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I just finished reading Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island by Earl Swift. The author spent a year shadowing a handful of Tangier islanders and reports on the history, culture, politics, and future of the island.
The portrayal of present-day Tangiermen is about as evenhanded as can be expected from an outsiderís perspective. Swift avoids (as all too many other books about life on the Chesapeake have tiresomely done) upholding watermen as sacred salt of the earth characters pursuing their way of life as the answer to some sort of higher calling but also avoids going to the opposite extreme (as mass media articles are prone to) of portraying watermen as backwards simpletons.
As far as the political situation and existential threats facing Tangier, Swift makes a compelling case based on documentary evidence that although the island has slowly receding into the bay at least as long as itís been inhabited by man, the rate of islandís disappearance has increased substantially since the mid-1800s and that the island is creeping toward being uninhabitable by the middle of the current century.
In the debate about whether the islandís subsidence is attributable to erosion or sea level rise as the result of global warming, the author comes down pretty strongly in the sea level rise camp, citing the island as possibly one of the first of many such places about which society will need to make cost-benefit decisions about whether to save or let go.
Somewhat undercutting that premise is the factĖ as the author circles back to a few times in the text Ė that population loss will probably doom the island before water inundation finishes the job. Most of the islandís population is over 60, the number of families with children has steadily declined over the past 100 years, and of the few children who do still grow up on the island, an even smaller handful remain (or come back) to work and raise families. Building the wished-for jetties and seawalls would be easy compared to addressing the complex web of issues that cause people to be drawn away from the island.
Generally an interesting read about a place many of us have visited but few have ever really known.
Beneteau Oceanis 400
formerly Lippincott 30