My plate has been full lately and my chore cup runneth over, folks. Every time I think things are settling down I take on a new project or event. I haven’t had time to write and I almost thought my inner dialogue had gone on hiatus until this morning. This morning I heard the voice clear its throat and say…
“Are you diverse or are you just a hypocrite?”
Yeah. That is exactly what it said to me.
I know this question has been brewing under the surface for about two weeks now and I know exactly what caused this to boil to the surface. I have all these elements of my past and my soul that melt together and become who I am. I’m a bird watcher. I’m a nature lover. I’m a waterman’s daughter (and also a farmer’s daughter). Look deep enough in my genetic history and you will see that I come from hunters and decoy makers. I’m the granddaughter of small business owners and now the wife of a small business owner. I am an employee of a corporation. I’ve always known that this makes an interesting combination, but what does this melting pot of genes amount to at the end of the day?
This past week, I’ve been helping my husband at his new shop. The shop is located less than five miles from where I grew up so it’s great to see so many familiar faces. There are also people that I don’t remember but I’m sure I met them along the way as a child. One of those faces belongs to Mr. Brady.
As I said above, I am the daughter of a waterman. This profession goes on back for generations and generations. As a general rule, there were three things that I could almost always find when looking at old census records for my Eastern Shore lineage. The men worked on the water, they couldn’t read and they couldn’t write. Most of them dropped out of school and headed for the boats at a young age if they went to school at all. That’s what they did in those days. Now, I didn’t drop out of school but I can tell you that I did my fair share of labor. I was a small child but I was mighty and I had a great work ethic instilled in me from both of my parents and my maternal grandparents. Are you old enough to push a broom? Then get to it. Before I finished out middle school, I had made motel reservations, cleaned toilets, made beds, vacuumed, gardened, raked, harvested nuts and berries, drove a tractor, drove a truck beside a potato digger (which was a huge promotion from picking up the straggler potatoes behind the digger that got missed). I’ve helped pull in gill nets, baited crab pots (I was probably never very popular with the boys because the smell of bunker is hard to wash off), signed and dug clams, been the lookout for VMRC when maybe we weren’t doing something terribly legal, I’ve scaled gigantic drum fish with a garden hoe, and I’ve sworn I was going to freeze to death while being sprayed with saltwater from crab dredges in the winter. Other girls my age were learning how to apply eyeshadow and curl their hair while I learned how to work hard, take care of myself and that living off the land and the water was a tough job that didn’t necessarily put food on the table (and when it didn’t … you ate chewy old conch – BLEH!)
I realized I was a hypocrite a few weeks ago when I was part of a discussion about chicken houses. I tell you no lie when I say I want them to stay out of my county. I worry about how they will disrupt our environment here on our tiny peninsula. Of course, I’m a complete asshole because I do eat chicken. Over the years I eat smaller and smaller portions of meat and we do have at least one vegetarian dinner a week. The chicken I buy in the store is approved by the better-chicken.org’s standards of humanely raised chicken. Since I have no plans to ever becoming a strict vegetarian, buying humanely and eating less is my way of finding a balance. Our food sources deserve our respect.
Then, I went to a No Offshore Drilling party. This wasn’t an event a sought out myself. My very good (and lucky friend!) Gay asked me to be her date. Trust me. I totally saw the irony as we were all parking our cars in front of a giant blowup oil barrel. I’m going to say 99% of the guest drove, including myself. Even if I rode a bike, guess what greases that chain? This is another moment of hypocrisy for me. I know the oil has to come from somewhere, but I don’t want it off of my coast. Our birds, our marine animals, and the livelihood of many of our jobs depend on our waters not becoming anymore polluted than they already are. 75% of the party was mostly socializing and eating (which may I mention they served hamburgers and hot dogs. Is it wrong that I assumed that a No Offshore Drilling party would serve vegetarian plates?) followed by fifteen minutes of informative ‘why offshore drilling is bad’ video. Again, you don’t have to show me pictures of oil drenched pelicans to get my vote… however they finished up the video with ‘Wind Turbines Will Save The World’ (okay they didn’t specifically say that). Wait. You came here with your giant blowup oil barrel to tell me you want to put giant wind turbines up our coast in the Atlantic Flyway which will surely kill migrating birds? They lost me there. Thanks for the free wine, but I’m not jumping in that parade. Note: As we approached the house the driveway was lined with balloons to signify that you were at the right place. I said to Gay, “They do realize that balloons are dangerous to sea life, right?”
