7 Books We're Reading This Summer

Picmonkey_image"Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language." —Henry James

We tend to agree with James—summer is one of our favorite seasons, too. Often synonymous with blue crab feasts or long twilight swims, summer also means grabbing a good book and a patch of shade and digging into an extraordinary story. 

So we asked some avid CBF readers what some of their favorite summertime books are—whether they be adventure stories, riveting histories, or learning everything you ever wanted to know about "The Boss" (yes, that's a thing). Here's what they had to say: 

Will Baker, CBF President: "My current book is Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania [by Erik Larson]. I am reading it because my friend Preston White sent it to me! I love boats and the water, and this book is all about both. It is also about decision making and leadership, with both positive and tragically negative results. And it provides an insight into WWI which I had not had. A good read!"

Jennifer Herzog, Maryland Grassroots Manager: "The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I will always come back to these books, since I love a good epic, and this one defines the genre. I also think The Lord of the Rings has helped define what I believe is possible, and why I believe saving the Bay is an achievable quest. We don't have giant spiders, ringwraiths, or the Eye of Sauron to defeat—we just have to deal with all this pollution! Yes, I know the books are fantasy, but it's the human (or hobbit?) condition to quest and struggle, and sometimes to conquer the odds. When that happens—in fiction and in life—I will always be cheering in the front row."

Dave Slater, Senior Campaign Director: "The Meadowlands, by Robert Sullivan. Because I grew up next to this once-rich swamp, Sullivan's short book from 1998 holds particular poignancy for me. But for any reader, it should serve as a cautionary tale about the fragility of nature, wrapped in a clever adventure story."

Katharene Snavely, Vice President, Development: "I spent my weekend boating the Bay and reading Springsteen: Album by Album by Ryan White because who doesn't love Bruce? This book is a great retrospective on Springsteen's 40-year, prolific music career. It provides insight into Bruce as he and his music evolve from album to album with his message often reflecting the struggles and triumphs in America from decade to decade." 

Tom Ackerman, Vice President, Education: "The World Without Us, by Alan Weismann. A wild thought experiment—what would happen to the planet if humans disappeared tomorrow? It explores the ways we have changed the planet in long-lasting, far-reaching ways, and the surprising speed with which nature could rebound if human influence were removed." 

Bill Goldsborough, Director of Fisheries: "Currently at the top of my reading list is Cuba Straits, the latest in the Doc Ford series by Randy Wayne White. Doc is a marine biologist in southwest Florida with a black ops past. He spends his time collecting and studying marine life until he and his hippie sidekick get dragged into various adventures doing good and confronting bad."

John Page Williams, Senior Naturalist: "I'm heading into the stretch turn in The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. It's a painstakingly researched and well-told tale of the young loggers and watermen who made rowing history as members of the University of Washington Huskies varsity crew in the mid-30s. Over several years, they came together as a team to defeat all comers—especially the German crew—at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Germany. And yes, as we watch competitive rowers all over the Chesapeake work out on our waters in their narrow, low-slung shells, we strive to achieve the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint to ensure that the waves and spray they encounter are healthy."

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

Special Note: A portion of the purchases made through the above dedicated Amazon links will go toward saving the Bay. So get out there and get reading!


Chesapeake Born: Bay Saving Lessons Learned, Looking Back

The below "Chesapeake Born" column appears monthly in the Bay Journal News Service.

Map2"Saving the Chesapeake Bay is a test; if we pass we get to keep the planet," wrote Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker in the foreword to a book I wrote about 20 years ago for CBF.

The Bay, on the doorstep of the nation's capital, polluted by all modern humans do, was as good a place as any to learn if humans could exist sustainably with the rest of nature.

What have we learned since that book, "Turning The Tide," was published in 1991? In a revised, 2003 edition I set out six "Lessons Learned" that looked back over the previous decade.

Then, the "lessons" seemed mostly that we still had a lot to learn.

Now it's two decades; time to revisit.

Myth of Voluntary: It was clear in 2003 that the voluntary nature of the Bay restoration was flawed. Our best successes had been the odd instances where we banned something, from using phosphate detergents to catching rockfish.

