Chesapeake Gold

Chesapeake Gold: Man and Oyster on the Bay

with drawings by Alice Jane Lippson
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Chesapeake Gold
    Book Description:

    The figure of an old man poling a skiff toward shore against the evening light engaged Susan Brait to learn about Chesapeake Bay, and it is that image which opens this her book on the oystermen of the Bay and the sapping of their traditional life, and even the bounty of the Bay itself, by the demands of American society.

    With directness and poetic economy Brait takes the reader into the life of the Bay and into the complex relationships that affect oysters and those who make their living from them. Her account weaves easily from the daily work of oystermen to the natural forces that have shaped the Bay, from the experimental culture of oysters by marine biologists to the plans of businessmen who expect to grow and harvest the mollusks on privately owned reefs, from efforts to legislate control of the Bay and its resources to the upper reaches of the Susquehanna River where increasing pollution of the Bay originates from agricultural practices of the Amish and other farmers. These and other disparate elements are gracefully woven into a seamless web that represents the complex wholeness of the Bay itself.

    Chesapeake Goldis a sensitive portrayal of people and their place, but it is also more. The oystermen and their efforts to maintain their traditional life become a figure for our society's struggle to find an ethic that will serve both man and the natural world that man is apart from and a part of.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5885-3
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-ix)
  3. Prologue: Before
    (pp. x-2)

    One round of shoreline curved to the next. All about land cradled water. Beyond the coves and harbors, loblolly and maple brushed a feathery sky. Here and there, among the myrtle and the cord grass, the honeysuckle and the pine, were weathered brick facades and white porticos.

    I had gone sailing along the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay with some friends. Late in the afternoon we nosed our boat into a small harbor and set anchor. There was mostly quiet out on the water. A halyard slapped the main mast; currents lapped the keel. The city seemed far behind...

  4. 1 Daybreak
    (pp. 3-24)

    A swath of pale green washed the horizon.

    A host of birds announced first light; loudly, competitively, melodically, each laid claim to a piece of the territory.

    Bonnie Gay Simmons slung a gray plastic bucket stuffed with oilskins and freshly washed Blackjack rubber gloves into the back of her pickup. Into the front she tossed two grocery sacks packed with breakfast and lunch: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, bacon, eggs, chili con carne, two cartons of Pepsi. As she climbed into the truck, her felt-lined rubber boots, stripped of their laces, slipped at the heel. The sky was still dark. She...

  5. 2 Common Ground
    (pp. 25-43)

    Settling himself against the motor casing, Mike poured M&Ms from packet to mouth. Bonnie Gay handed him a Pepsi. “Take a break, Susan,” he said, “Take a break.”

    Through the morning, poling the skiff to fresh patches, Mike had been easing her south and west. Starting at the other side of the cove, Jimmy Faulkner, with his sons Kevin and Freddie, had been easing his skiff north and east. By now the Faulkners were within shouting distance.

    Mike glanced first at Freddie, who was up on the washboard using his foot to push his tongs through the water. Then he...

  6. 3 Beyond a State of Nature
    (pp. 44-60)

    About a decade after the peak of the oyster boom, when bivalves were growing scarce, biologist H. Newell Martin told an audience gathered at Johns Hopkins University in February of 1891 that oysters could continue to make men rich. He and a few other researchers had made two discoveries in a marine lab at Crisfield. “We established two leading facts,” he said, “that the eggs of the Maryland oyster are thrown out into the bay to be fertilized at random, and that it was possible to fertilize and hatch thousands of them in a watch-glass; in fact, that in a...

  7. 4 Barren Bottom
    (pp. 61-83)

    David Fauntleroy maneuvered his tractor-trailer over a tremulous narrow bridge. The bridge groaned. In the lagoon below, two gulls perched on the hull of a sunken ship, while a shy pelican, searching for crustaceans, flew off.

    Virginia hills on the western shore of the Chesapeake are short but steep. David shifted down. At the bottom of the incline he turned into a dirt and oyster shell lot and drove to Jones Creek. Backing up, he swung the trailer to the left. Pulling forward, he steered the cab to the right. The red velvet heart his seven-year-old daughter gave him, hung...

  8. 5 Metamorphosis
    (pp. 84-110)

    Down in Virginia, along the northern bank of the York, a research facility connected with the college of William and Mary, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, is located on a triangular spit of land in the town of Gloucester Point. I traveled down the Tidewater Trail to the institute one day because I wanted to meet two marine biologists working there. Recently hired for a new project, they were trying to reseed some of the Bay with cultured oysters.

    Around Gloucester Point, the Trail’s four lanes are hedged with small brick shopping centers. I turned from the highway between...

  9. 6 Webs
    (pp. 111-129)

    I wanted to see where the Chesapeake begins, so I went to Lake Otsego. The place where I stayed was up on the side of a hill. Someone had cut away the trees below. That evening I sat on the porch outside my room and looked at the water. I could only see it in broken fragments here and there like the shards of a dropped vase.

    Rain dripped from the eaves above me and splatted when it hit the ground. Puddles formed below the ends of the drainpipes and spread to the flower beds and stones laid down for...

  10. 7 Lee Set
    (pp. 130-137)

    The last time I tonged with Bonnie Gay Simmons and Mike Willey, Mike was late. Bonnie Gay and I waited for him near the boats in the lot by Cecil’s store. For a time, we leaned against her green pickup and watched the sun rise over Taylors Island. Then Bonnie Gay began pacing from her truck to the front of Cecil’s store, where there was a battered phone booth. She called Mike eventually, but there was no answer. Soon after, she started loading the supplies she’d brought onto the boat.

    She asked me to go inside and pick up a...

  11. Epilogue: After
    (pp. 138-140)

    In the fall of 1987, I started making my way back to Taylors Island. I had not seen Mike and Bonnie Gay for more than two years.

    I took a familiar route across the bridge at Annapolis over to the Eastern Shore and from there traveled the road beachgoers use to get to the ocean. Along the way, I saw new development of every kind: homes for weekenders, malls for shoppers, restaurants for tourists.

    The narrow bridge across the Choptank was gone. In its place was a newer, speedier four-lane crossing. I took it and then veered right, skirted Fishing...

  12. Note on Sources
    (pp. 141-146)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 147-148)