In Bay Country, Tom Horton references the importance of context in forming ethics, so I will examine how my contexts color my current Chesapeake ethic. Personally, when I think about the Chesapeake Bay I think about home. Not any particular living space, but the natural surroundings that are familiar to me. One place that has been important in shaping the sense of home that I view the Bay with is on the Wicomico River, at my grandparents’ house. I have crabbed with my grandfather there, and fished with him in the little tributaries and creeks across the river. I have grown up playing on their beach and exploring the nearby marshes at low tide. I have an attachment to the familiarity of that place, which is aroused whenever I interact with new areas of the bay region. My context of home, however, doesn’t strictly apply to myself, but also to the crabs and fish we catch and the minnows that congregate in the shallow waters near my grandparents’ beach. It is their home, too. One strong example that reminds me of this is the pair of osprey that return every year and hatch new young. I have watched as they feed their babies and teach them to fly. I have learned to whistle to them like my grandfather, and have a neighborly affection for them.
In the preface of Bay Country, Tom Horton states that,
“We bay dwellers move in a far richer and more extensive matrix of subtle relations and ancient connections with nature than we can yet explain or admit” (Horton, XIII).
For me, this connection between nature and the feeling of home has a spiritual component. For even with a scientific understanding of a place, we can be in awe of its aesthetic depth or uncomprehending of nature’s intricacies. Once when I was very young, my family was boating home in the evening after a fireworks show and there were magical splashes of green behind our wake from our disturbance of comb jellies- it was nature’s bioluminescent finale. Witnessing a display so remote as that reminds me that I am just a tiny particle in the infinite universe, and then I zoom back in and am amazed and grateful to be here. Viewing the bay with this lens allows me to have the, “greatly expanded appreciation of all the ways in which we and nature fit together,“ that Tom Horton says we need just as much as we need our religions. (Horton, XIII)
So, after examining the context with which I relate to the Chesapeake, I broke down my ethic into three categories: be aware, be grateful, and be open. The first means that I always try to be aware of how I’m affecting the bay: what I’m putting into it, how I’m using it, for recreation, relaxation, or for securing dinner, and how I’m either helping or hurting it, by perhaps causing erosion via boat wake or helping prevent erosion by planting grasses. The second category means I appreciate the resource by not taking too much, throwing back immature female crabs so they can breed for example, and caring about its health. Lastly, be open refers to the ethical necessity that I learn as much as I can about the Chesapeake Bay and the issues and controversies surrounding it in order to uphold the first two categories of being aware and being grateful. As John Burroughs says in The Art of Seeing Things,
“the eye sees what it has the means of seeing, and its means of seeing are in proportion to the love and desire behind it” (Burroughs, 158).
Since I consider the Chesapeake a home, it is in my ethic to educate myself and continually update my knowledge: to be be aware, be grateful, and be open.