Friday, May 13, 2011

The Severn River Association’s First Century

It takes many years to save a river
It seems odd, but the Severn River Association is the oldest group in the United States dedicated to the preservation of a river. You’d figure that honor would fall to some group affiliated with John Muir.

On April 29, 1911, 32 wealthy white men from Baltimore who owned summer homes along the Severn River got together and started the Severn River Association. Their primary mission was to stock the river with fish, prevent watermen from poaching and upgrade Ritchie Highway so they could get to their getaway cottages a bit more easily. The first president of the group was the colorfully named P.M. Womble, who ran the show for 20 years.

I succeeded Womble as president many years later, from 1995 to 1997, a hectic time when growth and development started to change the face of the Severn. I have many fond memories of battles lost and won during those days. It has been years since I got together with those old friends. When current president Bob Whitcomb asked me to attend the 100th anniversary gala at the Calvert House, I was a little surprised because I hadn’t thought about the Association for many years.

I am glad that I went.

The highlight of the party was the film Moving Water: 100 Years of Fighting for the Severn. For the fascinating documentary chronicling the Association’s history, Naval Academy professor and Chesapeake Bay Blues author Howard Ernst teamed up with longtime Herald Harbor resident Charlotte Lubbert.

Next, six past presidents spoke for a few minutes about what each had tried to do and how they thought the rive was faring today.

I spouted some gibberish about how everyone needs to work together if we are ever going to save the Severn. All the presidents agreed that the Severn was in pretty bad shape and relentlessly under siege. By the time the last speaker got up, I was feeling a bit blue.

Cliff Andrew, president from 1984-1989, changed the tune:

“As I began preparation of my remarks for this evening’s Centennial Celebration, I mentioned to a friend that the Severn River Association was marking its 100th Anniversary this month.

“He commented, Oh, that’s great; just look at the river; what have they accomplished in 100 years?

“I replied, ‘Well, a lot!’

“Tonight I have time to identify only a few of those accomplishments; and I want to pay tribute to a dozen individuals — many of whom are no longer with us — who in the process of fighting for this river in the mid 1980s I met and came to know and love: people like Bill Barry, Marshall Dowling, Jan Hollmann, Colby Rucker, Lina Vlavianos, John Kabler, Robin Ireland, Stu Morris, Marion Warren, Charles Iliff, John Sherwood and Ned Hall, as well as the six gentlemen with me on this podium tonight.

“If not for these men and women,” he went on:
The Severn would not be a state-designated Scenic River.
There would be no 1,300-acre Severn Run Natural Area.
There would now be a Marriott Hotel on College Creek.
There would have been no Operation Clear Run or Clearwater.
There would be no strict, county-enforced sediment control.
There would not be a Severn River Commission.
There would be no Severn River Land Trust permanently protecting over 1,000 acres by conservation easement in the Severn River watershed.
The Critical Areas law would not exist.
There would be no 9,000-acre Patuxent Wildlife Refuge.
And there would be no Scenic Rivers Land Trust with another 1,000-plus acres of land permanently protected through private conservation easement in the South, West, Rhode, Herring Bay and Patuxent rivers watersheds.”

I had convinced myself for the last decade that my time with the Severn River Association, while not wasted, was of dubious value. I was wrong. Fighting for a river is a noble cause. But it is often difficult to see the tangible results when surrounded by so much doom and gloom.
I think it’s like planting a tree. There is instant gratification when you first get your hands dirty. But then you forget about the tree until you happen to stumble upon it one day, and it’s all grown and climbing gracefully into the sky. I realize now that it takes many years to grow a stately tree … and to save a river.

© COPYRIGHT 2010 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 28 - Part II

He didn't have to wait for an answer because he suddenly heard the warning rattle of a snake in the darkness to his right. Dwayne spun around and let loose with two shotgun blasts as fast as he could pull the trigger and pump the stock. The noise of the explosions were like cannon shots going off inside a barrel. The smell of cordite and sulfur filled the air. Dwayne bent down and hastily picked up Linda, sleeping bag and all, and threw her over his shoulder. He straightened up unsteadily and pumped a fresh shell into the chamber and fired off another blast in the general direction of the last.

      His fire was met with a return volley of shots that sprayed the rocks and bushes all around them.  The muzzle flash from Saunders' gun had been plainly visible a hundred feet away in a scrub-oak thicket. Dwayne aimed the shotgun at gut level and fired off another round as he took off running.

      Linda couldn't see what was happening; she hung over Dwayne's left shoulder and watched the dull gray ground go by, feeling helpless as a baby.

