Remains of the Bay

Just a few weeks ago, the residents of the Chesapeake huddled in their respective dwellings while the winds howled, the rains raged, and Hurricane Sandy pummeled the East Coast with furious tides that swept boldly inland.


Although many Chesapeake folks had prepared for the worst, stockpiling staples like toilet paper, water, milk, and Budweiser, for most of us within the Bay’s watershed, we were able to emerge relatively unscathed (though the contents of our refrigerators might have suffered rankly from the extended power outages). Given the appalling devastation just a few hours north, the Bay had gotten off pretty much scot-free. Or had it?


         High storm surge tide on Hooper’s Island.Photo by David Harp.

Looking south, the Chesapeake ’s inhabited islands, Smith, Hooper, and Tangier in particular, are often observed to be bellwethers for the Bay’s eroding state of flux. In storms like these, where the wind and the waves scour the shoreline, up to 20 feet of land are lost annually and a canary sings sweetly from its coal-mine cage as the future of the Bay is written in the sediment washed away. Whole islands have been lost to the Chesapeake’s endless appetite, only to be reformed as sandbars or shoals somewhere else. It’s the Bay’s way.


Holland’s Island, now depopulated, still has some reluctant residents not anxious to seek higher ground. Photo by David Harp.

But these islands contain remnants of their human habitation that are not so easily removed. Even as the people moved away to avoid the water’s steady pull and the island’s shrinking perimeter, their houses, belongings, docks and yes, even their headstones and dearly departed remained. As strong ‘superstorms’ like Sandy flood the Chesapeake’s main stem with more and more frequency, things are bound to wash up on these Bay islands. And on Tangier, it wasn’t just old, corroded boat parts that got stirred up in the hurricane’s immense floods. It was the island’s previous generations.

If you ever needed a reminder that the the Chesapeake is a changing place, and of the visceral impact that shoreline erosion can have, this video is definitely it. In the end, it seems, some Chesapeake people indeed felt the wrath of Sandy’s power- they just happened to not be the living ones.