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Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s Open House givea us all a taste of the pleasures of camp life

Now I hardly go out there, but I’ve spent a lot of time on the Bay.
    You won’t read those words, the nostalgic second clause of Tuck Hines’ description of his early days as a marine ecologist at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, in the senior scientist’s conversation with Bay Weekly this week. There you’ll read the serious stuff, like whether we’re doing ourselves in on this planet. But, as Hines’ words suggest, there is more to being a scientist than the lessons you learn.
    Being a scientist can mean you get to spend a lot of time outdoors doing what kids go to camp to do. Playing in the water. Catching crabs and fish. Creating clever tools from what nature puts in your way. Stuff that’s called fun.
    Viewed in that way, the coincidence of Bay Weekly’s conversation with Hines and our Last-Minute Camp Guide this week isn’t so much coincidental and serendipitous. Serendipity is what we call it when things come together in a way that makes opportunity. In this case, serendipity brings me a cure for the envy that always hits when I read about all the fun awaiting kids at summer camp.
    Nature, water, creativity and creatures: The things kids find at camp, while getting out and active, are the things many scientists spend a lifetime doing. Unless, like Hines, you climb the ladder into administration, which means staying indoors and leaving much of the fun behind.
    I sure hope you help your kids make that connection, as it opens the door to a lifetime of summer fun.
    It’s too late for me, I sigh, imagining how different a life I might have had had it occurred to me to be in nature rather than writing about it.
    But it’s not too late. Not for you or me. All of us, all ages including the kids, will find an open door to science at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s 50th Anniversary Open House this Saturday, May 16.
    From 10am to 3pm that promising May day — a high of 78 is predicted, with some cloud shelter from the sun — all of us can act like scientists. We can roam woods and fields, ride and wade the water, try to pull up a catch, climb a giant tower, all in the company of people who look at nature in a way to make sense of it while enjoying it.
    In such a place and in such company, kids might find a career to keep them playful and happy their whole lives long.
    Even us already grownups can swerve into a new avocation. Citizen scientists are welcomed to the Smithsonian team.
    “We’ve had dozens of citizen scientists over the years. We’ve been very blessed to have a great group,” Hines told me. “Much of our mapping and measuring has been done by scientists along with volunteer scientists. We’re now building citizen scientists into a program so it’s not just one project but a collection of programmatic approaches to use volunteers who are not scientists most effectively.”
    If you, like me, are nostalgic for the pleasures of camp, you might rediscover them at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Use May 16’s Open House as your tryout; reservations give you free parking and tickets for river cruises:
    Sunscreen and your hat, closed shoes, a water bottle and a bug bracelet would be good companions for your day at camp.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

