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Spoiler alert: Don’t let the kids read this

Santa Claus is coming to town. Love him or hate him, he’s a fact.
    You’ll see him everywhere in the weeks ahead. If you shop at Westfield Annapolis Mall, you’ve been seeing him since the day after Veteran’s Day. With this issue, we acknowledge his inevitability. And we take a closer look at the man behind the snowy white beard.
    Santa is a man of many faces, writer Diana Dinsick tells us in this week’s feature story. Over many centuries, he’s traveled great distances — a speedy form of transportation is always part of his legend — changing with each destination to resemble the hopes and dreams of the people he visited.
    Woven into each culture’s bigger legend are our many personal stories of Santa. In looking back, I think maybe our Santa stories stay with us forever.
    My son was Santa deprived. That may account for a lot. For one thing, his children, now 15 and 16, are still believers. At least not deniers.
    “Do the kids still expect Santa?” I asked him as I contemplated my Christmas preparations.
    “They haven’t told me otherwise,” he said. “Which is pretty clever on their parts.”
    Indeed, for Santa and company are very generous to them.
    As Santa was to me.
    I was the only child of a very poor little girl, an immigrant daughter who truly found the proverbial lump of coal in her stocking. She and my father — who shared Santa’s build and liked to give gifts — did so well with their restaurant that Mother was able to give me, as she said, “everything I never had.” So Santa climbed down the chimney of our house with a very big bag of gifts.
    Yet from the chronology of photos of Sandra on Santa’s lap, I can tell that I was suspicious of that old man from the beginning. I loved the excitement of visiting Santa Land with my grandmother in our favorite department store, Famous Barr. I put out cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve. But I knew in my heart that my mother was behind all those gifts, and I must have wanted her to get the credit.
    I know what I was thinking when my son’s first Christmas came along. His father and I imagined ourselves conscientious new Catholics. We were so much smarter than our parents; certainly too smart to be tied to old traditions. So Santa Claus skipped our house (which didn’t have a chimney). Our son’s Christmas gifts were moderate, and all of them came from people who loved him.
    By the second child five years later, our house had a chimney and Santa Claus put us back on his route.    Many of our values had changed over those tumultuous years. But not all. I still wanted my children to connect the gifts they received to the labor and devotion of their parents. But I also wanted fun and fantasy, imagination and infinity of possibility in their lives.
    So we put out our shoes on St. Nicholas Day — or a few days later if I’d let December 6 get by me. We rushed to the tree on Christmas morning for a bigger load of presents from Santa Claus. If we could have claimed any Jewish traditions, we’d have celebrated Chanukah, too.
    As time goes by, I’ve even grown fond of pictures with Santa. I haven’t posed for any lately, but our dog Moe did. Both he and Santa were smiling.
    Once again, Santa Claus has come to town. Read his history, recounted by Diana Dinsick, to appreciate the generosity of his beginning, the scope of his influence and remember — if you can — how much he, and the reality of celestial flight by reindeer-drawn sled, once meant to you.


Calling All Cookie Bakers

    Bay Weekly’s Cookie Exchange is set for December 15. Now’s the time to send us your holiday cookie recipes and stories: editor@bayweekly.com.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

What do these aliens want from us?

One day, they arrive. Twelve giant pods hover over major countries throughout the world. No one knows where they came from. No one saw them coming. No one knows what they want.
    Every few hours, a door opens, allowing humans to enter the spaceships. Then what? The humans are stumped on how to communicate. Figuring it out falls to Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), a trusted linguist who has helped the military translate enemy radio chatter. Her mission: learn the aliens’ language — and develop a system of communication, ASAP.
    Banks has a deadline: China and Russia promise military action if the aliens don’t state their purpose or move on. Intergalactic war will end diplomacy.
    Complicated and painstakingly filmed, Arrival continues the sci-fi tradition of examining the foibles of human nature in a broader context. These aliens are a fully developed metaphor for humanity’s fears of the unknown and how fear shapes geo­politics. If that sounds a little too heavy for a movie featuring creatures that look like a blend of squids and spiders, I promise that director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) rewards you for expending brainpower at the cinema.
    Villeneuve and cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma) create an enthralling film. From the shape of the ships to the vast and isolating Montana backdrop, every shot is beautifully composed and styled. This world feels both familiar yet just alien enough to be unsettling. Expansive open areas contrast with cramped claustrophobic shots to ramp up tension.
    The script by Eric Heisserer (Lights Out), based on a story by Ted Chiang, picks at the ideas of destiny, time, communication and our drive to create connections. Lots of deep concepts are suggested. Still, the two-hour running time constrains their development, and Heisserer must rely on contrivance to wrap up the story. Like the classic Twilight Zone episodes written by Ray Bradbury, Arrival is both liberated and constrained by its medium.
    At the emotional core, Amy Adams is masterful. Her Louise is frightened but determined to make a connection. As she learns the alien language, she becomes more forceful. Banks discovers herself as she understands the aliens.
    An emotionally provocative sci-fi film that stimulates and rewards, Arrival is worth the price you’ll pay to see it on the big screen, where Young’s cinematography will have the most impact.