Only in the last few years was the voluntary model officially abandoned, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposing a mandatory pollution diet on the states.

The EPA's action "represents the biggest progress we've made in the last decade. . . goes far beyond what (EPA) has done anywhere else," said Roy Hoagland, a long-time top official of the Bay Foundation, now a private consultant.

It will be critical to further strengthen the EPA's hand, as local governments and states bridle at the costs of meeting water quality obligations, and as the Republican leadership in Congress vows to weaken the agency.

Accountability: Much positive has happened in the last decade or so—a science-based annual report card on the health of the Bay and tributaries from the University of Maryland; better defined goals for everything from oysters to open space; and the inclusion of air pollution as a significant impact on the Bay.

Agriculture, a leading source of Bay pollution, is becoming more accountable, though this remains a work in progress; a lesson not wholly learned.

Stormwater regulations have taken a leap forward, although the inspection and enforcement that will make them work lag badly.

Management of growth, Hoagland said, "continues to be our most miserable failure . . . we have yet to find the political will to control sprawl development."

All six states in the Bay watershed are now part of the restoration effort.

Leadership: Politics at the national level are even more partisan on the environment than they were during the 1990s—and even then environmentalists spent too much time playing defense when they needed progress.

Republican leadership is abysmal, environmentally. Democrats are better, but no longer pushed by Republicans to hold the line or improve. At state levels, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania have shifted back and forth among Democrat and Republican governors; and it was a Republican in Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, who gets credit for funding major sewage treatment upgrades.

A conclusion I made in 2003 rings even truer now: "The environmental community needs to rethink how to build a consensus for the Bay that reaches well beyond its own members." The environmental focus remains too narrow, too vulnerable to unfounded charges that it kills jobs and serves only an elite.

"As we go to press (in 1991) our optimism is tempered by an all-too predictable reaction to a faltering economy," Baker wrote. And in 2012 we still hear that the Bay must wait until the economy heals.

Money: We have spent billions on the Bay and need to spend more billions. But money, Hoagland stated, has not been the bottleneck stopping more progress.

He suggested it might become the bottleneck as we confront ever more expense with sewage and stormwater retrofits, where we are into areas of diminishing returns for our dollar.

We must look harder at removing taxpayer subsidies for growth and other activities that cost society money to offset their polluting effects, and also include the real costs of pollution in the prices we pay for doing business.

Maryland's Genuine Progress Indicator, a pilot program that subtracts environmental costs from economic growth, is a start on this.

Good Science: Science has led to better blue crab management; the use of cover crops to cut farm runoff; showed how development harms stream health, and led to (slowly) regulating manure to control phosphorus runoff.

But the EPA still lacks a coherent national policy on nitrogen, the Bay's main pollutant. Federal subsidies for ethanol from corn increase nitrogen runoff and don't reduce energy use. Nor is farm runoff elsewhere under federal scrutiny like here. Our agriculture needs a level playing field.

Defining Real Progress: We need "the guts to make fundamental changes," Baker wrote in 2003. In 2012, most progress still relies on tweaking technologies like sewage treatment, smokestack emissions and stormwater retention devices—all good, but avoid questions about limits to growth, or to diets that could reduce agricultural pollution dramatically.

Lessons learned? School's not over yet.

—Tom Horton

Tom Horton covered the Bay for 33 years for The Sun in Baltimore, and is author of six books about the Chesapeake. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.

Image: Courtesy of NASA.

Earth Day: "That's All There Is"

EarthPhoto courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.


“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality, and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.” That’s what U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson said when he launched the very first Earth Day back in the spring of 1970. With roughly 20 million Americans taking part in that first Earth Day—from more than 10,000 schools and 1,000 communities across the country, bringing together all walks of life from housewives to farmers to scientists to students—the event was a bigger success than ever anticipated.

I had the honor of meeting and listening to Senator Nelson when he came to talk to The Nature Conservancy in the spring of 2004, just a year before his death. Though older, frailer, and bound to a wheelchair, Senator Nelson had not lost his impact or might. With quiet conviction he told the story of Earth Day, and why indeed it’s critical we continue to gather together on April 22 every year and raise awareness and appreciation for our environment.

