Shiloh, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettsyburg, the Wilderness: After more than 150 years, the names of certain Civil War battles continue to vibrate with meaning and consequence in the public’s imagination.
Their names are often deployed as shorthand to conjure images of valor, sacrifice and slaughter.
Arlington National Cemetery is perhaps the most famous, the final resting place of more than 400,000 veterans of American conflicts and their spouses.
Virtually unnoticed among all of the headstones, there’s a different kind of memorial. It’s a 12-acre swath of trees tucked into a steep ravine downhill from Arlington House, the one-time home of the adopted grandson of the nation’s first president.
Where can you find the largest pawpaw patch north of Maryland, trace an old railroad bed along the Susquehanna River, hear the swoosh of wind turbines and meander through vast flowering meadows?
And where, on the same hike, can you get a bird’s-eye view of one of the most important migratory stops for shorebirds and take in two killer views of the Susquehanna at its widest point, one in the exact spot where the architect of the U.S. Capitol stood and took brush to canvas in 1802?
Well, surprisingly, on either end of Lancaster County’s landfill in Pennsylvania.
A street lined with homes built in the early 1900s slopes downhill to the fraying edge of town. A two-lane bridge carries traffic across a ribbon of flat water. There’s a boat ramp on the opposite side with one of those newfangled kayak launches with rollers.
The ramp supplies the only public access to Barren Creek, so it is where most paddlers initially meet the waterway. It is not a breathtaking first impressio
Early morning light beckoned me upstream into the green, marshy world of Cat Point Creek, a tributary of Virginia’s Rappahannock River.
I paddled the creek’s narrow path through pastures of arrow arum, past tight fists of yellow pond lilies that had begun their spring unfurling. Blue flag irises were emerging from ferns that had found a toehold in boggy soil amongst the roots of a small, red maple.
I have formed three distinctly different impressions of Fort Frederick, the 1756 stone fort that is now the centerpiece of a 585-acre state park in Western Maryland.
There’s the Market Fair experience every year in late April, when acres and acres of white tents sprout in the fields around the fort and literally thousands of people — easily half of them dressed for the 1700s — spend four days buying and selling all manner of Colonial era products and demonstrating those ways of life.
Then there’s the spartan, Colonial-frontier feel inside the fort, where I can easily imagine how safe it must have felt to an English settler inside those massive, 18-foot-high walls during the French and Indian War.
And finally, there’s down the slope of the fort grounds into the woodsy Potomac River bottomland and what feels like the very bosom of nature.
A skipjack tacked up and down the Choptank River in Maryland for two hours on an azure afternoon in late spring. One of the last of its kind still cruising the Chesapeake Bay’s waters, the Nathan of Dorchester returned to its slip with a brimming haul.
Not of oysters, mind you. That’s so 19th century.
This boat was built in 1994 with a different purpose in mind. On this trip, it carried 19 people — not counting its captain and six crewmembers — out for an exploration of a heritage that is disappearing and this particular skipjack’s place in it.
Taking a bridge across the Potomac River on the way to work isn’t the same as plunging a paddle into the water, seeing its beauty and benefits up close. But only a fraction of the more than 6 million people living in the District of Columbia’s metro area get onto the water each year.
That’s why the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, with the help of partners like the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service, started hosting RiverPalooza, an annual series of events spanning the summer that prioritize paddling, rafting, snorkeling and learning about the so-called Nation’s River and its tributaries, including the more rural Shenandoah River.
When the Smithsonian Institution looked for a first stop in Maryland for its traveling exhibit Water/Ways, it wisely chose Baltimore County.
From the very beginning, water has shaped the area’s economy, transportation network and culture. And it still does — the Loch Raven, Prettyboy and Liberty reservoirs in the county provide drinking water to millions. Dam tailwaters are a mecca for trout fly fishers and whitewater tubers and paddlers. There are more than 100 roads in the county with “mill” in their names. The county has both freshwater and saltwater within its borders.
Many strategies for dealing with mid-Atlantic summer heat involve cool water: outdoor pools, ocean waves or slow-flowing rivers.
But there’s nothing quite like plunging into a boulder-strewn, tree-lined swimming hole for that special respite that only a mountain stream can provide — and the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia have plenty of offerings.
Baltimore’s Inner Harbor might not make anyone’s top 10 list of places they’ve dreamed of exploring by kayak. It can be a busy — and at certain times, funky — body of water in the heart of the second largest city in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
It was 1682, the year that Delaware and Philadelphia were founded, and the year that French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle canoed into the lower Mississippi River basin, claimed the land for his king (Louis XIV), named it accordingly (Louisiana).
It was also the year that a new grist mill was built at the end of a 50-acre pond on what is now the upper Wye East River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. And that is where I found myself on a mild, late winter day for a preseason tour of that very mill — a mere 337 years later.
Hugging the slow s-curves of road winding into a mountainous sliver of West Virginia’s Hampshire County, I remembered why they call this portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed “wild” — and why clean water advocates...
It was late spring last year when I got the tip: For a spectacular showcase of wildflowers, head to the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area in Fauquier County, VA.
And so I did, hoping to glimpse the blooms that make this tract of...
For a number of reasons, all of which are profoundly uninteresting, in 30-some years of exploring and writing about the Chesapeake, I had until recently visited only three of Maryland’s four surviving “screwpile”...
When birdwatchers flock to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland’s Eastern Shore this winter, they are likely to witness one of the most dramatic sights nature has to offer in the Chesapeake Bay region.
Snow geese will gather...
For years, my friend Alison has been telling me, “You’ve gotta rent a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club cabin! You’ll love it!”
So here we were, my husband and I, on a late winter afternoon so dank and foggy we could...
The Susquehanna River starts its 444-mile journey as a lazy creek in Cooperstown, NY. It begins as an outflow from Otsego Lake, where its southern tip abuts the town.
It then flows slowly under the Main Street Bridge before rounding a bend...
At Norfolk Botanical Garden, everything is just so. Horticulturalists deadhead roses in the summer to ensure visitors encounter a perfume-filled, technicolor display in the fall. Azaleas are arrayed for maximum visual pop in the spring.
I’ve always been fascinated by the influence of topography on where humans have decided to set up camp over the millennia.
Here in the Chesapeake Bay region, as recently as a few centuries ago, settlements in coastal areas were all...
After a mile of increasingly pitched hiking through a dense forest, a strange scene unfolded. Quartzite boulders, ranging in size from La-Z-Boy recliners to school buses, reared up, blazing away in the sun. The absence of green was matched...
The year was 1829, and the news was big — big enough to be trumpeted on a broadside that exercised all of the exaggerated fonts and eye-grabbing capitalization of the day:
“Notice is hereby given,” it stated, “that...