Volume XVII, Issue 32 # August 6 - August 12, 2009

Where We Live

by Steve Carr

To Swim or Not to Swim?

Balancing tiny devils against the magic of deep, jelly-free water

I’ve been swimming in the Bay almost every day. The water is clear as brown tea, the temperature is perfect, and there are no jellyfish. It’s like swimming in heaven.

For a surreal adventure, my friend Evan and I motored out of Annapolis Harbor at about 10pm on a scrumptious evening and headed for the main shipping channel near the Eastern Shore. We puttered over to an anchored freighter the size of a mountain that was lit up like a birthday cake. We both jumped in. Two-foot swells rolled like god’s own conveyor belt back toward the Severn. The boat drifted lazily beside us as we frolicked like happy dolphins in the black, sparkling water. A new moon rose like a milky sickle above a thin line of fading clouds. Off in the distance, Annapolis looked like a toy town, with twinkling lights and its glowing domes and steeples.

Time seemed to stand still and sky and sea merge as we silently rode the sea waves and floated on our backs, looking up at the shimmering stars.

Two hours later, we found ourselves off of Greenbury Point. We had drifted effortlessly with the incoming tide for several miles.

When we climbed back into the boat, we felt like we were leaving the womb.

A few days later, we took the boat up to Round Bay to watch the annual fireworks show at Sherwood Forest. Hundreds of vessels rafted up in a giant boat blob, their masts and running lights sparkling like bobbing candles. We steered clear of the noisy throng and floated lazily toward Aisquith Creek.

“Let’s watch the fireworks from the water,” said Evan, and we dove in.

If you haven’t watched fireworks while swimming, you are missing out. There is magic in the way the water in your eyes reflects the pyrotechnic glow.

A weekend later, we took Evan’s floating barge out into Weems Creek. It’s basically the T-end of a dock with pontoons. On board we have a picnic table, hammock, lawn chairs and brick fire pit. A full moon was rising, and a soft breeze from the west whispered for us to come out and play. So we invited some friends over and paddled out into the creek as the sun set fire behind glowing clouds. After we dined on a yummy potluck dinner under the stars, a few local musicians broke out their guitars and mandolins.

Then we all went swimming. For hours.

Several people remarked that they were surprised at the clarity of the water. Many hadn’t gone swimming in the Bay for years because of what they have read and heard about in the news.

The Devils in Our Deep Brown Bay

“Swimming in the Bay is risky,” read the headline a few days later.

Midway into my summer of swimming, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released an extensive report on the threats posed to human health by various types of water pollution. These threats include vibrio, a nasty little bacteria that can cause skin and blood infections; cynobacteria, a blue-green algae that feeds on nitrogen and leads to dead zones; fecal bacteria, which comes from animal waste and causes diarrhea and infections; mercury from the air, which is contaminating fish; and nitrates from fertilizers in our drinking water.

Will Baker, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s executive director, said “I’ve been swimming in the Bay all my life. But in the last year or two, I have been more concerned about swimming in the warm months — July, August, early September — after a heavy rain.”

Thank goodness someone is beating this drum. The Bay is definitely hurtin’. But …

We swim a fine line here. The more we scare people into being afraid to go in the water, the more we all distance ourselves from the Bay’s wondrous treasures. We lose our intimacy.

Yet swimming after a heavy rain when you have an open cut can be like rolling the dice with your health.

Believe me, it definitely crossed my mind because I had a nasty cut on my head after getting hit with a falling branch as I was trimming a tree. As I swam, I wondered what a few hours in the Bay might do to my open wound. It hadn’t rained in days, but who knows what’s out there and how it will affect you.

So what do we do? Wait for government to wave the magic wand and clean up the Bay? Pray for Chesapeake Bay Foundation to save the day?

I think I’m going to continue swimming because in a few short weeks the jellyfish will appear. Then, there’s no hope for any of us.