view counter

All (All)

Can you spot the naked-eye five?

As the sun sets, look to the southwest for Venus. With a clear view of the horizon, you might spy Mercury below and to the right of Venus at week’s end, but the innermost planet’s viewing days are numbered. Roughly 15 degrees above Venus, look for the ruddy glow of Mars.
    Thursday and Friday evening the thin crescent moon joins the throng, somewhat between Venus and Mars the first night and above Mars, forming a horizontal line with Venus the next. Venus sets within an hour of the sun, while Mars sets around 8pm. But night by night, Venus is gaining about a minute of visibility, closing the gap with Mars in the process and leading to a conjunction of the two later next month.
    As these twilight planets set in the west, another rises in the east. Jupiter is hard to miss, as it is the brightest object in that part of the sky. By 9pm it is high in the east, at midnight is near the celestial zenith, and as dawn nears it is ablaze above the west horizon. A dozen degrees below the giant planet is fainter Regulus, which marks the dot of what looks like a backwards question mark. This asterism is called the Sickle of Leo and makes up the head of the larger constellation Leo the lion. A triangle of stars to the left of the sickle marks the lion’s haunches, the brightest being Denebola, which in Arabic means the lion’s tail.
    Saturn rises in the wee hours of the morning, and by 6am it is well-placed in the southeast. Its rings are tilted our way so that they stand out against the planet’s surface when viewed with even a small telescope. Saturn sits at the head of the constellation Scorpius, with its red heart Antares 10 degrees below the planet and the creature’s body trailing away toward the horizon.
    The moon waxes to first-quarter phase Monday, when it is almost directly overhead at sunset. Wednesday after sunset it is just a few degrees above and to the left of Aldebaran, the glaring eye of Taurus the bull, and the Hyades star cluster. Higher still are the stars of the Pleiades cluster, the Seven Sisters. While the moon’s light may make both clusters appear as fuzzy spots, simple binoculars will reveal many distinct stars in each.

The underground story

Did you know that your bare garden soil is losing its nutrients to winter?
    That’s just what’s happening in your vegetable garden unless you planted a cover crop last fall. And in your flower garden, unless it’s planted with perennials or woody plants.
    Here’s the underground story.
    During the growing season, plants do not utilize all soil nutrients, whether applied as fertilizers or released from animal manures or compost. Nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and boron, to name a few, are quite soluble. Unless they are absorbed by roots of plants, they leach downwards into the water table, into streams and eventually into the Bay.
    A good garden soil is biologically active all year long except when soil temperatures drop below 34 degrees. At that temperature microbial activity stops, nutrients are not as soluble and most things stay in place. However, as you penetrate deeper in the soil, temperature rise and nutrients that have penetrated to that depth continue to leach downwards. Thus you want all soluble nutrients to be absorbed by roots before they seep too deep where roots do not penetrate.
    The physical movement of soil particles during periods of freezing and thawing causes soil particles to move about, creating crevices, thus facilitating the downward movement of soil particles as well as nutrients in solution. Established roots help to stabilize soil and prevent particles from either blowing away in drought or washing away through erosion. Both cover crops and perennials absorb available nutrients. When the cover crop is plowed or rototilled under in the spring, its roots, stems and leaves will decompose, and those nutrients, like compost, will be slowly released in the soil.
    While soil temperatures are above freezing, roots are absorbing nutrients. Roots of some species are capable of growing in soil temperatures as low as 36 degrees. Roots can grow all winter as long as the soil does not freeze. Unlike the top of plants, which stop growing when they begin to go dormant in late August and early September, roots continue to grow and absorb nutrients and water.
    I tested this concept in the mid 1970s by transplanting young dogwoods between the greenhouses at the University of Maryland in College Park. Half of the dogwoods were transplanted above a buried steam pipe. Snow there never lasted more than a few days, while between adjoining greenhouse the snow stayed in place. In the spring, I dug up the dogwoods in each area. The root system of the trees where the snow melted rapidly were two to tree times bigger and more fibrous than the roots of the dogwood trees from where the snow remained and were then five to six times larger.
    Never allow land to remain fallow without vegetation. Keeping the soil covered with growing plants not only protects the Bay but also maintains biologically productive soil for you to grow crops. Nutrients belong in the soil and not in the Bay.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Maryland Zoo seeking humans

