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Articles by Sandra Olivetti Martin

Tundra swans return to Chesapeake Country

“The first tundra swans of the season have arrived in Columbia Cove, Shady Side.” Randy Kiser‎ posted the news on Bay Weekly’s Facebook page on Thursday, Dec. 13, documenting their arrival with this photo.
    Two mornings later I saw the snow-white birds at Fairhaven marsh pond, three on Saturday, then eight on Sunday.
    Swanfall is Bay chronicler Tom Horton’s word for this moment in time, coined for his 1991 book with photographer Harp: Journey of the Tundra Swans. “The birds seem almost to drop from the sky,” he writes.
    They do drop upon us, suddenly here. Some time in March, they will leave us. Last year their going was late, after the osprey had made their March 17 arrival. Their going is never quite such a surprise, for they talk about it, gathering flocks barking like dogs for days before the big pick up. They leave from here, familiar after four months feeding and basking in our temperate clime.
    After eight months’ absence, their arrival out of nowhere is always a surprise. Like the snow they come from the frozen north, big white flakes falling from the sky.
    Swansdown, I call it, after the soft white powdery cake flour of the same name.
    Indeed, there’s a lot of air, feathers and down about a swan before you get down to flesh and bone, all eight to 24 pounds of it. Still, they are big birds, four to five feet long with 66-inch wingspans. Unlike ducks, which could, from a distance, be any old mallard or a rare visitor, tundra swans are unmistakable. Size, neck length, and color — even to their all-black bills and feet — give them away. So do their vocalizations, loud calls of hoonk or woo-hoo.
    Not as gainly as snow is the feet-first landing that has them walking splashily on the water for some distance, wings akimbo, before settling into grace. Take off requires effort too, as they run across the water before lifting on powerful whistling wings. From which comes the nickname whistling swan.
    These annual arctic visitors and their gray-scale cygnets need a clean Bay, full of grasses and clams, to make their 4,000-mile trip worthwhile. That’s our job.

That’s what all these Odd Fellows are up to

There are worse things to keep bumping into, like the doorframe that bruises your toe. The good works of civic organizations were my run-in. They cornered me at every turn, surrounding me, until I had no alternative. This week’s feature story — Get Involved: Local Civic Groups Help Make the World a Better Place — is the result of those confrontations.
    Lions, Moose and Elks: What are all these Odd Fellows up to? That was my question.
    Odd Fellows really exist; we could find trace but no specifics on one branch of the British fraternal organization in Chesapeake Country. Wish we could tell you more.
    What we do know is that theirs is the kind of name these organizations gave themselves back in their early days, when fellowship and good times were more the point than good works. Hence the Elks — the oldest by our reckoning, dating back to the post-Civil War Reconstruction era — began as the Jolly Corks.
    Kiwanis we were able to trace to a different origin, though the choice of a Native American word remains a mystery. As do the animal names, Lions, Moose and Elks. Certainly those animals are big stately models, with distinguishing male features of antlers or mane. Both elk and moose have North American ranges. How and why those totems were chosen we long to know. If you know, tell us.
    Interesting too is the coincident founding of so many of these civic organizations, just about a century ago. With the exception of the Elks (1868), Knights of Columbus (1882) and Moose (1888), all were founded between 1905 and 1928, with five in the century’s second decade. Put it down, I think, to one more phenomenon rising from the developing American social conscience of those years, the same that gave us conservation, women voters and prohibition, which began as a campaign for family integrity.
    More interesting than the long histories and odd names of these civic organizations are the human hours committed to good works here at home and in the wider world.
    I keep bumping into good works. Here are ­outreaches going on right now, each one needing you to reach its charitable goal:
    • Severn River Lions Club Fruit Sale: Order by Dec. 6 for fresh Florida navel oranges and ruby red grapefruit plus Georgia Elliot pecans. Pickup Saturday Dec. 13 at Severna Park High School (9am-1pm) Order: www.severnriverlions.org/fruit.htm.
    • South Arundel Lions Citrus Sale: Order by Dec. 8 for fresh Florida navel oranges and ruby red grapefruit plus locally made sausage and Virginia sweet potatoes. Pickup Saturday Dec. 20 at K-Mart parking lot, Edgewater. Order: 410-703-3773.
    • Rotary Club of South Anne Arundel County Lights of Kindness: Admire and vote on Christmas trees sponsored and decorated by local businesses and displayed at Homestead Gardens Dec. 4-7. Sponsor a tree to support a charity of your choice: Anthony Clark: 443-822-1606.

