, Sophie Moss, recently released a new book in her series of love stories set on the Chesapeake Bay. Wind Chime Summer, the third book of the Wind Chime Novels, is a heartwarming story about a female veteran struggling with PTSD, who reclaims her passion for cooking—and life—on a Chesapeake Bay oyster farm.

Each of the Wind Chime Novels features a military hero or heroine and explores economic, social, and cultural issues that are particularly relevant to the Eastern Shore. The first book, Wind Chime Café, deals with the impacts of an impending development on a pristine island community. The second book, Wind Chime Wedding, is about saving an island elementary school. And the third book, Wind Chime Summer, is about saving the Bay through oyster restoration.

Three years ago, Moss moved back to the Eastern Shore to research and write the series, which is set on a fictional island loosely based on Tilghman Island. “One of my favorite things about writing a new story is getting to know the place where my characters live,” Moss said. “I’ve always been drawn to island settings, both in reading and in writing. There’s something so soothing about being surrounded by all that water. The pace of life is slower. Neighbors look out for each other. Everyone knows everything about everyone. Having grown up on the Chesapeake Bay, I have a deep love and respect for the area. I feel so fortunate to be able to share the rich culture and traditions of this place through my stories.”

The Wind Chime Novels are a series of standalone love stories, each featuring a wounded soul who returns to the island to heal and ultimately finds true love. “The Wind Chime Novels are stories about coming home,” Moss continued. “They are stories about rediscovering your roots, reconnecting with childhood friends, and realizing that sometimes the one place you turned your back on is the only place that can make you feel whole again.”

Moss will be signing copies of Wind Chime Summer at the News Center on Saturday, December 16th from 1-3PM. Her books are available for purchase locally at the News Center in Easton, Chesapeake Trading Company in St. Michaels, and Crawfords Nautical Books on Tilghman Island. Wind Chime Summer is Moss’ sixth published novel. She is a USA Today bestselling and multi-award winning author.

To learn more about the author and her books, visit her website at

Food Friday: It’s Fruitcake Weather!

“Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pineapple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and on, so much flour, butter, so many eggs, spices, flavorings.”
-Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory

Fruitcake weather! It is an ineffable moment when the air cools, the leaves are falling and the light changes from summer golds and yellows to winter whites and grays. The slant of the light is different; more oblique. Truman Capote’s cousin Sook could tell us for sure. Sunsets speed across the back yard. Their dark flat shadows race over the fallen leaves and the sad pumpkin I have tossed out near the birdbath, hoping to lure squirrels into Luke the wonder dog’s line of sight. Dark falls abruptly.

Earlier this year we moved into a little house that has 5 towering pecan trees in the back yard. Luke and I wander around, picking up windfall pecans. We toss the ones tested and deemed unworthy by the squirrels into the yard of the vacant house next door. And now we have collected a big old bucket o’pecans. And what exactly are we going to do with them?

It is time for the great fruitcake experiment. Though we have never been a fruitcake family. When I was small my mother kept a fruitcake on the dining room sideboard with the ancestral tea set, just in case someone came calling and asked for fruitcake. She might have been ahead of her time, and it might have been the same fruitcake, wrapped up with the Christmas ornaments, and hauled up to the attic every January, and brought down again the following December. I don’t know. It is a great mystery, lost to the ages.

We were a family who glommed onto other families’ traditions. Cinematic families, that is. I feel sure we didn’t decorate our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, because that was what the Bailey family did in It’s a Wonderful Life. Also, the Brougham family in The Bishop’s Wife. We did not have a business-suited angel who helped decorate, however. Instead, my mother employed child labor. Merrily I strung garlands and tinsel up the banisters, over the mantels and on windowsills waiting for a miraculous transformation of silvered ornaments and a Hollywood designer’s vision of domestic perfection to appear.

