I live on a secluded island on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It's a well-kept secret and a favored vacation destination, especially the marina and inn where I work. Almost every day I can look forward to hearing a guest say something like, "You live in paradise!" or "You're so lucky to stay here all year." I'll admit I’m spoiled. My bedroom and office have views of the water. I kayak almost every day and can go out on a sailboat or fishing charter whenever I want. I've got generous islander friends who give me fresh seafood. This place is usually peaceful and always beautiful, but it's not vacation for me.
Living in a place that's a tourist attraction can suck sometimes. Though my place of work has an incredible backdrop, it can be just as monotonous as any other desk job. I have to be particularly bright-eyed and cheerful because these people are vacationing. Cynicism is not welcome in the hospitality business. I slipped up once when a gentleman was going on about how fortunate I am to live in “paradise” by telling him that "paradise is a relative term." I have just as many bad days as any other underpaid receptionist. In fact, a lot of people on this island do. The watermen who were once the sole inhabitants here have been cursed with bad fishing and crabbing seasons for years, some have been exposed to the horrifying flesh-eating bacteria that has plagued the Bay. I don't know if their ill-fated business is the reason for it, but most of them are drunks. Some aren't, especially older retired men who are adorably polite and always glad to share a fishing story for the 10th time. Those who are, though, make me nervous when I run or bike along the roads here. Younger ones catcall me as they rev their choking diesel engines leaving clouds of black smoke. All of them come dangerously close to me with their trucks. It's a sad fact of this seemingly quaint little island. Drug abuse is also rampant; years ago heroin ruined the lives of many young people and incarcerated others. Now crack, cocaine and prescription painkillers are abused on workboats and among a few lifelong locals.
Winters here are relentlessly cold. Last year the Bay froze over; my friends and I were able to walk on it. With unpredictably changing temperatures, any season can be dodgy. Hurricane Isabel and Irene are fresh in the minds of those who were here to experience it, leaving waterfront homes with flooded first floors. Some recall the damage from hurricane Agnes decades ago. Locals keep a close eye on the weather though the forecast can be deceiving. The wind direction and color of the sky are more accurate indicators. When I kayak I'm aware of changing wind direction, I've experienced how quickly storm systems move in. The Chesapeake is captivating but it's dangerous to forget its potential power.
I love this place and appreciate its character, but it's taught me a valuable lesson about how setting doesn't necessarily influence contentment.