Loon’s Feather

My beach hat

It’s a fool’s errand, trying to paddle on a tube. Each stroke spins the float, so attempts at forward motion just look arduous and silly. I gave up trying to get anywhere just as I noticed the pair of loons.

They’d been noticing me already, and were surprisingly nonplussed. I’m used to them being skittish even from a good distance, quick to dive away. But these two seemed to care less as I drifted closer. The female cooed a bit, preened some, gave me a look, preened some more. The male watched me calmly. This went on for what seemed like quite a while.

I came within 25 yards of them. Must’ve made quite a sight, splayed belly up atop the tube, motionless with a kayak paddle in my hands. While they regarded me, I noticed something nearby: a feather resting atop the sea’s surface, one she’d just shed.

I stayed perfectly still. We were on a collision course, the feather and I. Closer, closer, I reach down and grasp it between my thumb and forefinger. Now it’s affixed to my beach hat, a gift from a loon.

PandemArt: I Asked Our Kids to Leave Their Screens and Make Some Art, and They Did

By Van Smith

Baltimore, May 20, 2020

For our kids, an addictive screen-based existence suddenly has become essential to ongoing learning and socialization while cooped up in the house all the time due to the pandemic. This contradiction – a requisite addiction – has prompted much stress-inducing parental hand-wringing followed by a barrage of changing regulatory schemes to manage the new and troubling lifestyle. Among them has been an ongoing edict to engage in demonstrably analogue activities on the regular.

“Make some art,” I said, as I masked up and put on my helmet to go get some needed commodities. By the time I got back, they’d done exactly that.



Make Way for Ducklings!

by Van Smith

Baltimore, May 12, 2020

Five years ago today, the mallard whose ducklings had hatched in our Fells Point neighbor’s backyard all made their way up his back steps into his kitchen, across the living room, out the front door, and then, having hit the sidewalk, crossed our front door to the Anne Street wharf a half-block away, all in a hurried line, adamant to get to the water. They all plopped in, showing courage many, if not most, of us could not muster. Here’s the video.

Yesterday, this happened:

Then this:

And this:

And then, this:

She chose rush hour to get a move on with her ducklings. Even during the current pandemic, plenty of cars frequent these East Baltimore streets near Patterson Park during rush hour. So our eight-year-old and I ushered them toward the park, helping them cross streets. Some drivers were averse to our clumsy attempts to help the ducklings, but eventually, at Patterson Park Ave., where our efforts were joined by those of many other neighbors and passersby, they all got across the street and into the park, where presumably they headed toward the rowing pond.

Good times!

Baltimore’s Harbor is Inundating Fells Point Right Now

By Van Smith

Baltimore, Apr. 30, 2020

Almost a year ago I wrote a short piece for Hmm Daily about my long history of chronicling sea-level rise in Baltimore’s waterfront Fells Point neighborhood, where waterfront prosperity has all but drowned out the district’s distinct character. Just a couple of weeks ago, I posted here about a recent tidal anomaly there, with harbor water seeping up through the storm drains to fill the streets. Over the years, my ongoing interest in this inundation theme has prompted several documentary projects, including the continuing disappearance of James Island on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, first in 2007 and again in 2013.

Today, this afternoon, Fells Point is underwater again. The anomaly is not only due to a higher-than-normal tide, but also to gravity-driven rain runoff and a driving wind pushing water inland. Here are two photos conveying the situation – I tried to take many more, including of the underwater marina slips and some good perspectives from right at the water’s surface, but I misfired my iPhone camera somehow in the heavy rain.

At the eastern terminus of Thames Street, the inundation this afternoon is pretty much total, with a good few feet of harbor water covering the street.

At Wolfe and Lancaster streets, the storm drains are doing the opposite of conveying runoff into the harbor, and instead are providing harbor water with a way to fill the streets.

Addendum: I found the lost photos, and here are a few more of them.


Fells Point Rides the Rising Tide

By Van Smith

Baltimore, April 13, 2020

We’re a month into locking down in our homes due to the COVID pandemic, and taking a walk is a treasured experience. Today’s brought me down to the Baltimore harbor in Fells Point, where I expected few people thanks to the rainy day. It was noontime, just past high tide. Very few people were about, but water was everywhere. The captioned photos below tell more of what I encountered: a watery Fells Point, thanks to increasingly high waters borne on high tides on the Patapsco. Check out the third photo below – Thames Street is thorough inundated.


On Aliceanna Street, the tide comes up through a storm drain that supposed to convey stormwater into the harbor, but instead is conveying tidal water onto the streets.

That’s a storm drain with the tide rising up out of it, on Wolfe Street in Fells Point.

The foot of Thames Street in Fells Point, a place that often floods at high tide – more so now than in years past.

This fixed-dock marina now features a gangway that’s under the sea, thanks to more regular tidal anomalies brought on by sea-level rise.

This parking lot next to Aliceanna Street near the base of Washington Street in Fells Point is filling up with tidal waters from the harbor, thanks to an extreme high tide riding in on winds blowing up the Patapsco River.