My introduction to Truman Capote’s family Christmas traditions came when we watched and (my mother wept through) A Christmas Memory, a filmed version of Truman Capote’s short story. And even though my mother had bravely attempted fancy cooking because of Julia Child’s benevolent television presence, she was not moved to try baking fruitcake. Instead we continued to bake sugar cookies and gingersnaps at Christmas.

This year I need to find some justification for the time that Luke and I spend out in the back yard, kicking up leaves and hunting for pecans, while we are really bird watching and taking a break from the drawing board. And maybe we will find a field for some kite flying.

Fruitcake Inspired by Truman Capote’s Cousin Sook

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped candied orange peel
½ cup chopped candied ginger
½ cup dark raisins
½ cup golden raisins
1 cup pecans that have been lightly roasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup walnuts that have been lightly roasted and coarsely chopped
1½ cups white sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon orange extract

Preheat oven to 325° F. Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan.
2. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add orange peel, ginger, raisins, pecans and walnuts and toss to coat.
3. In electric mixer beat sugars and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add extracts.
4. Add dry ingredients and fold until just combined. The batter will resemble chocolate chip cookie dough.
5. Spoon batter into pan. Smooth the top. Bake until cake is golden and tester  —  I use a long, very thin wooden skewer  —  comes out clean. Start testing after 1½ hours. Cool cake on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pan and cool completely.

“If you please, Mr. Haha, we’d like a quart of your finest whiskey.”
His eyes tilt more. Would you believe it? Haha is smiling! Laughing, too.
“Which one of you is a drinkin’ man?”
“It’s for making fruitcakes, Mr. Haha. Cooking.”
This sobers him. He frowns. “That’s no way to waste good whiskey.”
― Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory

A Christmas Memory:

The Bishop’s Wife:

It’s a Wonderful Life:

Bay Ecosystem: Tangier Teen Ponders, Documents his Vanishing Island Home

Like most high school seniors, Cameron Evans is at the edge of change. He’s anxious about whether to major in photography or politics, annoyed about having to go to the dentist, animated when talking about the Yankees, his favorite team.
But most seniors don’t worry if they’ll be able to go home after leaving for college; or if they’ll have a home at all after the next hurricane. Evans does; he lives on Tangier Island, or what’s left of it, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.

Cameron Evans enjoying his pastime — exploring Tangier in his skiff and taking pictures. (Dave Harp)

With no organized after-school sports to play at the Virginia island’s small combined school, and no girls to date because he’s known them all since kindergarten, Evans heads out most afternoons in a small skiff toward what remains of the Uppards, part of the Tangier settlement that was abandoned in the 1920s.

He has to stride carefully, over broken glass and severed tree limbs, pieces of hunting trailers and mud-crusted oysters. He uses his camera, a 16th birthday present, to document what has been lost.
On a recent visit, he found a headstone in the encroaching water: “Polly Parks, “Born 1876, died 1913.” He wiped the mud off Parks’ marker, as he has done before, and again placed it on higher ground, at least higher for now.
“If we don’t get help, this is what is going to happen to us. Our houses could wash away. Our graves could wash away,” Evans said as he laid the headstone in marsh grass. “And then there will be nothing to remember us by.”
Tangier and its surrounding archipelago of islands are washing away at a rate of 15 feet a year. In what Evans calls his “small lifetime,” he has seen more than 40 feet of high ground wash away on the Uppards alone. Along with that, the islanders have lost hunting trailers, possessions and even the buried skulls and bones of those who once made their home here.
Politician after politician has promised to help build a seawall on the east side of the island to protect its business district and harbor, where island men set out to work the water and their wives help tend the crab shedding tanks. And yet, there is no wall, no protection. Every storm takes more. Soon, there won’t be more to give.
The threat to Tangier’s future has been well-documented in recent years, as scientists and journalists declared the 400 islanders “climate refugees.” Reports from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others project their remaining time in years, not decades.

