When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
– Walt Whitman
This rainy weekend coincides with the full blooming of locust trees throughout the tidewater Chesapeake region. For watermen, finishing up the first month of the 2023 crabbing season, the blooming locusts signal the first shed of the almost monthly phenomenon that will continue until late fall when the crustaceans return to their muddy beds for winter hibernation.
With water temperatures reaching into the low 60s throughout the Bay and its tributaries, crabs are amping up their activity. Readying for their first shed, they will need all the energy they can get from their bottom foraging. It’s no easy task for a crab to grow a new shell inside its existing shell and then back out of its old shell. When it completes that shed, and pumps its new shell full of water to retain its shape as it hardens, the new crab will become approximately 30 percent larger than its old self.
But to get to that stage, the crab will have to survive its most vulnerable soft stage when it becomes the target of every creature that inhabits the waterways. Humans, blue catfish and skates, rockfish and herons all relish a meal of soft crabs.
Water temperature, periods of light and dark, and the next full moon arriving May 5th all figure into the season’s first crab shed.
For centuries, the scent and sight of blooming locust trees have pleasantly brought shedding crabs to mind.
Smell is our most reminiscent sense.
Nineteenth century poet Walt Whitman associated the heady scent of mid-April’s blooming lilacs with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. The two stanzas of poetry at the beginning of this column are the opening lines of the long elegy – When Lilacs Last In The Dooryard Bloom’d – that he wrote to his fallen hero.
Sadness and gladness are not always distant cousins. Ironically, they can reside together compatibly in places of beauty that please our eyes and our noses. Add ears too. To remind us, The Grateful Dead recorded a fine song many years back titled Touch of Gray. They sang its kernel line several times: “Every silver lining has a touch of gray.”
Dennis Forney, Chestertown native and Delmarva Peninsula journalist since 1972, writes from his home on Grace Creek in Bozman. Photo by the author.