The land of peace and plenty begins about 30 miles south of Waldorf on Maryland's Route 5.

It's a place Lord Baltimore and the crews of the sailing ships Ark and Dove found almost 350 years ago, a place bountiful enough that the first capital of Maryland was established there in 1676.

St. Mary's County is bordered on the east by the Chesapeake Bay and on the west by the Potomac River, where the river runs as broad as a Bay. Both bodies of water are teeming with life.

Last week in an effort to escape the frantic rush of Washington life I took a day to meander by car around the final point of land that separates the river and the Bay. About 20 minutes' drive beyond the hurly-burly of Waldorf, road signs and motels give way to tobacco, soybean and corn fields.

One of my destinations was St. Mary's City, where the first Maryland State House was built and was recently refurbished. I expected a grand show there, and was shocked when I hit a sign for St. Inigoes and realized I'd driven right past the old capital city.

"You probably sneezed and misssed it," a fellow said as he directed me back north.

There is almost nothing to central St. Mary's City except the old statehouse, St. Mary's College and a pleasant swimming beach by the side of the road.

I drifted through the tiny state house in about 20 seconds and found myself on a broad lawn leading down to the river's edge. At the foot of the bank lay a sturdy old square-rigged vessel, a reconstruction of Lord Baltimore's ship The Dove.

Peter Rivers was aboard her, daubing at imperfections with a paint brush. He's a Britisher who came here for college, found "the woman I love," and stayed on as a carpenter for the St. Mary's City Commission.

"My boss is downriver looking at a boat," he said. "He's been at it all week and left me in charge. I did everything I could think of on the boat. For the last few days I've had nothing to do. So I've been crabbing."

He led me to a corner of The Dove's pier where he had eight or 10 crab lines suspended from the dock. He had a dozen fat crabs in a cardboard box. Slow day, he said.

That provided a feeling for the land that proved accurate: a place where when the work runs out people go crabbing -- maybe for several days -- and don't feel the least guilty about it.

He took me back aboard The Dove and showed me around. She's a beautiful boat, built monstrously heavy by James Richaardson, the famed Cambridge traditional sailboat builder."Oak frames, oak planks," said Rivers, stamping a foot. Nothing trembled.

As we chatted a rabbit bounded up the bank toward the old statehouse and a pair of mourning doves picked their way along the gravelly shore.

Two men swept by in a little boat, trolling fishing lines behind at what appeared to be preposterous rate of speed. They were 30 yards away from The Dove when both rods bent double. The men scrambled to the stern and reeled in a matched pair of four-pound bluefish.

Some other tourists came down to tour The Dove so I pressed on, drifting down the two-lane backtop to where it stops at land's end.

Lower St. Mary's has the benefit of being at the end of nowhere, much like Tilghman Island and Rock Hall on the Eastern Shore. All three are places you can't get anywhere else from, so they suffer no incidental traffic, which keeps them calm and quiet.

At the end of St. Mary's is Point Lookout State Park, a campground, surf-fishing, crabbing and relaxation valhalla that stays delightful until the bugs get bad in high summer.

I arrived just in time to see Dave Bradburn, who was about to embark on his second run of the day on the headboat Lucky Lady, which leaves from the park at 8 and 1 every day, with evening trips on the weekend.

"We caught more than 130 blues on the morning trip," he said, "plus three or four sea trout. Wanna come along?"

People don't generally have to ask me aboard a boat twice. There were only eight others on the Lucky Lady, which made it something less than a break-even expedition at 9.50 a head.

Bradburn had the boat ancored over bluefish and trout in a half-hour. Soon the eight customers were hauling fish aboard at a startling rate. When the four-hour trip was over, most had more than they could carry.

I took a quick tour of the campgrounds in the evening, locating the most desirable campsites at a place called Green Point, which overlooks a back arm of the Bay. The beach was empty in the cool part of the day.

The woman at the camp headquarters said there was a seafood-cooking demonstration planned that night.

"Free samples?" I asked.

"Sure," she said. "My sister's giving it on soft crabs. She hates soft crabs."

I passed that up and headed six miles up the road to Clayton's Marina, where some friendly fishermen keep their boats. They were't around, but Harvey and Florence McLean from Wallingford, Pennsylvania, were.

They invited me aboard their 31-year-old Owens cabin cruiser, which they've owned since 1958. No boat is more meticulously kept. They live on her for long weekends through the summer.

"We planned to have her as a retirement home," said McLean, "keeping her here in the summer and in Florida in winter. But we didn't count on fuel costs." She'd take 1,200 gallons to get to Florida at cruising speed, he said.

That night in response to vigorous recommendations I joined some friends at Duffy's Tavern, just below the Point Lookout State Park entrance, for dinner.

The beer was 80 cents a bottle, the decor collapsing pine paneling and the food was unbelievably good.

Duffy and Mrs. Duffy are aging denizens of the peaceful point. She prepares fresh bread for every meal, and fresh vegetables as soon as they are ripe. "Tonight the only thing fresh I have is salad fixings," she said.

They tasted as if they'd been picked that day, which they had.

The soft crab dinner was $6.50. The two crabs were large and perfectly sauteed. With them came home-made bread and home-made cornbread, the salad, corn, french fries and cold slaw. And too many beers.

Morning fishing time came too early, as always.