Sunday, July 12, 2009

Barry Bruce, waterman

Smith Island, 2008

This short New York Times Audio Slideshow with Chesapeake Bay waterman Barry Bruce offers a lovely portrait of a man and a place.

Although I don't know Bruce personally, I recognize him as the hardworking, "salt of the earth" type that crowds the interior of Wachapreague's bait and tackle shop. Around and in Bruce, I also recognize my home ground: the salt marsh and bay landscapes, the docks and crabshacks, the marbles-in-your-mouth accent, the unquestioned appreciation of a providing God tethered to an overarching melancholy of things irrevocably changed.

It's easy to romanticize the sun-baked, hard life of a waterman, but I harbor no illusions. Crabbing is exhausting and painful work. The slideshow provides a sweet aural backdrop of lapping water and muted laughing gulls, but, in life, those pleasant sounds are marred by the irritating whine of the motor, just as the rich smell of the marsh is cut with the stench of gasoline. I don't intend, then, to sentimentalize Bruce's position, but having grown up around folks like him, the farmers and fishermen of the mid-Atlantic, it saddens me to recognize that their kind is nearing extinction. The Shore that shaped me goes with them.

Note: The Bruce slideshow is associated with a New York Times travel piece, "The Crab Houses of Maryland's Eastern Shore." This article is fine, but the slideshow, produced by Miki Meek with photographs by Karen Kasmauski, is the real gem. Watch it here.

Photo credit: Smith Island image ripped from texterella's Flickr photostream

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