After all, as Nelson said in 1995 on the 25th Anniversary of Earth Day, our natural world and our health and wealth are intrinsically tied together: “The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.”

And so year after year we have had the privilege of carrying on Nelson’s vision, and this year is no exception. From oyster festivals to tree plantings, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will be taking part in various Earth Day events across the watershed. Here below is a sneak peak of what you can expect. Please come out and join us! 

—Emmy Nicklin


CBF Earth Day Events



Men at work: Recreating what nature used to do

Parkwood living shoreline sills construction 014Like so many streets in Annapolis, Parkwood Avenue terminates at a creek. But something unusual is happening where Parkway meets Back Creek. An indication of that is the sight of a Hitachi earth excavator piling up boulders just off the shore.  

The residents of Parkwood Civic Association, a community of modest homes and tree-lined streets that slope to Back Creek, have decided to build a “living shoreline” along their waterfront. This means they are returning their shoreline to something similar to its natural state with lots of native vegetation. The man-made wetlands will do what nature used to do cheaply and effectively: prevent erosion and filter water. The boulders, or sills, will help disperse storm waves, but won’t interfere with the ecological functions of the new wetlands.

Traditionally, many property owners around the Bay cut down trees along the waterfront, and then built walls of various sorts to keep stormwater off. The walls prevent erosion from the Bay for a while, but eventually they break down. Those structures also often fill in tidal wetlands and shallow water habitat in their attempt to hold the land in place. Also, the walls do nothing to slow down and filter polluted runoff, one of the major causes of the Bay’s degraded condition.

Living shorelines are good at both preventing erosion from wave action and also slowing and filtering rainwater that picks up contaminants from lawns, streets, roofs, and other surfaces. So when it came time for the Parkwood residents to decide what to do about the eroding bank and deteriorating rip-rap along their 640 feet of waterfront, they opted for a living shoreline.

I visited the site Tuesday, Dec. 13. The project is well underway. The sills are nearly halfway done. The contractor, Wes Matheu, maneuvered his excavator right at creek edge, swinging the boom and bucket of the machine to carefully create the sills. Matheu is the owner of Shoreline Design L.L.C. of Edgewater, Maryland. His brother Raymon assisted. The sills will be done in about two weeks, Raymon said.

In late spring of 2012, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), which is coordinating the project, will organize Parkwood residents and other volunteers to plant a few thousand native grasses to create the wetlands. CBF also will host a workshop to teach others about living shorelines, and what it takes to build one. Stay tuned... 

Parkwood living shoreline sills construction 036Rob Schnabel, a restoration expert with CBF, said some communities assume they can’t do a living shoreline because they have docks or piers. Parkwood had three different docks, but that doesn’t prevent construction of a natural shoreline, Schnabel said. Click here to view Shoreline Design’s planning document for the project.

To further slow and treat stormwater, the project will also include two bioretention basins at the foot of Parkwood Avenue. Such structures again use a combination of vegetation and human engineering. Schnabel said the residents of Parkwood took a serious interest in reducing the amount of pollution going into Back Creek from stormwater. The community kayak rack and docks testify to the residents’ stake in clean water.

“The community led the charge on that. We just pulled together the funding,” Schnabel said.

Stormwater is a hot topic these days because both county and state officials are considering ways to finance necessary improvements in the stormwater management systems around the state, many of them neglected and in disrepair even as Maryland tries to meet new Bay pollution limits to help save the Chesapeake.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Maryland Department of Environment, Restore America’s Estuaries, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources funded the Parkwood living shoreline. The Chesapeake Bay Trust funded the two bioretention basins.

And speaking of money, living shorelines, bioretention basins, and other projects installed to better manage stormwater are job creators, providing a good jobs-per-dollars-spent ratio compared to other public projects. Raymon said he is a graphic designer by trade, but business went slack over the past 10 years. His brother’s work building living shorelines and stormwater retrofit projects, meanwhile, was picking up. Raymon grabbed a shovel—and a pay check.

 —Tom Zolper

This blog also appeared on the Clean Water Healthy Families site.

