view counter

All (All)

If it’s got a blue tail, it’s a skink

The shiny-skinned skink is not a salamander. It is a reptile. Skinks have scaled skins and live in dry areas where salamanders, which are amphibians, cannot.
    The American five-lined skink is the most common lizard in Maryland. They are also known as the blue-tailed skink because the younger lizards have bright blue tails, and also the red-headed skink because the adult males have red heads.
    These aggressive animals are able to spread over a wide range. Unfortunately, they can displace other lizards, like fence swifts.
    In the early spring, the skinks that over-wintered explore their surroundings. They actively hunt insects but will also eat worms and smaller vertebrates, even other lizards. By May, they look for mates and go through a fairly complex courtship. They chase and scratch at each other in a jerky dance-like manner.
    A couple of weeks after mating, the female will lay 10 to 20 eggs in a semi-moist area such as under a log. What is unusual among these lizards is that the female will coil around the eggs and aggressively defend them. The young hatchlings also get protection until they disperse.
    The youngest lizards have the brightest blue tails. When a skink is grabbed by the tail, the tail will break off and wiggle on its own, so the bright blue color will likely hold the attacker’s attention as the lizard slips away. Older skinks will also lose their tails, but the tails are no longer blue.
    The five-lined skink is thought to live up to six years in the wild. They will live longer in captivity but do not make good pets. They tend to escape, bite, dislike being held and do not calm down easily.
    They are common and widespread, from the coast to the mountains. They do not mind the heat, and we see them everywhere.

Saccharine story; great leads

As an adult with Down syndrome and no family, Zak (Zack Gottsagen, making his feature debut) is a man without a place. He’s too old for children’s homes and too vulnerable for rehab centers. He winds up in a state-run nursing home.
    He is popular with both staff and residents, but at 22 he doesn’t want to waste his life in a nursing home. He dreams of becoming a professional wrestler, like his hero The Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church). Where he wants to be is at wrestling school in North Carolina.
    With the help of some senior residents, he escapes the nursing home and finds himself alone on the rivers of North Carolina. Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a drifter with a mysterious past, agrees to take him to the wrestling school. Cut to a water chase by well-meaning state workers and angry fishermen.
    Can this motley duo reach their destination?
    This modernized take on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a sweet story of chasing your dreams and finding your family. Directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, in their feature debut, make a heartfelt and beautifully shot film, capturing the wild beauty of North Carolina’s seas and marshes. Each backwoods spot is populated with characters who could have stepped out of the pages of a Twain tale.
    If only they had taken equal care with the script.
    Sincerity is both the film’s greatest asset and its greatest weakness. Nilson and Schwartz take pains to give dimensional character to Zak, but not to the people he encounters. Antagonists can be cartoonish in their wickedness. An extraneous love subplot lands with the dull thud of a bird hitting a window. The message is so firmly hammered that it becomes tiresome.
    On the plus side, LaBeouf and Gottsagen give utterly wonderful central performances. The scenes where they’re goofing around in fields and on rafts are brimming with joy. Newcomer Gottsagen has a natural screen presence, and his performance anchors the film. His Zak is determined, kind and in love with discovering new things. He blossoms the moment he escapes the nursing home. LaBeouf has never been better, in a genuine likeable turn. His Tyler is damaged by life but still a deeply good soul.
    Their chemistry makes The Peanut Butter Falcon worth the ticket. It’s rare to capture a friendship so wonderfully on film.

Good Dramedy • PG-13 • 97 mins.


~~~ New this Week ~~~

It Chapter Two

    After seemingly defeating the evil Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), the members of The Losers Club dispersed. Then children go missing again in Derry, Maine, and Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) asks his friends to return. Pennywise is back, stronger than ever.
    Can the adult Losers Club find in each other the strength they had as children?
    This sequel to It has a more difficult task than its blockbuster original. The best bits of Stephen King’s novel all involve the Losers as children; the adult sections drag by comparison. So It Chapter Two has an uphill battle to be received as well as the first film.
    On the plus side, director Andy Muschietti is back, meaning gorgeous looks and plenty of chills. Muschietti also has a deft hand at editing, trimming down King’s novel into a streamlined story. Stars like Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy and Bill Hader should help.
    If you were a fan of the first movie (or the book), this should be an excellent way to spend three hours. But don’t buy the big soda. With that running time and plenty of jump scares, your bladder doesn’t need any more stress.

