The Rise and Fall of the Eastern Shore by Gary D. Crawford
We don’t call it the Eastern Land. Nor was it ever referred to as “East Maryland” or the “Eastern Territory.” No, from the earliest days of European settlement, our part of the Chesapeake always has been known in terms of its shoreline. It is the Eastern Shore. That interface between land and water has many special features. Along the seashore it is known as the intertidal zone; along creeks and rivers, it is the riparian zone. Some plants and animals thrive only within these narrow biomes, portions of which are sometimes submerged, sometimes not. For some animals, a trek across the shoreline is part of their life cycle and necessary for survival. Many humans, too, are attracted to the shore to live, work, or play. Most work on the land side, but some folks – especially in these parts – seem to prefer working on the water side. As we can see all around us, vast numbers of humans like to live near the shore, the closer the better, within sight of the water if possible. Perhaps we are drawn to the water’s edge by some ancient biological imperative.
Beautiful as shorelines are, however, they do have a quirk. They simply won’t stay put. Even when the water level remains constant, the water itself is in motion. Where the current is weak, the stream becomes filled with silt. More rapidly flowing water will carry the soil away downstream and drop it in other locations. Similarly, along seashores the tidal action works to build up or take down beaches and soil embankments. Only rock can resist, though not forever, and there is precious little rock around here. Casual observers of Chesapeake’s disappearing islands sometimes imagine they are sinking beneath the waves. Sorry, folks. Sharp’s Island isn’t down there. It’s gone, just plain washed away. We can see it happening on any active shore – the water saturates the soil, splashes against it, and pulls it away. Vegetation helps to resist the tugging, but if all else stays the same, eventually the water wins every time. Sand and rock tumble along, but the soil of the Eastern Shore is loess for the most part: windblown silt. Unfortunately, loess