Exploring the Uppards, Cameron Evans finds a gravestone that has broken in half. He moves it to higher ground and tries to put it back together. (Dave Harp)

But it made national news again last spring, when President Donald Trump called the island town’s mayor, James “Ooker” Eskridge, after he appeared on CNN and declared he loved Trump like a brother and said the island could use a strong leader to build the wall. Trump, who has called climate change a hoax and whose administration is rolling back federal policies aimed at mitigating it, told Eskridge he needn’t worry about rising sea level. “Your island has been there for hundreds of years,” Trump said on the phone, according to Eskridge, “and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more.”
The Trump phone call focused national attention on the island’s predicament — Eskridge later debated former Vice President Al Gore on CNN. But what it hasn’t brought is a wall, much to the frustration of old-timers as well as students like Evans, who ponder their futures.
Eskridge said that, for the sake of future generations, he tries to remain optimistic. “Don’t lose hope,” he tells the youth. But it’s difficult, especially when Smith Island, just to the north in Maryland, has received more than $20 million in funding to shield it from erosion and rising waters — including $11 million to rebuild a marshy wildlife refuge.
Tangier’s seawall was once budgeted at $4 million; now, though, the Corps is talking about a more expensive project, likely $50 million, to armor the entire island. Eskridge doesn’t object to that. He just doubts there’s time, given the speed at which the Corps moves. The agency must wait for Congress to authorize the project and then appropriate the money to carry it out. The state committed $1.2 million for the $4.2 million wall in 2012, but the federal match never materialized. Despite lobbying from Virginia officials of both parties, Congress has never funded the project.
“We have families here. This is a thriving community,” Eskridge said. “They spend all this money to protect habitat for birds on Smith . . . and all the while, we’ve been trying to get this piece of seawall. If you’re going to do it, do it. But if not, stop talking about it.”
Tangier Island was home to American Indians long before the English explorer John Smith “discovered” the cluster of islands. In the early 1700s, three families from Cornwall settled there — Crockett, Pruitt and Parks. Their descendants remain, as does the accent, a mix of Cornwall and a Virginia twang.
Once, the island had more than 1,000 people in eight towns, with livestock and even an opera house. Today, three towns remain, clustered on one fishhook-shaped strip of land one mile wide and three miles long. Marshland hems in the island roads that connect the villages; the asphalt is barely wide enough for vehicles. Residents favor scooters, golf carts and bikes.
The island had a major moment in the War of 1812. The British had a large base there with a camp for 12,000 troops. Tangierman Joshua Thomas, an itinerant Methodist minister known as the “parson of the islands,” took them to task right after they burned Washington, DC, and were headed for Baltimore. He told the British they would lose. Thomas’s prophecy came true, and the surviving British troops passed back through Tangier in defeat to tell him so.
In 1821, a hurricane destroyed the British fort. Subsequent storms, including Isabel in 2003, have left their mark; even a high tide can bring flooding to yards and roads.
For the island’s high school seniors, the seawall is a concern that intrudes on their more typical teen cares about who’s taking whom to prom or what they’ll do after graduation. Taylor Pruitt, a friend of Cameron Evans, said she sometimes discusses the topic with her father, a longtime waterman, but her mother always changes the subject. For another friend, Isiah Creedy, the topic isn’t taboo, but the answer is the always the same: God has a plan. Pruitt plans to leave the island and study forensic science; she will move to a big city, she said, “somewhere where everybody doesn’t know everything about you.” Creedy plans to stay, taking a job working on the water in some capacity.
Evans is in between, sure to leave for college in the Virginia Beach area — he’s choosing between two — but figuring he’ll come back.

A view of Tangier from the air shows how fragile the island is, and how exposed it remains during storms. (Dave Harp)

That doesn’t surprise his mother, Hope, a Tangier native who went away to college in Delaware. She returned to marry her high school sweetheart, Norwood, who grew up on neighboring Smith Island. In addition to Cameron, they have a seven-yeaer-old daughter, Lacee. For years, Norwood crabbed and Hope tended to his shedding shanty, where they supervised crabs about to shed their shells to become soft crabs, an expensive delicacy regionally. Now, Norwood is a lineman with the electric utility.

