James Fowler remembers foraging in the woods for edible berries and plants from the time when he was a small boy. At night, he would sometimes sleep on piles of leaves and brush, surrounded by the woods that his grandfather, a Cherokee Indian, taught him to love.
Fowler is 70 now, a retired house painter who lives in a modest town house just beyond this city's historic district. But the lessons taught by his grandfather, who lived in peace with nature, remain with him, and for decades he has been passing them along to the children of Anne Arundel County as a volunteer in the schools.
This month, the county honored him for his "lifelong message of brotherhood and peace" with the Dallas G. Pace Sr. Human Relations Award, a citation presented annually by the Anne Arundel County Human Relations Commission.
"He is just a warm, loving, giving, unselfish person. Nothing is too much for him," said Jeanne McGuinness, the county school teacher who first asked Fowler to speak to her classes more than 20 years ago. She nominated him for this year's award.
McGuinness said she heard about Fowler in the early 1960s when she was looking for someone to help her teach elementary school children about American Indian culture.
"He was the only resource we had for years and years," said McGuinness. "Anywhere he was called, he went."
Fowler, known as a knowledgeable scout for hunting and nature expeditions, has toured all 76 elementary schools in the county. He lugs along two suitcases heavy with Indian artifacts he has found locally as well as his own handiwork: necklaces, stone knives and spears made with traditional materials.
"I like kids, to start with," said Fowler, when asked why he has continued to tour schools despite failing health and a quadruple heart bypass operation. "What I'm trying to do is teach kids to keep the Indians, the way they lived, their traditions, alive.
"Most people think Indians live in tepees. We didn't have tepees here. Here they had permanent buildings called long houses," Fowler said. The houses were built with cedar rafters covered in bark and hides. They held several families who cooked communally, he said.
Maryland's Indians, who included several tribes in addition to the more predominant Piscataways, were primarily farmers and fishermen, he said.
Women of the tribes had a say in whether the men should go to war, he said. And the wife of the tribal chief could determine which of her sons should succeed her husband when he died.
Being an American Indian is a point of pride for Fowler.
"Most of my brothers wouldn't even tell you they were Indian," he said. But Fowler, excited by the lore he learned as a child from his grandfather, wanted to know more.
One room in his house is dedicated to his search. A bookcase there holds dozens of books on Indians, and a glass display case is brimming with pottery fragments, arrowheads and tomahawk heads -- one that he said was carbon-dated as being 5,000 years old. Another case holds stone utensils he has retrieved during a lifetime of combing river beds and fields in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
Fowler often wears artifacts of his Cherokee and Creek heritage. Around his neck he wears a spearhead, the last he found with a son who died a few years ago at the age of 37. On his hip, he wears a knife made out of stone, similar to those carried by Indians before white settlers showed them steel blades.
A beaded headband holds his thick black hair in place, and he wears a rawhide vest with silver thunderbirds pinned to it.
The thunderbird, or eagle, is special to Fowler, who for several years has fought development on a Davidsonville farm in southern Anne Arundel County where one of three bald eagle nests in the county is located. He wants the nest area, next to the South River, to be dedicated as a bird sanctuary.
Protecting the eagle is part of his philosophy of life, one of living with nature rather than conquering it.
"If I can get that, I'll be satisfied," he said.