The quote in the title is from Harriet Tubman, and it inspires me on multiple levels.
My husband and I took an overnight trip to Maryland’s Eastern Shore to view the wintering waterfowl at Blackwater NWR and visit the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad site.
The “Eastern Shore” terminology has always perplexed me. The region gets its name from the stretch of Maryland’s Atlantic shoreline sandwiched between Delaware and Virginia. But the part we explore (closer to the metro area) wraps around the Chesapeake Bay and faces west. Look, I already have trouble with time zones! Adding confusion about east and west seems unnecessarily complicated. No wonder I appreciated Harriet Tubman’s words about the North Star. They are true both geographically, and metaphorically.
The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a marsh that’s actively managed to have freshwater, brackish, and saltwater areas. The Blackwater “River” spreads rather than flows, like a black pool. Nearby is the Choptank River which flows into the Chesapeake Bay. There is water everywhere, and it’s actively rising. The closest town is Cambridge.
The geography of the region matters — the new Harriet Tubman site is entirely surrounded by Blackwater NWR. These marshes and inlets provided cover as Harriet escaped slavery, and are essential to her story. If you visit the site, you may, like me, come to a new appreciation of the water, the shoreline, the wind, the silence, the sound of waterfowl rising with a great thrumming of wings. Imagine hiding in this marsh. What a cold, wet, lonely, and effective way to escape from pursuers.
My husband and I arrived around sunset and saw thousands of geese in the marsh and the air, continually rising and resettling — huge flocks of Canada Geese and Snow Geese. We also saw a lone pair of Tundra Swans enjoying a moment on the tidal flats, their white bodies forming the two halves of a heart shape. Later we saw a flock of seven swans flying.
There were many Bald Eagles, some flying and some in trees. We also identified lots of Wigeons, which are a kind of dabbling duck who congregate in the open water. We weren’t able to identify a great many other ducks. There were also four or five Great Blue Herons, and I am very partial to these dinosaur-birds! Two herons stood near drainpipes, perhaps waiting for their supper. One heron stood on the ice as if holding a pose for my benefit. With my binoculars I could examine every inch of the bird, including the plumage that puffed out from her chest and throat like a ruff.
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge has a 4 mile Wildlife Loop that we drove at three different times of the day. There’s also a Visitor Center where we spent more than an hour viewing helpful displays.
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railway Exhibit has a Visitor Center with exhibits that are well done. I’m grateful there are more exhibits in the works. The area around Cambridge was a center for slave trading and that truth must be told. It’s said that this area is still very racist in attitude — akin to the Deep South.
I’ll share images from two of the exhibits. The first helped me imagine Harriet navigating the banks and inlets we’d seen earlier. How amazing to think of the risks she took to lead enslaved persons to freedom.
The second exhibit is about the North Star. My husband is a Science teacher and appreciated learning how Harriet navigated by the night sky. I let him enjoy the exhibit as a teacher — but I was more interested in the poetry and conviction of her words, which expressed her deep faith.
“I prayed to God to make me strong and able to fight, and that’s what I’ve always prayed for ever since.”
“God set the North Star in the heavens; He gave me the strength in my limbs; He meant I should be free.”
How powerful to believe that the strength in our limbs is from God, given for the purpose of freedom! As someone fighting to change the church’s story about sexual abuse, I find her perspective deeply inspiring. My North Star is the words and actions of Jesus. Which is saying something quite different than “the words and actions of the church.”
What about you? What is the freedom you are fighting for, and what is the North Star that guides you?