Shainna M. Callaway
Experiences on Cuckold Creek
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
Maryland hosts breathtaking full seasons. For leaf peepers, boaters, and birders, the views on Cuckold Creek in southern Maryland are a wonder to gander.
My family resided in St. Mary’s County during 2014 until 2017. We lived in the small town of Hollywood along Cuckold Creek where the bottom was deep enough for large sailboats to pass. This view was surrounded by deciduous and evergreen trees that reflected its mirror image across the width of the creek. I must have taken a thousand photos of the changing seasons. Oftentimes, I left my camera beside the window because there were many thrills to catch in the picturesque view like a bald eagle hunting, cranes devouring fish, or the multitudes of leisure boats on parade.
The first year we arrived was too late in the autumn season to have witnessed the changing of the leaves. It was after most had fallen and the trees were bare of leaves and nuts. The yard had a gentle slope down to the pier. It appeared to be the ideal area to frolic with my toddler except it was covered in nuts from the cypress trees on the steeper edges. Our landlords told us it was an oddity and should only happen that mast year as the trees are not known to do that often. We would find it happening every year we lived there, and I think it might have to do with survival.
A neighbor told me that the yard had only recently been landscaped in the past year. For decades, it had been a family’s vacation home and was overgrown during most of those years. The original owner was a gardener. Some of her design was still visible in the handful of enormous azaleas and rhododendrons that used to form a hedge fence on both sides of the yard. There were a few resolute daffodils that still popped up along the ghost edges of the long driveway. A lovely southern magnolia had grown into one of the tallest trees in the yard. There was even a holly bush that was at least twenty feet tall. The new owners would take it down to just about a dozen trees, some large bushes, and a few plants. They filled the rest of the yard with grass, mulch, and weed blocker.
I think it severely impacted the selected trees that remained. The old ash near the house became overrun with fungus and was being eaten from the inside out. I had noticed that every time the wind blew an abnormal amount of limbs would drop from the tree and felt dead light. When I looked closer at it, there was a ring of dark orange funghi growing on it at dirt level. I had to tell my landlords about it, and they took that tree down as it was near enough the house to do damage in a storm. Then they took down several more just for fun, I guess. They were younger dogwoods and didn’t have anything wrong with them that I could tell. We would come to find out the next spring that it was pretty obvious how many trees had been cut before we moved in as there were loads of trunks not quite grounded that broke the blades of the ride on lawn mower a few times when Ian wasn’t paying close enough attention. They left that huge diseased tree for us to chop up for firewood which lasted us the entire time we lived there. So there’s the silver lining as long as our health didn’t deteriorate from using it.
With winter came snow and a semi-frozen creek. The landscape covered in a coat of bright white was an absolute wonderland. The evergreens looked spectacular with all the bright red cardinals that would come around to eat from seed feeders we hung on them. There were so many ducks trying to find refuge in the creek, but it was certainly freezing them in it. I watched with rapt interest to see what could be happening out in the middle where it seemed there was no more surface water. Were they kicking the ice from keeping them in there or was it their collective body heat that saved them from being frozen and stuck? My lens just couldn’t get through the double paned glass to get a better look, and I didn’t once venture outside for a closer view.
There were clumps of mistletoe growing on some of the tree tops in the yard. How on Earth does one get it down? I wish I had attempted it as I have only ever seen fake plastic imitations of the kissing variety for Christmas decorations. I would like to have seen them up close.
Then came spring with a surprisingly huge lilac bush nearly as tall as the garage. When we walked out the front door, there was such a memorably sweet floral scent that I have not been able to forget since. My little girl would pick a few blooms each morning to bring them with her on the car ride to preschool. It made the whole trip lovelier. I would cherish owning another lilac bush one day.
The helicopter seeds that rained down in the various shapes and colors reminded me of hanafubuki in Japan. I tried to catch it on video several times. The whole town of trees seemed to join in on the celebration with floating, twirling masses reminding me of Disney’s “Colors of the Wind”. Ian of course was absolutely miserable with his endless allergy issues. He never has been good at remembering to take his allergy medicine regularly and instead expects them to just work like tylenol when he thinks about it the day of after his symptoms have flared their nasty nostrils at him.