      Dwayne thought there was a good chance that he had winged Saunders, but there was no way to be sure.  He headed straight for a large juniper tree which grew along the back wall of the canyon, where his back would be guarded by the lofty Buttes.  If he and Linda could work their way back up the talus slope and take refuge at the overlook where he had first spied the camp, then they would be relatively safe. Dwayne's body gave out as he reached the juniper and he collapsed to his knees, dumping Linda headfirst into the sand. His chest heaved as he squinted his eyes and anxiously looked back over his shoulder. The coast seemed clear.

      "Dwayne, cut my hands free," whispered Linda urgently. "That bastard tied me up so I couldn't get away, and it hurts like hell. Please get me out of these damn ropes."

      "Saunders could hit us again at any second and I need to reload," said Dwayne as he untied Linda's hands. "Get yourself ready to move. Can you handle a gun?"

      Linda rubbed her numb wrists. "Yeah, I've fired a shotgun before. I used to go duck hunting with my dad."

      Dwayne began feeding shells into the magazine of the shotgun. "I thought you loved birds?"

      "I do," agreed Linda as she slid free of the sleeping bag. "And some of 'em I even love to eat."

      Dwayne finished reloading and jacked a live round into the firing chamber. "That's the kind of birdwatching I like best, too." He handed the shotgun to Linda. "The safety's off and it's ready to go. Now hug that tree and use it as a shield. If you see Saunders coming, wait 'til he gets in range before you fire, and then you aim for his chest. That way you can be sure he won't keep coming. You have to pump it after every shot, and you got six to give. Here's a box of shells just in case something happens to me."

      "Where are you going?" asked Linda in a tone of voice which indicated she wasn't too thrilled with the idea of him leaving.

      "I'm climbing right up there." He pointed at the hill of loose rock behind them. "I'm going up that talus slope to an overlook. It's how I got in here without him catching me."

      "You called him Saunders. How do you know his name?"

      Dwayne shook his head. "It's a long story, and we're gonna have to save it for later. Right now I just want to get to higher ground and find out what's happening. I'll still be right above you. I’ll never be out of earshot. Okay?"

      Linda smiled bravely. "If you say so."

      "That'a girl." He squeezed her hand and then took off.

      Linda sat peering out at the moonlit landscape for the next thirty minutes, waiting for Saunders to show again. She stared into the moonlit darkness, her eyes straining to see the homicidal psychopath who had been seconds away from strangling her. Rage washed over her like a wave. Saunders had terrorized her for so long now that she had moved beyond fear and self-preservation, and into the realm of seething revenge.

      She heard a sudden noise behind her and turned and fired into the back wall of the narrow canyon.

      "WHOA! It's me!" screamed Dwayne. "Don't shoot!"

      Linda lowered the shotgun in embarrassment. "I'm sorry, Dwayne, I thought it was Saunders."

      "Saunders is gone! I just watched him barrel-ass out of here in his truck. He took off in a real big hurry, heading south on the House Rock Valley Road. I 'spect our Mr. Saunders is hit, I betcha he's hurt pretty bad. Otherwise, he'd've stuck around and tried to finish us off."

      "He told me about some big burial site they were digging up on the Paria Plateau – some place called Pinnacle Ridge."

       "That's about ten miles southeast of here."

      "Saunders has Jenny and he's making her dig the site for him. The way he talked, there were some other men up there with him, too, but he didn't get specific. He said that Jenny was leading the dig. I know that doesn't make any sense, but that's what he told me. The guy's as crazy as a loon, Dwayne. I mean, completely out of his mind. He was about to kill me when you showed up. You saved my life!"

      "Not yet, I didn't.  We've gotta get our butts out of this box canyon right now. If he's got company up there on the Paria, then he might send 'em back down here after us. We've gotta get while the gettin's good. So let's go. And how 'bout puttin' the safety on that shotgun."

      "I already did, Dwayne. Jesus, I'm sorry. I could have killed you."

      "Well, at least I don't have to worry anymore about whether or not you can shoot the gun, huh? Come on, Annie Oakley, let's ride."

      Back at camp, Linda grabbed her down jacket. "Let me get some things from out of my truck and I'll be ready to go." Linda let out a startled gasp. "Oh Christ, look what that bastard did to my truck! He slashed all my tires!"

      Dwayne walked over to inspect the damage. "Saunders might be crazy, but he ain't stupid. And I betcha we'll find that he put my truck out of commission, too, along with the radio. Goddamnit! I could have nailed his truck when I first got here, but I didn't even think of it. I was so worried about finding out how you and Jenny were I wasn’t thinking straight. Course, he'd still be here if I had knocked out his truck, so maybe it's just as well. Can't say I'm sorry to see him gone."

      When they checked Dwayne's truck, they found that Saunders had stolen the distributor cap and slashed all the wiring to the radio.

      "I'm afraid we'll have to hoof it, Linda. I've got a couple gallon canteens of water in the bed of the truck. Jason'll be out here by tomorrow morning. If I don't call in, he'll know there's been some sort of trouble here."

