On a chilly afternoon, Sue Hu walks down to a pier that juts out from a wintry beige stretch of Patuxent River shoreline. As she nears the water’s edge, Hu points proudly to a protruding breakwater that carries great significance. Beyond its power to reduce the eroding impact of waves, it is home to about 40,000 oysters.
“A three-inch oyster can filter up to 55 gallons of water per day,” says Hu, a 73-year-old resident of the Asbury~ Solomons Island retirement community in Calvert County. This phrase has become a mantra for Hu. A member of the community’s Go Green Committee, she helped spearhead a project between the retirement community and the Southern Maryland Oyster Cultivation Society (SMOCS).
Residents help raise juvenile oyster spat in cages hung from the community’s pier so they have a better chance of surviving the early part of their lives. The oysters later are moved to the breakwater, which serves as a reef and where they are thriving today.
The oyster cultivation initiative is just one environmentally focused undertaking Asbury~Solomons Island staff and residents have been a part of in the past several years. About 400 people ages 60 and older make up a kind of extended family at the waterfront campus where “greener” living is a commitment.
Other efforts include composting; starting and coordinating a recycling program through which the community annually collects more than 62,000 pounds of material; gardening education; Earth Day programs; guest lecturers and presenters; a field trip to see ospreys up close; and a river bank management plan for the retirement community’s 1,800 feet of river frontage. The ambitious river bank/buffer management project calls for improving and enhancing the natural diversity of vegetation and wildlife habitats and enhancing water quality, according to Dave Fost, director of facilities for the 58-acre property and nearly 16-year-old retirement community.
Many residents of the community live “independently,” while some receive a range of assisted-living or skilled-nursing services, depending on their health care needs. Thus, Asbury~Solomons Island is among the continuing care communities nationwide redefining where, and how, seniors live.
Go Green Committee member 77-year-old Bud Edwards, who enjoyed a successful career in higher education, moved with his wife five years ago to a cottage in the retirement community. They walk three miles every morning and are sharp-minded great-grandparents, world travelers and regular fish eaters.
Edwards praises Fost and the facility’s management, emphasizing that they respect, and help fulfill, the residents’ desires to have active and intellectually stimulating lives. “We’re not just a bunch of old people,” explains Edwards. “We are people who are bright and productive, who worked all of our lives and still want to, and can, contribute to the world.”
“This [oyster] project provides residents with an opportunity to observe and participate in a natural way of improving the quality of the Patuxent River,” Hu and her husband, Dick Hu, wrote in the Asbury~Solomons Island newsletter River Views.
Sue Hu says the newsletter is vital because it ensures “that information flows” and reinforces how knowledge can move the needle on social and environmental issues. Keeping lines of communication open between the staff, various project and group volunteers and leaders, and residents is essential.
Hu’s enthusiasm and drive create a tangible energy. A former teacher, she is indicative of what environmental stewardship requires: a steady drumbeat of building involvement, educating key groups and working toward change. But she’s also symbolic of what it means to grow older and budge old stereotypes.
“The way I look at it is it’s a way of giving back,” she says. “Hopefully, you can leave the earth in a better place than when you arrived. I’m not sure that’s true everywhere [today], but what is certain is it’s not going to get better if you don’t – we don’t all – do something positive. And that means putting your shoulder to the wheel for the period of time you’re able to do that.” ✦
For more information on Asbury~Solomons Island, visit www.asburysolomons.org.