The front yard was also a haven for violets. I had never really seen that many violets cover a landscape before living at that house. If there had not been so much broken glass from the decades of ruthless bottle disposals, I would have really loved leisurely laying in them with my child. Instead, we would watch the sun reflecting off the broken glass pieces and collect them to discard. I wanted to cover the barren areas of ground in clovers, but my landlords remarked that they thought of it as an invasive weed. To each his own.
There was vinca growing all around the house. I was a bit reckless in my initial pursuit of a garden and hacked away at it. This was not the first time in my life that I didn’t wait to see what something was before I just destroyed it. I thought I would grow myself a flower garden, though. When the remaining vinca started to bloom profusely, I felt like a fool. Especially since practically none of the seeds I planted worked out for me. I am still working on getting the green thumb for an outside garden.
Then the mulberry tree came time to produce, and I was surprised by it. I remembered the rhyme “All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel...,” but this was no bush. It was an enormous tree that rained down mulberries. I picked a bunch of them. They are not the sweetest berry but not bitter or sour either. Just kind of a bland, non-offensive berry. I added them to smoothies and daydreamed about making my own silk from the plentiful amount of silkworms nesting in the tree. That is, until I actually researched how silk is made and was sufficiently horrified. Ignorance really is bliss.
I made so many mistakes and tried so many new attempts in that yard. I tried to free the large cedar of the slow strangulation from a vigorous English ivy. The ivy had been growing for so long that it had formed a coat of arms around the trunk. We did a gap cut around the entire circumference of the tree to detach the roots from the rest which killed the ivy all the way to the tree top. This left the branches in an asymmetrical, awful way as the now dead ivy clung to the tree like tattered rags. I had no idea how full the tree had been of ivy, but after it began to die, the tree looked like a mangy dog. When we began to attempt dislocating the layers of numerous dead vines from the trunk, it was like ripping a scab the size of a giant’s shield. In the end, I worried more for the tree from my efforts because its newly exposed shredded bark. I still wonder how that tree is doing.
There was a young and unruly crepe myrtle that I thought I could prune into perfection. Instead, I hacked away at the poor thing until it turned into a testament of my inexperience and arrogance. Maybe if I had a few more years to watch it grow beyond my initial mistakes, I could have seen it turn into the masterpiece I envisioned. Instead, it remains another stumbling block on my road to becoming a gardener.
I attempted composting and worm composting. I made more of a hoarded mess than anything worthwhile for a garden. I mean, who knows? Maybe it did some good for the soil, but knowing my landlords, they likely just covered the beds back over with weed block again after we left.
Then, after all that learning curve, came the fall season. The fire palette eruption shocked and amazed me. It lasted for a month at least with the colors of a vibrantly changing kaleidoscope. There were celebrations being held all over with the county fair, pumpkin patches offering hay rides, elaborate corn mazes, and the procession of Canadian geese.
The seasons of Maryland are a perfection of latitude. There were multiple farms with organic growing practices offering fresh local vegetables and meat sources. Long established family acreages that were friendly enough to open their doors at Christmas for light tours, horse rides, and photos with Santa Claus. As far as communities go, the people in southern Maryland are traditional small town America with their parades and markets. I would love to return and raise my family anywhere in that western peninsular. If you ever get to go, make sure to stop by Reindeer Grill in nearby Aquasco. It is a tiny hole in the wall restaurant that offers some of the most exquisite pizza and fresh ice cream I have ever eaten. Another must have experience is breakfast at Linda’s Cafe in Lexington Park. I tried nearly every child’s fantasy breakfast they offer in the three years we lived in Maryland. They basically figured out how to mix sugary sweet cereals with just about any pancake, waffle, or french toast combination imaginable. Decadent would be the right descriptor for the way those ridiculous meals taste. I do hope I can go back one day.
I feel blessed to have been able to live somewhere that held such strong values and invested in their local economies either by choice or by their seclusion. The fresh market food, the abundance of blue crabs, the amish community wares, and especially the seasons made our time in Maryland a period I treasure and remember fondly.
Much love and kind regards, Shainna 🌲🌸🌼🍁