- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2007

An acquaintance recently called excitedly to tell me that there’ve been sightings of dolphins cavorting about in Cobb Island’s Neale Sound in Southern Maryland. “That’s unheard of, isn’t it?” he said and I didn’t quite know whether I’d missed the punch line of a joke because he started laughing.

Moments later I flipped through the pages of a new and wonderful large book entitled “Chesapeake: Bay of Light — An Exploration of the Chesapeake Bay’s Wild and Forgotten Places” (192 pages, hardcover, $45; www.mountaintrailpress.com) that is jam-packed with Ian J. Plant’s photos and informative essays and comments by Tom Horton.

Plant’s sensational lens work and Horton’s words solved the question about the dolphins. “Although most dolphins stay near the mouth of the Bay, they have been spotted as far north as Havre de Grace, Maryland and Washington, D.C.,” wrote Horton who has enjoyed a distinguished career writing about the Chesapeake that includes a number of fine books and a popular weekly column in the Baltimore Sun.

I can’t keep my hands off “Chesapeake: Bay of Light” because it instantly brings back a thousand memories of a late 1950s teenager — me — walking the shores of Taylor’s Island in Dorchester County, or Point Lookout — maybe Kent Island — mesmerized by the sight of hundreds of wild ducks and geese, occasionally watching whitetailed deer charge across soft marshes and me always wondering how they accomplished that without sinking up to their knees in the soft tidal mud as I’ve done.

The Plant-Horton collaboration is as perfect as it can get, and try as I might I cannot find a single thing about this book that I do not like. Well, I kind of wish it was bigger, maybe as thick as the New York telephone book, but with printing costs being what they are that is impossible.

Plant’s photography is a smash hit. You’ll enjoy images of boulders and rippling sands at Randle Cliffs, Md. Ditto for photos that come alive as the sun rises over bleached land spits, or wildflowers, marsh grasses, eagles, great blue herons, ospreys, willets and brown pelicans.

There are lightning strikes on the tidal Potomac River, gentle butterflies, breathtaking scenery of Virginia and Maryland shores once traveled by the likes of Capt. John Smith and snowy sceneries that surely muffled the noise of man and beast. As a press tout about the book stated, photographer Plant “traveled to the Chesapeake’s hidden and forgotten places to show readers the Bay as they have never seen it before — wild and untamed, a window to the world seen by Smith 400 years ago.” It’s no exaggeration. All of it is there in glorious color and dressed to the nines in Horton’s words.

“… there’s no reason to wait for balmier times to enjoy the Chesapeake,” wrote Horton in one of many passages, this particular narrative surrounded by Plant’s lens art of a wintry scene in Mason Neck State Park, a small group of common mergansers and frozen holly leaves and berries.

This is a totally beautiful effort that is worth every penny of the asking price.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.