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  • Brady Stroh

The Bay - Gilbert Klingel

Updated: Jul 3, 2020

Gilbert Klingel does for the Bay itself what William Warner did for the people of the Bay in Beautiful Swimmers — he presents the Chesapeake as a living, breathing being with myriad moods, states, beauty and dynamics. He ends chapter three of The Bay, Life Passes On, with this transcendentalistic sketch of a raindrop:

“Thus, as the raindrop that falls in the Pennsylvania mountains loses its identity and becomes with his brothers a trickle down a fern-clad hillside, as it burgeons into a brook, a tributary, and becomes finally a portion of the broad Susquehanna River and, further, as it loses itself in the salt-tinged Chesapeake Bay, so the individual life merges into the current and makes the flowing possible. The concept of a life with its beginning and termination as part of a continuous and continuing process is more satisfying than the idea of seemingly purposeless birth and annihilation.”

The Bay comprises thirteen chapters, each painting a picture of the many unique aspects of North America’s greatest estuary. My favorite chapters are Life Begins in the Chesapeake, The Ghost World, The Lantern Bearers, and The Chesapeake Marshes. The chapters can be read in any order as each one describes a specific nature of the Bay. Each chapter is actually an article written for the Baltimore Sun -- The Bay is essentially an anthology of Klingel’s Chesapeake writings.


Klingel immerses us in the Bay as he descends to the sea floor in his primitive diving suit and skims the surface on his self-crafted sailing vessel to observe, report, and captivate. As I poked into the life of Klingel, I quickly discovered that he was much more than a nature writer. He was an adventurer, a journalist, a scientist, a boat builder and the premier advocate for the Chesapeake in the 1950s. For me the creator became as fascinating as his creation. The PBS film “The Legacy of Gilbert Klingel — Man of Steel” chronicles the life of this pioneer of nature. (VIEW VIDEO )

I’ve read The Bay many times and each read reveals to me new perspectives and ways to love the magnificent Chesapeake even more. For me Klingel transforms the Bay from object into being. His final paragraph expresses the metaphysical essence of that being.

"For there is a 'life out of death' which has no relation to the obscure metaphysical explanation ordinarily given to it. It is a non-theological phenomenon open for all to see and understandable, in part at least, by the simplest intellect. Neither the largest tree, the smallest flower, the lowest worm, nor the mightiest whale in the sea perishes in vain. To the least of these and to the greatest is given a universal, if not immediate, immortality. The life stuff that is the mysterious and unknown substance of all animate existence is never abated or appreciably diminished; for every loss there is a compensatory gain; and, as Emerson so beautifully expressed it, 'God reappears with all His parts in every moss and cobweb.'''


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