See the Zoo like you’ve never seen it before — on the scene and behind the scenes.
    The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is seeking 200 new volunteers to help make successes of such events as ­BunnyBonanZOO, zooBOOO! and Brew at the Zoo.
    January 25 is your once-a-year opportunity to learn the aardvark to zebra of volunteering at the third oldest zoo in the United States, representing nearly 200 species in natural settings replicating their native habitats.
    The Zoo’s 1,000-plus volunteers work with humans, animals and plants. Working with animals is at the top of the training ladder. Long-timers may request to handle animals like chimpanzees and the Animal Ambassadors, including the Baltimore ravens Rise and Conquer.
    New volunteers typically bring special skills — like face painting or gardening — or start with visitor relations. Entry-level jobs range from leading crafts and games at special events to answering visitors’ questions to keeping animals and humans on their best behavior at the Goat Corral or Camel Rides.
    “Nine times out of 10, the number one question is where’s the bathroom,” says Jane Ballentine, Director of Public Relations.
    Volunteers as young as 14 are welcome in the Junior Zoo Crew. There’s no top age limit for volunteers. Perks include free admission to the zoo and field trips.
    “We try to set up at least two field trips a year to other zoos and aquariums to keep the camaraderie going,” says Ballentine.


The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore’s Volunteer Open House: Sunday, January 25, 11am-2pm: Mansion House Porch: 443-552-5266; volunteers@marylandzoo.org.
 

It’s all a matter of layers

Whether in the sporting field, bird watching, horseback riding, hiking, fishing or other outdoor sports, options in dressing for freezing temperatures have never been better — or more complicated.
    Layering is the one key ingredient no matter what you’re going to do, as I’ve learned from experience. A base layer (undergarment) is followed by a covering layer (shirts and pants) and topped by the over layer (coats and overpants). The advantage of this approach is that as the weather changes or your activities vary, you can always take a layer off, if only temporarily.
    I’ve also found that if your cold-weather activity is mostly sedentary, such as bird watching, hunting, fishing or the spectator sports, the base layer is the most important. Fleece base layers, particularly expedition-weight types, are arguably the most effective.
    Fleece is comfortable next to the skin and holds in your body warmth best. If you’re preparing for sub-zero temps, a full body fleece undergarment is the way to begin.
    I’ve further discovered that the best types of fleece base layers are those with zip necks. Fleece is so efficient that even light exertion can cause you to heat up. Unzipping the top allows that body heat and moisture to escape. When that part of your activity is over, you can zip back up, maintaining a comfortable core temperature.
    Activities that include long periods of high intensity followed by periods of low intensity call for technical base layers. Such clothing is designed to maintain warmth with an emphasis on wicking moisture (sweat) away from your body to the outside of that garment. It can then evaporate or migrate to the mid-layer (where it also evaporates). Choose technical base layers designed for intense activity sports such as mountain climbing, big game hunting and skiing.
    Mid-layer clothing options are much less complicated. Flannel shirts are fine, cotton will do, medium-weight wool is great. Since the base layer has already done most of the work of temperature control, the mid layer is whatever makes you most comfortable.
    The outer layer (coats and over pants) is dictated by weather conditions. Since the development of the breathable membrane for clothing fabrics some 45 years ago, virtually all severe weather clothing has this feature as part of its construction. The membrane or fabric coating allows water vapor (sweat) to be vented out but prevents liquid water from penetrating. It is also a great wind barrier.
    Additional insulation is also an option in outerwear, depending on how extreme the temperatures are going to be and whether you’re wearing a base layer. But generally the final layer is intended for keeping out rain, snow and wind. Keep in mind that the bulkier the jacket (and your cumulative clothing), the more your movements will be hindered.
    Hats are essential as are facemasks and scarves for high-wind conditions. Make sure they are windproof and cover the ears.
    Gloves are application specific; the types you choose depend on what you’re doing. Waterproof and woolen gloves are best around the water. Mittens are warmest if you don’t need to use your fingers. Chemical handwarmers, such as Hothands and Grabber, are also effective. Position them on the back of your hands (where your blood vessels are) to keep your fingers warm.
    Footwear should be insulated if you’re going to be sedentary. Otherwise rely on lightly insulated boots and heavy woolen socks for superior cold and moisture control.
    Above all, be especially careful in colder weather and move inside at the first indications of hypothermia — shivering or a decline in coordination.

