“Chesapeake Requiem:

 A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island” by Earl Swift— An Isolated Community Facing Extinction


p style=”text-align: center;”>Swift, Earl. “Chesapeake Requiem:

 A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island”, Dey Street, 2018.

An Isolated Community Facing Extinction

Amos Lassen

Earl Swift gives us a look at a two-hundred-year-old crabbing community in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay as it faces extinction from rising sea levels. Tangier Island is a 1.3-square-mile strip of land in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, an hour’s journey from the Virginia coast. Swift’s book is both the natural history of an extraordinary ecosystem and a meditation on a vanishing way of life based upon man’s relationship with the environment.

Tangier Island, Virginia is a unique American community. It was mapped by John Smith in 1608 and settled during the American Revolution. Today 470 people live there and they do so between two worlds— the modern world of the 21st century and the past. It is a twelve-mile boat trip across the nation’s largest estuary to reach the place and the water that surrounds the island is not always easy to cross. This same water has for generations made Tangier’s fleet of small fishing boats a chief source of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab and Tangiers is the soft-shell crab capital of the world.

But Tangier is disappearing. The same water that has long sustained is now eating away the land and since 180, the island has lost 2/3 of its size. Today the shoreline loses fifteen feet a year and this means that the island first American town to feel the effects of climate change.is the will likely succumb first among U.S. towns to the effects of climate change. Experts predict that without intervention by the federal government, the islanders could be forced to abandon their home within twenty-five years. The conservative and deeply religious Tangiermen think about the end times.   

In “Chesapeake Requiem”, we get an intimate look at the island’s past, present and shaky future. Swift has spent much of the past two years living among Tangier’s people observing its long traditions and odd ways. This is the moving story of a world that has, quite nearly, gone by and a in-depth report on Tangier’s future. The destiny of the island foreshadows what can happen to many other coastal communities in the not-too-distant future.

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