At best, collaboration is a difficult thing. In writing, it might be defined as a temporary Siamese twin act in which two personalities and styles are briefly joined. In the case of A Gift of Place, a story about Chesapeake Bay that begins on page 56, an especially difficult double was performed by Bob Boyle and Mark Kram.
Boyle has a mind that darts from question to fact with the speed of a lizard's tongue; he is restless, inquisitive, energetic, scientific. His writing is spare and perfectly suited to what he considers his role as a reporter: "To find out, make clear, interpret." Kram is a brooder, savoring impressions, probing himself as much as others until the essence of those impressions articulates itself in a style rich with imagery.
What the two writers share (along with Executive Editor Ray Cave, who lived on the shores of the Chesapeake for 20 years and suggested their story) is an interest in the bay. Kram, a native of Baltimore, grew up near the Chesapeake but had not taken a close look at it for 10 years. "I wandered around a lot as a kid," he says, and one almost waits for him to add "lonely as a cloud." His return refreshed memories of birds and marshes and, most of all, watermen "still highly individual, still resisting progress."
"I could never feel the things Mark expresses about the Chesapeake because I've never lived there," says Boyle, a native New Yorker who calls himself an "estuary man." He is fascinated by great bodies of water, an interest that evolved from his hobby, fishing. To satisfy that interest, he has collected more than 1,000 books on natural history and subjects that are related to it. "Estuaries have personalities, and Chesapeake Bay is the richest in the world," he says. So how does it compare with his home fishing ground, the Hudson River? "The Hudson is a long, deep cooler," Boyle says. "The Chesapeake is a big, muddy soup bowl. What makes any estuary interesting is the variety of life in it. For instance, the great oyster communities are missing from the Hudson. On the other hand, there are very few Atlantic sturgeon in Chesapeake Bay."
Just as each body of water nurtures its unique forms of life, each writer contributes his special forms of expression to a story. Boyle likes to measure things: How many? What kind? Why? Kram is more subjective, more apt to ask: What does it mean to me?
Despite the authors' different approaches, the collaboration was an interesting and surprisingly gratifying experience for both of them. Says Kram, "I looked for counterpoints and came up with sketches." Says Boyle, "Experience and imagination are two different things." In A Gift of Place we are fortunate enough to have a story that incorporates both.