Artscape Weekend at Hart-Miller Island
July 19, 2008

To double book a moonlight paddling weekend with Artscape wasn’t the most sensible thing, but it was fun and worked out darn well.

On July 18, the moon was just visible, climbing out of a bank of haze, as I launched from Rocky Point Park at about 9pm. There was a quartering, SE wind of 12-15 mph was driving 1 – 2 foot waves, and the boat wanted to turn into the wind, towards the open Bay, and not the way to Hart-Miller Island. I couldn’t get the rudder to deploy, so I ended up using my GL paddle like an oar, on the windward side only, to get across to the island.

Launching at sunset on Friday night.  This view is west into the inlet along which the launch area, Rocky Point Park, is located.
Sunset Launch
Picture by Kara Brown
I selected site H1 even though I knew there’d be mosquitoes. The wind at the southern end of Hart would have kept the skeeters down, but I choose the bugs over the party noise floating over the water from the raft of power boats tied up off H10. I made sure to pack the bug spray right under the hatch and I needed it while I set up my tent by moonlight. I looked up at one point to see a fox sniffing near where the kayak was beached. I wished I had something to feed it. If the fox is what the mosquitoes prey on when humans aren’t around, it must have to eat a lot to replenish it’s blood supply!

After breakfast on Saturday morning I took a swim and tried to unfreeze the rudder on the boat. When I pulled it I felt a snap, and it was free. But the snap was from breaking the cable to the left side footpeg. Great, I had no footpeg, no rudder, and an unwanted shop project. I paddled back to the park, loaded up and drove to Baltimore.

I volunteer at Artscape and my assignment was “floater.” I was assigned the upper half of Mt. Royal Street and my duty was to “booth sit” for any of the craft vendors that needed a break. Most vendors have at least two persons working the booth, and they can provide their own backups. It took me about an hour to figure out there were only about a half dozen vendors who were solo, introduce myself to them, see how they were doing, and promise to check back with them. For the most part my time was on my own.

The art cars paraded down Mt. Royal around noon. I had seen many of the art cars in years past, but had never seen them on the road, nor had I ever seen the zany characters driving them (presumably the creators), many in costume. That was fun. I spent some time listening to the music on the Saturn Stage (Annie Sidley, Stupid Hero, and Gary B & the Notions), and I spent a lot of time sitting on the “feed-back” display set up on the median of Mt. Royal. This was a set of four chairs made from plastic barrels like we see washed up along rivers and a crate-table-chest, all set under an interesting tarp made of plastic shopping bags that had somehow been fused into a tarp. It was 96 degrees, and I really appreciated the shade under the tarp! I booth sat a total of five times in four hours.

Kara met me when my shift was over and we spent the rest of the day listening to the music at the Saturn Stage. Back Door Slam played at 5:30. This trio from the Island of Mann looked really young and played an awesome blues/rock set. Even without the other charms of Artscape, for me, just hearing these guys made the trip to Artscape worthwhile. Next up was Mike Doughty, former front-man for Soul Coughing. Accompanied only be a cello his set was less than compelling, and his vocals frequently miss the mark, too. Rusted Root’s percussion-fueled, full and melodic sound made up for Doughty’s disappointing set. All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening of music.

I was tired driving back to the Park and wondered again about the wisdom of double-booking the weekend. But by eight-bells (midnight), I was back on the brightly moonlit water, one-side-oar paddling across that steadfast southeasterly wind. In the lee of Hart-Miller Island, we paddled lazily northward, past H1, towards the big beach area. There were 20 – 30 power boats anchored within a half-mile of the big beach, and the anchorage lights made it look like a small harbor. It was a beautiful night on the water, but when I’d stop paddling to drift and admire the scene, I was nodding off in the cockpit. So I had to ask Kara to turn around, and we went back to H1 and had a pitched, martial-arts battle with the mosquitoes. Kara left her screen unzipped while inflating her air mattress and I could hear her slapping mosquitoes and swearing as I quickly fell asleep.

Sunday morning I put the Sealution in the water and swam it out to chest deep. I flipped it over and tried to get in and roll it upright. I never realized how important foot pegs are. I couldn’t hold my hips in the seat, just twisted around in the cockpit and was unable to roll the boat up.
Kara came out and we paddled over to the big beach.