Friends and foes, we’ve got a lot to thank him for

The Tax Man. That’s the tag the incoming Republican establishment wants to pin on the back of the governor no more as he walks out the door.
    Former Gov. Martin O’Malley did indeed oversee hikes in the sales tax, the gas tax and taxes on corporations and big earners.  
    But before all we remember of Martin O’Malley is the epithet of the victors, I want to summon a few other images.
    O’Malley didn’t disgrace Marylanders. Leaving office, he moved to Baltimore, not to jail, as has been the path of many another governor in several states. Consider Illinois, where I lived for 14 years before my ascension to Maryland. Of Illinois’ last seven governors, four moved on to prison, most notably Rod Blagojevich. No other state comes close. Maryland has only one jailed governor, and his conviction was overturned.
    (On the other hand, we have Spiro Agnew, who rose to the vice-presidency. So his fall, for evading taxes on bribes paid when he was governor, was farther. Still, it never landed him in prison.)
    Nor did O’Malley embarrass us — or himself. He didn’t, for example, follow in the footsteps of William Donald Schaefer. O’Malley’s predecessor as mayor of Baltimore (two mayors later) and governor (two governors later) grew so irascible that he’d show up at the doors of critics to harangue them at home.
    Not even in his alter egos did O’Malley rival Schaefer’s flamboyance. Schaefer donned an old-fashioned bathing suit and straw bowler to open the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the white and gold-braid uniform of a Naval officer to move from mayor to governor. O’Malley’s alter ego is a Celtic rock musician, leader of O’Malley’s March, dressed in sleeveless T-shirts that showed off his rock-star muscles.
    O’Malley was said to have been more outraged than embarrassed by his surpassing pop culture achievement: Inspiring in good part a character in the television drama The Wire. Wire fans loved his caricature as Tommy Carcetti, the ethnic, boyishly handsome, scheming white guy who beats the racial odds to get elected mayor while dreaming of moving up to the State House.
    (If O’Malley hated the joke, his gubernatorial predecessor Bob Ehrlich relished it. Ehrlich appeared as a State House security guard in an episode that had Carcetti waiting on a governor of the opposed political party — presumably the invisible Ehrlich — who kept him cooling his heels before offering him the devil’s deal.)
    What other politician achieved such on-screen fame — albeit by backhanded compliment — while alive and in office? Even Louisiana’s legendary Huey Long was dead before his appearance in All the King’s Men as novel or movie.
    So, friends or foes, we’ve got a lot to thank Martin O’Malley for.
    I suspect most of us could add a personal benefit to this list, an action of O’Malley’s eight years as governor that made our lives better.
    He got a fair amount done as far as social policy: legalizing same-sex marriage, repealing the death penalty and removing criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana. These actions made huge differences in the lives of many people and began to redefine the culture of our state.
    For people — and institutions, like Bay Weekly — committed to the environment, O’Malley is the governor whose administration put the stalled Chesapeake Bay cleanup into gear. On a bipartisan note, Ehrlich gave those advances a head start, spending political capital to engineer the environment-friendly flush tax.
       O’Malley demanded new accountability, partnering with the federal government in far-reaching initiatives and putting faith and resources into the restoration of native oysters. Those acts, and many more, give our Bay a fighting chance — and Gov. Larry Hogan a worthy act to follow.


