High Tide in Dorchester: New documentary focuses on the rising waters taking land on the Shore

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With baseball glove in hand, narrator Tom Horton stands in water where he once played ball. A screen shot from High Tide in Dorchester

By Whitney Pipkin

Bay Journal

Though it begins with aerial shots of the seemingly endless tidal marshes in Maryland’s Dorchester County, the latest Bay Journal documentary is about a fast-approaching future in which that landscape could be entirely underwater.

High Tide starts with the image that inspired it: Tom Horton standing waist-deep in water — in what was once a field outside his father’s hunting cabin on the Honga River, where he played baseball as a child. That field is long gone, as are thousands of acres of land that have been lost in recent decades to a mixture of rising seas, erosion and high tides across the county.

If the consequences of climate change “seem a little hazy to you,” Horton says near the film’s start, “come take a tour of Dorchester County — where the future is now.”

High Tide in Dorchester_A compelling 16-minute Version of the entire documentay from Chesapeake Bay Journal on Vimeo.

High Tide in Dorchester is the second collaboration between Bay Journal columnist Tom Horton, Bay Journal photographer and videographer Dave Harp and environmental filmmaker Sandy Cannon-Brown. The same crew produced the documentary Beautiful Swimmers Revisited in 2015, also sponsored by the Bay Journal.

A preview of the new film will take place at a public screening at at 7 p.m. on Feb. 21 at Salisbury University in Wicomico County, followed by an official debut on March 22 at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, D.C.

Rural Ground Zero of Bay rise

The film introduces viewers to residents, scientists, public officials and a cemetery manager who are dealing with the aftermath of rising seas on a landscape that is changing right before their eyes. Horton calls Dorchester County “the rural Ground Zero” of sea level rise in the Chesapeake, where climate change is leaving a mark not in 25 or 50 years, but now.

“Essentially, that future that we’ve been scaring you with — it’s here now in lower Dorchester,” he said.

Rising seas, the film reveals, have already left their mark in places like Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, where saltwater intrusion has left only the spindly, ghostlike stumps of former forests behind. Erosion in another part of the county has unearthed a cemetery’s tombstones and placed some of its markers underwater. The film shows fish swimming over the headstones. Roads in Dorchester are frequently too flooded to use. One resident raised his home more than seven feet off the ground last year in his determination to stay.

Though the numbers are startling — projections suggest that half of the remaining land in Maryland’s fourth-largest county will be underwater in a century — the scenes portrayed across the screen lend them gravitas.

These moments, which come and go with the tides, were more easily captured because of the film crew’s proximity. Harp lives in Dorchester County, and he and Horton spend a considerable amount of time there reporting stories for the Bay Journal, making them fitting guides for the film.

“At one point, I said, ‘We might as well make a film. We’re out here all the time anyway,’” Horton said.

Learning to listen for the same things in different languages

Though they’re familiar with the landscape, Horton said they learned to listen to the people they interviewed, to understand how different —yet similar — local views are about the changes taking place. While scientists interviewed in the film might refer to those changes as sea level rise, others simply see erosion. Horton said they tried to convey that the cause is, in many ways, all of the above.

“You hear people say, ‘I don’t know if the sea level is coming up, but I know we’ve got tide on the land more than we used to,’” he said. “A lot of times we’re saying the same thing in different languages.”

The filmmakers and their sponsors, including the Town Creek Foundation, Shared Earth Foundation and other donors, want to see the documentary used as an educational tool to spur discussions about sea level rise.

After the film is officially released, groups are encouraged to contact the producers to arrange viewings and discussion sessions. For information, visit the film’s website at hightidedorchester.org.

  • heretheycomeagain
    • Ed

      The article you sight discusses things that MIGHT happen. And if they do, that might affect some of the projections for the decades ahead. But much of this film looks at what has and is happening. And that’;s nth reality we have to deal with.

      • heretheycomeagain

        Ed; Seriously? You actually believe so-called global warming “is” happening? Even you must know that global warming has always been computer-model generated and always to happen some times in the future––times that have always come and gone with the global warming goalposts moved further out.

        The global cooling reports are not conceptual––they are real. Many “legitimate” scientists (as opposed to the political activists who promote global warming) have been pointing out the fact that there has been a dearth of sunspots in recent years, and there is a 97% chance (they scientists estimate) that we are entering a global cooling phase that is predicted to be more intense than the Maunder Minimum.

        I’m not trying to argue the legitimacy or illegitimacy of so-called global warming; but even the promoters of that theory acknowledge that we are entering a very serious phase of global cooling. They argue, disingenuously I believe, that the computer models say that we should still concerned with global warming.

        As for issues relating to recovering submerged land, I’m fully in support of such action so long as it makes practical sense and is cost-justifiable. I am not for speeding money to reclaim land just because we can; nor do I support re-claiming land that will ultimate revert to being underwater––regardless of the forces of nature that caused the land to go under in the first place.

        I know the global cooling notion is not politically correct and will therefore get little attention. But there is every reason to believe that it is very real and will almost certainly impact all those who are alive in 2030 (12 years from now) in various ways––some quite seriously even at that early stage of the climatic changes. If you’re young enough for it to matter, I believe I’d spend more time focusing on that issue.

        • Ed

          So let me get this strain gt. You are saying that the land that has allegedly disappeared in Dorchester County (along with several islands in the bay) did not really disappear and that is fake news? I never mentioned global warming, I mentioned the disappearing land, which has been caused by sea level rise and land subsidence. That is real, it was documented in the video and if it continues, thousand of acres and millions of dollars in property is threatened in just that county. If you can prove it has not happened and is not still happening, I’m all ears.

          • heretheycomeagain

            No, not at all. The disappearing land is not fake news; but the forces of nature that caused it to disappear are being represented by the media and the environmentalists as being global warming. that is the fake news. The land most certainly is disappearing and as I said, to the extent that it can be re-claimed I would generally support––assuming the cost his not prohibitive, and assuming that whatever forces of nature caused it to submerge initially, will not repeat itself or can be controlled.
            I completely support most all environmental efforts to improve and sustain our lands, so long as they are not motivated by the global warming crowd. They are either complete frauds or incredibly foolish snowflakes who have been seriously duped.