You can go home

By Katy Nesbitt/The Observer October 09, 2013 02:18 pm
Someone said, “You can never go home.” Obviously, that person didn’t go to St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Before my departure to the east coast I’d been closely watching the weather forecast. A week out the forecast said 77 degrees on the day of St. Marys’ homecoming. Ah, lovely. Getting closer it was upgraded to 78, then 81, 83 and finally a whopping 86 degrees. I celebrated my arrival in St. Mary’s County, Md., with an obligatory swim in Smith Creek, a tributary to the St. Mary’s River.

Next stop, the river herself. Visits with friends to the college start at Church Point, a spit of land jutting into the river near where the first English settlers landed in two sailing vessels, the Ark and the Dove. A replica of the Dove is just a few hundred yards from our gathering point which the river is reclaiming — the concrete foundation supporting a wooden cross looks like it’s about to sail away. Rock jetties have been installed into the bed of the river at the Point, but they aren’t slowing down the erosion.

A walk around campus chasing a Frisbee is always the next item on our unofficial agenda. Some high talk was bandied about on who should be thrown into St. John’s Pond, a tradition of yore that lives on in the story telling. The deciduous forest throughout campus has just a hint of fall color — it won’t be until Halloween that the trees are in their full autumnal regalia.

Swimming in the river with its sandy bottom and relatively warm temperature is a far cry from the bracing cold and rocky shore of Wallowa Lake, but the water is brackish and in the summer infested with jelly fish. By October, the jellies are nowhere to be found.

Lazily gazing out at the river and her coastlines, I remembered that this year’s Summer Fishtrap theme is “Rivers.” In the Land of Winding Waters, it’s impossible to separate ourselves from the influence of the Imnaha, Wallowa, Lostine, Minam and Grande Ronde rivers that water our fields and provide water for salmon. Fish are symbolic of the county’s rich history, both of the Nez Perce tribe’s Wallowa band and its homesteaders, as well as a draw for local and visiting fishers and rafters.

The St. Mary River and her surroundings are like living within an impressionist painting — it’s hard to do anything but loll on a dock and dream of my happy college days here and the person she made me. She made me a river-lover and enhanced a love of nature instilled in me during my early years in the Oregon Coast Range hunting for Bigfoot and fishing for trout with a stick, yarn and a clothespin baited with a blackberry.

Though the highways and byways of Maryland throw me and a simple ride on the Metro into Washington was a bit baffling, being in Maryland’s mother county on the western shore of the Chesapeake is as close to a homecoming as I could ever ask for — except for maybe some steamed shrimp and an oyster sandwich.