Seed Money Waiting to Be Planted

Apply now for garden grants in Anne Arundel and Calvert

    The Calvert Garden Club is seeding natural resource preservation and conservation in Calvert County with mini-grants of $100 to $1,000. Applicants must be nonprofit organizations, not individuals, and projects must help conserve natural resources and the environment. Deadline Feb. 1: 410-535-6168; www.calvertgardenclub.com.
    Unity Gardens’ 2015 Spring Grant Cycle offers grants up to $1,000 to Anne Arundel County, non-profit organizations in support of greening projects, environmental enhancement and education. Deadline March 15: 410-703-7530; www.unitygardens.org.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com

A biopic with a body count

Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper: Guardians of the Galaxy) was raised to believe there were three types of people in the world: Wolves, sheep and sheepdogs. Wolves preyed on the weak and took what they wanted. Sheep did as they were told and hoped to never meet a wolf. Sheepdogs took responsibility for the flock and beat back the wolves.
    A natural protector, Kyle spent his early life bumming around the rodeo circuits of Texas, looking for women, beer and brawls. The bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya awakened his sheep-dogging skills. An excellent marksman, he was recruited to the SEALS as a sniper charged with keeping Marines safe as they raid homes in Afghanistan.
    Kyle proves a superior sheepdog. ­Eerily calm and sure of himself, he picks off men, women and children who seek to harm his troops.
    Four tours later, Kyle has become The Legend, with more confirmed kills than any sniper in U.S. history. When the Taliban puts a price on his head, he is unfazed. It’s the home front that terrifies him.
    With his wife and children, Kyle is a tightly coiled spring. He obsessively watches bloody sniper footage and worries about the men he isn’t protecting. Normal social interactions make him squirm, and the slightest noise can provoke a violent reaction.
    Director Clint Eastwood (Jersey Boys) turns this true story into a war between duty and family. Based on Kyle’s bestselling autobiography, the film doesn’t debate the merits of the war or the morality of killing. Eastwood, who famously said “it’s a hell of a thing, killing a man” in his masterpiece Unforgiven, has abandoned this moral ambiguity. Kyle becomes a sort of John Wayne figure, single-handedly taking out the baddies and saving the day.
    This unquestioning approach makes a simplistic movie.
    Still, Eastwood knows how to construct a compelling narrative. The opening sequence, in which Kyle must decide whether to shoot a young boy, is heart-pounding. But Eastwood wisely saves the greatest pressure for the scenes at home. Using clever sound editing and tight close-ups, he traps Kyle in the frame, a prisoner in his home.
    Cooper’s excellent performance keeps the film grounded. Besides making an impressive physical transformation to play the hulking Kyle, Cooper delves deeply into his character’s mind, making his zeal impressive and frightening. But every time he drops his gun, Cooper looks like he wants to crawl out of his skin.
    Together, Eastwood and Cooper create a thrilling tribute to a real person.

Good Drama • R • 132 mins.

Even invisible, it tugs our tides mightily

Look for the waning crescent moon in the southeast before dawn Friday. Golden Saturn is just a couple degrees above, while fiery Antares is less than 10 degrees below. The trio rises around 4am, and by 6am they are well placed above the southeast horizon.
    Tuesday marks new moon — the first of January’s two Supermoons. What? How can new moon be a Supermoon? The criteria for the relatively new term Supermoon isn’t that we can see it, but rather that the moon, sun and earth are all three aligned in conjunction with the moon’s closest point to earth in its monthly orbit, called perigee. This can happen during both full moon and new moon. There will be six Supermoons in 2015, with January, February and March coinciding with new moon and July, August and September with full moon.
    New or full, a Supermoon can create super tides. The alignment of earth, sun and moon at new and full moon creates a gravitational tug resulting in strong spring tides. High tide is higher than normal, and low tide is lower. A Supermoon’s closer proximity to earth adds to the pull, creating even greater swings in what are called perigean spring tides.
    Look for the nascent crescent moon to reappear low in the west just after sunset Wednesday, with Venus just a few degrees to the moon’s left and Mercury between the moon and the horizon.
    Mercury and Venus were one degree apart last week, but now the innermost planet is sinking back toward the western horizon and the glare of the sun. They are still within three degrees of one another Friday, but by Wednesday the gap will have grown to almost 10 degrees.
    Mars is above and to the left of Venus and Mercury at sunset, visible until 8pm. Monday the red planet appears within 15 arc minutes — one-quarter degree — of distant Neptune in a rare planetary conjunction. At magnitude 8, Neptune demands binoculars or better yet a telescope. Start at Mars and scan above and to the left.
    Keep the binoculars handy, and look for Comet Lovejoy Saturday eight degrees west-southwest of the Pleiades star cluster, high overhead above Taurus the bull after dark.