Great Sci-Fi • PG-13 • 116 mins.

Coyotes yes, bears no

The region is home to many types of animals, but not many large predators. Historically, bobcats, cougars, bears and wolves lived in Chesapeake Country.
    Coyotes are newcomers. The western species wasn’t seen in Maryland until 1972. Since then, they’ve expanded their territory to all Maryland counties. They’ve thrived in part because they don’t face much competition from other predators as we have no more of similar size.
    “The density of coyotes in Anne Arundel County is low to moderate compared to elsewhere in the state. Our highest densities are in the western counties, lowest are on the Eastern Shore,” said Peter Jayne of Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ game management program.
    Coyotes, he noted, can be mistaken for a German shepherd-type dog.
    “Except they tend to appear slenderer than most dogs. They also have a bushier tail, white outlining the mouth and a longer snout,” Jayne said.
    Bears have been increasing in Maryland over the last few decades. Mostly, they stay in Western Maryland; the closest county with full-time bear residents is Frederick County — and maybe Montgomery County.
    “We don’t get reports of bears in Anne Arundel County except on very rare occasions, maybe one every four to five years,” Jayne said. “It’s generally a young bear that wanders through and then leaves to find a more bear-friendly area. In the near term, it is unlikely a bear will stay. However, over the long term it is possible.”
    If you see either a coyote or a bear, it’s best to quietly back away and observe from a safe place. Also, once you’ve seen one, try to ensure that they are not visiting you as a food source. Secure your trash, don’t feed pets outside and temporarily stop feeding outdoor birds.

DNR considers protections from bowfishers

Like osprey, cownose rays have abandoned Chesapeake Country for warmer climates. But they’ll be back late spring, finning through our waters to eat, mate and give birth. Baby rays are born, not hatched like their marine cousins, the skates.
    Does their proliferation endanger the recovery of our native oyster, both in the wild and in aquaculture operations?
    That’s been their rep in recent years, for favorite ray foods are oysters and clams.
    “Bay watermen and oyster farmers contend the creatures are threatening their livelihoods,” Rona Kobell reports for the Bay Journal. “An oft-cited 2007 study in the prestigious journal Science said the Atlantic ray population had ballooned because of declines in sharks, their chief predators. In the Bay, hordes of rays were blamed for depleting Bay oysters.”
    How to control them?
    Rays aren’t a high prestige catch in the Chesapeake. Snagged on a line, they give anglers a good fight. But then what are you going to do with a ray? Neither ray nor skate does much as a food fish in America, though both are considered fine fare in France.
    Bowfishers, on the other hand, have made rays a prime target, with tournaments highly popular.
    So popular that, Kobell writes, “biologists have grown concerned about the impacts of such unlimited carnage, noting that rays produce one pup a year and are slow to mature.
    “In the spring of 2015, animal rights groups began filming the tournaments to publicize the slaughter of rays, attracting local television coverage. The groups also began to pressure the governors of both states to stop the tournaments.
    “Advocates for protecting rays gained support earlier this year, when a new study contradicted the 2007 one and found they are not to blame for declines in oyster populations.”
    Now the kite-shaped creatures may be getting a little love.
    “Maryland Department of Natural Resources last month notified fishing groups that it was considering declaring the cownose ray a species “in need of conservation” and setting some first-ever harvest limits to protect them,” Kobell writes. “Last week, DNR called — quietly — for public comment on whether to place a limited ban on the controversial staging of bowfishing tournaments to slaughter the rays.
    What will happen next? That’s a story in progress.

