Dr. Maloof has lived outside of Whitehaven, a small, rural town along the lower portion of the Wicomico River, for three decades. There are no multi-lane highways running through, no sirens blaring by, and no packed strip-malls lining every corner. There is really not much of anything, except for forest, farmland, and the river itself. It is quiet, peaceful, and above all gorgeous. The river runs directly behind her house, giving one a panoramic view of the water and the surrounding Spartina marsh. The sun travels with the current. This is a setting that cannot be captured in a photo. It is constantly changing every time the wind blows or the tide ebbs. Animals are always coming and going, and with every hour of the day the sun finds a new angle to play with the landscape.
Photos by Todd Mignosa
It is not just the beauty of the area that Dr. Maloof seeks. The land holds a great deal of knowledge that it is eager to divulge. The decrepit remains of an old steamboat stop called "Pirates Wharf" tells the story of decades of the river reclaiming what we have stolen. Dr. Maloof has learned to read the signs in nature as if they were the pages of a book. She is familiar with the local wildlife and can identify species by the traces they leave behind. Every set of tracks and every pile of scat is evidence of life that may remain elusive to the casual observer. A bare patch on the bark of a nearby tree indicates where a male deer has rubbed his antlers. The lessons that nature offers are invaluable and timeless.
Humans cannot escape the fact that we are a part of Nature. Like the river, we have undergone drastic changes in how we interact with the rest of the natural world. In the past, the Wicomico River was a recreation hub; an ideal spot for swimming, fishing and boating. Now, swimming and fishing are often discouraged because of fears that the water is too polluted, and access to boat ramps and public space along the river is severely limited. Even with the abundance of nearby forests, hiking is not promoted. Trails are not marked, and most people remain oblivious to the public land that they are entitled to enjoy and pay taxes to maintain. Dr. Maloof is concerned about the popular myth that "one must travel to Western Maryland to hike."
The story of communities along the Wicomico River seems to be one of disconnection. Entire generations are growing up without ever experiencing the thrill, inspiration, beauty, and solitude offered by a truly natural environment. They never become attached to the land. This is a great tragedy; for if one does not love something, then he has no reason to protect it. This is a driving factor behind Dr. Maloof’s work with the Old-Growth Forest Network. By expanding access to a protected space and encouraging its responsible use, people are given more opportunities to form life-long connections with the outdoors that may influence their decisions and actions in regard to their impacts on the environment.