Books of the region: Boats, Quilts, race

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A dovekie is, originally, a bird; among sailing craft, it's a small (21'5"), single-sail, lowerable-mast, flat-bottom, no-bilge, inboard-engine, fiberglass boat - a one-person boat that will still move in as little as 4 inches of water. It is very rowable, very trailerable. In 1987, Robert De Gast bought an 8-year-old dovekie for about $6,000, brought it to Chesapeake Bay, added a small centerboard and named it Fiddler.

De Gast is one of the great modern Bay (and beyond) sailors. People know him for his maritime photography, but it's the boats he has owned that he talks about. In 1993, he and Fiddler turned their backs on the conventional, creeky Eastern Shore; slowly, they went up the "5. faire and delightful navigable rivers" (as Jamestown's Capt. John Smith described them) that come down from the west: James, York, Rappahannock, Potomac and Patuxent. The result is "Five Fair Rivers" (Johns Hopkins University Press. Maps. 178 pages, $19.95).

Each one-way voyage took about a week, Mrs. De Gast meeting him at an agreed ramp and date. Taking along charts, anchor, paddle, oars, deck tent, sleeping bag, insect repellent, weather radio, book to read, dry clothes, gasoline, stove, food, flashlight and notebook, he put out from shore - amid the aircraft carriers of Hampton Roads.

Every river provided adventure. The visual and aural pollution of militarism and technology alternated with patches of 1600s-style wilderness. Mainly, what De Gast had was solitude. Out on the open Bay, some will liken sailing rivers to rounds of golf using a putter; but they wouldn't be out on the Bay, without crews to boss around.

"Five Fair Rivers" is notable for its easy familiarity with other books on sailing; its reminder that Spaniards, not Englishmen, discovered Chesapeake and Potomac; its good writing (De Gast is a native of the Netherlands). But best of all is its picture of one sailor, one boat.

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One of the ways Windsor Hills has celebrated its centennial is by publishing "Windsor, 1895-1995," edited by Sara Hartman (Baltimore: Windsor Hills Neighbors. 56 pages. Maps and photos. $12). What more fitting from a neighborhood that, setting out to list its published authors, found no fewer than 32?

From Baltimore harbor, long ago, you could see the top of a 125-foot tulip poplar at 2604 Queen Anne Road. Then, on that "steep eastern cliff of the Gwynns Falls valley" and its contour-line streets, frame mansions went up. Today, in the words of Edgar L. Jones, what stands out is "the unique blend of races, creeds, classes, talents and interests" in Windsor Hills.

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The name Baltimore connotes, quite widely, quilts. The so-called Baltimore Album quilts, many of anonymous workwomanship and dating from about 1850, today rate museum exhibitions.

When Frances Benton, in Alabama, sewed a year and a half making a 25-block quilt of like artistry, the letters she wrote to a friend rated a color-photo book: "The Making of a Baltimore Album Quilt" (Montgomery, Ala.: Black Belt Press. 64 pages. $16.95).

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A great many U.S. colleges owe their start to, and were long supported by, U.S. churches. The Methodists alone founded more than 1,200 colleges. In just the past generation, again and again the cord has been loosened, even cut.

After surveying 700-plus church-related colleges for his book "Uneasy Partners" (Abingdon Press, paper, $14.95), Merrimon Cuninggim, formerly of the Danforth Foundation and Salem College, is optimistic for their future.

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As for government-sponsored higher education, today much is questionable. Could some administrators and teachers define "altruism"? How many students study?

In his novel "Beethoven Was Black & Browne Is White" (Baltimore: Mt. Holly Press. 230 pages. $8), Mark Hayes dreams up Freedman State College, a black institution with lots and lots of vivid personnel problems.

"Beethoven" is an angry book; its underlying theme is the "total eclipse of the white man in America." Entertainment - yes; good sense - no.

James H. Bready has written for The Evening Sun for many years as a reporter and book editor. He writes a monthly column on Maryland books.

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