Prospects: Bright • R • 169 mins.

They’re big, fat and catchable

The four of us were remarkably restrained as the first bunch of steaming, fiery-red crustaceans was deposited in the middle of the well-protected tabletop that evening. There were several monsters in the pile, and pains were taken to ensure everyone got two or three to start.
    It was a group effort, after all, with my son Harrison and I capturing a bit over a half bushel of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs that very morning. Harrison’s long-time girlfriend Jerrica and my wife Deborah took care of providing the proper utensils and our traditional side dishes: steaming sweet corn and thick slices of big, local, red tomatoes. Cold tinned adult beverages were also distributed.
    The table was ringed with small bowls of melted butter, apple cider vinegar and white vinegar and extra portions of J.O. No. 2 seasoning. There were small crab knives for each of us, handy wooden mallets and lots of paper towels.
    The mallets, of course, were not intended for cracking open the crabs; that would be wastefully clumsy. They were intended to drive the knife blade through part of the thicker crab shells on the claws and body parts to allow our tender fingers to more easily crack them open and access the most delicious sections of meat inside.
    There is no comparison to eating just-caught blue crabs; their sweetness and delicacy is unequaled. As we started in on the crabs, not a word was exchanged for easily 20 minutes before anyone paused. At that point, my son and I began arguing over whose efforts had been most productive.
    The disputes were all pro forma to remind ourselves that everyone’s participation had been critical, but lots of good humor was essential for the whole effort. I had gathered the gear and prepped the skiff, and Harrison and I had baited the line with chicken necks the night before. With excellent eyesight and reactions, my son manned the crab net the whole of the morning while I maintained the skiff’s course and speed, more or less to good effect.
    We had set our 600 feet of snooded trotline just after sunrise at the mouth of a nearby creek, ignoring a light crosswind that would affect our direction the rest of the day. It is always best to lay the line in the same or opposite direction to the tidal current and the wind. Any hard angle is undesirable, as it can blow the boat about, pulling on the trotline, creating slack and causing crabs to drop off.
    As it had been some time since we had crabbed intensively (the numbers have been poor the last two season), we were rusty. Both of us were somewhat gear clumsy.
    We were anxious during the first run on the line. I’d had no recent information as to crab concentrations and was operating on pure guesswork as to where and what would work that overcast day. I had heard reports that crabbing had finally improved in the area. But it was a big river.
    That first run allayed our fears. Within the first 100 feet, we had a half-dozen lovely jimmies in the basket. By the end of 600 feet, we had an even dozen, some of them veritable giants and all big enough that they didn’t need to be measured. By 11am we were headed for the ramp with more than enough in the basket for four hungry eaters.
    If you’ve waited out the season, I assure you that now is the time to crab. September is probably the best month every year, but especially this year. You’ve dodged the uncertainties and wild winds of springtime, the punishing heat of the summer, and by now the crabs have begun feeding up for the winter ahead. Almost all of them will be fat to bursting and sweet beyond belief.
    A trotline is the most productive method if you’ve got any kind of boat, though crab traps will also get the job done. If you’ve got patience and a particularly good location, a cotton string baited with a chicken neck and a crab net will even do. Chicken is the handiest bait overall, though razor clams will draw more crabs and quicker. Keep a good measuring stick handy, as five-and-one-quarter inches is a minimum size for the males. Sooks (females) are prohibited.
    You’ll need about a half-dozen jimmies for each person eating.
    Store crabs in a covered bushel basket with ample exposure to air; a solid-sided basket will eventually suffocate a crab. Keep them in the shade. Assuming they’re reasonably cool, they will keep overnight. However, the sooner they are cooked and brought to the table after capture, the better the flavor.

Fish Finder

    The rockfish bite remains decent. Trolling is more effective each day as long as you’re dragging smaller baits, as the rock are on the small side. Jigging them up and chumming will continue to improve as temperatures drop. The top-water bite is developing as we speak. Spot can still be easily caught on their way back to the ocean, so live-lining bite remains consistent.
    Spanish mackerel are still bounding about. White perch are schooling up nicely, but they are on the small side. Crabbing has been wonderful the last two weeks, and it’s about time.

But the breaking season — and Bay Weekly — are full of fall fun

If you’re so swept up by this busy world that you’ve got no time for more, please don’t read this week’s special Fall Fun Guide, 50 Ways to Leave Your Summer.
