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The Stage

CHESAPEAKE BAY

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--- -Every cruise has its memorable moments.

AN AMAZING VARIETY

--- -The sun was starting to slide down the lower third of the western sky, and we were looking for an anchorage for the night. "Here's one," El said enthusiastically. "Listen to this." And she began to read from the cruising guide.

--- -"Good protection … only for shallow-draft vessels and...," El's voice took on that slight edge I had long ago learned to recognize when she is especially interested, "...It has an amazing variety of wildlife." She looked up, grinning.

--- -I tried a few guesses, "A heron colony? … a turkey roost? ..."

--- -"Or," El said with a chuckle, "maybe a nude beach?"

--- -With such a challenge, we headed up the Corsica River, through a scattering of rafted big boats and deep-keeled sailboats (after all, this was the middle of Memorial Day Weekend, the traditional first day out). A short distance up the Corsica, we took a turn to port. Now we had to thread our way through the splatter of anchored and rafted boats. We headed up Emory Creek, the promised land of amazing animals. The depth sounder beeped its warning as we rounded a bend, separating us from view from any boats or houses. We anchored with one foot of low tide under the hull, surrounded by trees and natural beauty. We were the only boat at the head of the creek.

--- -"Well, time for the show to begin," El said pouring the tonic over ice for our sundowner. We settled into the chairs, lifting our glasses to each other with a wink. We had a front-row seat in the house, as the cockpit slowly and deliberately turned with wind and tide. The scene drifted past our vision, first one shore, then the head of the creek and then the opposite shore. Shadows lengthened over the rippling water as though the house lights were dimming. Reflections shimmered water, clouds and trees into a marvelous scrim.

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--- -A movement caught El's eye -"There!" she said. A raccoon strolled the muddy low-tide shore, probing with nimble fingers. One could almost hear the "Ah hah" as he plucked some morsel from the mud, washed it clean, and popped it into his mouth. We watched him continue his meandering stroll up the strand.

--- -An osprey cruised into the cove, fluttered a few moments, and plunged feet first into the still water. He quickly rose, clutching a fish, and laboriously flapped off to her nest on the navigation mark in the river outside our creek. The ripples of his 'fish snatch' widened in the darkening water, reflecting sparkles from the last rays of evening sun.

--- -Slowly the curtain of nightfall enclosed the creek. Frogs began to chirp, and toads buzzed from under the understory trees. Stars sparkled in the water. Then, the sonorous sound we associate with isolated anchorages began to resonate through the encroaching night. Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all? The Barred Owl announced his presence on the stage of Emory Creek. His mournful calls echoed off the water, far down the creek -- you all ... you all... Then, as though stirred by the receding echoes, another owl joined the chorus, Who Who Who. Before the new sounds could echo, more owls combined their calls, until the creek reverberated with the cacocphony of owl song. Deep bass calls, high hoots, whistles, whines .... it became the Corsica Concerto.

--- -The performance lasted for perhaps ten minutes, before an appreciative aucience. Then, abruptly, as though on an unseen cue, it ended. Only one artist remained on stage, for the finale ... Who cooks for you? Then, deep silence, the more palpable after the preceding turbulence of sound. We sat, sharing the experience and the silence, and then headed for bed.

--- -Abruptly, in the middle of dark night, a sound penetrated my sleeping brain -- SCRRIICH! It startled me awake. Through my foggy brain, I tried to remember and decipher the strange sound - like someone scratching fingers on a screen door. Sounds magnify and crumble into strange fragments when heard within a deep sleep. For a long time I lay still, heart thumping loudly in my ears, listening to silence. Perhaps it was part of a dream - an internal fragmentation of subconscious thought. Only continued deep silence. I drifted back to sleep.

--- -I awakened before first light and soon the stove was throbbing into warmth. It's my morning ritual - heat the water, brew a cup of tea, drip the coffee. Mugs filled, I stepped out into the cockpit to sense the dawn. Suddenly, my quiet world was filled with mayhem - an enormous explosion of sound shatteredd the silence. "ARRRRRKKKK." A huge object hurtled through the darkness from the boat toward shore. From my crouched position, coffee spilled, heart pounding, objectivity slowly returned to my traumatized brain - a … Great .... Blue ..…. Heron!!!!

--- -What a way to start a morning, but what could one expect in an anchorage with amazing wildlife? Calming down, I reflected on the experience. Like a detective piecing together the facts, my mind sorted through the evidence. The startling middle of the night sound … the sudden panicked flight … that bird must have been roosting on our cabin roof most of the night. A quick look at the roof confirmed the suspicion - yep, calling cards all over the cabin rooof. These herons are special companions on our cruises, all over North America. They are usually shy, retiring birds and often fly off when our boat approaches. Sometimes, when we rest quietly at anchor, they will walk nearby shores, but never … never have we had one even think of landing on our boat. Yep, amazing wildlife, indeed, in this creek.

Guilty as Charged

--- - El soon joined and with fresh coffee in hand, we sat in the cockpit while I shared my rude awakening story. As light suffused through the surrounding trees, more wildlife joined us. First, our evening companion, the raccoon, began his probing stroll along the strand searching with deft fingers into the mud for his breakfast. Then, one after another, deer stepped from the trees and walked the shorelines feeding on the fresh new leaves of early summer. They included Halcyon and us as part of the backdrop, and we shared their private lives of scratching, sniffing, and munching.

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--- -A 'V' moved through the water, trailing behind a beaver as he slipped along the shore doing his morning duties of patrolling the beach for fresh tidbits of bark. Soon, another 'V' vectored from the opposite shore, and the two 'Vs' circled and merged as the pair joined for their morning tour. They disappeared into a clump of freshly fallen young trees, and their presence was only revealed by the swaying of branches in the water as they cut and tugged their breakfast.

--- -This was indeed a place of amazing animals. Apparently its isolation, behind the moat of shallow water, allowed an undisturbed window for us into the normal evening and morning lives of the residents.

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--- -We pulled anchor, after our breakfast, and slowly slid out drown the creek. An old boathouse, long abandoned and slowly succumbing to gravity's inevitable pull back to the water, lay to starboard. As though to punctuate the period for our sojourn among "the amazing variety," Turkey Vultures, roosting on the shed roof, eyed us as we left their peaceful home.

--(06 - 05)

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