Let’s Be Shore – Kate Livie

Let’s Be Shore is a Maryland Humanities Council’s Eastern Shore public engagement project. They’re on a grassroots mission to engage with Shore residents on topics surrounding water quality.  They’re looking to have conversations, and generate public discussions – about issues relevant to the Shore like land use, agriculture, growth and more.

They started by collecting oral histories and video portraits of Shore stakeholders – and have a collection of this information on their website. Then, on the Shore, they’ve created “sharing stations” that have been spotted in all kinds of local venues recently, like festivals, farmers markets and town events – the Nanticoke River Jamboree, the Delmarva Chicken Festival in Salisbury…..they’re everywhere.

Each sharing station has a large poster with quotes from locals of the region, talking about what matters to them. Walking past, it’s likely that people will recognize the face of a neighbor or co-worker – and stop to read and understand their perspective. Let’s Be Shore wants us to consider these quotes, and the video portraits of regional stakeholders on their website – as starting points. Listen, watch, think and share our perspectives.

To that end, each sharing station is equipped with postcards depicting Shore landscapes. We’re invited to grab a postcard and write our comments about the issue. Later this summer, a series of public forums will help move these conversations to that next step. Right now, their goal is to bring everyone to the table.

I chose a postcard with chickens and made some comments about the poultry industry on Delmarva – a topic I don’t know much about, am wary about, though I intend to learn more.

The Let’s Be Shore website – has accumulated a lot of interviews so far. At present, there are 7 video portraits of Shore citizens – each some 3-5 minutes long. The video portraits represent a broad range of viewpoints – from Riverkeepers to golf course developers, poultry farmers to watermen. I’ll be showing those videos, and including some of those interviews here – to give you a different and in-depth look at what’s happening on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

We’ll start with Kate Livie – Education Director at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, incredible teacher, inspiring and engaging. She’s the kind of gal you just want to hang around. Born and raised…well, heck – let me give you her story in her own words.

Here they are:

“Tell me some words that described the Chesapeake Bay,” I say to the group of students clustered in an Indian-style semi-circle at my feet. They wave their hands, eager to respond, and as I point to each in turn, they share their one-word assessments:
“Brown.”
“Brackish.”
“Polluted.”
“Sick.”
“Dirty.”
“Crabs!”
As I listen to these kids describe the Chesapeake they’re familiar with, I remember opening my eyes underwater in the Chester River as a child, like them. The water swirled with eddies of sediment, and my hands, parting the current before me, looked as pallid as the underbelly of a perch. Emerging from the waterside, my sister and I would look at each other and laugh: silt moustaches, like the remnants of a glass of chocolate milk, would cling to our upper lips as a thick particulate ring.  I wouldn’t have described the Chesapeake I knew then as dirty, even though it was, or polluted. I would have said, “swimming,” or “crabbing,” or “fun.”  All of my associations with the Bay came from first-hand experiences, and most of them were magical: swimming at Cacaway Island, waiting with a dipnet for a dangling jimmy to emerge on a slow trotline, screaming into the wind as the Whaler plowed through rolling wake at the turn on Devil’s Reach.  Listening to my students at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland,  I’m struck by two things: how far away most kids today are from the intimate and wonderful relationship I enjoyed with the Chesapeake as a child, and the inevitable question: will my grandchildren know even a shadow of the Bay I love?

  The author trotlining on the Chester River as a kid.

I know I’m a rarity around here these days––a professional young adult committed to making the Eastern Shore my permanent home. So many of us from the next generation have moved away to follow jobs and the promise of opportunity, but a number of young folk have listened to the siren call of our roots and come back to settle in our hometowns. It’s a compromise, of course. You give up big concerts and ethnic food and the promise of a plethora of well-paying professional opportunities for the languid summer days, familiar faces and crooked brick sidewalks of home.

There is never a day that I doubt my decision–it just feels right. Watching an ombre sunset of oranges and pinks over the salt meadows at Eastern Neck Island, I know continuing my family’s legacy along the Chester and deepening my roots was an inevitability rather than a choice. But accepting my place in the line of six generations of Bay residents comes with responsibility as well as rewards. At this watershed point in history (all puns intended), how will we Chesapeake people shape the future of the Eastern Shore we love so well?