    There’s so much more here that you’d feel overwhelmed.
    But if you’re feeling early autumn’s invigoration — big breezes … the crisp relief of cool nights … the light, clear air of morning … the hurry-up call of mellowing light … the cicadas’ carpe diem urgency … the rush of school buses — then turn these pages.
    I don’t know about you, but I haven’t yet gotten too old to feel called to new possibilities each early September. That mood softens my regret at summer’s galloping speed and certain fading. I don’t really want to say goodbye, but as I must, well then bring on autumn.
    That’s the mood that led, way back in the last century, to our first issue of 50 Ways to Leave Your Summer. We liked what we found so much that it’s become an annual tradition. The goal is to fill your fall with so much fun that summer receeds as a fond memory. You might orchestrate it with the Beach Boys’ Summer Gone.
    We start by scouring dozens of calendars for adventures stretching from mid-September to Thanksgiving. Leading that six-weeks-long hunt is calendar editor and staff writer Kathy Knotts. Her range runs from Pasadena to St. Mary’s County, Shady Side to Riverdale. As Kathy develops her long list, we all lobby for our favorites. We can only choose 50, so the competition can get pushy. I always argue for the Great Jack O’ Lantern Campfire at Darnall’s Chance House Museum in Upper Marlboro, which you’ll see made the list again this year as No. 24.
    The final 50 Chesapeake champions of fall fun range from church suppers to mammoth productions like the nine-weekend Maryland Renaissance Festival, the two-week U.S. Boat Shows or the Anne Arundel and Calvert County Fairs. Every weekend fills with music festivals, art festivals, even more boat festivals, fall festivals, food truck festivals, harvest festivals, locavore festivals, Oktoberfests and African, Indian, Italian ethnic fests, oyster festivals, a pirate festival, a recycling green art fest, a retro festival and lots of spooky Halloween fests.
    In the roster of fetes, the U.S. Boats Shows are unique. All about boats, they’re the only ones not offering food and drink on site. Surrounding Annapolis restaurants fill that gap.
    All the others tempt you with such a range of good things to eat and drink, from apple-cidar donuts to oysters many ways to many-course dinners like the annual Dining in the Field. Specialty food trucks are a risen star, and many festivals boast a line of them. Craft beer has spread from Oktober fests almost universally. Local wine gets its day at the Twist and Stout festival at Quiet Waters Park and the Riverside WineFest.
    We’re also sharing plenty of more active ways to leave your summer and enjoy autumn’s appealing weather. You can hike, golf in the Bay-CSS tournament, bike up to 100 miles and run off pre-holiday calories.
    Less briskly, you can join the world’s shortest tug of war across water, find your way through a maze, wander a field to pick your pumpkin or an orchard to pick apples.
    In Annapolis Sketchcrawl, walk through the U.S. Naval Academy and nearby streets at a pace that gives you time to draw along the way. At Annmarie Garden’s Artsfest, tour arts and crafts booths along the quarter-mile wooded path. Or take a tour of Muddy Creek Artists Guild studios.
    For fun on the wilder side, Halloween supplies spook houses, hauntings, cemetery tours, scary concerts, cosplay and trick or treating.
    We’ll see you out and about all autumn. Show us where you’ve been: send your Fall Fun photos to [email protected]

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
[email protected],

This week’s virtual tour will help you appreciate all we are




Unless your viewing technology has advanced beyond television, you know all about how friendly local visitors opening their arms, shops and cultures for happy travelers on riverboat cruises. Whether it’s all too good to be true is not today’s point (though I am curious). This week Bay Weekly invites you to tour equivalent of Chesapeake Country.

Yes, ours is a virtual tour — in one sense of the word. But at the same time it’s literal, as you’re likely to tour via the printed page rather than computer — though either medium will take you there. Either way, what I mean is that you’ll get the inside scoop, though, alas, not the riverboat or its amenities. 

Instead, you’ll travel on the ever-magic carpet of reading into the business district of the small-town Chesapeake village of Bay Weekly partners. Chesapeake Country is not Corfu, Greece; Bergen, Norway; Beri, Italy; or the towns and villages you remember from way back, where color, life and shops full of more than you could imagine crowd together in a package of excitement.

