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The diamondback terrapin is the Maryland state reptile.
The diamondback terrapin is the Maryland state reptile. (Lois Szymanski)

The sudden change in the weather has me moaning about winter coming, even though we are less than a week into fall. I am NOT a cold weather fan. But when I think about my friends, Kris and Jerry Barnes in Canada and how many days they endure temperatures below zero, with snow piled up for months … then I think, OK, I guess I can handle Maryland winters.

When I think about this state, I realize there are many reasons to love Maryland, especially Carroll County, nestled right in the middle. It’s a sweet county to live in. We are only a few hours from the mountains to the west, yet we can find the ocean just 3 1/2 hours east. We’ve got wild horses, bald eagles and black bears, dolphins and turtles, and birds that walk on legs that look like stilts. And then there’s blue crabs. Did you know that Maryland produces more blue crabs and soft clams than any other U.S. state? That’s pretty cool.

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Our history is rich and deep. The first post office in the United States was in Baltimore, founded in 1774. Less than 100 years later, in May of 1844, inventor Samuel F.B. Morse sent the first telegraph from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore. Harriet Tubman, champion of the Underground Railroad, was born a slave in Maryland, a state not well-known for slave-holders. And famous black abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, was born and educated in our very own state.

Last year, I had the privilege of being invited to sign books at the Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival in Easton. This wonderful celebration is held in the historic section of Easton. As many times as we’ve cruised down Md. 50 and through the town of Easton, I’d never been to this beautiful historic district. There, brick sidewalks lined streets with old fashioned taverns and a life-sized statue of Frederick Douglass on Washington Street, in front of the very courthouse where Douglass gave his “Self-Made Men” speech to a segregated audience in Nov. 25, 1878. The statue is part of Maryland’s Frederick Douglass Driving Tour.

Maryland has so many wonderful spots like Easton, places we sometimes stumble upon or discover by accident. The state is made up of 9,775 square miles in land, including Hoye-Crest, the highest point in the state — and part of the Backbone Mountain — with an elevation of 3,360 feet. This is just one of 21 mountains and ridges. This time of year, with the leaves changing colors, taking a drive through the Maryland mountains can feel surreal, like traveling through a colorful painting.

My brother lives in Oakland, Maryland, near Deep Creek Lake. This was where my father took us on our only vacation ever when I was a child. We stayed in a cabin in the middle of the woods, but what I remember most was Swallow Falls State Park. It’s bordered by the Youghiogheny River with thick pines, rocky gorges and the rippling rapids of Swallow Falls. We kids waded in and slid down the rocks in the shallow sections of the falls. Not far away was Muddy Creek Falls, a crashing, spectacular 53-foot waterfall. This is just one of many special spots in Western Maryland.

In the nearly 9,800 square miles of land, Maryland also has 4,431 miles of tidal shoreline and an additional 2,633 square miles of water. Among many Maryland towns built on the water, is Annapolis, a town that receives more than 4 million visitors annually, earning it the title of Sailing Capital of the World. But my favorite tidal land in Maryland is Assateague Island. As you may know, I am truly in love with the wild ponies that live on this 33 mile barrier island. The ones on the Maryland side are the Assateague Ponies, while the Virginia ponies are called Chincoteague Ponies.

Nature is a big part of our state. At the Calvert Marine Museum on Solomon’s Island you can meet otters, horseshoe crabs, live whelks and diamondback turtles. My family had an amazing time there for Patuxent River Appreciation Day, which happens annually in October. There’s so much to appreciate in all corners of our state.

Maryland has also given the world a multitude of famous writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allan Poe, Dashiell Hammett and Upton Sinclair … and that is just to name a few. Even notable etiquette expert and writer, Emily Post was born in Maryland. In addition, The Maryland Gazette is the oldest continuously published newspaper in the United States. The presses have been churning out issues since its founding in 1727.

The Maryland State Capitol building is the oldest surviving U.S. statehouse still in use. The state is home to many varied industries — chiefly aerospace and defense, fishing, life sciences, manufacturing, and cyber security. And then there is the food industry.

There are so many yummy foods that are uniquely Maryland. There’s blue crabs, Thrasher’s fries, Utz potato chips, pit beef — a Maryland creation, buttery corn on the cob, caramel popcorn, especially Fisher’s, Berger cookies, and Smith Island Cake.

Did you know the Smith Island Cake is our state’s official dessert, named after our only populated off-shore island? You’ll have to take the ferry or a boat to visit.

In case you’re wondering, cake isn’t the only item that’s official within the state. The state bird is the Baltimore Oriole, the state flower is the black-eyed Susan, the state sport is jousting, and the team sport is lacrosse. The state drink is milk, the tree is the White Oak and the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly was designated Maryland’s state insect in 1973. Rockfish are the official fish, the diamondback terrapin is the state reptile, and the shell of an extinct snail called the ecphora gardnerae that inhabited the Chesapeake Bay five to 12 million years ago was named the state fossil shell in 1984. Then, in 1985, the Skipjack was named the state boat.

That covers nature and wildlife, but what about animals? The Maryland state dog is the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and in 2001 the calico cat was chosen as Maryland’s state cat, because its colors match the red, black and white of the Maryland flag.

Only three states host a triple crown race annually and Maryland is one of them, with the second jewel in the crown, the Preakness, held at Pimlico racetrack. So, it’s no wonder the thoroughbred was named the Maryland state horse.

As fall settles in, dragging winter behind it, I am going to try to remember all these reasons I love Maryland. If you’re like me, when the temps dip into the teens, we may all need a reminder!

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Lois Szymanski writes from Westminster. Her Life & Times column, The Great Big World, appears every first, third and fifth Sunday. Email her at loisszymanski@hotmail.com.

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