          Storm clouds hover over Eastern Neck Island. Photo by author.

As the director of education at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, this thought is a constant thread through the weft of my professional as well as personal life.  Just as our lives along the Bay’s edges are defined by the constant presence of the Bay and its tributaries, so too is the Chesapeake Bay increasingly defined by the people living in its watershed.  Our population swells with each successive decade in the area surrounding the Bay, and in response, the quality of the water, and abundance of wildlife, and the lush acreage of marsh meadow both above and below the waterline attenuate accordingly.

When you live on the Eastern Shore, the signs are hard to ignore because they’re everywhere. If we haven’t yet reached the tipping point from which we can never return, we soon will. Every summer, the dead zones, fed by a thick blanket of human, animal, and chemical waste, stretch their suffocating boundaries farther– and the fish they kill float tumescently on the water when I run my dogs out at Sassafras. The oyster population, once one of the Bay’s keystone animals, hovers at one percent of its original number– and the native oysters we shuck at Thanksgiving are thick and furrowed with MSX and Dermo.  Even watermen, in my childhood as natural and expected a part of the Bay landscape as the blue heron, have been forced away from the coves and creeks where they once made their daily bread. Nowadays, just a few communities struggle on, and people come to museums like mine to see the tools and traditions that watermen developed in response to the thriving ribbons of life that used to pulse through the estuary.

But in spite of everything, and even if the words my students use to describe the Bay they know are accurate, it isn’t too late for us to change. It isn’t past the point where we can all agree that maybe we’re going about this the wrong way. There needs to be a balance between what is sustainable for us as humans, and what is sustainable for the Chesapeake’s environment. Ideally the balance would weigh both goals, human and environmental, as equally important. It’s an approach that makes sense, especially when you consider how irrevocably entangled we are now, and have always been, with our landscape in the Bay.

I believe the first step towards finding that harmonious balance is to foster that old Bay magic I know so well from my childhood as a semi-aquatic creature.  It’s not really about turning off light bulbs, or recycling, or making sure that your toilet saves water, despite what all those ‘Save the Bay’ campaigns have told you. That can come later. The first step toward Chesapeake stewardship is first and foremost about feeling a passionate sense of respect and regard for this Eastern Shore place where we’ve been so lucky to settle. By awakening engagement in the people that live in the watershed, and encouraging the feeling in individuals that the Bay is just a little bit theirs alone to treasure, we can encourage stewardship. Those opportunities to spark a connection with the land and water are easy enough to find, too: they’re present in every osprey whistle, every snapping turtle laying eggs in your driveway, and every lunge of the crab’s claws as it hides under your picnic table to avoid the cookpot.  Because its those moments that make this Eastern Shore place worth saving: for our kids and for ourselves.


Kate Livie is a Chestertown resident who is also the director of education at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, where she has worked in various capacities since 2008.

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~ by kbosin on July 11, 2012.

5 Responses to “Let’s Be Shore – Kate Livie”

  1. Kathy,
    Thanks for this post and for letting me know about the Let’s Be Shore project. Katie Livie confirms that people care most about places when they belong to them.
    Anne

  2. Kate’s thesis is spot-on: the first step towards saving the Bay is locating and energizing a cross-section of Chesapeake stakeholders willing to serve in a broader effort of public outreach and advocacy for developing smarter policies for how we live and use the Bay watershed. When the problem is so very large, as in millions of people living in 6 states, the solution will necessarily be spearheaded by a corps of dedicated and motivated leaders engaging the public on a myriad of politically difficult issues and willing to “fight the good fight”.

  3. What a fantastic project Kathy, thanks for bringing it to my attention! Kate is definitely a rarity as a native, but she’s the voice of a generation & not alone. Since I moved here in 2009, I’ve met so many young professionals who live on the Shore & understand sustainability. Some friends make their living doing work related to the environment, but others are computer programmers, lawyers, accountants, teachers and now able to live here and telecommute. There is a sense of urgency about the Bay and a “let’s do something now” mentality. I have to continue to believe that the tide is turning and we can make a difference. Thanks for this post & your commitment to a series, I will follow & share.

  4. [...] Shore native’s description of swimming in the Chester River as a child was featured on A Chesapeake Journal last [...]

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