Sometimes it takes a village

It takes a village, they say, to raise a child. So it does to relocate an osprey pair.
    This story begins in spring last year, when a pair of osprey constructed their residence atop a three-story chimney of a home in Resthaven in Southern Anne Arundel County. After the construction of the large, freeform contemporary and the raising of their brood, off they went to their second home for the winter. Prior to their departure, however, these tenants saw no need to clean the large amounts of graffiti left on the siding and decks below the nest.
    Fastforward mid-March this year. The same pair return to the same address to find their belongings gone and a blank canvas. Construction begins again. Another mega-mansion is nearing completion when the landlords below, remembering their last experience, attempt an eviction complete with chicken wire as a deterrent. Unruffled, the pair remains and tries to remodel. Another try at eviction follows, and again a defiant pair remain.
    Witnessing this saga was a small group of concerned citizens. A relocation plan of sorts was hatched, or so we thought.
    First, a three-foot-square osprey platform was constructed from recycled material, with the exception of the hardware cloth for the bottom. Second, a used section of a commercial fishnet pole was dragged out of the water, cut and loaded on a pickup by a local Deale fisherman and railway owner. Third, a small boat was commandered from another neighbor. Yet another neighbor allowed the use of his yard and pier as a staging area for this operation.
    A point was sharpened with a chainsaw on the now 22-foot-long osprey pole. The last and most difficult part was the enlistment of the required number of able-bodied people to float the pole across a small gut and around the edge of the marsh to the confluence of Parkers Creek and the Bay.
    A local carpenter secured the help of a longtime friend and Maryland Department of Natural Resources officer, who donated three hours of his off-time, and another friend, a young Army veteran. All this help was able to be gathered because of this carpenter’s innate ability to bend the truth about the toughness of the project, including answering no to the question am I going to get wet?
    We floated the pole around the cape with a kayak in tow loaded with platform, hardware, tools and a photographer. At our destination the plan was honed. First we positioned the pole horizontally to exacting specifications. Then we attached the platform with screws through one end of four metal strap anchors, one on each side of the platform, with the other end of each attached to the pole.
    As suggested by the photographer, a “starter kit of twigs” was added. Then all that remained was the raising and the jumpin’ down of the pole.
    With DNR and the carpenter at the platform end, soon to be top of the pole, and Army with one end of a length of line in his hands, the other end attached to the soon-to-be top, we started. We lifted the pole as high as possible and, hand over hand, started our march toward vertical. Don’t try this at home, folks. A few minutes later to our amazement, vertical.
    Then came the easiest part. Jumpin the pole down, a phrase borrowed from my railway buddy, who explained in detail the procedure. One end of a four-by-four post is lashed, close to the bottom, at a slight angle, to the now vertical 22-foot pole. The other end rests just onshore on solid ground. Army, the youngest by 25 years, is instructed to walk up the incline of the four-by-four and, holding on to the pole, start jumping on the four-by-four close to the pole.
    As we held the pole vertical we watched as it slowly started its decent south at about one-eighth-inch per jump.
    We raised and relashd the four-by-four to the pole about every 18 inches of vertical decent.
    In about one hour, the platform on the 22-foot pole was now about 16 feet above sea level. At this point, we looked at each other as if it were just another day at work. A couple more pictures, load the tools and the photographer and back across the gut to the start.
    But the early bird gets the worm, or in this case the nest. Apparently another pair of osprey were up earlier than the evicted pair we were doing all this for. Oh well.
    As one of the concerned bunch said “Hey, they must have been homeless, too.”

A highbrow popcorn flick for the masses

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.: The Judge) dreams of a world without The Avengers. He’s been secretly experimenting with artificial intelligence in hopes of creating a legion of AI peacekeepers to safeguard the world from aliens, disasters and humanity. He sees this legion as his new legacy, erasing his years in the weapons industry.
    When The Avengers recover the scepter of Loki, Stark and his science buddy Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo: Foxcatcher) examine its power source. What they discover is Ultron (James Spader: The Homesman), an artificial intelligence capable of thought without programing. Stark wants to upload immediately; Banner wants to investigate.
    Stark — who has apparently read no science fiction — wins. Upon evaluating the human race, Ultron makes his assessment: Humanity needs to evolve or die. To begin the fix, he targets a group that regularly injures people and destroys towns: The Avengers.
    Can Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Hulk and Iron Man rid the world of Ultron? Or is the team that swore they’d protect Earth going to cause its destruction?
    Age of Ultron is an action-adventure movie following in the grand tradition of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. It isn’t about the plot; it’s about watching charismatic actors throw punches and dodge projectiles.
    Director Joss Whedon (Much Ado About Nothing) squeezes some surprisingly nuanced writing into a film where a large green man tosses cars at a man in a robot suit. The concept is an old one: What makes each superhero special also holds him or her prisoner. Captain America is a man lost to time; he needs a war to find a purpose. Banner has vast power when he becomes the Hulk, but he’s horrified by the collateral damage incurred by his uncontrollable episodes. Black Widow is an assassin with a bloody past for which she can not forgive herself, no matter how much good she does.
    The biggest drawback to Age of Ultron is time. There are too many characters, too much plot and ultimately too much movie. Whedon’s expanded the universe, and its new characters detract from characters we know. The result is a movie epic in scale but shallow in story.
    Filled with quotable lines, fun action and a clever villain, Avengers: The Age of Ultron is the rare mass-market film that can please most audiences. Whether you’re into historical jokes or physical comedy, Age of Ultron has something that will please you.