“I couldn’t wait to leave, but I went away to school and found it wasn’t for me,” she said. “I just wanted to be on the island. . . . Cameron doesn’t want to go too far from home. He loves Tangier. He wants to come back as much as he can.”
The seawall comes up in class at the island’s combined K–12 school. Principal Nina Pruitt said that she and the teachers are truthful with their 60 students about all sides of the conversation on climate change. Duane Crockett, who teaches civics and government, said that in exploring with his students what governments do for local communities, he has to add a rueful note to the textbook: The government hasn’t helped Tangier.
“We have wasted so much time discussing the causes that we are ignoring the effects,” said Crockett, who has his eighth graders write letters to all of their state and federal representatives asking for a wall.
Many respond, including Rep. Scott Taylor, a Republican whose district includes Tangier, who said he was doing all he could. “I save them all,” Crockett said of the letters. Pointing to the back of his small classroom, he said, “I have a lot of promises in that cabinet.”
Cameron Evans, with his sandy-brown hair and bright blue eyes, is an “old soul,” his principal said, tied in with Tangier’s natural rhythms in a way she has seen rarely in her more than 30 years with the school.
Evans is an avid waterfowl hunter; there are 22 different species on the island. He’s also been selling some of his wildlife photos to tourists. The teen knows he has had a childhood like few others. And not just because he knows everyone on the island of 400 — their pets, vehicles, habits, boat names and family history.
“There are not many places like this that have a natural disaster occurring every day,” he said. “All that land is just gone, and it could have been avoided.”
On his way from the Uppards back to Tangier, he steered his skiff away from a Corps barge dredging the channel to keep it navigable. He cut the motor and drifted through open water, 40 or 50 feet across. Five years ago, he said, a storm broke through and created this channel. A seawall, he said, would have prevented it. And, it could prevent more loss.
Asked about climate change and sea level rise, he initially responds the way many skeptics do, saying, “I’m not a scientist.” But like Eskridge, he doesn’t dismiss the idea entirely; he just thinks erosion is the bigger problem.
In a way, Evans and Eskridge are not wrong. The erosion is noticeable, while the sea level rise is almost imperceptible. In the Bay, it will add 2 feet or more to everyday tides by around 2050. But erosion changes Tangier daily.
Evans talks about the melting glaciers near the poles, which scientists say are making the seas expand and rise. It makes sense, climate change, the senior mused recently. But the actions the world needs to take to reduce global warming are slow in coming, if at all, and will be too late to help Tangier, he reasoned. If every house put in solar panels, the island would still need a wall.
The teen is on a first-name basis with his congressman, and he’s shown his photos to Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine during the Democrat’s visit earlier this summer. He tells them all the same thing: He doesn’t want his future to be a guessing game. He wants more years, hundreds of them, for the island. He hasn’t given up hope.
“I’ll never leave this place,” he said of Tangier, “and I hope this place will never leave me.”
By Rona Kobell
Bay Journal staff writer Rona Kobell is a former Baltimore Sun reporter.

On Phobias and Other Aberrations by George Merrill

While cleaning my library the other day, I came across a book. I hadn’t seen it before. It’s titled The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate. The book seemed too elitist for me.

Curious, however, I thumbed through the pages. The book contained two hundred and five pages and a ton of words ranging from A to Z, – roughly six thousand words in total. Each word had anywhere from one to five synonyms listed for that particular word. There was one exception. That was for the word ‘fear.’ There were no less than sixty-five words identifying our various morbid fears.

‘Fear’ constituted the only word in the book that had so many distinct synonyms.

All of the sixty-five words denoting morbid fears ended with ‘phobia’- the Greek word meaning fear – and the first part of each word, typically in Greek or another foreign word, designating the object of the fear. Reading this suggested to me that we’re scaredy-cats in a bewildering number of ways.

