• Jenny Dunaway

Lost in the Chesapeake

When I opened my eyes to look around, I realized I wasn't in Oyster Creek, anymore. In fact, I wasn't in sight of any land. I was upright and floating--that was good, at least. The rope that the boys used to tie me to the bush was still hanging from my bow but the bush was gone. I had a few inches of water inside me but my aluminum body was still intact--no noticeable new leaks.


I remembered the terror of last night's visit from Irene. It was a miracle I wasn't swamped or destroyed against a pier or rip-rap. The hurricane caused the wind to howl with an almost deafening roar. The sound of trees snapping like toothpicks is something I'll never forget. The beating of the waves somehow turned me upright when the storm surge caused the tide to pull me from the bush that was keeping me on land. The worst of the rain was over but the wind and the waves were ferrying me away from Mom and the boys...and Mikinak. Oh my, where was Mikinak?


I was not in the Rappahannock River, that was for sure. The tide was carrying me up the Chesapeake Bay, There was a piling floating in front of me and a collision was imminent. I was at the mercy of the wind, waves, and tide. My hull hit the large piling with a loud thud that vibrated me from bow to stern. I held my breath, certain I would capsize, but I floated past it. It was strangely quiet. Mom says there is a moment when the sun rises that you can hear the angels sing if you listen hard enough. She told the boys about taking her students to Fox Island, an old hunting lodge turned education center. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff would rouse all the students to go out to the dock and watch the sunrise. As you might imagine, there was some grumbling and complaining. Eighteen seventh graders are not accustomed to waking up literally at the crack of dawn. Yet, it was always one of the many magical moments of the field experience. Mom said there was a second or so of hush before the sun crossed the line of the horizon. The kids were ready to get back inside the lodge but Mom believes they will remember that special sunrise as she does.


I'm not sure I hear any angels singing this morning but I am afloat and strangely aware of my surroundings. The smells are different out here in the open Chesapeake. The water is definitely saltier. Mom has mentioned testing the pH and salinity of water to determine how many parts per ml of salt is in the sample. She frequently prattles off a favorite definition of estuary to the boys.


"An estuary is a semi-enclosed body of water into which there is a measureable mixing of fresh and saltwater."


She always emphasized the word measureable because she wanted her sons and students to develop the "habits of mind" of a scientist. That just means she wanted them to think like real scientists--to base their beliefs on concrete data. Depending on the time of year both the salinity and pH could fluctuate for many reasons...All I know is it smells different than Oyster Creek and I long for the acrid smell of a marsh at low tide.


At that moment I felt movement inside me-- something was in the canoe! I heard a muffled flutter of wings and a succession of chirps that rose to almost a deafening pitch. I recognized that sound instantly. It was an osprey! I had only heard them from a distance soaring over the Rappahannock--never this close.



"Hello?" I asked. "Are you there?" Oh, that's dumb, I thought, of course it's there. "Are you, okay?" Better question! "I'm Cattail Express or just Cattail for short."


There was a moment of silence and then more frantic fluttering. "I don't care who you are. Leave me alone.


"Are you hurt?" Cattail inquired. Silence. The lapping of the waves against the canoe was noticeably loud. "Is there something I can do to help you?"


"Just be quiet," the osprey ruffled her feathers and plumped herself as best she could. It was clear that Cattail's stowaway was not happy and more than a little grumpy. At least I'm not alone he thought.








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