I was able to get away and go to this party because my baby starling was finally eating worms on his own. I’ve continued to help out with baby birds here and there this year. Last week the starling graduated to being outside fulltime and then this week we began to see less and less of him for mealworm handouts. He hasn’t stopped by since Thursday I believe. Even though I feel great about a successful rehabilitation of a baby bird, I know there are people in the birding community who frown upon this. Starlings are not a native species and are quite invasive. They take nesting sites away from indigenous species and have caused severe decline in numbers for such birds as the Eastern Bluebird. Efforts have been made to eradicate the European Starling from this country and have failed. I’ve seen the comments online. A helping hand should not be extended to this creature. I ask you though, how can you say you love birds and then turn your back on a baby that couldn’t control that he was born here? I find that I sort of fit in with mainstream birders until I say how much I love the starling… or the brown-headed cowbird… or a vulture. Yeah, that last one really freaks people out.
Finally, I come back to my encounter with Mr. Brady. We were talking about my fondness of Kiptopeke State Park and he asked if I went for the beach. I smiled shyly and said, “I like birdwatching. I love being outside in the woods. The trails are great there for walking and seeing birds. I know that makes me a nerd.”
What at first I thought was Mr. Brady gathering his thoughts on how to be kind to this girl who was obviously a geek was actually Mr. Brady gathering his thoughts on a subject that he perceived we would not see eye to eye on. You see, Mr. Brady is a waterman and this time of year he is fishing for horseshoe crabs. It’s been a long time since I ran barefoot along the docks of Oyster and Kings Creek, so I’ve missed out on a lot of legislative changes over the years. One of those changes has been restrictions on the horseshoe crab industry. The Red Knot pit stops at the Delaware Bay to feed on its journey between the wintering grounds in South America and the breeding sites in northern Alaska. Overfishing of horseshoe crabs in the Delaware Bay (where an estimated 90 percent of the entire population of the Red Knot subspecies C. c. rufa can be present on the bay in a single day) has reduced the amount of horseshoe crab eggs for the Red Knots to eat and therefor contributed to the reduction of their population. The laws put in effect to protect the horseshoe crab population for the Delaware Bay have also been implemented in the Chesapeake Bay area.
Listening to Mr. Brady tell me about the restrictions from his perspective reminded me of being a child. I was probably eating a super nutritious breakfast my dad bought me at Shore Stop – a hot dog and a Pepsi – surrounded by men eating the same thing. I’m petting someone’s dog – maybe our dog Willie or maybe Marty Spady’s dog Rambo. They were all discussing new laws for crabbing and how the government is trying to kill the waterman. My eyes bounce back and forth among this army of men wearing white waterproof boots until I am distracted by a bird caught in a crab pot sitting on the dock. I run off to remove the bird and free him. Even then, I was trying to find the balance between life and nature.
I gave him the response that my brain refers to on several subjects. “There has to be a balance.”
I’m not sure if he fully understood what I meant when he left that afternoon. I got up from the desk and we waved to each other as he pulled out of the parking lot. Like other birders, I want to fight for the survival of the birds. Like a Shore girl, I want to fight for another endangered species… the waterman. He’s disappearing all the time. A profession that was at once plentiful is now dwindling more and more. The way of life I knew as a child has been decreasing every year. There’s got to be a way to save him, too.
That’s me, folks. A melting pot of contradictions. A Buddhist just wanting to find a way that everyone can live in harmony, man and nature.
You tell me.
Diverse or hypocrite?
Cobb Island near the old Coast Guard Station circa de 1989 – from left to right: my sister, my dad (note the white waterman boots) and me. The Coast Station was later moved to Oyster, Virginia. I’m probably excited about birds.