Southern Sea Town Slowly Sinks (with a New York Twist)

July 24, 2008

Aram & Sandy at Smith Island pic
I have just returned from a visit of a few hours to a very special place
– one that really piqued the imagination. Smith Island is Maryland’s only inhabited offshore island. Reachable only by boat, it lies 13 miles west of Crisfield, MD, between the Tangier Sound and the Chesapeake Bay. What attracted us to visit this island is its history. It was settled in the early 1700’s by the British and, due to the isolation of the island, there is a distinctive speech pattern noted which is a holdover from the Elizabethan/Cornwall dialect. For Smith Island links click here and here (Wikipedia).

What we found was Ewell, a small, quaint fishing village, where primarily oysters and crabs are caught by the locals for sale to the mainland, connected by a mile-long road to Rhodes Point, another even smaller quaint fishing village. There is another town, Tylerton, on the island but it is only reachable by yet another boat ride and we did not partake. Rhodes Point was originally called Rogue’s Point for the pirates who frequented the location and preyed upon merchant ships in the many area lagoons. One of these pirates was, apparently, the infamous Blackbeard. That certainly got my imagination going.

Riding around the island on our bikes it was easy to imagine this place as a haven for an artist to really get away to write, paint, etc. There is little to do- there are no bars, convenience stores, movie theaters, liquor stores, fast food, boutiques, amusement parks, or laundromats- so lots of time to focus on the work at hand. Also, there is a very spacious quality as the island is very small and the surrounding water and sky are very big. The marshes that make up a large part of the island are flat and beautiful with various shades of green and yellow grasses and many varieties of birds may be seen and heard everywhere around.

The people with whom we came into contact were all friendly to varying degrees- some wave and say hi, some want to talk about where we’re from. But one resident really caught our attention. In the midst of all this fishing village motif we espied a sign that said, “The New York Experience”! The property on which it was located was festooned with arty, playful, objects and a street corner food cart like you are likely to see everywhere in many cities in the U.S. like in New York or Philadelphia. It was hard to resist finding out more, and a cup of good coffee sounded appealing, so we biked over to say hello.

There we met the energetic and loquacious Aram Polster, a tattooed transplant from New York City who moved here with his wife Miriam a few years go. Look there, and you’ll see a bicycle on the way to being completely covered with Blue Moon bottle caps. In another part of the yard is a small tree with dozens of deep blue glass bottle stuck on the ends of the branches through the opening in the neck. Several other trees had other colors of bottles. Cylindrical wire containers held still more bottles, sticking out through the openings in the wire, color coordinated so as to appear like odd bushes in the front yard of the house.

When I asked Aram (emphasis on the second syllable) if he were an artist he said he prefers to call himself an assembler. I mentioned outsider art because of the idiosyncratic nature of the objects but he objected, rightfully. We agreed, however, that the work was, indeed, outside.

Aram and Miriam have purchased another house down the road that is intended as a gallery and artist retreat. I wish them the best with this. But, if you want to go and have your creative retreat there, you better not wait too long. There is one big problem….

A sad note, but also one that stimulated my imagination was the news from Aram that Smith Island is slowly sinking into the sea- or rather, the sea is slowly rising to cover the land. The island is only one foot above sea level, so it won’t take much to lose this place. Aram said he could already see places where the land is sinking and expects that in twenty years the island may not be livable. Man made or not, here’s place where global warming and the ensuing rise of the earth’s oceans will have a devastating effect. It was impossible to ignore the tragic dimensions of this, standing on this very spot, which may well, be under water in a generation.  To go from the delightful fantasy of the artist creatively ensconced in his or her little house on this lovely island to the specter of the sinking of the island is so sad-

As we were getting ready to leave Aram handed me a coffee card, “BUY 9 CUPS AND GET THE 10th FREE!” The irony was inescapable- would I get back to this isolated island often enough to get my 10th and free cup? Will “The New York Experience” coffee stand, Aram, Miriam, and even Smith Island be here long enough for me to do so?

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In a subsequent email Aram reminded me that he and Miriam are hosting artists of various stripe who would like to find a retreat to create. You can contact him at hiddenharborretreat@gmail.com. (Tell him where you got it!) 

Bob

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Addendum, September 3, 2008

Some small island nations are tabling a resolution calling on the UN Security Council to address climate change as a pressing threat to international peace and security. Avaaz.com has offered an opportunity to sign a petition to the UN General Assembly & Security Council to take action.



2 Responses to “Southern Sea Town Slowly Sinks (with a New York Twist)”

  1. Claudia Says:

    Well Bob
    O just spent 1 1/2 hours reading the blog (very interesting) and have just scratched the surface. That is exactly why I don’t often do it. I could easily spebnd my life in front to the computer. I must get to the island before I sinks and share Cavett’s articles with H
    Claudia

  2. Aram Polster Says:

    Bob,
    Your experience with the NY Experience was just what I could have wanted! Thanks for giving us much needed exposure. Our website should be up in a few weeks! Looking forward to a creative future! Aram & Miriam (Hidden Harbor Retreat)


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