” A Living History Lesson “
The pace of the world can be a challenging place to even the most progressive of cultures. A place that will never catch up, to the world around it, is Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Not only has the so called outside world failed to overshadow this place, but it is also where its residents don’t care what other people think of their way of life, which is to continue on as in the past.
The island has its own rhythm and the residents have a “outer banks brogue”, which I liken to the accent I have heard in many of the outlying fishing villages on Maine’s coast. The sad part for me was knowing that this island community is dying. With many of its full-time residents being over 50 years old, the younger inhabitants are leaving the island culture and not returning. What impressed me the most was the hospitality of just about everyone I met on the island, from the captain of the ferry who brought us from Crisfield, MD to Tom Horton a local writer whose home I stayed in.
The “watermen”, as the local crab fishermen are called, were unwavering in their daily ritual of trawling for crabs. I watched as a very adept but weathered septuagenarian plied his trade by dragging, and then pulling up by hand, a sea rake that entangled the crabs. Talk about back-breaking work, which is the norm around the island for both young and old, as they very rarely miss a day of work. The salt marshes seemed endless around the outer island but our guide and host Tom, easily navigated our group from Tylerton to Ewel which are the two biggest villages in this area. Tylerton, the smaller of the two, is where I stayed, was separated by an inlet from the bigger island. This separation from the mainland way of life gave me the perspective I needed to photograph this vanishing culture. The isolation permeated my vision, as the fast pace of my daily life was now acted out in slow motion, punctuated by the click of my shutter.
While dinning on crab cakes, soft shelled crabs and their famous 8 layer cake can hardly be called roughing it, you can not escape the feeling that you are witnessing history in its most unescapable form… documenting a way of life that may not be seen again, but will forever be written and read about.