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Confessions of a mudlarker: To know mud is to know the bay

After three years in the literal middle of Chesapeake Bay, doing outdoor education from Smith Island for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation during the late 1980s, I decided that if forced to sum up the experience in a word, that word would be “mud.” “Hard to forget this place once you get mud ’tween your toes,” the islanders would say. Muddy shoes, muddy clothes, muddy canoes; mud so thick and black and all-encompassing I could only see my students’ eyeballs after one memorable wallow in the marsh.

But in our over-sanitized, divorced-from-nature modern society, mud has an image problem: “his name is mud,” “muddied her reputation,” “dragged through the mud.”

So I come to speak some words for mud and muddiness, to give a shout for ooze and slime and muck. It is a noble substance, emblematic of our great estuary’s essential shallowness; the bay’s genius stemming in no small measure from its muddy bottom lying ever so close to its top.

The bay’s essential shallowness—only 20-some feet...

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