Potted outdoor plants need cold-hardy roots to survive winter

Did you know that the roots of plants are not as cold-hardy as the stems and branches? What’s more, the roots of different plant species are killed at different temperatures. This is information you need to know when selecting plants for growing in above-ground containers that are to remain outdoors all year long.
    Below four feet, soil temperatures seldom drop below 28 degrees. If the ground is covered with mulch or snow, temperatures may be several degrees higher. If the soil is wet at the time it freezes, soil temperatures will also be higher. Dry soils freeze faster and achieve a lower temperature than moist or wet soils.
    In above-ground containers, temperatures will equilibrate to the ambient air within hours of a 10-degree change in temperature. The temperature change will occur faster if the rooting medium is dry. A dry rooting medium freezes faster than a wet rooting medium.
    If you intend to grow ornamental plants outdoors year-round in above-ground planters, select plants with cold-hardy roots. Choices are many, including Alberta spruce, Amur maple, azaleas, birch, chamaecyparis (or false cypress), mountain laurel, Pfitzer juniper, red cedar, rhododendrons and sumac.  The roots of these species can tolerate temperature down to zero and below. However, rooting media should be kept moist during the winter months as well as during the growing season.
    Avoid planting Atlantic cedar, boxwoods, camellia, Chinese hollies, Colorado spruce, dogwood, Japanese hollies, magnolia and viburnums in above-ground pots. Some of these species have roots that are killed at temperatures as high as 24 degrees. In many years, the roots of these species will be killed before the holidays.
    Information on low root-killing temperatures of perennial plants is important when selecting plants for containers and rooftop gardens. On rooftop gardens the problem is not as severe if the garden is installed over a heated building, because heat loss through the roof is generally adequate to prevent rooting media from freezing. However, if the garden is being installed over an unheated parking garage, selecting plants with cold-hardy roots is of utmost importance.


Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Solunar theory predicts fish and animal activity cycles

‘Fishing Charlie’ Ebersberger has spent as many days on the water as any angler in Maryland and arguably acquired more knowledge in his constant conversations with like-minded customers at his store, the Angler’s Sport Center.
    How was the Solunar watch working out? I asked as the instrument celebrated its first anniversary on his wrist. Seems that its predictions of fishing success based on peak times for fish activity are much better than either of us expected, according to the story he told.
    We were after marlin off of Ocean City and had not had any action for quite some time. Our electronic finder was indicating that we were over some good marks but nothing was eating.
    How many fish do you see now? one of the party called out.
    The question wasn’t directed to the finder screen but to my Solunar watch. Its display showed from one to four fish symbols depending on how active the bite was forecast at any particular time. Three to four fish mean a good bite.
    It’s beginning to show three, I said.
    Just then one of the starboard lines went down and fish on, fish on began ringing out from the stern. A few minutes later, my watch face moved into the four fish category. For the next three hours the action was hot and constant.

