Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Magothy River: Part of My Map

Growing up in Severna Park, water has always been an important part of my life. Everyone in Severna Park lives only a few miles from either the Magothy River or the Severn River, both of which feed into the Chesapeake Bay. My house is a small rancher built by my great-great grandparents. Certainly there are nicer houses in well-landscaped communities, but my family finds magic at our house in its view of the Magothy. My brother and I grew up belly-flopping off my uncle's pier next door—much as my mother did a few decades before. Most days, the sun rises over the river, shimmering on little waves and on the wake of early boaters, but other days the river blends into gray sky and lightening reflects off the water and seems to surround the house. During hurricanes, the river swells and creeps up the beach and then to the hill toward our house. Hurricane Isabelle caused the Magothy's waves to grow large and white-capped as ocean waves. Next door, my uncle's pier was completely covered by water. We had removed all the kayaks from the beach, but our neighbors' boats, left on boat lifts, were in danger of being swamped. When the worst of the storm had passed, my family stood at the top of the hill in front of our house looking over the gray river rising toward us. It was already halfway up the hill and our neighbor's yard, lower than ours, was already a bog. When I was little, I once went crabbing in that yard from a trampoline after a hurricane, but I was too young to be impressed by the power of the storm and the river. Standing on the hill after Isabelle, I realized how powerful the Magothy is. Normally, the river is calm, perfect for boating, floating, resting. Sometimes, deer swim across at night and there are hoof prints on the beach—or at least, that is what my uncle told my brother and me when we were young and the story stuck. The river holds a restorative power for me and being near the water helps me maintain balance in my life. The hurricane made me realize that in addition to its restorative properties, the river can also be destructive. During the hurricane, the river had a current and waves strong enough to destroy and carry away the bulkhead protecting the hill. I had a new respect for the river that I swam in and I felt connected with the family members who lived here before me and witnessed the same beauty and power in the river. My father gets frustrated with the upkeep of the beach, but he is not connected by blood to the river like my mother is. It is her family who has been here for over a century and it must be from her whom I get my need of the river. Being near water, and everything good and bad that goes with it, makes me feel connected to everything else in the world. I respect the river for its gifts and for the power it has. Living where my family has lived for so long gives me roots. It is comforting to know that the river I see every morning is the same river my great-grandmother saw everyday. The Magothy River gives me a sense of belonging.

Albert Wendt, in his lecture "Pacific Maps and Fiction(s): a Personal Injury," explores the alienation and "condition of exile" (59) that haunts Western thought. Wendt describes a conflict of native tribes and colonizing Pakeha juggling for influence and sense of belonging in Polynesia. He discusses maps of all kinds: geographical, emotional, imposed, dream, mythological. The Magothy River is a central feature on my map, which is not (especially since I have a horrible sense of direction) entirely geographic, but includes family lines, academic paths, and highways and dead ends my heart and dreams have reached. Just as the Magothy is a prominent feature of my map, the Pacific region dominates Wendt's map. He admits, "I won't pretend I know the Pacific in all her manifestations…no one ever will because whenever we think we've captured her, she has already assumed new guises. The love affair is endless and intriguing because she is always changing, yet she is, she is herself, the Pacific" (61). The changing face of the Pacific makes Wendt realize that memory is subjective. No one will ever have the same memories of a place because of the tricks of time: once a memory is captured, the thing remembered has already been changed. "One tagata's reality and maps are another's fiction(s)" (61). It is possible to establish oneself through connections to geography, but because geography is changeable, one must also establish oneself through lineage. According to Donna Awatere, "Who I am and my relationship to everyone else depends on my whakapapa, on my lineage, on those from whom I am descended. One needs one's ancestors therefore to define one's present" (63). Wendt finds roots both in lineage and geography, encountered by his ancestors and by himself. Wendt finds roots in geography such as the Vaipe, "a dirty little stream which flowed through our neighborhood (and our childhood) as our fabulous Mississippi" (65), because this river was a constant on the maps created by his elders' stories. The Magothy could also be considered merely a "dirty little stream" but it is Severna Park's Mississippi and an important part of my map. It makes me feel connected to past family members and therefore helps me establish myself, just as Wendt's Pacific geographical features connect him to his ancestors and help him to reestablish himself in Aotearoa.

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