      "So, what do we do between now and then?" asked Linda. She laid her shotgun on the tailgate and adjusted her canteen.

      "The main thing right now is to get away from here. Hell, we might even get lucky and find someone driving down the main road, 'though I doubt it at this time of night."

      "If somebody comes along, how will we be able to tell whether or not its Saunders or his men?"

      "I saw his truck, remember?"

      "But what if he's in one of the other guys' truck?"

      "Good point," agreed Dwayne. "I guess we don't hitch any rides."

      Linda grabbed Dwayne’s elbow. "Look, I'm sick of running from this shithead. He's got Jenny up there on Pinnacle Ridge, and God only knows what he's doing to her. You said the place isn't that far away. I think we should go after Saunders. He'll never expect that; maybe we can get lucky and take him by surprise. You did it once already. If he doesn't get off the Paria real quick, he's going to get caught. He's not going to leave a witness like Jenny alive.  Believe me, Dwayne, I've heard this guy's views on life and death, and he'll kill anyone who knows who he is. That's why he killed Ken."

      Dwayne's mouth dropped open. "How the hell do you know about that?"

      "Yeah, Saunders was nice enough to give me the details; he made it sound like he was putting a dog to sleep. The way he sees it, he's doing a person a favor by killing them. That way they get to live forever. How can you deal with that kind of madness?"

      "I know a shortcut up onto the plateau. It's an old cattle trail that's too sandy to drive – nobody uses it anymore – but it'll be easy on foot. It'll save us a couple miles, and Saunders and his boys'll never look for us to come in from the east side of Pinnacle Ridge. But, the turnoff to the trail is about five miles down House Rock Valley Road, which means we'll be out in the open for at least the next couple hours, and that's exactly where those fellas are gonna be looking for us. Count on it."

      Linda picked up the shotgun and angrily popped in a shell. "And we'll be looking for them, too, Cowboy."

      Dwayne shook his head and chuckled. "You're something else, girl." He picked up a full canteen and draped it over his shoulder. Leaning over the bed of the truck, he used his finger to print PINNACLE RIDGE on the dusty back window of the pickup.

      "That'll tell Jason where we've gone."

      Dwayne and Linda walked down the sandy road together, the moonlight illuminating the way. It was nearly midnight.

      "It'll be dawn before we get where we're going, Linda."

      Linda clapped Dwayne affectionately on the back. "Just think about how good we're going to feel when we sneak up on those bastards. I can't wait to see Saunders' face."

      A lone coyote sitting on top of the Paria Plateau cut loose with a baleful howl, quickly answered by a chorus of high-pitched wails from all around the valley. It was a unsettling sound to a cowboy; Dwayne felt surrounded by the unseen enemy. The devil dogs were out hunting by the light of the moon and the scent of blood was on the wind.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 28 - Part 1

As Dwayne neared Bighorn Buttes camp, he began to slip into a deep funk. The moon was just starting to climb above the Paria Plateau and the Camel Rocks were highlighted against the nighttime skyline like giant sentries. Dwayne could almost see the rocks breathe. This dead-end canyon would make the perfect trap. Dwayne had spent the year 1970, fighting for his life and country in the sweltering jungles of Vietnam and he knew all about stumbling into deadly ambushes. And as he drove from Fredonia to House Rock Valley, Dwayne had become more and more convinced that he was entering a war zone. Saunders killed Professor Jarvis while searching for the location of Linda Joyce. If Jarvis knew where she was camping, then so did Saunders.

      Dwayne pulled over and parked the government truck; he felt much safer walking into danger than driving. He had hunted since he was ten and he could stalk prey in this type of country as well as any man. He was armed with a 12-gauge Remington over and under, and a nickel-plated 44-magnum in a holster on his hip. They were close-order weapons, which was precisely the way Dwayne intended to fight: up close & personal.

      He put on his dark green parka and stuck a box of shotgun shells in one pocket, filling the other with stubby 44-caliber rounds. The rising moon would make his task more tricky, but Dwayne planned to walk back up the road about a half-mile or so, and come around to the camp in a big half-circle, hugging the base of the Buttes. It might take Dwayne a while to get where he really wanted to go, but he was going to arrive there alive. If the girls were okay, then they would all have a good laugh on ol' Dwayne.

      As his eyes became accustomed to the light, he noticed the outline of another vehicle parked a hundred feet away in the shelter of a small grove of pinyon pine trees. Dwayne raised his shotgun and made his way in that direction. Every one of his senses was tuned to the unexpected, but the only sound he heard was the rhythmic buzzing of a Shoshoni locust in search of a mate. The vehicle was a black GMC pickup, probably Saunders' truck. If Saunders was still here, Linda and Jenny might still be alive. He jotted down the truck's license number on his forearm. Dwayne was suddenly reminded of the Army custom of pocketing dog tags before going into battle, so that the graves registration people would know who they were dealing with.  Hopefully, Jason would find the tag number and use it to track down Saunders if Dwayne ended up getting killed tonight.

