A gentle breeze blows through the tall pines that line the edges of the cliff. Waves lap against the cliff several hundred feet below, as the Chesapeake Bay slowly carves into land which once formed the bed of an inland sea, and still releases Miocene fossils onto the beach below. Canada geese erupt with a cacophony, flapping, splashing and honking as they take flight from one of the many beaver ponds in the valley behind the tent. Somewhere in the forest, a tom turkey gobbles, searching for a hen.
The dawn chorus of songbirds slowly overwhelms these sounds as early morning light slowly builds, the feeble sun trying in vain to penetrate dense fog that covers the Bay.
Then… DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!! A foghorn carries across the still water, warning of the presence of an unseen liquid natural gas loading dock a half-mile offshore. DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT!! Every twenty seconds, for what would be ten hours. It’s 6:30am, and I silently offer a prayer of thanks that the fog didn’t roll in at 3 in the morning.
Such is the environment at Calvert Cliffs, in southern MD. Part natural escape along the Chesapeake, part maritime industry hidden just beyond the trees. This year, all wonderful – we’ve finally got a group out in a pseudo-remote location, away. After a year of COVID lockdowns, this is paradise.
We spent two nights relaxing, cutting loose, learning. Running wild with flashlights in the dark, sitting in small groups under isolated pavilions and discussing the challenges of part-time school, cutting wood to keep numerous campfires burning.
We had three dutch ovens working for breakfast. Two contained various egg, potato, pepper, and bacon blends. One was full of sweet monkey bread, giving off occasional puffs of steam that smelled of cinnamon.
Around mid-day we ventured down to the beach in a creek valley between cliffs. The stream had been backed into a marshy lake by industrious beavers, but the water that escaped the dam carved a deep, briskly flowing channel across the beach, alternating flow directions with the tides.
A bridge was needed.
We lashed crossbars onto a long piece of driftwood, using these as feet to anchor the bridge in the sand on both sides. The tide was just shy of its high mark, the worst time to cross. Our bridge was barely long enough. We laid another driftwood tree alongside to serve as a handrail, and crab walked across, toes just barely touching the water as the tree bowed under our weight.
The bridge worked, and provided an escape. We pulled it up atop the handrail, to prevent the tide from washing it away, as we turned to walk upstream. Ultimately we gained access to the trail system within the park, and used time to roam and explore. We passed immense beaver ponds that seemed terraced, one above the other, behind increasingly tall dams. An enormous lodge was surrounded by honking geese, and a mix of mallard and pintail ducks, a wading heron, hundreds of painted turtles basking on every exposed log. A nearby splash caught our attention, and there, a small beaver! Not often seen, but there it was, slowly swimming through the marsh.
Eventually, we made it back to our beach. The bridge was still there, the creek was lower, and there offshore, an enormous ship sat moored to the dock. The fog had lifted, the horn silenced, and we realized this immense vessel had been sitting there unseen, hiding in the fog all day. Unsettling.
We lingered on the beach, searching for fossils. In perhaps twenty minutes, we had collectively found about a dozen sharks’ teeth. Some were impressive, larger than a quarter. Nothing like the palm-sized megalodon teeth that occasionally turn up here, but still worth the hunt.
As is so often the case, our schedule was driven by mealtimes. Dinner called. A dutch oven produced jambalaya, while another was used to create a fruit and chocolate compote served over pound cake. The sky had cleared, and as the light dimmed and stars came out, a southwest wind began to build. Rain was coming.
We checked tents, secured gear, then settled to talk and laugh in the smoke and glow of the fire until finally turning in, just before midnight.
The rains did come, and occasionally it rained hard. But we stayed (mostly) dry in our tents and hammocks, enjoying that cozy feeling that comes from warm security, like napping through a summer storm while rain drums on a metal roof. It rained most of the night, but it let up shortly before dawn.
Morning broke clear, with bright blue skies and a brisk northwest breeze marking the passage of a cold front. In contrast to yesterday’s fog, the air was clear, and we could see the morning sun glinting off the wind-driven waves of the Bay as we gazed all the way across to Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
We packed up and completed our trip with our usual discussion on what worked, what didn’t. There were a few complaints about some leaky tents, but not many.
Instead, praise for camaraderie. Time spent together, outside around a blazing campfire. Good food, good friends. Normal life, returning.
Get Out There