Last weekend we took an overnight trip to Maryland’s Eastern Shore to view the wintering waterfowl at Blackwater NWR and take in the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railway site. I’ll admit that the “Eastern Shore” terminology confuses me.
The region gets its name from the stretch of Maryland’s Atlantic shoreline that’s sandwiched between Delaware and Virginia — but the part of Maryland’s “Eastern Shore” we explore (closer to the metro area) wraps around the Chesapeake Bay, which has both eastern and western shores. As someone who has trouble with time zones, this confusion of west and east seems unnecessarily complicated! I suppose a person always needs to know which direction they’re pointed, no matter which body of water is in front of her. Basic orientation — now that’s an appropriate thought for the New Year! No wonder I appreciated Harriet Tubman’s words about the North Star (we’ll get to her below).
The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a marsh that’s actively managed to have freshwater, brackish, and saltwater areas, to provide for a variety of species. The Blackwater “River” spreads rather than flows. Nearby is the Choptank River which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The closest town is Cambridge. The new Harriet Tubman site is entirely surrounded by Blackwater NWR, which is appropriate because these marshes and inlets provided cover as Harriet escaped slavery, and then returned to lead other enslaved persons to freedom.
My husband and I arrived around sunset and saw thousands of geese in the marsh and the air, continually rising and resettling — huge flocks of Canada Geese and Snow Geese. We also saw a lone pair of Tundra Swans enjoying a moment on the tidal flats, their white bodies forming the two halves of a heart shape. Later we saw a flock of seven swans flying. There were many Bald Eagles, some flying and some in trees. We also identified lots of Wigeons, which are a kind of dabbling duck who congregate in the open water. I’m sure we weren’t able to identify a great many other ducks. There were also four or five Great Blue Herons, and I am very partial to these dinosaur-birds! Two herons were standing near drainpipes, perhaps waiting for their supper. One heron stood on the ice as if holding a pose for my benefit. With my binoculars I could examine every inch of the bird, including the plumage that puffed out from her chest and throat like a ruff.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge has a 4 mile Wildlife Loop that we drove at three different times of the day. There’s also a Visitor Center where we spent more than an hour viewing helpful displays.
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railway Exhibit has a Visitor Center with exhibits that were very well done. There are more exhibits to come in the region as the Cambridge area was a center for slave trading. It’s said that this area is still very racist — more so than even the Deep South.
I’ll share two of the exhibits, as inspiration for a New Year. The first helped me imagine Harriet navigating the banks and inlets we’d seen earlier. How amazing to think she never lost a passenger! The second exhibit is about the North Star. My husband is a Science teacher and appreciated learning how Harriet navigated by the night sky. I was more interested in the poetry and conviction of her words, which expressed her deep faith.
“I prayed to God to make me strong and able to fight, and that’s what I’ve always prayed for ever since.”
“God set the North Star in the heavens; He gave me the strength in my limbs; He meant I should be free.”
What battles lay ahead for you in 2018, and what will be your North Star?