Chesapeake Country’s history endures in our pattern of settlement, remembering plantations that were fiefdoms in themselves, linked less to one another than to the rivers and Bay, where commerce streamed. We remain a mostly sprawled-out experience, with most shops and services their own little entities, others linked in twos and threes or little shopping centers. 

So you can visit this village only in Bay Weekly pages. 

Every week, advertising partners come together in our pages. But this week is different. Most weeks of the year, they appear in advertisements, which draw your attention like billboards, flashing their name and, typically, timely specials on offer. This week, the people behind 60-plus of those shops and services stand in their doorways and invite you in.

It’s as if they’ve taken on the roles of those Corfu bakers, Beri baristas and Bergen fishmongers. Come in, they say, and let us tell you about what we do and who we are. 

Most, you’ll learn, got into their business because it’s what they do best or love most. 

In the words of Bobby Jones, inventor and proprietor of two Chesapeake Country restaurants, The Point in Severna Park and Ketch-22 in North Beach-Rose Haven says, “I love this business, love making good food and being around great people.” 

Many are tied to their work by a family story. Thus Teresa Schrodel and brother Frank Radosevic grew up helping their father William and mother Annamaria in the art businesses that evolved into Medart Gallery in Dunkirk.

That’s also the case of the Tice family of En-Tice-Ment Farm, who continue a five-generation tradition of farming, adapting generation by generation to change and culture. 

It’s true, too, that Dan Mallonee of Bay Country Crabbing, learned his trade as a boy from his grandfather.  

Others, like Jones, figured out what they could do best. For Cynthia McBride of Main Street Gallery in Annapolis and Benfield Gallery in Severna Park, that was an art-based business that could move with her husband’s career. 

And you won’t be surprised to learn that Steven Graham of Independent Tree Care loves trees. 

Among the entrepreneurs you’ll meet are successes in other fields who reached out to see what they could do in a whole new environment. The Gregories, Jack, wife Dee and daughter Cassie, stretched from all the way from plumbing, CSA Plumbing in Calvert County, to dairy-free soft serve in opening Jango’s Frozen Treats in the real Chesapeake Country town of North Beach. 

Some of the people you’ll meet in the village of our business guide are old timers. Smyth Jewelers dates back to 1914, Essex Bank to 1920, Bowen’s Grocery to 1929 and Happy Harbor to 1933.

Two, Jesse Ramirez and Jayleen Fonseca, opened their restaurant, Jesse Jays in West River this year. 

We’ve listed them all from oldest to newest so you can enjoy, as we have, this history lesson in miniature. Our own small business, Bay Weekly, founded in 1993, has passed a quarter century.

Meeting all these business owners on their own terms, you’ll be impressed, perhaps awed, by their entrepreneurial imagination and daring. You’ll be rooting for them to keep right on. You’ll be forming ties that make shopping locally a commitment rather than a slogan. 

When we get to know one another, we appreciate our community as much as all those seemingly ideal places to which we travel.

Read on …


Sandra Olivetti Martin

Editor and publisher

[email protected],


Introducing Mary Ann Jung; Remembering Valerie Lester

In this week’s packed paper, you’ll read about Mary Ann Jung, a woman of many faces. I won’t say introduce, because you’ve likely already met her. Actress Jung impersonates her history-making women far and wide. You might have seen her — and them — live in festivals, schools, libraries, museums, senior centers, conferences as well as in in-between stops at, say, the grocery or mall. Next week, she introduces a new character, Irish Pirate Queen Captain Grace O’ Malley at a Chatauqua event at Severn Library.
    I won’t tell you any more of Jung’s first person story, for I don’t want to steal her thunder or deprive you of the pleasure of reading her words for youself.
    It’s another woman of many faces I’ll introduce here. For some of you, it will be a re-introduction. Valerie Lester made her presence known with us in many ways during the years she and husband Jim lived in Annapolis Roads. Among those ways was as a Bay Weekly contributing writer, a role in which she flashed a new face in each appearance.
    If you watched the Annapolis Fourth of July parade during the last decade of the last century and the first of this century, you saw Val. She strutted and sweated in the parade along with instructor Lisa Malone’s Jazzercise class.
    “It is so much fun to dance down Main Street,” said Val, who called herself one of the Jazzercise group’s older members, interviewed for our 2002 feature Everybody Loves a Parade.
