Once a Reporter, Always a Reporter

Three old things I know: Reporters should be as a fly on the wall. Once a reporter, always a reporter. Flies on walls are more attended than political spouses. Thus I blog.

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Name: Viki Volk
Location: St. George Island, Maryland

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Those Damn Watermen

Aren't they ever going to give it up? Those damn watermen, those under-educated, poorly disciplined, oddly spoken pirates, perennially accused of a willingness to take the last oyster (or crab or fish) if given half a chance.
As if to prove themselves just that bad they raise their Shakespearian voices and press their faces much too close and call their accusers bald-faced liars.
The vitriol suggests Shakespeare again, suggests they doth protest too much.
I walk a thin line here – writing about watermen. A legitimate newspaper wouldn’t let me do it. But I’m compelled, whenever I hear drums beating for those damn watermen again, when I hear government officials calling for restraint and scientists demanding more laws to prevent those pirates from taking the last living oyster of the Chesapeake. I'm compelled when the Shakespearian oratory starts up in my kitchen.
Each time officialdom drums up animosity against the watermen more empty Save the Bay promises follow and then some more money will be piddled away in yet another phony solution. At least that’s how the last 25 years have gone.
It is similar when the focus shifts to the farmer and that profession is pilloried in the name of the Chesapeake Bay. Or in the name of tobacco, as the case may be. Except, of course, the federal and state governments bought the tobacco farmers out.
Eh, eh, eh, not to go there, I walk a thin line.
Still, regardless of my biases, it seems odd to blame the aging and disappearing watermen for the death and breeding failures of the resource. I don't mean to be stupid. I get the tipping point theory; more watermen, more clever capturing devices, etc. etc. I get that they’re not angels. Trust me, I get that. I know they are pirates. I am bias. I wouldn't accuse them of taking the last oyster. I won’t have to. That oyster will be dead long before a waterman reaches it.
But putting all of that aside, if harvesting the Chesapeake Bay is the reason the life in the bay is diminishing, how come there aren't any more toad fish left? Why won’t the grasses grow? How come the eroding shoreline is filling with junk weeds?
Maybe the problem isn't actually the watermen. Or maybe their share of the problem is minuscule. Might not even be the watermen plus the farmers together. Maybe even both the watermen and farmers added together aren’t even a statistically significant portion of the problem. Maybe they're nothing but another resource being pilfered away by other mismanagement problems.
Maybe all of us recently arrived at water's edge to live and boat and spew and drain and dribble – those of us with those damn watermen in our view-shed, threatening to take our last oyster, maybe we too doth protest too much.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Swimming In Poison

Check this out. A nonprofit devoted to business expansion in the Washington D.C. region includes in its guidelines this advice, “need to refrain from disparaging other localities,” as quoted by V. Dion Haynes in a recent Washington Post Business story.

The business leaders in the greater Washington D.C. region need to be told to be polite?

Oh, my, my, my, my, my. Used to be courtesy paid off, it ranked right up there with Cleanliness and Godliness as the upward mobility route.

Not that the loss of courtesy is news, but to such an extent that grownups have to remind grownups that rudeness is acting in their own worst interests? They need to be reminded to be courteous when representing their company? Be polite when portraying themselves?

The Be Polite message always seemed to be: Act right to get your way. Act obnoxiously and you will not. Or, as my mother was fond of saying, “You attract more bees with honey than vinegar.”

Clearly that message has gone astray. Courtesy used to be an expense-neutral commodity whereas discourtesy cost opportunities and advancement. So maybe it is the results that have changed. Maybe disrespect and rudeness don’t backfire anymore. Maybe courtesy no longer reflects back upon itself.

And maybe that’s why I so often feel I’m swimming in poison.

I have wanted to write about swimming in poison for some time now but am usually so immersed, dispassionate commentary eludes me. When I’m in the pool drowning in it, it’s all I spit back out.

