“Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels.”
- Nikos Kazantzakis
Day 25 - Monday, July 17, 1995 - Driving her maroon-colored Jeep Cherokee, Jacki Gauger met the walkers close by the Chesapeake Bay as they crossed the state line from Delaware into her home state of Maryland.
|Jacki Hayward Gauger joins the walk. Author photo.
With long, silken, chestnut-colored hair, a firm will and unshakeable determination, Jacki has volunteered to coordinate the walk every step of the way through Maryland, the first time the walk has had truly comprehensive planning.
However, owing to patterns already established, once again there was confusion about meeting places. It took several hours to get the group together and then to the next camp at Elkneck State Park. Total distance for the day: 20 frustrating miles.
Elkneck State Park proved to be an oasis. Rangers at the park received the walkers warmly, waiving the usual camping fees. Behind their assigned campsite the walkers found a trail to a peninsula jutting into the Northeast River. From there they could swim and gaze out a distance to where the river’s flow joins the vast waters of Chesapeake Bay.
The largest estuary in the United States, Chesapeake Bay covers over 64,000 square miles and including parts of six states. The word Chesapeake is derived from the Algonquin word Chesepiooc, which means "Great Shellfish Bay."
Shellfish, like all of the myriad forms of life that share in the bay, are no longer in astonishing profusion. Three centuries of increasingly dense human population—and the mistaken belief that the bay and ocean are so vast that they can absorb anything that people or farms or factories may do to it—have degraded the bay's water quality and its living resources. Toxins have compromised the bay's water quality and threatened plants and animals.
In the 1970s, the Chesapeake Bay earned the unenviable distinction of developing one of planet Earth's first marine Dead Zones (hypoxia), a place where formerly thriving waters were so depleted in oxygen that they were unable to support life, resulting in massive fish kills.
Dead Zones give rise to large algae blooms, which are nourished by the runoff of farm and industrial waste throughout the watershed, and which further prevent sunlight from reaching the bottom of the bay. The resulting loss of marine vegetation has depleted the habitat for many of the bay's creatures, including oysters. Oysters serve as natural water filters; consequently their decline further reduces the water quality of Chesapeake Bay.
Dead Zones have been increasing in number and size in the world's oceans—and in the world's lakes—since the the 1970s.
Around the campfire that night at Elkneck State Park the walkers talked about the bay, and about the federal government's Aberdeen Proving Grounds (APG), a site which lies along the route the walk will travel tomorrow.
As a consequence of over seven decades of testing military weapons, including chemical weapons, and the open burning, burying, and dumping of toxic substances, APG is one of the most poisoned places in the United States of America.
Over 16,000,000 weapon projectiles of all calibers, and over 4,000,000 rounds of unexploded ordnance are lodged in sediment under the shallow Chesapeake Bay waters surrounding APG. While the area is designated by the U.S. government as a Superfund cleanup site, because of budget cuts it has not received the support necessary to deal effectively with these problems.
Out on the peninsula the walkers made prayers for this place, for all of Chesepiooc, and for all the people and creatures who have been touched or harmed by the industrial, agricultural, or military poisons in any way. According to their diverse traditions, the Sunbow pilgrims asked for spiritual help. Some of the walkers put down tobacco as an offering. Used in a knowledgeable way, tobacco establishes a direct link of communication between the person who offers it and the spiritual forces receiving. In this manner, by the Sunbow pilgrims, was it done.