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Down by the Bay

Several hours south of Easton you come to what's called the Lower Shore, where the flavor is much more Southern. I presented myself at the big white door of the Waterloo Country Inn as the sun was setting over the tidal pond beside it. The sky was an intense orange. It looked like a poster for Gone with the Wind.

Waterloo has six guest rooms, spacious and traditional, furnished with oak and cherry and lacy fabrics. At first there were a few too many dusty rose accents for me. But the next morning, over a beautifully presented breakfast, I got to know the proprietor, Theresa Kraemer, who runs the inn with her husband, Erwin. They're Swiss; they were executives in ZŸrich; they burned out. Now, there was a story I could understand. On a trip to the Chesapeake to visit friends, they saw Waterloo, fell in love with it, and decided to try something new. They've created a marvelous sense of comfort, and on request Theresa cooks a very fine dinner for her guests. After two nights, I'd stopped mewling about the towel color; at a bed-and-breakfast, what really matters is how you feel about your hosts.

Waterloo is near the small town of Princess Anne, at the heart of some beautiful backcountry. You can drive as far north as the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and the remote fishing outpost of Hooper Island. Or you can stay as close as the Upper Ferry, which shuttles two cars at a time across the Wicomico River, guided by a cable. It's like having Huck Finn take you for a ride on his raft.

The big attraction is the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, dedicated to "counterfeit fowls," or decoys. In a moment famous in this little world, Lem and Steve Ward, brothers from nearby Crisfield, entered their woodcarvings in the 1948 National Decoy Makers' Contest in Manhattan. The unknown brothers won Best of Show with a sleeping mallard, its head sweetly tucked into its gray body, and the next thing they knew, the du Ponts were their patrons. It didn't go to their heads. Lem and Steve were of the cigarette-hanging-out-of-the-side-of-the-mouth school of manhood; they wore flannel shirts, they hunted, they studied ducks, they carved ducks. Their studio has been re-created at the museum, down to the last brush-filled Maxwell House coffee can, and who doesn't yearn to have their depth of conviction?On his return to Crisfield in 1948, Lem said in an interview, "There is not enough money in the world to make me give up these marshes and go live in a city like that."

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