by Caitlin Finnerty
February 13, 2012
Although we always encourage our readers to get outdoors, we know many of you would rather stay inside when it’s cold. But there’s still plenty of ways to explore the Chesapeake Bay from the comfort of your own home. We’ve compiled a list of eight great Bay-related reads to curl up with this winter. From John Smith to watermen and sailors to the life of a blue crab, there’s an abundance to learn about the Bay, even in the depths of winter.
1. This Was Chesapeake Bay by Robert H. Burgess
“My husband, who just turned 76, grew up on the Chesapeake and worked the fish boats. He was thrilled to see this book.”
– Amazon customer
If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live and work on the Chesapeake Bay, the authentic personal narratives in This Was Chesapeake Bay will show you both the glory and the demise associated with this body of water. Be sure to pick up a copy of this collection of true stories as told by shipbuilders, steam boat workers, oystermen, fishermen and dockhands.
2. Voices of the Chesapeake Bay by Michael Buckley
Many of these voices would be lost or inaccessible, along with their wisdom, if not for this work.”
– Author Tom Horton
Voices of the Chesapeake Bay first began as an Annapolis radio show that interviewed local personalities about their connection to the Chesapeake Bay. Show host Buckley has transcribed these “voices” into a collection of narratives. An Eastern Shore family farmer describes his farm along the Choptank River; frostbitten sailboat racers tell what it’s like to experience the Bay during winter; local artists talk about their struggle to capture Chesapeake culture. You’ll hear from state senator Bernie Fowler, Piscataway Canoy Tribal Chairwoman Mervin Savoy, waterfowl decoy carvers, and AmeriCorps volunteers. This is a must-read for anyone seeking an all-encompassing depiction of Chesapeake life today.
3. John Smith's Chesapeake Voyages, 1607-1609 by Helen C. Rountree
“Not only an engaging account of Smith's travels around Chesapeake Bay but also a fresh and exciting introduction to the native peoples in their natural environment at the time of English exploration and settlement.”
– Brooks Miles Barnes, co-editor of Seashore Chronicles: Three Centuries of the Virginia Barrier Islands
If your family first arrived in the Chesapeake region in the early 1600s, you may be especially interested in this account of Captain John Smith’s two Chesapeake journeys. Smith’s voyages are reconstructed day-by-day and illustrated with vintage artwork and maps. Because he was attempting to map the entire Chesapeake Bay region, Smith covered a lot of ground, and encountered plenty of flora and fauna and met many natives. This book, drawn largely from Smith’s detailed journals, describes the land and waterways as they were in the early 1600s and portrays the differing perspectives of the native peoples and the newly arrived settlers.
4. Water’s Way: Life Along the Chesapeake by Tom Horton and David W. Harp
"Tom Horton has a poet's touch and a realist's frankness as he writes of the delicate ecology of this great aquatic system in chapters whose subjects range from the role of marshes to the life of the watermen to the growing pressures of urban development…This book is a singing tribute to the bay."
– Islands Magazine
Prose and photography join forces to illustrate both the nostalgic romance of Chesapeake Bay culture and the economic and ecological threats to the region’s way of life. Infused with a sense of awe and respect for the Bay, Horton and Harp guide you to “those rare, hidden nooks of the bay country where nature still appears as glorious and untrammeled as it did a thousand years ago.”
5. Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William W. Warner
“This is a magnificent naturalist book, for anyone who has ever eaten a blue crab, caught one, spent time anywhere along the Chesapeake, wondered about the lives of fishermen, or the cycles of the sea.”
– Amazon customer
If you live near or have ever visited the Chesapeake Bay during the summer months, chances are that you’ve had your fair share of blue crab. Warner examines the life cycle of these creatures and the lives of those they have affected: from watermen whose livelihoods depend on their existence to consumers who have spent plenty of summer evenings at crab feasts. A must-read for anyone who ever wanted to know more about what they’re eating or learn why this creature has become such a prideful tradition.
6. Skipjack by Christopher White
“Christopher White's Skipjack is not only a powerful elegy for a great American fishery, it's an act of defiance against all that has conspired to empty the dredges of these beautiful boats. White's prose is like the oystermen he portrays: tough, lyrical, and soaked to the bone in the waters of Chesapeake Bay. I've still got a lump in my throat from its last page."
– Richard Adams Carey, author of Against the Tide: The Fate of New England Fishermen and the Philosopher Fish
In March 1978, biologist and science writer Christopher White joins the crew of a skipjack: a wooden oystering boat that, at the time, is “among the last sailboats still employed in commercial fishing in North America.” Based from a cottage on Tilghman Island, White spends the next year chronicling the remote village and its oystermen, whose livelihoods are threatened by dwindling oyster populations. On-the-ground research infuses this book with the perspectives of those confronted with a degrading ecosystem and a suffering community.
7. An Island Out of Time: A Memoir of Smith Island in the Chesapeake by Tom Horton
"He has captured in full the life of the island."
– Washington Post Book World
Horton paints an intimate portrait of a community where people live much as their ancestors did three hundred years ago: by the tides, blue crabs and waterfowl. To write the book, Horton and his family moved and lived on the remote, sinking island for three years. A new afterward brings the story of Smith Island up to the present.
8. Chesapeake: A Novel by James A. Michener
“As I was reading "Chesapeake" I thoroughly became engrossed in the story to the extent that I forsook sleeptime to enjoy hours of late-night reading. I literally could not put the book down!”
– Amazon customer
Michener gives readers a full picture of the region’s history and culture in this fictional account of life on the Chesapeake. He follows Edmund Steed and his family from pre-Revolutionary days to the Civil War. The style of prose allows Michener to depict how the region’s geography and peoples have changed throughout the centuries.
Looking for more Chesapeake Bay-related books? Check out our comprehensive reading list, which contains nearly 140 titles about the Bay and its rivers, wildlife and culture. And don’t forget to tell us about your favorite Bay book in the comments!