Four faults that lead to lost fish — and how to correct them

That moment is clearly etched in my memory. It was early evening as my skiff softly coasted into a deserted shoreline. I was a long cast off a small tidal pond outlet at the first stages of a falling flood. Firing a top-water plug to just a foot or two off the sand, I gave the lure the slightest pop. A mighty swirl engulfed the bait, and my pulse went sky-high.
    Feeling immediate pressure on my line, I set the hook, and a large, powerful fish took off, sending its wake cascading along the shoreline like breaking surf. The reel drag started its song, and my rod bowed deeply.
    Then, inexplicably, the fish was gone. My heart plummeted. Reeling in the line, dejected, I had a strong suspicion of what had just happened. As I lifted the plug to my hand, my fears were confirmed. My line had fouled the front hook during the cast.
    Sometimes there is little you can do to prevent entangling the lure. But, minimally, keeping the lure steady and not tumbling during its flight can be critical, and not just for optimum distance. Avoiding excess wrist snap at the end of the casting stroke tends to produce a smoother, more controlled throw.
    If a multi-hooked plug tumbles in the air, there is a good chance the loose trailing line will foul, particularly on that front treble hook. An angler might not notice the problem during the retrieve, but it will most definitely impact the outcome of any rockfish battle.
    Since the line has become wrapped around the bend in the front hook and the front of the lure is, inevitably, the end a striper will attack, the pressure from the angler in fighting the fish will eventually pull that fouled hook backwards, out of the fish’s mouth.
    The next most frequent cause of losing a good fish just after the strike is slack line. This is particularly true of spin-casting tackle. If the arc of the line trailing the lure is excessive — either because of a high overhand cast or from the effect of a brisk wind — a large amount of loose line will be pulled off of the spool.
    Before the angler can again come tight to the lure and regain control of that slack, a fish may have struck and spit the bait. Even if the force of the fish’s strike sinks a hook without much angler pressure, that slack may have allowed only light hook penetration.
    The fight from a lightly hooked fish is usually short and not in favor of the angler. Keeping the casting arc low to the water during windy conditions and avoiding high-arching overhead casts minimizes this problem.
    Another cause of many lost game fish is the quality and condition of the hooks. Saltwater is relentless for encouraging rust. There are no remedies for hooks that become oxidized except replacement.
    Under magnification, a rusted hook will show a very rough surface requiring a much greater force than an unaffected hook to penetrate a fish’s jaws, particularly larger fish that tend to have age-hardened mouth structures. A rusty hook will still get bites and strikes, but a fresh, sharp hook will always get the fish: So goes the angling dictum.
    The last significant cause of losing a good game fish at any stage of the fight is rod-handling technique. Close syncopation with the rod and reel is necessary to bring a fish to hand. The key is gaining line by stroking the rod smoothly and forcefully back (preferably to the side), then reeling in the gained line while continuing to maintain pressure on the fish, especially while lowering the rod in preparation for another retrieval stroke.

Dig deep for tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other bulbs

If you want big flowers and more flowers from your bulbs next spring, plant them now. If you wait until the ground starts to freeze, you’ll see smaller flowers and short stems.
    Spring-flowering bulbs can initiate flower buds only if they undergo different stages of cooling. The bulbs you plant this fall have not yet initiated a flower bud internally. If you were to plant that bulb in a flowerpot and grow it in your home or greenhouse, it would grow — but it would not likely flower. Or it would produce a very small, distorted flower. Tulips, narcissus, daffodils, hyacinths and so on can produce a normal flower only after several developmental stages.
    A second reason for planting now: The more roots the bulb can produce before the flower bud development starts, the better.
    Since our springs are so warm, we are not in a good area for growing spring bulbs that flower year after year without losing flower size and quality. To prolong the life of your bulbs, plant them deep, where the soil will remain cooler longer. This means planting tulip, narcissus, daffodils and hyacinths with the tops of the bulbs at least six to eight inches below the surface of the soil. It is best to dig the hole at least 10 inches deep and place a two-inch-thick layer of compost on the bottom before positioning the bulbs. If you are planting the bulbs in groups, place the flat side of the bulbs against the outside wall so that the leaves will droop outward, improving the appearance of the planting.
    Do not put sand in the bottom of the hole. The Dutch plant in a layer of sand so the bulbs can easily be cleaned for exporting, as required by law.
    After planting, cover the bulbs with a blend of equal parts soil and compost. The compost-amended soil will not only feed the bulbs for several years but also will allow easy penetration of the leaves and flower stems through the soil.
    If you are having problems with moles, chipmunks or squirrels eating your bulbs, plant a ring of mothballs inside the circle of bulbs but just below the surface of the soil. The mothballs should not make contact with the bulbs or stems. If deer are a problem in the spring, consider sprinkling granular RepellAll around each bulb planting. The deer repellent should be applied at three-week intervals until the foliage has died back.
    Next spring, do not allow the flowers to set seed if you want your bulbs to flower again the following year. The flowers should be removed as soon as they wilt by simply pinching them off. Leave the stem to die back to the ground. Do not roll or braid the foliage if you intend your bulbs to flower again. Rolling or braiding will prevent the foliage from replenishing the bulbs with the food they need.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Midshipmen take on Shakespeare on youth, war and relations between the sexes