Good Action • PG-13 • 141 mins.

Fruiting plants need feeding

As you move tomato plants into your garden, here’s some advice to help improve your harvest.
    First, limit the amount of fertilizer and compost you apply when you transplant your tomato plants. Applying too much high-nitrogen fertilizer or high-nitrogen compost will produce extra-large plants and few late tomatoes.
    It’s in the production cycle that tomatoes need nitrogen.
    A fruiting plant must absorb nutrients sufficient not only to produce fruit but also to continue growing, producing more foliage, flowers and fruit. In other words, a mature tomato plant is much like a pregnant woman, eating for two to remain healthy and produce healthy offspring.
    That’s when the tomato plant is most nutritional needy, too. And that’s when early blight strikes.
    For a decade I have been studying methods of preventing early blight. Since 2009, I have had no early blight symptoms. I attribute that success to keeping my tomato plants nutritionally happy. Nitrogen is the key to a plant’s nutritional health.
    Nitrogen passes to upper-growing points or fruit from older leaves. Losing nitrogen makes those leaves susceptible to blight-causing microorganisms. If you supply tomato plants with sufficient nitrogen for the bottom leaves to remain strong and healthy, they are less likely to succumb to infection.
    Thus for the past five years, I’ve scattered a rounded tablespoon of calcium nitrate 15.5-0-0 around the base of each plant as soon as I see the first cluster of tomatoes form. During the growing season, I watch the bottom leaves of the plants closely. When those leaves start to turn yellow-green, I make a repeat application of calcium nitrate. Generally only two applications are needed per growing season.
    I selected calcium nitrate because mature plants absorb nitrate nitrogen more efficiently than they do other sources of nitrogen. Plus, the calcium in calcium nitrate helps build stronger cell walls and prevent blossom-end rot. There is lime in the soil, but the calcium in lime is only four percent soluble while the calcium in calcium nitrate is 100 percent available. Calcium is as important in plants for making strong cell walls as it is in humans and animals in making strong bones and teeth.
    If you are an organic gardener, apply at least two inches of compost around tomato plants as soon as you see the first flowers. Lobster waste or crab waste compost has the highest levels of calcium of all composted products available. Irrigate through the compost.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at Please include your name and address.

Cheer super-avian feats of prowess at International ­Migratory Bird Day

Imagine the epic journey of the red knot as it flies 9,300 miles along the Atlantic coast from its wintering grounds in southern South America to its high Arctic breeding grounds. The journey is so taxing that it requires two to three stopovers for refueling, including one at Delaware Bay. When the knot arrives there, its body is half its starting weight, devoid of fat and even some muscle. Here, it will spend some 10 days consuming the eggs of the horseshoe crab to regain its weight before continuing north.
    Or consider the remarkable journey of the ruby-throated hummingbird, weighing about a penny, crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a nonstop flight of up to 500 miles over 18 to 22 hours depending on the weather. In North America, migration continues at about 20 miles a day. One bird started its journey to its breeding area on March 1, arriving in northern Maine on May 10.
    A blackpoll warbler could boast of getting 720,000 miles to the gallon if it were burning gasoline instead of body fat, according to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
    The remarkable event of migration is played out twice a year by some 350 species flying between nesting habitats in North America and wintering grounds in Latin America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
    Many obstacles challenge these superhuman athletes: collisions with buildings, pesticides, habitat degradation, deforestation, predators and global climate change.
    Learn how you can support the birds at International Migratory Bird Day, celebrated May 9 and 10. This year, a series of nationwide programs focuses on why we should care about maintaining healthy bird populations and protecting breeding, non-breeding and stopover habitats. Activities include bird walks, art competitions, nature festivals and presentations.
    Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Lothian hosts the local festival, including guided walks and a stations involving a birds and beaks game, birdsong and calls display, bird habitat activities, feather lab, nests and eggs display and eagle airplane make-and-take. Saturday, May 9, 8.30am to noon:

Keep it simple to start

The thrill of catching a trophy rockfish leads to a second act in the kitchen and a third at the table, for rockfish are very good to eat.
    It’s high season here in the heart of rockfish country, where Maryland recreational and commercial anglers catch more than four million pounds each season.
    Having made my own share of that catch, I have experimented with any number of approaches and made a couple of basic discoveries on how to prepare this delicious fish.
    First and foremost: Don’t overdo it. Complex recipes with multiple ingredients, flavors and cooking sequences will generally overwhelm the succulent flavor of the fish.
    My standard strategy is to keep it simple.
    Starting with a fillet or two, blot the fish dry, coat lightly with a good olive oil and add a generous amount of salt and pepper, fresh-chopped dill and a dusting of paprika.
    Put fillets under the broiler in a shallow pan as close to the heating element as you can for 10 to 15 minutes or until the fish is browned on top and flakes firmly.
    Vary this dish by adding a simple sauce. The basic is tartar sauce, served on the side. Never use a ready-made variety. It is too easy to make your own, and it is invariably better.
    Chop small a half-dozen cornichon pickles and a heaping teaspoon of capers, if you like. Mix with two or three heaping tablespoons of an olive oil-based mayonnaise (Hellman’s is my favorite) and add a good squeeze of lemon to taste. You’ll never do it any other way.
    For a special occasion or guests, make a quick Hollandaise sauce. Put two egg yolks, two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and a good pinch of cayenne pepper into a glass bowl and whisk them well. Just before serving, melt a stick of butter in a saucepan until it just starts to brown. Slowly add it to the egg yolks while constantly stirring until the sauce is well mixed, smooth and frothy.
    Pour the Hollandaise over your fillets with a few capers sprinkled about for a great presentation. Or serve the sauce on the side in a warm gravy boat, so that your guests can decide how much to use.
    If your true love is fried fish and you’ll never be satisfied with it prepared any other way, I recommend the following method.
    Mix well an egg, a tablespoon flour and just enough beer or cold soda water to make a medium-thick slurry. Spread over a large dinner plate a generous amount of Panko (Japanese bread crumbs). Rinse and dry the fillets well, then dip them in the slurry, coating them thoroughly. Next, place them in the Panko, pressing down firmly to completely cover with crumbs. Refrigerate for an hour or more in advance of preparing the meal.
    In a large, heavy skillet pour in about half an inch of peanut oil (corn oil will do almost as well) and heat to about 400 degrees or just before it begins to smoke. Ease in each fillet and turn when the first side is golden brown. Remove when both sides are crispy, and serve immediately with a side of the tartar sauce described earlier or a spicy hot sauce such as Texas Pete’s or Cholula.
    Side dishes can be almost anything. I recommend fresh asparagus, now in season, fresh sliced tomatoes in their time or diced and steamed new potatoes with butter and parsley. A chilled Pinot Grigio goes great with the broiled fish; Rockfish Pale Ale goes especially well with the fried variety.