Temperamentally I have an anxious personality. However, I found some comfort in what the book revealed. The often goofy phobias that I’ve suffered over the years were distinctive enough to be dignified with a diagnostic term, in a foreign language, too. I thought that gave my anxieties a touch of class. It made me feel as if my fear of heights – acrophobia – left me well inside the human condition and that I was not just a scaredy-cat, as I’d so often thought. When you’re neurotic, it’s comforting to think of yourself as a normal one.

Phobias, as they’re commonly understood, suggest abnormalities and they can generate personal shame. In some instances they can be crippling. Other phobias are treated simply as quirks. My guess is that most of us have phobias and are shy about anyone knowing about them.

Years ago I knew a man who was a professional pilot and flew cargo all over the world. We were talking one day and he told me that he was afraid of heights. I asked him how that could be? After all he was spending half his life in the air. He had made some mental accommodations to his fear – maybe something like whistling in the dark – so that in the safety of his cockpit and in control of the plane, he could somehow manage his phobia. On a ladder two stories high? Out of the question.

When I lived in New York City I was plagued with claustrophobia. It was a phobia tailored particularly to my commute downtown. As long as the train moved along in the subway, even at a snail’s pace, I was fine. When it stopped between stations, invariably between 42nd and 34th Streets I’d feel frightened. As soon as the train started rolling, no matter how slowly, I’d feel safe again. I’d feel normal only from the 79th Street station south until the 42nd Street station.

As I see it, not all phobias are necessarily weird or pathological: galeophobia, latraphobia, phasmophobia, bathophobia, coasterphobia and taphophobia, to name a few. These are respectively the fear of sharks; the fear of doctors; fear of ghosts; fear of depths (like a deep well); fear of roller coasters and the fear of being buried alive. With regard to coasterphobia, the only reason hardly any kids have that phobia is they aren’t old enough to know better.

In Britain, during the Victorian era, the fear of being buried alive – taphophobia – was endemic. Pre-deceased planning included arranging a bell above ground and attached to the casket below. If the deceased discovered he wasn’t really dead, but that he had been interred prematurely, he could pull a chain, ringing the bell and alerting the living above ground that his relatives made a colossal mistake. While ringing the bell the interred also prayed that the mistake was just accidental.

I’d say confidently that anyone who does not suffer from galeophobia, the fear of sharks, is really crazy, or if not, an exceptional speed swimmer.

We had a dog-named Spunky, a lovable mutt. She suffered terribly from astraphobia, the fear of thunder and lightning. It was heartrending to see.

On summer nights, long before we had any indication that a thunderstorm was in the works, she’d exhibit preternatural instincts for sensing approaching thunderstorms. It must have been her acute hearing. When she began trembling, slinked away and hid under a table while scratching the floor as if making a foxhole, we knew a storm was soon in the making. We heard no thunder nor could see a darkened sky. Poor Spunky was inconsolable. When the storm finally passed she became her old self again.

We call someone cool who remains unperturbed in the face of danger. Cool is the post-modern word for equanimity. We admire cool people. Most Christians regard God as cool and see equanimity as our necessary condition for being gentle, loving, content, charitable and even prudent. Hot heads or nervous wrecks always make the worst calls. Jewish thinkers regard equanimity as the foundation of moral and spiritual development. Does God, then, keep his cool all the time? Does he get fighting mad as we do? Theologians debate the subject to this day. Literalists insist God has a bad temper and we’d better believe it.

In Exodus, when God learned that the Israelites had fashioned a golden calf to worship, God was furious and wanted to annihilate them. Moses tried to talk him down, but God was adamant and would have none of it. God said, “Now then let me alone that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.” After some serious deal making Moses finally prevailed, but meanwhile I’ll bet the Israelites were scared witless. This makes Moses the dove and God the hawk. I have trouble with that.

Whether you’re a strict biblical literalist or interpret scripture more liberally, one thing remains indisputable: God isn’t scared of a thing.