    “There’s no traffic, and you’ve got this great view from the top looking out over the water. Even in the rain it’s fun. In fact, it’s even better, because you’re cool.”
    I got to know the Val of another face, as we were drawn together by our love of words and stories. If memory serves me, we got together over her second book, Phiz, the Man Who Drew Dickens. Phiz — formally Hablot Knight Browne — was for 23 years the illustrator who brought Charles Dickens’ words to life. He was also Valerie Browne Lester’s great-great-grandfather, and dutifully and enthusiastically, she devoted eight years to bringing him back to life in her biography.
    Our July 2006 story introduced Phiz and Val the sleuth to Bay Weekly readers ( But readers back then already knew her in the many other faces she revealed as a Bay Weekly contributing writer.
    A great listener, Val loved other people’s stories as much as her own. So I assigned her fascinating characters. One was astrophysicist Peter Perry of Harwood, who she introduced in the story Yes, It’s Rocket Science ( Another was midshipman Stephanie Hoffman of the class of 2005, herself a woman of many faces. We chose her to profile because both Val and I had seen her extraordinary portrayal of Lady MacBeth in the Naval Academy Masqueraders’s steamy production
( When Val interviewed Stephanie, she was training as a Navy flyer.
    Val had her own flight stories to tell. She combined her experience as a Pan Am flight attendant in the early 1960s with her usual thoroughgoing research to write Fasten Your Seat Belts! History and Heroism in the Pan Am Cabin. But her interest in flight began in utero, she wrote and shaped her life, both broadly and specifically.
    England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are island nations. The vast waters around them seem to call and certain of those islanders — or so I have observed — to leap into the wider world. Val’s parents were of that sort. She grew up in Jamaica, went to boarding school in England, signed on to fly internationally and traveled and lived comfortably around the world for the rest of her life. After she left Annapolis in 2009, we in her worldwide network of friends would hear from her in Italy, England, Singapore — who knew where.
    Val as the intrepid world traveler fascinated me — and occasionally set off spikes of envy — as I sat year after year at my same desk, producing issue after issue of the same paper. She was, I think, at home any place in the world.
    The specific consequence of her flight years was her husband. She met James Lester in the air, working his return flight from Mount Everest, where he’d talked his way into Base Camp as the first psychologist interacting on site with climbers.
    Encountering the Lesters in Annapolis, where they’d decided on something of a lark to retire after raising two children and living years in D.C., I couldn’t tell who to be more impressed with, Val or Jim. Like me a native St. Louisan, Jim had broken out into the wider world in ways as spectacular as his wife’s. He was also an author. As a psychologist, he’d worked with Timothy Leary about whom, late in life, he wrote a book. A musician as well, Jim had also had to his credit the Oxford University Press book Too Marvelous for Words: The Life & Genius of Art Tatum.
    I never could get Jim to write for Bay Weekly, but I ranked Val quite the catch.
    When Val decided to translate the French novel Le Grand Meaulnes as her third book and she became too busy for Bay Weekly features, she continued offering us shorts and reflections revealing many more of her faces.
    She might write in praise of local garden clubs (
    Or in praise of kale, as in “The other day, I dashed into the supermarket and came to a screeching halt in front of the most dazzling display of kale …” (
    She might tell a ghost story in poetry (
    Complain about the foxes digging up her garden (
    Or describe the heroism of a young neighbor who’d snatched her Chihuahua from the claws of an eagle (
    My favorite of her paeans to daily life stretched me far beyond my daily life. It was a little contribution to a What We Want for Christimas story, titled To Knit the Raveled Sheeve of Care (
    Val left Annapolis, with Jim, when ALS began to take away his independence. They had less than one more year together.
    Then Val took flight again, revealing many more faces as she delighted in life and created three more books each one so particular that no one but she could have imagined them: biographies of the type-designer Bodani, the botanist Clarence Bicknell and a historical novel, The West Indian.
    She came to the end of her many travels on June 7 in Hingham, Mass. Her children were at her side.
    With her death, the world is duller and many hearts heavier.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
[email protected],

To Knit the Raveled Sheeve of Care

by Valerie Lester


Links. Not sausage links. Not golf links. But links between people and places. I’ll tell you a story that illustrates what I mean.