Kara poses beside the AE kayak.  She is in front of site H1 on the Hart Island remnant.  A few power boaters are camped out a bit down the beach, but most of them just anchor and stay on their boats.
Kara at HMI
Site H1 has a level area that is back off the beach.  Each site has a table and fire ring.  A ranger comes by and accepts $6/day fee.
Site H1 c                    
The view from "the front door".
Looking out my front door
picture by Kara Brown
I counted 19 power boats anchored and 3 on the beach. One belonged to “Fred,” a Pennsylvanian from Middle River, 35 years ago. He and his boys had set some crab traps in Middle River and then come over here to swim. After Fred gave me a dissertation in how to set up a trot line (are you listening, canoedancing?), they departed.

This picture is taken from a tower among the structures at Hart-Miller, on the Miller remnant of HMI.  Most of the power boaters stay off the beach.  Kara is chatting with Fred in this picture.
big beach on the Miller remnant HMI
Here comes Kara up the ramp.  Kayaks on the beach.  The fleet at anchor beyond.
handicapped accessable at HMI
Kara and I climbed up the tower and looked over the interior of the island, which looks very much like what it is: an industrial site.

Viewed from the tower, State facilities include bathrooms.  The two clumps of trees are the Miller and Hart island remnants.  At image left is the containment wall for the dredge spoil storage, which is the main function of HMI.
Industrial at HMI
The interior of HMI is used to store dredge spoils.  I believe the spoil arrives and is distributed as a slurry.  I'm wondering if there aren't large pools of standing water as  a result of this, standing water as in mosquitoe breeding areas.
Industrial Zone HMI

It was hot. We paddled back to our end of Hart-Miller, where a mere 16 boats were anchored. We did some more swimming before breaking camp, loading boats, and paddling across that same quartering, SE, wind, back to Rocky Point. Kara declared it too hot for Artscape, so we said goodbye and I headed into Baltimore. Nearing Artscape, I found a quiet corner of an empty parking lot where I gave myself a street shower. I used a gallon of water and some Dr. Bromer’s to clean myself up. I was still sweating as I pulled on fresh clothes, but at least it was fresh sweat. It was humid and a hundred degrees, Artscape weather!

I rocked out to “See-I” in the shadow (very important) of the Main stage. They were played very enjoyable reggae, even if a little rap oriented (or is that what the Jamaicans call “dancehall?”). Then I retreated to the air-conditioned Brown Center for some opera, “My Baroquen Heart” to be specific. SOJA, my favorite reggae band, put on a whale of a show on the Main Stage at 4:30. They added a horn section since I last heard them play, and sounded better than ever. My friend Mary always goes to Artscape with me, and she found me in the shadow while SOJA was on.

Artscape grew this year. It has expanded up Charles Street. I was dubious about the expansion, because they moved the University of Baltimore stage, a.k.a., the small-timers’ stage, way up Charles Street. It used to be in the hot-as-Hades parking lot near the center of Artscape and the food vendors. This was my favorite place to hear up-and-coming, no-name artists, and I didn’t like the idea of having to hike over and up Charles Street to get to it. They also spread the food vendors from the central, h-a-H lot to five food courts at the corners of the festival. If you wanted Thai food, you had to go the DJ Culture Food Court. If you wanted Vegetarian, that was half mile away at the Green Food Court. I didn’t like the idea of these changes, but after touring the Charles Street extension, I loved it, and I think it takes Artscape to a new level. The performance art booths that lined the bridge over the tracks was a block of true weirdness and having the U. of Baltimore stage in the neighborhood along Charles was a big improvement over the h-a-H lot. There was also an additional, indoor venue, Metro Gallery, where bands played in a small-club atmosphere.

Big Daddy Stallings led a sizeable group of musicians through some very enjoyable blues tunes while we listened at the UB Stage. Caleb Stine & the Brakemen were power-chording their way though grunge-oriented rock material when we popped into the Metro Gallery. They had the crowd frentic and overpowering the air conditioning, but it was still cooler than the street. When I had heard SOJA open for reggae legend Jimmy Clif, I found I preferred SOJA. Another legendary band, the Wailers, were closing the Main Stage, so Mary and I trekked back because I needed to know whether I’d like SOJA more than the Wailers, too. The Wailers were good, but I’d still rather hear SOJA.

It was a tiring and sweat-sodden weekend, but dull it was not. I really enjoyed boating and camping at Hart-Miller, the commute to Artscape was easy, and even though Artscape had its weakest musical line-up that I can remember, the festival was bigger and better than ever. And since I just rate these things by how much fun I have, it was the best Hart-Miller/Artscape ever!

~~Chip Walsh, Gambrills, MD

Words and pictures by Chip Walsh, except as noted.  Don't reuse anything without my permission (I'm easy).