Published: June 2005
Tom Horton

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

The tide was rising. A full June moon was high above, gleaming on the lap of little wavelets along a sandy beach in mid-Chesapeake. Far off a foghorn sounded, and running lights showed a tug towing a barge from Baltimore to Norfolk. Dark forms had been scuttling back and forth just offshore for an hour, joined by larger forms to which they quickly attached themselves as the tide peaked.

One of Earth's most ancient rituals had begun. Big, female, horseshoe crabs lumbered ashore, smaller males in tow. Inching up the beach, they excavated a hole, deposited their eggs, then dragged the males across it to deposit their sperm. It was a profoundly elemental scene—nothing but sand and moon and water, and the clicking of shell on shell of these impossibly old creatures, evolved more than 100 million years before dinosaurs first appeared. One cannot come any closer to reentering primordial time.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

It was my third day of paddling peacefully in my kayak down Maryland's Patuxent River to the Chesapeake when I saw them coming, throwing long, high rooster tails of spray and whining like chainsaws.

I don't dislike jet skis so much for their speed or even their noise. It's more that they mostly just go to and fro, carving figure eights, jumping wakes, with no purpose. They just need water. They don't need the bay or its fish or birds or any of the things it means to me.

I don't mean to imply that the owners of these "personal watercraft," as they're called, don't care. It's just that they don't need to care; so long as it's liquid, it will do. And there seem to be more of them every year.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

I'm not at my sharpest at 3.30 a.m., but years of hanging out in Chesapeake Bay's island fishing communities have given me a leg up on following their unique accents, descended from England of centuries ago. Still, I just couldn't get what the two crabbers in Tangier Island's Double Six restaurant were talking about over sausage-and-egg sandwiches and bitter coffee—something about the "blowin' man."

One had taken a trip to San Diego, and on a bus there he met the blowin' man. The blowin' man spoke to him and seemed as normal as you'd please. What he'd found so fascinating about this blowin' man eluded me. Then, "…til he got off and I seen his little white cane, I never knew he was blowin'." That's when I understood. In Tangier parlance, which makes "oi" of "i", "blind" was actually "blowin'" to my ear.

Later, I felt slightly better when I asked photographer Peter Essick if he understood the conversation. "Yeah, about one word in ten," he replied.