In February of 1984, my family moved to Essex, Maryland. A few days later I heard on the radio that someone named Bob Irsay had snuck out of town with the Baltimore Colts. I added the lack of a football team to the list of reasons my mom should let me go back to the Allegheny Valley and live with my Grandma, but it didn't help—I was stuck here. It wasn't easy making friends, but when I wasn't busy defending myself from really tough girls who wanted to beat me up because of my Pittsburgh accent, I had the chance to try blue crabs for the first time at a lovely house on the water. My new friend's dad stressed that the Old Bay Seasoning on the crabs could only be obtained locally, so when he pulled the first steaming crab out of a shopping bag, I thought the gritty stuff that stuck to its shell was sand and dirt from where it had actually been caught! This, of course, did not stop me from eating it and pronouncing it delicious.
I have learned a lot since high school—about the Chesapeake Bay and life in general. I’ve learned first-hand that its beauty should be shared and savored, not squandered. I have always enjoyed exploring trails and waterways, looking under rocks, seeing what lived there, and I continue to explore the streams and rivers of my youth, including the Patapsco River where I often hike now since moving to Catonsville. There are the remains of mills all along the river, one until recently made little boxes of muffin mix you could buy for less than a dollar. I read the ingredients on its blueberry muffin mix once: plenty of stuff I couldn't pronounce, and no blueberries. So if they were mixing dye and wax or whatever else to simulate blueberries, then what was left over for the company to dispose of in the conveniently located river?
Three years ago I wanted to go to a happy hour at Little Havana (love that place) for an event called "Green Drinks" that was being held all around the watershed on Earth Day. I couldn't go because I had to serve drinks at my workplace, Iampieri's Bar in Catonsville. But then I got the idea that we could host our own event, so I contacted the Volunteer Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Heather Tuckfield, to ask if we could participate. She was receptive and mailed me materials to share with my customers. We didn't make that much, about $250, but I didn't feel bad when I realized that it was $250 more than I had collected on any other Earth Day!
So we've been doing it every year now, making twice as much, and perhaps more importantly, getting people involved. Talented local musicians like Dave Linantud and Jeremy Burke have played, customers have donated their time, legislators have been contacted. I have been to the Merrill Center for wine and cheese, for fisheries updates, and training to speak on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. I have presented lessons to Baltimore City students in their science classes, and I plan to do more, all around the state of Maryland. Oh, and I am learning about the watershed, what goes into the water and the crabs, rockfish, and everything else I'd like to eat that live in it, and how to fix it so that we all can.
Heather Hooper and her daughter looking for geese in Patapsco Valley State Park.