    Recently, in the face of the enormity of the earthquake that struck Pakistan, Kashmir and northern India, with all the force of a nuclear explosion, I felt wretchedly impotent. What can a person do in the face of such horror? Send money, of course, and I intended to do that. But I became obsessed with the idea of actually participating in the effort to help.
    Reason, of course, intervened. A 66-year-old woman flying to Islamabad with packets of food and clothes tucked into bags and the interstices of her coat, demanding to be taken to the epicenter, might not exactly be General Musharraf’s idea of aid. But with a harsh winter approaching in the mountains of the region, the idea of contributing something real was persistent.
    Eventually, I dug out my bag of yarn and started crocheting a scarf of many colors. Shortly thereafter, I set off on a trip to England and crocheted my way across the Atlantic. (My crochet hook is short and discreet. It’s made of aluminum and doesn’t set off airport security alarms the way knitting needles sometimes do.)
    I finished the scarf in Shaftesbury (which is a lovely town in Thomas Hardy’s Dorset countryside). There’s an Oxfam shop on the main street, and I took my scarf there. The shop is staffed by delightful, very elderly ladies, who do a brisk trade in second-hand goods and holiday cards. Taking pride of place in the center of the counter was a collection box whose label announced Earthquake Appeal. Yes! I stuffed some money into it (priming the pump, as it were, for the reception of my somewhat dubious gift), then produced my somewhat raffish scarf, asking the ladies if there was a way to send it to the earthquake victims. They didn’t laugh, bless them.
    “Will Afghanistan do?” they asked. “Some volunteers are putting together shoe boxes and shipping them there?”
    Afghanistan. It’s cold and miserable in the mountains there too, so even though it wasn’t my first choice, Kashmir, I agreed. Then I looked around the shop and bought several boxes of Christmas cards. On a whim I asked if they had any donations of yarn. They had a crateful. I dug through it and found a dozen balls of excellent navy wool.
    There’s a chain here: Someone donated leftover yarn, Oxfam accepted it, I bought it and am now nearly three feet into an enormous scarf.
    This time I’m going to make sure it gets to an earthquake victim in Kashmir. Does anyone know how I might? That will forge another link, and that is what I want for Christmas.

A brilliant topic

A peacock’s tail is actually brown. But it possesses structural surface properties that create a bright rainbow of hues. The colorful display is due to iridescence.
    The simplest example of iridescence is the colorful shine of a drop of oil floating on water. When the oil film is thin enough, light gets bent as it hits the oil-water interface in a process called refraction. That light may be only one wavelength, one color, as determined by the thickness of the oil. The thinner the oil, the shorter wavelength of light that bounces back. The thicker spots are reddish and the thinner bluer.
    Animals of all sorts have created structural coloration not from pigments. In some, like a snake called the rainbow boa, it is from a thin film that changes thickness and color as the snake stretches and compresses while moving. Other colors are created by a static bio-coating or structures that create refraction of a particular wavelength, as with the peacock or the throat patch of a ruby-throated hummingbird.
    The angle of the light hitting the throat patch sometimes hits that sweet spot where the refraction amplifies the bounced light. In the photos presented here —taken within two minutes — the light was too bright for my camera’s sensor. 
    Iridescence is used for coloration by many plants and animals. It is, however, uncommon in mammals. 
    Look around and decide if the color you see is due to pigment or to light-bending iridescence.

The many buckeye trees are ­pleasing to the eye, too

The most magnificent horse chestnut is Aesculus parviflora: the bottlebrush buckeye. This native shrub attracts pollinators extraordinarily. I planted it several years ago along a sunny fence; it now takes up an area about 20 feet long by 10 feet wide.
    It blooms June to July with beautiful candelabra-like white flower spikes that are abuzz with all kinds of native bees and beneficial flies. The peachy-pink pollen exudes a delicate fragrance into the air.
    The flower spikes are followed by smooth red-brown chestnut-like seeds. Beautiful but not edible for humans, the seeds are valued by many small mammals and insects. The horse chestnut’s native range is southern Virginia to ­Georgia and eastern Alabama and Tennessee, but it does very well in Maryland.
    Aesculus sylvatica is the painted buckeye. It likes partial shade to sun and has similar growth habits to the bottlebrush buckeye. The flowers have shades of yellow, red, green and pink and are four- to eight-inch-long clusters in mid-spring.