      He retreated back down the road, looking for tracks, and scanning the perimeter as he followed the two-track road away from Bighorn Buttes. Fifteen minutes later, he was well away from Linda’s camp. As he left the road, he was forced to slow his pace through the irregular groupings of cactus and sagebrush. He could see the obstacles clear enough in the moon glow, but only as long as he moved slowly.

      Grand Canyon rattlers did their hunting at night, usually lying motionless underneath the natural ground cover. It was a myth that rattlesnakes always rattled their tails before striking. Sometimes they did. But just as often, they didn’t make a sound. Walking through a high desert at night, when the moon was high, was like walking through a mine field. Dwayne kept his eyes glued to the ground. The terrain sloped gently uphill to Bighorn Buttes, and after about fifteen minutes he was finally standing on bare rock at the base of the looming sandstone cliffs. His boots made a loud clip-clap sound on the hard rock and he found himself wishing that he was back on the soft sand again. He stepped gingerly and crouched low. Below him, there ran a dry wash whose sandy bottom sparkled in the moonlight like water. A rabbit broke from the cover of a fourwing saltbush and took off down the sandy creek bed in a flash.

      Dwayne could see that he was slowly gaining elevation; he was now at the same height as the tops of the two sentinel rocks where Linda was camped. He couldn't see down into the floor of the canyon; but by the same token, Saunders wouldn't be able to see him, either. He began traversing the series of talus slopes which drained off the thousand-foot high stone walls. The ground gave under his weight and tiny rocks slid down the steep slopes in tinkling mini-avalanches. He sand-skied to where the drainage slides funneled together and leveled off, forming a finely polished pour-over spout. He crept up to the edge of the precipice and cautiously peered over the side. There, almost directly beneath him, was Linda's camp.

      The moon lit the valley floor in a weird parody of daylight; everything could be seen, but it was like looking through a milky lens. Dwayne spotted Linda's truck, and nearby he could make out the faintest wisps of smoke rising off a smoldering camp fire. Jenny's government rig was nowhere in sight. Beside the fire Dwayne saw a large, dark shape that looked like someone in a sleeping bag, but there was no movement. He cradled his shotgun and crouched down, smelling the pungent odor of sage as he stared down into the silent camp. Somewhere down there, Saunders was waiting for him, like a hungry rattlesnake in hiding.

      So far, everything had gone pretty well; he had managed to get close enough to the camp to see what was going on, and he apparently hadn't been spotted yet. But Saunders had to have heard him arrive; as soon as he saw Dwayne's government truck, he'd know that someone official was playing hide and seek with him. Dwayne figured Saunders would move to high ground, probably somewhere around the Camel Rocks. Dwayne carefully studied the two monoliths, but if Saunders was there, he was well-hidden.

      Dwayne stood up quickly and made his move. He stepped over the edge of his rocky perch and skied down the treacherously loose rock slide, banging his shins several times on embedded boulders. He hit the canyon bottom on the dead run, and didn't stop until he was safely behind the cover of a large juniper tree. He grimaced in pain as he rubbed his bruised legs. There was no telling whether Saunders had heard him make his sudden entrance, and there was no way that Saunders would have expected him to come in from the backside of the canyon. Even if he had heard Dwayne, he probably had to change position. Dwayne wasn't going to give him time to regroup.

      He could see smoke hanging lazily in the air about a hundred feet away. He took a deep breath and began darting like a rabbit from tree to tree, his shotgun at his hip. Running in sand with cowboy boots on was not easy, and he almost pitched headlong into the dirt several times. At one point, he heard a rattler sound its tail alarm, no more than a few feet away, and he nearly pissed his pants.

      He burst into camp and rushed over to the motionless sleeping bag by the fire. Dwayne turned the bag over and almost shouted for joy when he saw that it was Linda. She was still alive!

      Linda's eyes widened in amazement. She grunted and groaned as she kicked at the clinging sleeping bag. Dwayne removed Linda's gag, cupped his hand over her mouth, and spoke in a hushed whisper.

      "Now listen, Saunders is probably real close, so we've got to be quiet and we've gotta get moving. You understand?"

      Linda nodded her head.

      Dwayne removed his hand from Linda's mouth. "Where's Jenny?"

      "He's got her someplace up on the Paria Plateau where they're raiding an Anasazi pueblo.  He's had her since yesterday. She never showed up here like she was supposed to."

      Dwayne frowned with confusion. "You don't know where Saunders went, do you?"