Megan Geigner, the new director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s midshipman theater group The Masqueraders, grabbed the helm with deft touch and a focused vision, staging a delightfully energetic version of Shakespeare’s popular comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. She chose the play because it’s about young people, more specifically young people coming home from war, and about gender relations.
    Instead of the Bard’s Messina, Geigner has cleverly changed the setting to New Mexico just at the end of World War I. Changing Shakespeare’s setting can come off as artsy and presumptuous, but in this case it works well. The very nice southwestern-themed set by Andrew Cohen frames a production that, without changing Shakespeare’s meaning, opens up ample opportunities, most especially for some hilarious constables turned cowpokes.
    The Bard’s story of love, mistaken identities, gender conflict and status moves at rapid pace with crisp characterizations. Hero, the daughter of a nobleman, is in love with Claudio, a well-respected young nobleman. Her cousin Beatrice is in love with the sharp-tongued Benedick, whose witty and insulting repartee can’t disguise his love for her as well. Their back-and-forth banter, and Beatrice’s independence, wit and intensity make her perhaps the first suffragette ever to be included in a Shakespeare play, perfect again for this setting.
    As Hero and Beatrice, Clara Navarro and Julia Kalshoven brilliantly play two tough, strong-willed women. As Beatrice’s beloved Benedick, Jonathan Mendez adds nice comedic touches and confused patter to the befuddled character. Nick Hajek convinces us of Claudio’s willingness to sacrifice love for ego when faced with hearsay about his betrothed’s unfaithfulness. The chemistry between each couple is made nicely palpable by the actors.
    The real laughable foolishness comes with Shakespeare’s comic characters, the constables. Evan Wray is a hilarious Dogberry, the Master Constable whose smug self-satisfaction in most productions is replaced here by a frenetic, animated cowpoke in charge of a sad-sack cast of watchmen. Wray stops moving only long enough for his constantly falling cowboy hat to be replaced by a deputy. His performance as he instructs his charges how to do their jobs— sleeping on duty is fine, and never touch a criminal lest you become defiled by association — is a tumblin’ tumbleweed of  fun.
    The rest of the 17-person cast provides solid support and keeps the comedy flowing and the story unfolding apace, though in a few places more volume and projection would help the audience follow along. Lights by Jake Potter, Tony Wolfe and David Ogden nicely highlight the actors, set and moods, and Jacy’s Barbers’ costumes — especially the beautiful off-white period dresses of the ladies — work very well.
    The Nothing in Shakespeare’s title is the subject of debate: Some believe it refers not to the emptiness ascribed to it in the modern vernacular, but to the word noting, which in Shakespeare’s time was pronounced nothing but was a verb meaning to gossip, to spread rumors and to overhear. If this was Shakespeare’s intent, it makes sense because his play was not about nothing, it was about … well, something. And the USNA Masqueraders’ production is quite something.


Two and a half hours long with one intermission. Final performances Friday Nov. 18 and Saturday Nov. 19 at 8, Sunday Nov. 20 at 2, $13, rsvp: ­https://navyperforms.showare.com/eventperformances.asp?evt=35

Remember The Maryland 400

The first regiment of full-time professional soldiers from Maryland to fight for the Continental Army saved the revolution in August of 1776. Against a much larger, better-prepared British force, 450 to 500 Marylanders valiantly defended themselves and their new nation.
    “Through a series of charges, they kept the British bottled up so that the rest of the American forces could get off the battlefield,” said historian Owen Lourie, project director for Finding the Maryland 400 at the Maryland State Archives. “In doing so, they suffered extremely heavy casualties, but they literally saved the Army.”
    This regiment is known as The Maryland 400.
    “It’s not completely clear how they became known as the Maryland 400,” Lourie explained, as the actual number was larger. “We believe that it’s a Victorian allusion to the Spartan 300 rather than a direct indication of the number of men who fought.”
    The First Maryland Regiment was composed of 900 to 1,000 men from around the state, including one company from the Annapolis area.
    It was also known as the Old Line, which is the source of Maryland’s nickname, the Old Line State. Toward the end of the war and after, George Washington referred to the First Maryland Regiment as his Old Line because they were well established and reliable. During Revolutionary War battles, regiments fought lined up, facing the enemy. Each line was referred to as the Maryland Line or the Massachusetts Line rather than their company name.
    The Maryland State Archives, with funding from the Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, is working on a project called Finding the Maryland 400.
    “We are working to identify and write biographies on the men who served in the First Maryland Regiment,” Lourie said. Currently, 850 of the names have been identified. Read biographies of some 250 at https://msamaryland
400.wordpress.com/.
    A marker in Brooklyn commemorates the bravery of the Maryland 400, but Maryland has no statue or marker. Calvert Countian Bob Parker would like a statue erected in Maryland.
    “I can’t believe that Maryland has all but forgotten about them,” Parker said. “They saved the American Army, and I would like to see them remembered.”