Chesapeake Born: Saving the Planet on the Cheap

IMG_7024Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

What if you had to save the Chesapeake Bay, and you had no money?

It's a fitting question in the depths of the Great Recession, as deficit hawk shrills throughout the land and governments across the watershed wonder how to afford the next round of Bay cleanup requirements.

Personally, I've been investing cheaply in a host of advanced green technologies: a clothesline in the backyard ($3) and a rainy day drying rack ($20) in the cellar; organic cooling systems, AKA trees, to shade the south and western sides of my house ($500); busting up half my driveway with a pickaxe ($27) to absorb stormwater runoff, planting it with more organic cooling systems.

I bought a small house near work and stores, saving energy, allowing bicycle to replace car most days. A smaller fridge is next as I now shop almost daily. I installed a super-quiet whole house fan ($900) for all the cooling I need most days; and heavily insulated the attic and crawl spaces ($800).

Had I sprung big bucks for Energy Star appliances, solar panels, geothermal heat pumps and an electric car, I'd have received tens of thousands in government subsidies. And in the end I wouldn't have been greener.

So I think it’s time we took a serious look at cheaper ways of getting to a better planet, of saving taxpayer dollars as we restore our environment.

Broadly, that would mean cutting government subsidies to polluting activities; and letting polluting activities reflect their full price.

If I’d bought a big house in a rural subdivision, for example, I’d have been awarded a bigger mortgage deduction, even as I drove more, used more open space, required more roads and polluted more on my septic tank than on a city treatment plant.

We give some $1 trillion annually in federal tax breaks to homeowners, a presidential fiscal reform commission reports. At state and local levels, taxpayers pay thousands a year for every home in a sprawl development to ease the real cost of roads, water and air pollution and the cost of services such as fire, police and utilities.

The extra gasoline such residents burn would cost maybe eight bucks a gallon if we removed government subsidies to oil companies—more than 12 bucks a gallon if, as some suggest, we include part of the defense budget for protecting foreign oil sources.

If gasoline fetched its true market price, there’d be far less need to subsidize electric cars—or mass transit, or bigger roads. No need either, to subsidize solar and wind energy as much if all our traditional energy sources operated without subsidies (like the taxpayer guarantees for part of the accident insurance on nuclear power plants).

Power companies could be rewarded for saving energy, not pushing more of it. At a hearing on a new, $1.4 billion power line I asked what if that money went instead for conservation, could we avoid the need for the line?

Their shareholders wouldn’t like that, a company spokesman said, as they make money based on how much energy they transmit.

Agriculture, the Bay’s biggest source of pollution, is underpinned by federal crop subsidies; at the very least, we’d save big time on cleanup costs if these were morphed into payments for reducing runoff.

Water quality would also benefit if poultry manure were made the responsibility of the big chicken producers nationwide—now it is "owned" by individual growers.

Popular but expensive open space protection programs are in part a price we pay for bad government land-use policies. A proposal by Maryland’s Governor O’Malley to cut state subsidies for schools, roads, and wastewater where counties allow sprawl development could save billions.

Other environmentally beneficial savings worth scrutinizing range from low-cost commuter tolls (a subsidy to sprawl), to flood insurance and beach replacement (subsidies to development, often in some of our most sensitive natural areas).

From the other side of the equation, government accounting for economic progress needs to start valuing the nature we lose as well as the development that replaces it. Current indicators like GDP (gross domestic product), add the value of a parking lot but don’t subtract the value of the forest it felled.

Some might see in the above a danger of slowing growth; but if something can’t pay its way financially, and further creates pollution that costs to clean up, why on earth would we want more of it?

I think the possibilities of saving the Bay cheaper are large, and the politics for doing it are right. The Bay watershed has two Congressmen on the 12 member "Supercommittee" charged with coming up with deficit reductions.

Who wants to convene a conference to see what we can do?

 —Tom Horton

The above appeared in the Bay Journal News Service (http://www.bayjournalnewsservice.com/). Tom Horton covered the Bay for 33 years for The Sun in Baltimore, and is author of six books about the Chesapeake. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.