We make this poison out of pure meanness, I think. And I can manufacture meanness as fast as anyone. It’s rampant in the world, perhaps sparked by nothing more (or less) than unvoiced insecurities and fears. Maybe by scars left in 7th grade.

We feel like such little things in the overall scheme; cornered in our various pools of meanness and fears and misunderstandings, rarely if ever receiving recognition deserved.

It is tough to be a grownup. As Marshall McLuhan described it, “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”

Making that even more frightening, according to Buckminster Fuller’s seminal “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, “… there is one outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth, and that is that no instruction book came with it..

“Lack of instruction,” Fuller continued, “has forced us to find that there are two kinds of berries-red berries that will kill us and red berries that will nourish us.”

I’m thinking we’ve been chewing on a lot of bad berries lately.

For a variety of reasons I’ve not been picking any berries lately – to extend the metaphor – although the respite will end soon and I will be back swimming in both the Pool of the Political Spouses and the Pool of the Nonprofit Beggaries– and there is plenty of poison flowing in both those places.

I write now because the brief respite lets me ponder ways to swim across without swallowing and make resolves to add no more poison of my own. As I mourn the lack of an instruction manual to tell me how, exactly, to do those things, it strikes me that that Greater Business Leader’s Guide is exactly what we do need. Maybe that is where Spaceship Earth is right now, at a place where the best instructions we can offer is to be polite.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

As the World Warms

When the blizzard of 2009 paralyzed Washington D.C. global warming manifested – again – upon St. George’s Island.
St. George’s Island is shaped like a crab claw dangling into the mouth of the Potomac River. The spine of the chunky part of the claw is a beach facing southwest. It is separated from the smaller pincer by a gut descriptively named Island Creek. Along the other side of the island the pincher crumbles into marsh and the larger St. George’s Creek.
It’s a lovely island made particularly picturesque as snow fell the weekend before Christmas. Surely the falling was equally picturesque in Piney Point – the other side of the bridge – and on up the 50 miles to D.C. However, unlike those towns to the north, St. George’s Island did not remain picturesque on the ground. Upon impact the snow turned to brackish puddles which grew into inland seas – some of which never fully recede anymore.
That’s something new.
Flooding isn’t new to St. George’s Island. When the wind blows hard East, across the mouth of the Chesapeake, the tide rises but does not completely fall. Ultimately this floods the creeks and marshes; on St. George’s Island typically a couple times in autumn and occasionally in spring.
For my first two decades here, the phenomenon merely flooded a small stretch of road, little more than a spillway of asphalt, between St. George’s and Island creeks. For the first few years traversing the flooded spillway required driving slowly so the water didn’t splash into the car’s engine. Within the past 15 years a trapped tide can get so high only the tips of tall marsh grass indicate the asphalt's edges.
Still, this was not considered a big deal by true Islanders.
In the late 1980s, St. George Islanders’ living memories recalled storms that tore away farm fields, their schoolhouse and ball fields, hotels and homes. These were rare, monumental storms, some on par with the disastrous Hurricane Isabella (2003).
Prior to Isabella only three storms had carried water across this yard. But since then water has flowed across the yard and beneath my house a couple times a year.
It used to be only backed-up tides could flood the island. Fresh water, no matter how long it rained, drained into the surrounding tidal waters. As long as the tide fell, water drained off the island. Even with land a mere two feet above sea-level – like this yard is (was?) – it takes a lot of water to raise sea-levels two full feet. Up until then, up until two full feet of tide had backed up, rain drained.
But the rain pools now. I don’t see that two-foot elevation anymore. The snow melted upon contact with the pools already so slow to freeze they must be brackish.I am thinking of replacing the azaleas with aquatic vegetation.
I wasn’t always so cavalier. I used to harangue about the loss of wetlands and development incentives on fragile landscapes. I was so active an activist. I would forget I lived in a glass house. I could even forget Walt Kelly’s rejoinder:
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
No matter how we couch it, that is the truth.
So pushing it out of my mind with new gardening strategies is getting tougher with each tidal slap of the pilings beneath me. My home has become a glass lighthouse.
With such an encompassing vantage, haranguing is getting harder, too. As is obvious from this watery perch, there’s no one left to harangue.
So I grow cavalier. It’s nearly imperative to become cavalier, just to go down with any dignity whatsoever.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