John Knight’s Solunar Theory
    The Solunar theory of the most productive fishing times was developed almost 90 years ago by an avid angler, John Alden Knight. After years of keeping logs of his frequent fishing efforts, he was perplexed at his inability to predict the best times to fish. He decided to apply scientific analysis to all the information he could gather.
    Starting with over 30 factors that seemed relevant, he eventually eliminated all but three as worthy of further examination. The prime factors, he eventually deduced, were sunrise, sunset and moon phase.
    Tidal phases and currents (caused by the moon moving in orbit around the earth) have long been thought the critical factors in saltwater fish feeding times. Knight discovered it was actually the relationship among the sun, earth and moon that was essential.
    Moonrise and moonset proved to coincide with intermediate or moderate phases of fish and animal activity. Most influential were the meridian periods when the transits of the moon crossed the earth’s line of latitude. High moon and low moon produced the most intense levels for the longest periods.
    Knight eventually worked out Solunar tables based on his theory to predict peak activities when fish (and game animals and birds) would most likely occur for any particular place and time.
    There are, however, mitigating factors that can negate or degrade the Solunar effect.
    A falling barometer generally precedes a period of poor fishing (as well as animal and bird movement) as do high winds, hard rain or snowfall and significant temperature fluctuations. These conditions, of course, are impossible to predict beyond the very near future. Still, they do have to be taken into account.
    Knight’s Solunar Tables have been in constant publication since their debut in 1936. Watches and time clocks have also been developed based on the Solunar formulas to make interpretation of the predictions ever easier.
    Using his Casio Pathfinder, Charlie has confirmed the accuracy of Solunar theory on the Chesapeake over the past season, not only by his own experiences but also with the help of many of his customers.
    “When they ask me what time of day is going to be best, I consult the watch. Whenever I could identify periods showing three to four fish, it was uncannily reliable that the time period predicted would result in up to three hours of great action.”
    If you’re looking to get an edge in the coming fishing season or need one now in hunting, Solunar predictions may be for you.

From Jim Toomey to Charlie Hebdo, we need their levity

In any of 150 newspapers around the world — including the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun — you can bump into Jim Toomey any day of the week.
    But Bay Weekly kept the world-famous creator of Sherman’s Lagoon waiting in line.
    What kind of way is that to treat a neighbor?
    Toomey, who draws Sherman the shark and his aquatic friends from his West Annapolis home, makes a good story any week of the year. But I wanted the perfect week.
    “What’s our news peg?” I asked writer Bob Melamud, using the newspeak term for that perfect place in time to run his long-awaited story on Toomey.
    I never imagined we’d be hanging the story on a peg so newsworthy it reached round the world.
    Yet there’s no better time to feature a cartoonist than the week the world is reeling from the assassination of five French cartoonists in a wave of terrorism that’s taken 17 lives, put Paris on Red Alert and mobilized support across the free world.
    Charlie Hebdo, the satiric newspaper hit in the initial wave of terror, featured a comic style far more irreverent and raunchy than Jim Toomey’s. In wry Sherman’s Lagoon — as in the famous mid-20th century comic strip Pogo — we are our own worst enemies.
    Left, right or in the middle is pretty much irrelevant on the spectrum of free speech, Toomey tells us. In his own words:

    “There seems to be a prevalent reaction that goes something like this: I defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to express their opinion, but I question their judgment in this particular matter.
    I disagree with that assessment.
    We can’t live in a world where we fear the disproportionate reaction of a fanatical few, and as a result, muzzle our opinions. I believe there are limits to our freedom of expression, but the Hebdo cartoonists did not cross that line.”

    Like Sherman’s Lagoon, Toomey’s words reach me in a place very near home.
    Bay Weekly is not Charlie Hebdo. “We don’t,” as Toomey notes, “even run cartoons.”    
    For whatever kind of journalism we favor — mild or fiery — is but one part of the freedom at stake.
    As well as the five cartoonists, two editors and two columnists, a maintenance worker and two officers were murdered in the Charlie Hebdo attack.
    The policewoman killed the next day and the four Jewish shoppers the day following died because of who they were. What they might have said — their levity, their piety, their pleas — was irrelevant.
    At bottom, what’s at stake is freedom to be.
    If I make it my business to make your irreverence a capital crime, at what point on the spectrum does my rage stop? Your religion? Your color? Your tattoos? Your straight or curly, short or long hair? Your age (two of the murdered cartoonists were in their 70s; one in his 80s)? Your gender? Your sexual preference? The language you speak? The clothes you wear?
    From the French, we learned the phrase vive la difference. Modern France is a multicultural society, as are we. How many of the many differences we encompass — and which ones — can we still celebrate? At what point on the spectrum of difference do we allow our tolerance to end? At what point do you — or I — get to take offense?
    At that point, the slope turns slippery.
    Odd, opinionated and different we all are. If laughter helps us coexist — if irreverence keeps our fanaticism in check — bring on the cartoonists.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com