Some day, someone will make a few million dollars off the big piece of ground Dick Taylor hunts and traps here. Meantime, he enjoys a rich wilderness in the backyard of Maryland's top tourist attraction.
Taylor leases 2,000 acres of windswept marsh and high ground tucked safely behind a barrier beach that keeps threatening to blow away. The land is in the hands of a finance company, waiting for the right buyer, and has been for years, according to Mike Richardson, Taylor's hunting partner.
Talk about a view: From the duck blind on the front pond you look two miles across the whitecaps of Assawoman Bay to where the sun glints off oceanfront high-rises.
Against this backdrop a marsh hawk comes gliding by, stopping at the edge of the pond to dive after something small, coming up empty. In the grass lie the remains of a duck caught by a fox; along the water are runs where muskrats travel; herons, egrets and shorebirds buzz along, bucking a headwind.
It's an old story. The farm in the Blue Ridge was the same, with its square little house 150 years old and the fields all overgrown in Johnson grass. "We're renting," said the occupants. "It's a bargain. The people who own it are holding out for awhile. They're going to sell off cabin sites when the market's right." And then you can kiss goodbye the covey of quail by the creek.
Well, you take what pleasures you can in this world. For 15 years Taylor has enjoyed the land he leases, which lies just a few minutes from where he works as a building inspector in Ocean City.
"To tell the truth, except for a few dignitaries you're about the first people we've had down here in all that time," said Taylor. "We try to keep it quiet." Wise fellow.
In fragile, forgotten spots like this from Norfolk to Frederick last weekend folks were cranking up the rituals of duck hunting as Maryland and Virginia opened their two- and four-day early waterfowl seasons.
Out in the marsh, more than ducks were flying.
"These mosquitoes are going to carry us away," Bill Counce said in the dark before dawn. Around his head buzzed a horde of bloodsuckers. Around mine, too, and Steve Boynton's, at the far end of the three-man blind.
Through the buzzing came another sound: the whistle of air over wings, the signal of ducks overhead, which fluttered down in the pond before anyone could react; two drake mallards and a hen.
"That's what it looks like to me, anyway," said Richardson, sotto voce from behind the blind, where he was supervising. "Look, the ducks will be flying all day. You can take these three or wait for more when it's lighter, when you can be sure."
Better to wait, we agreed. And of course the ducks took off and nothing flew again for hours.
It's traditional among duck hunters to be out of the blind eating submarine sandwiches or applying bear grease to their boots whenever ducks actually do fly, and Boynton, Counce and I upheld the tradition as the day wore on. But Mike Ensch, who comes from Kansas, where hunters evidently actually try to shoot things, had better ideas.
About midmorning, he took off across an overgrown field to a spot where ducks had landed earlier, and before long we heard shots. He didn't come back for a long time and we'd commenced to worry before he turned up, bedraggled and soaked.
He'd dropped a mallard in the bay, Ensch said, then realized with some consternation that he was not only the hunter, but the retriever as well.
Lucky thing it was October.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued grave warnings about this duck season after surveys of the Northern prairies indicated a severe decline in breeding populations. Maryland and Virginia both were required to cut their duck seasons from 50 days to 40, and have. But game managers in both states believe the duck decline may be less severe in these parts than elsewhere in the country. They even liberalized bag limits for most species in an effort to balance out the loss of hunting time.
"We figured we had to give the duck hunter some reason to go out," said Don MacLauchlan, who heads Maryland's Division of Forests, Parks and Wildlife.
In forgotten corners of the world like the one where Taylor hunts and traps, no one needs a reason to go out. But one day the bulldozers will turn up, and then there will be no place left to go.