Environmental Commentary by Jenny Rough
Amid the silence, I balanced on my paddle board and floated through the wetlands of Fishing Creek in Chesapeake Beach, Md. There, in a natures haven, I spotted red-winged blackbirds, egrets and kingfishers. Saltmarsh cordgrass stretched on for miles, and the water was so calm it reflected the skys white puffy clouds without a ripple. After six long years, I finally felt at home on the East Coast.
My husband, Ron, and I moved to Maryland from Santa Monica, Calif., in the spring of 2006. We landed inlandless than an hours drive from the Chesapeake Bayin Montgomery County, which is part of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area. Right away, I felt like a misfit. I cant stand politics. The military life doesnt appeal. Museums and monuments arent my thing. And besides, my heart ached for the Pacificthose ocean views are what drew me to California from my Ohio roots in the first place.
Ron was floored I felt no connection to Washington.
This is your kind of city. Lots of lawyers, he said.
I left the law to write, I said.
Linear thinkers, he said.
Im not a linear thinker! I argued.
Yes, you are.
Fine, I ambut then why all the traffic circles? Linear thinkers like grids.
Each time I drove, I got lost and cried. But traffic circles werent my nemesis. It was the climate. I had come from a place where I was used to swimming outdoors
in December. In the sunny West, I could meet my friends to hike, run, walk or rollerblade along the ocean bluffs any time, any dayminus the two weeks in November that amount to Californias rainy season.
Moving to a new city is about finding community, and community is about connection. Where were my people? Where was my place? I had met political pundits, but not power walkers. Finance writers, but not fitness writers. Things finally changed last year when Ron and I vacationed in Florida, and I tried paddle boarding for the first time. Within minutes I was hooked. I loved the sensation of walking on water, but I especially loved the spectacular beauty of Floridas mangroves, unique tropical trees that are concentrated within the swampy wetlands.
Swamps. In grade school, Id been taught that D.C. (and the surrounding mid-Atlantic region) was built on a swamp. Apparently, the correct topographical term is tidal marsh. Either way, both swamps and marshes fall under the general category of wetlands, and Id always crinkled my nose at themwerent wetlands just a tangled mess of mosquito-infested vegetation? After Florida, I admitted I might be wrong. The trip piqued my interest in wetlands, so I headed to the Chesapeake to explore.
Wetlands are magnificent. With a paddle board, I could immerse myself within them. On the water I drifted, and the wildlife emerged: bullfrogs, turtles, fiddler crabs, jellyfish and birdsso many birds! The wetlands unleashed a part of me I never knew existed: my inner ornithologist. Wetlands act as the connective tissue that links land and sea. The air, soil, sunlight, water, plants and animals are interwoven in a delicate balance. Wetlands purify, detoxify and protect the land from floods. Marylands wetlands wouldnt be the same without summers punishing humidity or the winter snows that replenish water levels. After the summer I spent observing such a unique ecosystem, my attitude about the regions climate softened considerably. And it was through paddle boarding that I met other outdoor lovers, some of whom were politicos, but a surprising number who werent. Like me, their first thought at the word preserve was a wildlife sanctuary, not the mobilization effort to protect Social Security. When I found them, I began to find my place.
One day last fall I went paddle boarding along the Potomac River and scanned D.C.s skyline. It dawned on me that many of the men and women involved in government affairs were making decisions that would impact the vegetation, crustaceans and other creaturesincluding peoplethat depended on the wetlands to thrive. Politics still make me cringe, but I want to protect the wetlands that Ive come to know and love, so Ive begun to take baby steps in the political arena by educating myself on environmental issues with the hope I can make a difference.
Right now, its the off-season, and I wont paddle board again until spring. But I cant wait to return to the Chesapeake. Me. Paddle boarding. Birds. Plants and animals. The people of Washington, D.C., the mid-Atlantic, and the world. Like the wetlands, were all connected in delicate and important ways.
Jenny Rough writes about health, wellness, and cherishing our connection to nature. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.