I read the epic of motherhood in the comfort of home

Motherhood in her full span lives in my neighborhood.    
    In the eyes of eight-month-old Alexander Ehecatl Groves, Ana Dorates is queen of the universe. She is our Madonna, mother adored. But she is only one chapter of an ageless story.
    The women of Fairhaven Cliffs span the whole story in its many stages. We are — to borrow the seven stages of the Finnish mythology of the ­Kalevala — maiden, wife, mother, crone, sage, warrior and healer. As we travel the womanly continuum, we do not abandon who we were before. Childless or childed, each woman is stirred by the baby, the role Alexander will so briefly play. For the mothers among us, Ana awakens in each of us memories of our own babies in our arms.
    At the other end of the spectrum, no matter how young we are, we see in one another what we are becoming. Girls, mothers, grandmothers: we are one community; now and again, one family will span three, even four, generations. We have a whole community of women who have passed, still living in communal memory.
    Many among us are in life’s early chapter, the maidens. Nearly three decades ago, I moved into a Fairhaven popping with children, many of them girls: Ariel and Emelia, Stephanie, Sarah and Mary, Maureen, Megan and Lisa, Betty Elizabeth, Leslie, Maggie and Colleen, Alex and Katie Lee, Anastasia, Lily … In this age of marrying late, many remain their own women in their 20s and beyond, making their way in the world before taking on the responsibility of making a home and ­family. They are wonders, thrilling and inspiring those of us who remember when fewer women could become what they dreamed. They are poets, dancers, scientists, dreamers, teachers, world travelers and beauties as well. One is a warrior, a Marine Naval Academy graduate.
    Marriage is calling some of the maidens. Mary and Leslie are soon to be wives, with Leslie’s wedding planned on our little Fairhaven Beach on June 13.
    Leslie’s sister-in-law, Kelly, is soon to enter the next stage, growing with her baby.
    Stephanie, who has moved away, is the mother of two school-age boys, Jason and Ethan, and has plumbed the depths of dread when her younger was found to have a brain tumor at only six. He is winning his battle.
    Other mothers have lost children in untimely twists of fate. Those tragedies surely make them sages.
    With time we bear that least desirable of title: crones. But the long perspective of the Kalevala takes the sting out of the word, defining crone as wise woman and elder. We step into that role as our children step out of our lives into their own. Now our goal, says the ­Kalevala, is “to achieve true knowledge through experience and to be able to retain, apply and transmit it.” That’s a role I’ve watched us all grow into.
    It was to gain their wisdom that we begged our sages to tell us their stories. Many have been shy to claim any wisdom, but that’s still the girl in them speaking. We who asked knew its truth.
    Healers? I wonder about that role. Perhaps it’s in our leaving we achieve that role. Motherless we all become, sooner or later. Bearing that role among us now is Debra Gingell. Long of Fairhaven, her mother, Jean VanHoose, left this world on April 24, six days shy of her 91st birthday. For Debra — and perhaps us all — healing is part of the grieving: “Throughout my life I hope for her to be proud of me,” Debra wrote in memoriam. “The words she wrote in my Easter card gave me peace in knowing that held true.”

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

After almost 4,000 days in space, this probe died for science

This week Mercury shows its best face in homage to the Messenger spacecraft, which crashed into the planet early morning April 30.
    The craft was launched in August 2004 and reached Mercury in March 2011, the first to orbit the innermost planet. Since then it has circled Mercury more than 4,100 times, compiling more data in the process than everything combined before that.
    Thursday, April 30, scientists at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab cut life support on their prodigy, and shortly thereafter the craft fell from orbit, plummeting to the surface at more than 8,750 miles an hour. Messenger was already running on borrowed time, having exhausted its traditional fuel supply, but programmers were able to supplement it with helium onboard for other reasons. Now that, too, is exhausted.
    “I guess the end is coming,” the Messenger team posted earlier on Twitter “After 10 years, spacecraft will end life as just another crater on Mercury's surface.” A big crater, more than 50 feet wide.
    The elusive planet is not only difficult to spot, it had been difficult to study before Messenger. Less than 45 percent of Mercury’s surface had even been photographed, and that decades ago. In its four years in orbit, Messenger sent more than a quarter-million photos back to earth. it found volcanoes, discovered polar caps of frozen water and studied Mercury’s chemical makeup.
    Mercury “is crucial to developing a better understanding of how the planets in our solar system formed and evolved,” NASA explains on its Messenger website. “Mercury is an extreme: the smallest, the densest, it has the oldest surface, the largest daily variations in surface temperature — and it’s the least explored.”
    Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the sun on May 7, climbing 20 degrees above the horizon. Look for it low in the west just after sunset this week. You may need binoculars close to sunset when it’s at its highest, but by 9pm it should easily be visible as it prepares to set. Much-brighter Venus is 20 degrees higher, and Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus the bull is 10 degrees to Mercury’s left.
    These are the last nights to see Mars, which is even deeper in the glare of sunset than Mercury. Jupiter shines high in the south at nightfall, while Saturn rises around the same time. Look for the just-past-full moon near Saturn Monday and Tuesday night.