7th Grade Girls and 5th Grade Boys

To start 2010 on a positive note – given that we learn more from failure than success – I advocate looking at the debacles of the Decade of the Aughts as a series of Hard Lessons Hard Learned and puting them to work improving the upcoming Betwixt and Be-Teen Years.

Who among survivors of the Aughts can’t cough up a couple Hard Lessons Hard Learned? Who among us, just for example, hasn’t learned a financial lesson or two?

Something else I learned about the Debacle Decade was that seventh grade girls and fifth grade boys ran it. This seems to me to be an obstacle to getting the job done. Whatever the job is.

The labels are neither age nor gender exclusive. My debacles of the past decade include old men back-stabbing on a caliber unequaled by anyone less than a seventh grade girl and young professional women beating their chests like fifth grade bullies atop whatever mound on whatever playground happened to be designated top-of-the-hill. And I saw -- and participated in -- all manner of behavior in between. My lesson hard learned? I'm still a seventh grade girl.

I was in student council in 7th grade in the mid 1960s. Back then it was called junior high, as though the adults were merely prepping us for the Real Thing. I also wrote for school publications – writing being my single gifted talent. I received recognition for writing, but since competition was sparse – a lot of people actually don't like to write – I was dismissive of those recognitions; but I was very proud to hold the popularly-elected council seat. Winning that seat displayed a second-tier of popularity.

In junior high, first tier for girls was cheerleader, a competition I lost annually.

In junior high the tiers didn’t apply to the boys – whichever boys the first tier girls went steady with were the first tier boys. But fifth grade boys were still king of the hill. Girls weren’t yet of consuming interest. Holding one’s own in the playground was paramount and could still be achieved by fairly blunt force. Fifth grade is pretty much the end of the pushing and shoving games permitted children – tag, snowball fights that deteriorated into faces in the snow, war. Fifth grade, at least for boys, if you ran fastest or climbed highest or pushed to the ground the most other boys, you held a place on the hill.

My Debacle Decade was populated with both those seventh grade girls and fifth grade boys loosed upon the playground without an adult in sight.

Everything from a neighborhood association meeting about where to locate the fire hydrant to a council discussion regarding where to place the line to the hydrant to a state legislature debating how much water can be allocated to the line to proposed federal guidelines to assure the water is safe – everything I could see during my Debacle Decade was conducted by seventh grade girls and fifth grade boys.

No matter the stated mission for the gathering, the energy was spent positioning and assessing ourselves in relation to everyone else who was also positioning and assessing.Seventh grade girls. Fifth grade boys. A lot of energy was spent but not a lot got done. The mission itself lent little more to the effort than a title for the agenda:

Wednesday Night Association Meeting about Fire Hydrant Location.

Proposal to Extend County Water Line.

Legislation to Withdraw from State Aquifer.

Health Care Reform ... I’m just saying ...

The world as we know it is crumbling about us and we’re worried about how we look and where we place within an imagined hierarchy. We worry about how it plays to the folks back home; about the next election; about who on the committee can help pull us farther up the hill. We’re so worried about these things we have become unable to get done even our most basic agenda items. These behaviors – just as in fifth and seventh grade – have become not merely a collection of human impulses but ends unto themselves: becoming the most popular; becoming the most important.

So that is one of my Hard Lessons -- being the most popular still doesn't get the job done. So what to do with the Hard Learned to address the Betwixt and Be-Teen approaching? Maybe reduce my craving for popularity. Get back to the business of writing. Since not that many people actually like to do it, maybe some of it is being left undone.