`Chesapeake Borne': a delightful visit with crabs, crabbers, and crab pickers

Crustaceans hold center stage as crabs, crabbers, and crab pickers star in the premi'ere National Geographic television special of the season. Chesapeake Borne (PBS Wednesday, Jan. 15, 8-9 p.m.) is a loving celebration of Chesapeake Bay, home to 2,700 species of plants and animals as well as a hardy band of people who live in the tidewater towns. As the area fights pollution, it tries to hold onto its unique traditions. The film visits the places that make it so special -- Smith and Tangier Islands, and Crisfield, the self-proclaimed ``crab capital of the world.''

Crisfield is the site of one of the nation's most unusual summer festivals, the Hard Crab Derby where viewers can watch the crab-picking contest, the crab race, and of course, the Miss Crustacean beauty pageant (for human competitors only, that is).

On the islands as well as in the small towns, it is becoming harder for fishermen to make a living due to water pollution, waterfront development, and the changes in estuary conditions. Still the bay provides a quarter of the nation's oysters, half the nation's blue crabs, and (as can be seen from this paean to tidewater people) a high percentage of delightful people. ``Chesapeake Borne'' is not just about crustaceans, but also focuses on the solid people who set the tables the crabs adorn at dinner time. Those people, too, worry about the encroachment of big-city values on their teen-agers.

``Chesapeake borne, Chesapeake bound, Chesapeake free'' go the words of the folk song reprised often in this charming film in the WQED/Pittsburgh series now underwritten by Chevron. It's a folksy hour of deliciously crisp and crunchy crabcake Americana.

And would you believe the program was written and produced by a man named David F. Oyster?

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