More ups and downs

Will 101 million spawning-age females produce a sustainable future for Chesapeake Bay’s blue crabs?
    That’s the $64,000 question raised by this year’s Winter Dredge Survey, Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ census of crabs asleep in the mud of the Bay.
    The population is well — more than half — below the target female population of 215 million. This year shows an uptick. But the survey’s 24-year history has been consistently up and down. Only two years — 2010 and 2011 — have surpassed the target. Four — including 2014 — have fallen to or below the much lower threshold of 70,000, meaning a depleted population. On the chart, this year is average below average.
    Crab fishery managers use the Dredge Survey results to determine how many crabs can be harvested. This year, commercial female catch is allowed but regulated. Recreational crabbers must return females to the water.
    Better news is the rising total of crabs living in the Bay: 411 million, despite the hard winter. Only 10 years of the survey have found higher numbers, and seven of those years were in the 1990s. The other three highs coincided with or followed the boom female years of 2010 and 2011.
    That, said DNR Secretary Mark Belton, “is good news for the crabs and for Marylanders who enjoy them all summer long.”
    Read the full survey at

Is humanity suited to play god?

Code writer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson: Unbroken) gets the break of a lifetime when he wins a contest to meet his boss, tech genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac: A Most Violent Year). The trip of a lifetime begins oddly: Caleb is loaded onto a helicopter, flown to the middle of nowhere, dropped off in a field and told to follow the river.
    He arrives at Nathan’s secluded cabin, where he’s given a keycard and a nondisclosure agreement. If Caleb signs, Nathan promises to reveal the real reason behind the trip; if he refuses, Nathan will hand him a beer and wish him the best.
    Eager to impress his boss and find out what innovations await, Caleb signs. Nathan in turn spills the beans: The spacious woodland home isn’t a residence; it’s a research facility. Nathan has invented the first artificially intelligent machine, and he wants Caleb to administer a Turing Test to determine whether his creation has consciousness.
    Upon meeting the machine, Ava (Alicia Vikander: Seventh Son), Caleb is astounded by the technology. He is also charmed. As Caleb and Ava bond, Nathan’s erratic drunken behavior and the facility’s frequent power outages grow worrisome. During one blackout, Ava implores Caleb not to trust Nathan.
    Creepy, tense and deeply thoughtful, Ex Machina is sci-fi for thinking moviegoers. Writer/director Alex Garland (Dredd) creates an uneasy world heavy with film reference and metaphor. So much is owed to 2001: A Space Odyssey that it wouldn’t be out of place to hear HAL’s voice boom through the sparse white and gray rooms. Garland also uses his directorial debut to show off a talent for camera work. Each frame is carefully constructed to build tension. Glass walls reveal vast yet claustrophobic space. Objects are a little off center in the frame, throwing the viewer off kilter.
    Garland’s greatest triumph, however, is his script. It works equally as rumination on the nature of invention, debate on what makes us human or metaphor for misogyny in the modern world. Viewers can dig deep to follow these themes or simply enjoy the interplay among three characters trapped in a small space.
    As Caleb, Gleeson is full of admiration and moral certainty. Once he begins to question, Gleeson lets his character unravel spectacularly. In the showier role of Nathan, Isaac is superb. He slinks into rooms, leers and drinks, his huge bushy beard making him a Howard Hughes-like figure.
    However, Vikander is the star of the film. As Ava she manages to imbue her character with childlike wonder, intelligence and burgeoning sexuality. Vikander’s nuanced performance makes Ava’s sexuality part of her embrace of humanity and learning about interaction. She is both heartbreaking and frightening as a machine who may be more human that the men evaluating her.

Great Sci-Fi • R • 108 mins.