Photo of the Week: Smith Island Shanty

Photo by John Werry/JohnWerry.com

"It's hard to understate what the Bay means to me. Three generations of my family have spent the last 40 years boating, crabbing, fishing, and living in three different counties on the Bay. The Bay's brackish water runs in our blood.

I have been all over the Bay, but Smith Island was one of those places that I always wanted to visit but never had. This photo was taken at sunset in Tylerton, Smith Island, during a weekend photo club visit this past July.

The Smith Island visit capped off a collection of photographs I've been taking on the Bay for the past 11 years that I will be publishing in my book, working title 'Chesapeake Views,' hopefully next year."

—John Werry

Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to our Photo of the Week contest? Join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group or post to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your pics! 

Saint Clements Bay: A Novel of Remembrance and a gift for the Chesapeake

Photo: B.L. Lang written by B. L. Lang, author of the novel "Saint Clements Bay"

As a young girl in the 1950’s, I spent most summers at my grandmother’s cottage in southern Maryland. The place, primitive in a charming sort of way with an ivy-covered outhouse tucked away at the edge of the pines, was perched on a bluff overlooking Saint Clements Bay down at the mouth of the Potomac River. That bay and the river are important bodies of water flowing into the treasure that is the Chesapeake. Through the years, I’ve been pestered by vivid memories of the water, murky and brackish as the salt mixed with the fresh, but supporting plentiful blue crabs, beds of rich sea grasses, oysters, and adventure. Inspired by my own history, an inescapable love of the Chesapeake and the Saint Mary’s County area, I wrote Saint Clements Bay: A Novel of Remembrance. It’s a sweet story of a time gone by, a little history, some rather quirky characters, and a “near as can be remembered” account of my grandmother’s remarkable life and family, many of whom are native to the County.

Book cover: St. Clements Bay The Chesapeake needs all of us to pitch in however we can to bring it back to health and bounty—that’s why I have pledged one third of profits from the sale of the book to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  When it comes to working hard to ensure the improved status of the Chesapeake, no organization does more and is more effective than CBF. They provide education, activism, expertise, and more, to get the job done.  We’ve made an initial donation to CBF and, with the help of new readers we hope to keep contributing for a long time to come.  The book can be purchased at the publisher’s website, www.plangentpress.com  where you can also read reviews and more, or on Amazon. Watch for author signings in the area later this spring.

If you have a question or comments on the book, you can email me through the publisher’s site.  I’d love to hear your own stories about the Bay—send me a note!

B. L. Lang, Author

We can't thank Ms. Lang enough for her generousity. The magic of it is that she is just one of thousands of others who have similar memories of the bountiful Bay in earlier days. We would like to hear your stories, too. Won't you please share them in our Comments section?

Worried About Growth in Your Area?

Choosing_our_communitys_future Smart Growth America has two new resources available for the regular citizen who cares about the direction his or her community or region is taking in regard to growth. The "Choosing Our Community's Future" guidebook, available for $10, teaches how to make compelling arguments against poorly conceived plans and how to paint your vision for others. Smart Growth Shareware will be added to your purchase at no additional charge. This great resource includes publications, presentations, websites, and more information about topics including public health, children and schools, land conservation, water, transportation and more.

American Indian, Bay Issues Featured in New Novel

Cover_media4_2 Released on May 15 by Cashel and Kells Publishing, "Herons Poynte: A Novel of the Chesapeake" is the story of a young Choptank Indian named David who travels to the bay in search of his ancestral land. The novel's strong undercurrent of environmentalism emerges when David discovers the land is now owned by a polluting local steel mill. The subsequent conflict between David and the owner of the mill represents what author George Callaghan calls the contemporary struggle to restore the health of the Chesapeake.

Callaghan's novel highlights environmental issues that have recently reached the attention of state legislators. Still, "Herons Poynte" is about more than the environment. The book also aims to address the issue of American Indian entitlement in the United States, a theme that actually emerges in the narrative well before any discussion of sustainability.

"Herons Poynte: A Novel of the Chesapeake" by George Callaghan is stocked by the Salisbury University Bookstore and other independent bookstores on the Eastern Shore, in Ocean City and in Callaghan's hometown of Annapolis. It can also be purchased online at www.HeronsPoynte.com. (from The Daily Times)