feeling reverse culture shock: escaping to blackwater national wildlife refuge on maryland’s eastern shore

Wednesday, August 21:  In September of 2011, I wrote a post about Reverse Culture Shock: six months of reverse culture shock.  I wrote this after returning from Korea for a six month period before heading out to Oman for two years.  It is definitely a phenomenon that expats feel when they return home after living abroad for an extended time.

Bird House at the Dorchester County Visitor's Center
Bird House at the Dorchester County Visitor’s Center

Many of the issues I talked about in that post are really hitting hard now that I’ve returned home to the USA.  The two that issues that are a challenge for me now are these:

1) You find it hard to accept some of the ways people do things at home, and you find yourself questioning habits and customs that have been a part of your life for a long time.

sculpture at the Dorchester County Visitor's Center
sculpture at the Dorchester County Visitor’s Center

Right now, I’m having a hard time accepting the choices that my sons are making in their lives.  I’m unhappy with the way their father has allowed this to happen.  Even though he’s a good-hearted person and has good intentions, his acceptance of our sons’ every whim has turned out to be detrimental to their growth and development as young men.  A firm hand is called for.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Yet, because I have been absent for three years, I don’t feel I have much say in the unraveling that has occurred and continues to happen.  I have to take responsibility and accept that this situation is partly a result of my own lack of involvement with our sons’ upbringing.  It’s a difficult situation, because of course I’m partly to blame and cannot be too critical of their father’s parenting.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

It’s heartbreaking to see both of my sons going backwards in their lives instead of moving forward to becoming mature and responsible young men.  I am therefore questioning my whole relationship with their father and with them.  Right now, I am in uncertain territory and am struggling to find my way.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Because of this very uncomfortable situation, I escape, as I often have, into dreaming about my time abroad.  Though I don’t miss Oman at all, I do miss living alone and not having to deal with these miserable family dynamics.  So the other Reverse Culture Shock issue in the forefront of my life at this moment is the second:

2) You wish you were back on your trip or living abroad, and you spend a lot of time keeping in touch with the people you met during that experience, or looking over your pictures from your travels, or reading your old blogs.  Or simply daydreaming about the parts of the life abroad that brought you immense pleasure.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

I have decided to stay at home in the USA indefinitely, although I could easily get a job working abroad again.  I’m committed.  But I still feel that urge to escape because of the above situation.  Therefore, I’m committed to getting out to explore the world around me with a camera in hand.  I’m also trying to reconnect with my extended family however possible.  So I escape this week, one last time, before my job begins next week.  I head to visit my sister in Salisbury, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore.  Sadly, while traveling in Spain and Portugal, I missed her daughter’s (my niece’s) wedding on July 13.  I have a lot of making up to do to my family.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Yes, I know I’ve been living a selfish life, but it was the life of my dreams.  These three years were probably the only years I’ve had in over 50 years that I can truly call my own.

So, committed though I am to staying home and working out these issues, I still must carve out something for myself, for my sanity.  Travel within the USA, and dreams of travel, will still be my escape.  That I hope will never change.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

On my way to visit my sister, I make a stop in Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland.  Many years ago, when Mike and I were first dating, we visited here together on a cool, crisp November day.  I remember walking on boardwalks through the marshland and thinking it was stunningly beautiful.  Now there are no longer boardwalks and it’s mainly a drive-through.  It’s a little disappointing this time around.  I miss the boardwalks and don’t like having to keep stopping the car, pulling over and getting out.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

On top of my disappointment with the place itself, when I first arrive at Blackwater’s Visitor’s Center, I get a call from one of my closest high school friends telling me that our other friend’s husband has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  This same friend just lost her niece earlier this year to stomach cancer.  I feel incredibly sad for my friend and her husband and this colors my experience here.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge sits about 12 miles south of the town of Cambridge, in Dorchester County. The Refuge includes over 27,000 acres, composed mainly of rich tidal marsh characterized by fluctuating water levels and varying salinity. Other habitat types include freshwater ponds, mixed evergreen and deciduous forests, and small amounts of cropland and managed impoundments that are seasonally flooded for waterfowl use.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater Refuge was originally established in 1933 as a haven for ducks and geese migrating along the Atlantic Flyway. The Refuge is a popular place during the November migration when upwards of 35,000 geese and 15,000 ducks visit Blackwater.

Blackwater is also a haven for several troubled species including the American bald eagle, the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel, and the migrant peregrine falcon. The Refuge is unique in that it hosts the largest remaining natural population of Delmarva fox squirrels and is also host to the largest breeding population of bald eagles on the East Coast, north of Florida (Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge).

a field bordered by cattails outside of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
a field bordered by cattails outside of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Though I’m struggling with a lot now, and though this place isn’t what I remember it to be, I still do find some peace of mind here on this warm summer afternoon.

a lone barn in Dorchester County
a lone barn in Dorchester County

I leave here and meet my sister at her house in Salisbury, about a half hour further south.  It’s nice that no one else is home at her house, so we have an evening just to catch up with each other, without any distractions.  It’s truly lovely to spend time with her, sharing our struggles and experiences over the last year over a bottle of wine.  I also get to hear all about Kelsey’s wedding, and though it will never be the same as my having been there, at least I can imagine… and pretend I was there. 🙂