Twilight for Tangier

I recently joined an online group, Abandoned in Virginia. Members post photographs of abandoned buildings around the state; the emphasis is on stunning images of decaying buildings that were nevertheless glorious in their day. Yesterday I posted my first image, an abandoned home on Tangier Island. And I was floored by the responses I received.

So far, more than 1,200 people have reacted to my photo; many of those left comments. Typically, 100 or so people react to a photo, maybe 200. On rare occasions, the number goes up to 600 or 700.

I’ve been trying to figure out why my photo struck such a chord. It’s a nice enough photo, but I think the reasons may have more to do with the words. I think it’s about Tangier’s story. I wrote a paragraph describing what the island is now facing:

“I visited Tangier Island this summer. A lot of lovely old houses like this one have been left to rot away. There are few jobs on the island, and it’s harder and harder to make a living out of crabbing. Even worse, the bay is rising, the island is sinking, and Tangier will be uninhabitable in a few decades. So it’s understandable that few people can take on these old houses now. The island is beautiful, with such a fascinating history. If you haven’t seen it, go while you can. It’s well worth a visit.”

I think Tangier’s story touches people. And maybe on this site, where people come to admire and lament abandoned houses, people are especially inclined to admire and lament the upcoming demise of Tangier Island. Someday in the not-so-distant future, it will become an Abandoned Island.

My trip to Tangier was in July. I posted about it several times last summer. Tangier is a tiny island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, currently about three miles long and a mile and a half wide. I say “currently” because Tangier is sinking while the waters of the Bay rise around it. The island has lost two-thirds of its land since 1850, and the pace of its demise is increasing dramatically. Without intervention, Tangier will be uninhabitable in two decades. In the meantime, its 400 or so residents make a living from the sea and the tourist trade, and try to convince legislators that the island is worth the cost of the seawalls and other infrastructure necessary to save it.

The Abandoned Houses aficionados were sorry to see this modest but once-lovely home fall into ruin, and hated the idea of the island being swallowed up by the Bay, ending its fascinating history and unique culture, and sending its resilient residents to the mainland to start anew. Those who had visited shared their experiences. Those who had not visited asked questions about how to get there (on one of two ferries — for people, not cars — one from the mainland and one from the Eastern Shore), what it’s like, where to stay on the island, where to get the best crab cakes, and isn’t there a famous cake from the island that’s so popular it’s now on the menu at Silver Diner (no, that’s Tangier’s nearby neighbor, Smith Island, famous for its many-layered Smith Island Cake). Some decried the lack of political will to save the island. One woman posted a photo of the cottage she wanted to rent when she finally vacations there — and it was the same cottage I rented for our trip!

A couple of science deniers claimed that the island is not sinking, that normal erosion, not global climate change — which doesn’t exist — is all that’s chipping away at it. They said such changes were part of a normal, cyclical process that were no cause for concern, and that the island would grow again as soon as this particular cycle ended. Scientists do not agree with that assessment, of course, and are pretty certain that the island will be uninhabitable relatively soon, though there are differing estimates of exactly how much time is left.

I’m sure the residents who used to live in a town on Tangier that’s now well under water would agree that the island is doomed. Only one town remains, and its days are clearly numbered.

If you’d like to read some of my earlier posts about my trip to Tangier (and see a few more photos of the island), try here, and here, and here.

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