Issue: December 2004
The Secret Garden

We had been anchored in our favorite spot for a couple of hours, watching the sun fall deeper into the west while to our east, a steady stream of boats motored like lemmings toward St. Michaels for the Labor Day weekend. No doubt the Crab Claw would be mobbed, as would the harbor. Out here, we were quiet and all alone, and happy to be so.

I slipped into the kayak we've started carrying on Luna and paddled toward the ribbon of beach nearby. I skimmed along just off the beach, then saw the little place I was looking for, a tiny opening in the wall of phragmites. We'd explored here before on foot. Now, with the tide on the rise, I paddled the kayak into a slit of water no more than four feet wide and half a foot deep.

It was like sliding through a door into another world.

I snaked down a skinny channel, bumping once or twice on the bottom and pushing off the reeds now and then to stay in what was the deep part-deep being loosely defined, of course. The susurrous walls of grasses and reeds brushed my arms; I remembered a rainy night, running down the narrow cobbled streets of Venice with my friends, and this tiny canal through the reeds felt strangely the same-a little wild, a little otherworldly, haunted with thousands of rustling voices.

Finally I came to the place where the narrow shoulders of green gave way to a broad bay, a secret ocean pocked with muddy continents of slowly vanishing flats. To one side, the lowering sun glinted through a fringe of reeds and grasses, where silhouetted periwinkles knobbed their way up the stems like tiny, silent El Capitan climbers. To the other, the bay gave way to low scrub and then a border about half a mile away of huge loblollies and oaks, from which came the hitching, fluted cry of bald eagles. A fledgling eagle emerged from the trees, huge and graceful, its new feathers uneven shades of mahogany and gold in the buttery late-day light. On the light evening breeze, the young bird banked and soared, testing its new freedom, its wingtips fluttering.

Ahead of me, the silent, secret marsh slowly filled with the inexorable push of tide, the current carving V's around every blade of grass it slowly overtook, the surface pricked here and there with flittering fish. Behind me I could hear the wash of waves on the beach outside-not even 100 feet away, yet a world away from me, or so it seemed.

Finally, the sun was gone. Time to leave, before the mosquitoes piranhafied me. I navigated back out the deepening channel, emerged from the hidden opening in the reeds and saw Luna standing offshore, her tall white mast like a sentinel. Beyond her, the unabated streams of boats hurried to their destinations, obliviously rushing right past the secret garden that waited quiet and unknown, and happy to be so.