This bird is worth a trip to Easton

Winter anglers in Chesapeake Country, mergansers — common, red-breasted or hooded — are diving ducks that keep birdwatchers guessing as to where they’ll pop up after their last dive. They hunt in packs underwater, herding fish into their serrated bills.
    The hooded merganser that’s just moved onto the grounds of The Academy Art Museum in Easton is a bird of another kind. Standing 16 feet high, this bird will be doing no diving. But he will disappear as his sapling frame disintegrates in time and weather.
    The creation of Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein, artists who call themselves the Myth Makers, is deliberately “ephemeral” and will return to nature in three to five years. It was finished November 5, constructed in about a week with the help of volunteers.
    Based in Boston, the Myth Makers have worked throughout America and around the world, creating monumental Avian Avatars in locations as diverse as on Broadway and Muskegon, Michigan. The merganser’s creation and the indoor exhibition of the artists’ works is sponsored in Easton by the Maryland State Arts Council, Talbot County Arts Council and the Star-Democrat, plus individuals and local businesses.
    Figuratively, the artists say their merganser represents a proud monument to independent thinking and bravery, in the spirit of Eastern Shore native Frederick Douglass, who said, “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”
    The mergansers will be there for a while; the Myth Makers’ other art only through February 26: ­academyartmuseum.org.

Marvel gets metaphysical with this superhero romp

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch: Zoolander 2), the world’s most sought-after neurosurgeon, has an ego as big as his brain. He is smug and calculating, cold and talented.
    But his talent means nothing after an accident cripples his hands.
    Scorning the physical therapy recommended by intellectual inferiors, Strange spends all his money on experimental surgeries that leave him broke, alone and hopeless. He spends his last pound to fly to Nepal, chasing a miracle cure in a temple.
    Strange finds a community following the mystical teachings of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton: Hail, Caesar!). He mocks their mysticism and the idea of channel energy from the universe — until the Ancient One literally knocks the soul from his body. Convinced, Strange applies his brilliant mind and dogged drive to learning every facet of the teachings, gobbling up ancient books and practicing at all hours.
    Just as Strange is harnessing the powers of the universe, the attack comes. Former pupil Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen: Hannibal) wants to remake the world to suit his new beliefs.
    Kaecilius’ attack leaves only Strange and his trainer Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor: Triple 9) to defend the universe from a madman and his team of zealots.
    A mind-bending romp, Doctor Strange is, well, strange. That’s not to say the movie is without charm. Director Scott Derrickson (Deliver Us from Evil) eases us through confusing magical elements with slapstick comedy. Strange’s cape becomes a character, yanking the doctor around and doing silly things to distract the bad guys. Even baddie Kaecilius gets a few good punchlines. Mikkelsen, who’s strong bone structure and piercing eyes earn him parts as terrifying baddies in English-language films, has a bit of fun hamming up this villainous role.
    Derrickson also wisely skews the film toward younger audiences.
    This approach could devolve into puerile nonsense without a strong cast to keep it on the right side of ridiculous. Cumberbatch gives a charming performance, turning his prickly doctor into an endearing hero.
    There are problems, as well. Like most superhero movies, the plot doesn’t bear deep thinking. More troublingly, the film borrows heavily from Chinese and Nepalese imagery but features only one Asian actor with a speaking part (Benedict Wong, who offers some of the film’s best comedic moments)
    Though guilty of cultural appropriation, Doctor Strange should keep older viewers smiling and encourage younger viewers to attempt channeling the energy of the universe. If you’re looking for a popcorn flick for your whole clan, this film is strangely perfect.

Good Action • PG-13 • 115 mins.