It was warm today, warmer than it has been in weeks, and a steamy haze rose off the ice that locks the oyster boats in their slips.
Beatrice (Puddin') Manifold was steaming, too, as she has been for the two weeks that the oyster men have been languishing at her Bay Harbor Inn. They sit by the old heater, nodding off to sleep, telling tales, smoking, playing cards. Waiting.
Manifold, who has been buying oysters, running charter boats and operating the Bay Harbor Marina for 30 years, doesn't cotton to waiting.
She wants the state to come in with its big ice-breaking Weidener and smash the lock on her business and put the oystermen back to work.
"I can't even sell a can of beer," she moans.
The ice is eight inches thick now and it will be deeper after tonight's projected chill blasts. The last time an oyster boat went out Deale's Rockhold Creek was Dec. 28.
"The creek is losing $1,000 a day," said Manifold. "We've got 10 or 11 boats here they bring in an average of 10 bushels of oysters a day."
Oysters sold for $4.50 a bushel a year ago because they were plentiful. This year, they are hard to find and the price is up to almost $10 a bushel. But there's no bushels and no dollars moving in and out of Deale now.
Manifold says the state won't break the ice because the water in Deale is too shallow. "They're so afraid they're going to bend a shaft or break a prop I told 'em to go ahead and break it. It's going to cost $1,000 a day to fix."
Johnny Dowell stopped into the dark and aging inn. The formica-topped stand-up bar rests at the end of rows of anchor shackles, paint brushes and gaff hooks. He'd finished raising his boat, locked to the icy bottom at low tide, then swamped when the tide came in.
"If they'd have had this (ice) two years ago when those boys from the Eastern Shore were in, they'd have cleared it out if they'd had to use a pick axe," Dowell said.
"It makes a big difference, whether you're Eastern Shore or Western Shore, I'll guarantee," chimed Manifold.
She claims she's followed the Weidener's movements over the CB radio.
"They cleaned out Kent Narrows and Tilghman Island, they did the West River, but they won't come here." Even more rankling is the sight of the Maryland State Natural Resources police boat Talbot Il, a 32-footer Manifold thinks could break the ice easily, resting at the end of her dock.
There was a fire aboard the Tabot. Last week an oil burner erupted and fried the radio and blew out a porthole before putting itself out.
"Twenty feet from my gas tanks and hundreds of thousand of dollars of boats tied up here. We couldn't move a one of 'em, what with the ice."
Maybe the Talbot could do the job, but it doesn't look as if the state wants to take the chance.Over on Parrish Creek Talbot's sistership, the Magothy, sits at her slip at Shady Side Marina. She's not going out unless she has to.
"It's the ice. The slushy stuff gets up in the cooling system and overheats the cringes. Then you've got trouble," said Cpl. Kenny Mauk, who skippers the Magothy.
Mauk has been out rarely since the ice set in - once to rescue a West River oyster man who become lost in a snow storm and tied up to a marker boy, once to free a fool on a sailboat who was heading for Florida and was locked in the ice.
"Sometimes we get a duck hunter. They go out to their blinds and freeze all day, then the boat blows away."
The ice - it's on everyone's minds - stretching futher and further out into the gray-brown bay from the freshwater tributaries that feed it.
At Shady Side the oystermen have hired a house boat captain to plow up and down Parrish Creek in the morning, crunching and shattering each night's accumulation. But the ice is thinner there, and the daily exercist is impossible at Deale.
There's one factor - beauty - that few mention, even Doug Ashley, the sensitive manager at Shady Side. Until this year Ashley barred boats from the broad, green field that fronts his office. "It might make money, but it wouldn't look right."
Even to Ashley the ice is a nuisance. But to the wanderer who drifts into the scenic part of the world if offers a unique picture - boats to walk to, islands to skate to, great flat expanses of white and gray that the wind can't whip, the tidescan't turn.
It's worth the trip to look at.