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Amazing Sights

Find the old, new and not-so-welcome on this week’s tour of Chesapeake Country

Back when I lived in Illinois corn country, we used to think that heaven resembled the Great Lake shores of Wisconsin. If we were very good, we might get there some day, preferably in this life rather than the next.

          We must have been very, very good, for instead of Door County or Washington Island, where our friends migrated, fate dropped us on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Fate must have been having a peculiar fit of kindness in our resettlement, for she led us to the Calvert Cliffs. There for decades we’ve begun many a morning by hunting fossils. Along with sharks’ teeth as tiny as rose thorns to rare treasures measured in inches, we found crocodile teeth, whale vertebrae, giant scallop shells, ancient shell castings, even the occasional shell of the extinct ecphora snail.

          What to make of such discoveries we learned at Calvert Marine Museum, where the Miocene ancestry of Chesapeake Country is collected, preserved and interpreted in some 600 species of animals and plants dating back 10 to 18 million years.

          When our old Midwestern friends come visiting, tours of the Amazing Sights of Chesapeake Country start at our fossiliferous beach and continue to Calvert Marine Museum, where people of all ages are impressed.

          In this week’s paper, writer Bill Sells reports the news that the museum has been promoted to state standing akin to the ecphora. As the ecphora is Maryland’s official state fossil shell, Calvert Marine Museum is Maryland’s official paleontology center.   

          From caring for 100,000 fossils, 600 preserved skeletons, 200 casts and 5,000 types of shells, Sells writes, the museum’s responsibility will extend to new paleontological additions from the rest of the state, like the singular Ice-Age collection out of the Cumberland Bone Cave at Wills Mountain in Alleghany County.

          Even before new space is added to hold all the stuff anticipated from “all the collectors of Maryland’s ancient treasures,” the museum has scooped up from Florida scientists Richard Duerr and Phyllis Diegel’s 12 cabinets and 178 drawers of 15,000 carefully documented shells from the Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene epochs.

          As well as providing more amazing sights for you and me and all our visitors, the shells will keep paleontologists to study and learn more about the diversity of the fossils and the ecosystems that existed millions of years ago. Let’s hope climate change doesn’t make that knowledge too pertinent to our own times.

          Like my visitors tour, this week’s paper has more to show you of the Amazing Sights of Chesapeake Country.

          One of those sights, coming soon to your Chesapeake neighborhood, is ephemeral, and that’s a very good thing. The tons of trash — much of it fallen branches, limbs and tree trunks — freed by the opening of the floodgates of Conowingo Dam up on the Susquehanna River are nothing we want to stay around for very long. A wave of the flotsam hit City Dock early this week, as you’ll see in our pages. Its continuation down the Bay adds hazards for boaters as well as litter for your beaches. Sandy Point State Park was closed to swimming because of the debris, but the runoff of all this rainfall is reason in itself to stay out of the Bay.

          Another of the sights we tour in this week’s paper will, we hope, be lasting, indeed, proliferating. You’ll want to see with your own eyes the giant vegetable sculptures growing outside Evelyn’s Restaurant in West Annapolis, a joint project of restaurateur Brandon Stalker and artist and landscaper Jan Kirsh.

          Like Stalker, we “think it’d be cool if more places in Annapolis would start doing things like this, just artwork in general.”

          In much of Chesapeake Country — including Calvert Marine Museum and Evelyn’s — you don’t have to fret about where you’ll park on your Amazing Sights tour. Even in historic Annapolis, parking gets easier this month. As you’ll read in writer Shelby Conrad’s story, off-hour parking rates are going down and free parking expanding in a couple city garages.

          Read about Chesapeake Country’s Amazing Sights in every issue of Bay Weekly; then go out and see for yourself.