Chesapeake Requiem

by Earl Swift
First sentence: “A day after the storm passed, Carol Pruitt Moore climbed into her skiff and set off for the ruins of Canaan.”
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Content: There is some swearing. It’s in the history section of the bookstore.

There is an island on the Virginia side of the Chesapeake Bay called Tangier Island. It has a small population, mostly related (at least distantly), and most of them are crab and oyster fishers. (Is fishers the right word here?) They are extremely religious (there are two churches on the island — a Methodist and an offshoot of that Methodist), and their island is being overrun by water.

Swift has visited the island a couple of times, but in 2016-2017 decided to spend a year there with the people of Tangier Island (who call themselves Tangeirmen. Even the women). The thing is: their livelihood and their island are being compromised by climate change, and yet they have a complicated relationship with the people who want to save the bay, the crabs, and the oysters. Their island is disappearing (they say it’s due to “erosion”) at an ever-faster level, and yet they don’t want to relocate (I get that) and are frustrated the government won’t build them a seawall to help shore up the island.

It’s a fascinating book.

It’s less science and more sociology: Swift takes time to help us get to know the people on the island, their thoughts and beliefs, and helps us understand the conflict they have with the conservationists. It’s easy to say the people of Tangier Island are wrong (and they are), but it’s not simple: crabbing and oystering are their livelihood, and they just want to make ends meet. It’s a fascinating dichotmoy.

It’s not a book I would have picked up without a suggestion from a friend in response to the #ReadICT challenge, but I’m glad I did. It’s fascinating.