    Aesculus pavia is the red buckeye. It likes moist, well-drained soil in sun to shade. It has a shrubby habit, forming a rounded mound about 20 feet high and wide. The red flowers are an inch and a half long, tubular and form four- to eight-inch-long terminal clusters in mid-spring. The fruit has a smooth husk, splitting open to release one or two glossy brown seeds. In flower, this plant is a hummingbird magnet. Its natural range is the coastal plain from North Carolina to Florida and Texas.
    Aesculus glabra is the Ohio buckeye, which is a large tree up to 75 feet high that grows in sun to partial shade. The flowers are greenish yellow and tubular in a four- to seven-inch-long terminal stalk. The fruit is a prickly husk that splits open to release seeds that are glossy and rich brown. Its natural range is western Pennsylvania throughout the middle states.
    Don’t confuse these native species with Aesculus hippocastanum, the medicinal horse chestnut that is native to the Balkans and western Asia. The Turks used those nuts to treat respiratory ailments in horses. Today, extracts are made into standardized horse chestnut pills used to treat hemorrhoids and varicose veins. It is anti-inflammatory, astringent and internally strengthening to the blood vessels.
    The seeds of all Aesculus species are poisonous.

Maria Price-Nowakowski runs Beaver Creek Cottage Gardens, a small native plant nursery in Severn.

Traveling Americans learn why you should first check Trip Advisor

Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) are not a happy couple. Despite years together, she worries he will leave her. He wants to, but he doesn’t want the bad guy rep.
    Before he can work up the nerve to go, tragedy strikes, leaving Dani in a deep depression. Stuck playing the doting boyfriend while complaining to his pals, he insincerely invites Dani along on his boys’ trip to Sweden. Nobody’s happy when she agrees.
    The destination is a rare Midsommar festival in remote northern Sweden, where graduate student friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) grew up. The festival holds a wealth of thesis material for anthropology student Christian and his friends.
    The Americans are welcomed to the isolated community by joyous people with open arms and hallucinogenic teas. Their gracious hosts and odd customs charm the students.
    But as customs become odder, the outsiders wonder what the purpose of this Midsommar festival is.
    Midsommar solidifies director Ari Aster (Hereditary) as one of the most fearless and fascinating filmmakers working today. He turns the horror genre on its ear. There is plenty of gore, tension and good acting but few surprises. The point isn’t the end. It’s the journey.
    Midsommar considers toxic relationships and our need to find community, even at the cost of compromising ourselves. Aster employs no jump scares, and he rarely relies on overly dramatic music. Still, there is plenty to keep you on the edge of your seat, as he takes us on a long, gruesomely disturbing march.
    Camera work makes this film a triumph. Aster employs sweeping wide shots and careful, subtle CGI to make the film a living thing. Blossoms seem to breathe, the hills ripple in unnatural ways and faces in the friendly crowd of villagers are slightly misshapen. This eerie effect makes everything unsettling.
    Also a cut above is Pugh’s astounding performance as Dani. Swinging from desperation to animalistic grief, she is a raw nerve of a woman who clings with her fingernails to signs of affection. She’s mesmerizing as she uncovers the secrets of the Midsommar festival.
    Despite my raptures, Midsommar is not for everyone. It’s unrelentingly brutal, subjecting viewers to well over two hours of pitch black humor. It’s a movie meant to evoke a response, and in my theater responses were pretty diverse. Midsommar is a movie for viewers who appreciate artistry over expediency — and don’t mind a few split skulls along the way.

Great Horror • R • 147 mins.

~~~ New this Week ~~~

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable
    Thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton’s arm was bitten by a tiger shark. Many people would have quit surfing; Bethany viewed it as a minor setback. She learned how to surf without an arm to balance her and became a pro.
    In this documentary, the surfer, mother and advocate for cleaning the oceans shares her secrets for a happy, productive life.
    It should be an inspiring flick. If you’ve got kids with big dreams, this might be the movie to convince them to follow them.
Prospects: Bright • PG • 98 mins.

    Haley (Kaya Scodelario) searches for her father as a hurricane floods her town. She finds him trapped and injured in their house. Fearing they’ll drown before help arrives, Haley seeks a way out.
    What she finds is a giant alligator.
    Fans of schlock horror and goofy CGI effects may find entertainment in one woman’s battle with an alligator.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 87 mins.

    Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) is an Uber driver hoping to earn quick cash and a five-star rating. He’s expecting rides to the mall or the movies when Vic (Dave Bautista) jumps in his car.
    A cop obsessed with catching a killer, Vic is a bit of a loose cannon, offering Stu a gun and trying to rope him into his investigation. What will Stu do to avoid a one-star rating?
    Both Nanjiani and Bautista have proven themselves excellent comic talents. They can make almost anything funny, which is lucky, as this script lacks that quality and many others.
Prospects: Dim • R • 105 mins.

Live-lining Norfolk spot sacrifices a fish to catch a bigger fish

The Chesapeake tide was ebbing to almost placid. Rockfish prefer their dinner be swept to them by moving water. But in this case the stalling currents allowed them more freedom to gather around the structures where we were fishing. Our bait was their favorite snack this time of year, Norfolk spot.
    Tom Schneider and I were drifting on just the slightest of current, aided by a mild southern breeze just off of one of the Bay Bridge’s more complex, eight-legged supports. Pinning 6/0 Gamakatsu circle hooks lightly just in front of small spots’ dorsal, we both flipped our fish over the side. The little guys jetted toward the bottom 20 feet down.

Fish Finder
    The rockfish bite is excellent for every type of technique. The one fly in the ointment, particularly on the Eastern Shore, is that the fish are concentrated in just a few areas. Commercial hook-and-liners in the same locations as recreational anglers can wipe out entire schools of fish with their mass live chumming and combined quota tactics.
    As Maryland Department of Natural Resources is financed largely by recreational funds and as recreational anglers outnumber commercials by almost 1,000 to one, it’s surprising to find the two factions in the same areas.
    White perch are here and there, but no one is bragging this season. Norfolk spot have arrived in good numbers but are mostly live-lining size. Croaker are generally missing this year. Crabbing in the mid-Bay is lackluster.

    Using medium-action casting rods with small Abu reels spooled with fresh 20-pound mono and even fresher 25-pound fluorocarbon leaders, we could feel the spot, unencumbered by weight, pulsing down. We had to be careful not to give them too much slack or they would circle the nearest column and foul the line.
    The most serious activity for the baitfish was evading the stripers that lurked among the concrete piers awaiting any small fish, crab or morsel of seafood. We already had two fish in the box, 22- to 23-inch specimens, a perfect size for dinner. But we were hoping for some larger adversaries and had moved a number of times seeking them.
    Aside from location, a number of factors can tweak the game in the favor of the angler. Sometimes shifting the hook location in the bait can change things up by making the baitfish’s actions more enticing. A nose- or mouth-hook position on the spot triggers an attack by rockfish. A more rearward hook placement, such as behind the dorsal fin or on the underside, can also affect their swim movements.
    The best live-lining presentation is always weightless. But if it becomes necessary to add weight, the absolute minimum that will get the bait to the level desired is always superior. I prefer to use split shot or rubber core sinkers well up on the leader. When the tide is really roaring, I’ve found switching to a heavier soft plastic or metal jig is more productive than attempting to present a live bait.
    On this outing last week, our problem seemed to be simply a preponderance of barely legal fish eating our baits. We kept moving from pier to pier, thinking that the bigger fish would be by themselves or in small groups and not hanging out with the little guys. Eventually we blundered onto them.
    My spot suddenly stopped its wiggling swim and morphed into slow and powerful acceleration. Lifting the rod tip, I stopped my line and hoped that the circle hook would find its place in the predator’s jaw. A hissing drag and an arcing rod indicated that it had.
    Next the beast altered its direction and headed back across the nearest pylon. Putting my motor into gear, I nudged the skiff forward to lessen the line’s bearing on the structure, thanking my stars that there was little current to complicate things. When my rod tip and line cleared the column, the fish really began a run. But now its path was toward open water beyond the column. I snugged the drag down and added thumb pressure.
    The fight was brutal, but within a few long and strenuous minutes, the fish was alongside the boat. But it evaded the net. Catching a glimpse of the hook firmly in the corner of its jaw, I relaxed.
    Eventually worn out, the big fish slid into the net. The handsome 32-incher came onboard and into the box, making the two keepers already in ice seem mighty small.
    Within a few minutes both Tom and I were hooked up, again with powerful fish.
    Tom’s 30-incher eventually went into the box, and my 27 was set free to swim another day, hopefully educated to the treachery of a free meal.