That God can be a hot head does have some biblical precedents but, if true, that would make him like Kim Jong Il. Would anyone would want to emulate someone like that, much less worship him? I can’t imagine. Personally, I’m persuaded that God does not annihilate his enemies nor is he ever afraid. I do imagine he’s sad a lot. I believe he worries, too (that’s not exactly being scared because it’s more like compassion) when he sees how even after we’ve been around for over two hundred thousand years, we’re still too scared to love one another as he loves us.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.


Spy Habitat Before and After with Jan Kirsh

HGTV’s programming such as “Love It or List It” introduced viewers to the concept of “staging” to sellers before their property went on the market. Ideas such as decluttering, touch-up painting, upgrading hardware, etc. were discussed and implemented during segments to make the property stand out to potential buyers. Little attention was paid to the landscape but savvy sellers know a house’s setting is equally important for “curb appeal.”

Landscape and garden designer Jan Kirsh understands that first impressions are critical. I have long admired Jan’s talent and I recently had an opportunity to visit one of Jan’s projects to see how she had transformed a site’s curb appeal for new clients. Jan needed to improve the gardens quickly so the property would be ready to place on the market.

Two site issues presented design challenges. The house was close to the street and sited slightly downhill from the road so making the house more visible and welcoming from the street was critical. Jan’s task was to revise and improve the existing landscaping while keeping the work effort and budget reasonable.

At her direction, Jan’s landscape crew worked quickly to remove overgrown shrubs and pruned additional shrubs and trees to open the view of the house from the street. The most dramatic change for me at the front of the house was seeing how the selective pruning of the crape myrtles revealed that had previously obscured the home’s stylish architecture.  Now the house was part of the landscape instead of being hidden behind it.

The rear yard sloped down to Peachblossom Creek and had also become overgrown. Overly large planting beds on the hillside were reduced in size and reshaped by bringing in new sod, rather than filling the space with yet more plants. This allowed the firepit area to become a focal point instead of being lost in the planting beds.

Finishing touches to the landscape included adding plants of a smaller scale to complete the foundation plantings, pulling weeds and removing the less desirable herbaceous plants. The result was a much tidier garden on a beautiful property with lots of potential for the new owners. 

Known for functional, artful four-season gardens, Jan Kirsh has worked collaboratively with clients for over 30 years to bring her unique hardscape and planting style to homes on the Eastern Shore and beyond. Ever conscious of the existing architecture and surrounding site, Kirsh’s successful garden making experience allows for dramatic results, whether she is providing a quick on site consultation, staging a home for sale or drawing a master plan.  She delights in turning her clients dreams into reality. Contact Jan at 410-745-5252 (o), 410-310-1198 (c)

A portfolio of her landscape work can be seen at her website Or reach her via email

For more information about this property, contact Sharon Woodruff at Benson & Mangold Real Estate,410-770-9255 (o), 410-829-5026 (c), or, “Equal Housing Opportunity”.


Spy Foodie Report: Mason’s 2.0 Selects a Chef

While Talbot County has been thrilled with the the news a few months ago that the greatly beloved Mason’s would be returning to Harrison Street soon, there was the lingering question of who would take on the challenging job of leading the kitchen of Mason’s-Redux.

The Spy has found the answer. One of our many agents has reported that Erin O’Shea, formerly a star at Rooster Soup Co. in Philadelphia will be moving down to Easton to be the new Mason’s culinary founding food guru.

While Rooster Soup Co. may sound like a modest venue, it was one of only a handful of places named by GQ as one of the best new restaurants in the country last year. And it certainly didn’t hurt the 100% of the restaurant’s profits were donated to hunger projects throughout the city.

Chance Negri, one of the partners of Mason’s, couldn’t be more pleased. “I am confident Chef Erin’s menu will spice and liven up the food scene in Easton, Talbot County and beyond…”

Mason’s is planning to formally open in the middle of November so stay tuned.





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