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

Give thanks and get ready

It’s a good thing the winter holidays start with a feast. You’re going to need all your energy to keep up with the oncoming season.
    Thanksgiving, only a week hence, is a command performance throughout America. Anticipation and anxiety pair as we prepare for the communal feasting demanded by our native holiday.
    Have we the time, energy and skill to manage a multi-course menu? Or had we better eat out or carry in? The Bay Weekly family spans the options, with some cooking … others going over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house … some dining out … and others carrying out grocery-store feasts of turkey, ham and roast beef — each with its side dishes and desserts.
    Even more complex, can we manage the dynamics of our families?
    Who’s coming to dinner? Ask that innocent question, and you’ll hear stories that make you classify your own family in the ranks of the nearly sane.
    I’ve celebrated a whole lot of Thanksgivings. Most have approached with their fair share of trepidation and doubt. A few lived up to my worst fears. There was the Thanksgiving when … I could tell you that story, but you could tell me your own, just as traumatic.
    Yet I look forward to this year’s feast with hope, encouraged by the wisdom of writer Caiti Sullivan, whose Thanksgivings are far fewer than mine.
    “The food on the Thanksgiving table is a bounty to share while celebrating family, friends and the joys of life,” she writes in this week’s feature story, Loving Your Leftovers. “Preparing the feast is a labor of love among us.”
    That’s just what Thanksgiving is about. What better way there than affirming her words in our hearts?
    As well as a good attitude, Caiti brings us six recipes for transforming Thanksgiving leftovers into a continuing feast.
    Leftovers, after all, are one of the few certainties we who cook the Thanksgiving feast can depend on. With all that’s going on, we can’t be sure the turkey will be moist, the gravy lump-free, the guests timely or Uncle Max sober. But there will be leftovers. To that end, I buy a 20-plus-pound turkey for eight or 10 people, and I collect a tall stack of carryout containers. My family and my guests have read Caiti’s recipes, and we’re all eager to eat them.

Christmas Is Coming
    Then, before you’ve worked your way through the leftovers, begins the countdown toward Christmas. It’s a season worth savoring whatever your faith.
    The fun starts Thursday, Nov. 20, when you can Trot for a Turkey through Watkins Park’s Winter Festival of Lights or walk your dog through Lights on the Bay at Sandy Point State Park.
    In this issue, Bay Weekly keeps you up with the fun in Season’s Bounty: Your Essential Guide to Holiday Happenings. Illuminations, Shops and Sales, Santa Sightings, Holidays at the Theater, Skate Your Way into the Holidays and a day-by-day calendar — plus dozens of advertisers offering wondrous things — stuff its 48 pages with seasonal opportunity for you, the kids, family, friends and visitors. Open it up today and fill your calendar from ours.
    Without Season’s Bounty, you won’t know what you’re missing.

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

Bay Weekly reports on how restoration is working

If native oysters rebound in the Chesapeake, it will be a miracle. But not a mystery. A clear chain of cause and effect will have led the way.
    First came the will, then the way.
    Over 30 years — even a century, it could be argued — plenty was going on to restore Chesapeake oysters. For all that was tried, nothing worked — or worked on a big enough scale to fight off the forces working against the native oyster, Crassostrea virginica.
    Hopes were high, results scarce.
    Yet will was gathering.
    Five years ago, an Oyster Advisory Commission convened by Gov. Martin O’Malley got to the bottom of the problem: The few oysters left couldn’t support themselves and an oyster economy. Bad news.
    Yet that bad news may be turning into good news.
    Maryland decided to go all out for oysters, with money and resources. The state’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan laid out a 10-point strategy.
    In Washington, at about the same time, President Barack Obama made Chesapeake restoration an executive priority. The feds laid down the standards and promised funding. States had to come up with the plans.
    That was 2009 and 2010.
    Now Maryland’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan is firing on all cylinders. Federal agencies, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, big independent players like Chesapeake Bay Foundation, civic groups and lots of everyday people — from waterfront homeowners to school kids — are all traveling down the restoration road.
    For the past two years, the General Assembly has topped DNR’s $2 million annual appropriation with almost $8 million for oyster restoration in two tributaries, Harris Creek and the Little Choptank River. That’s the starting point. Ten tributaries restored by 2025 is the latest Chesapeake Bay Agreement goal.
    At least two federal agencies, NOAA and the Army Corps of Engineers, do their own big spending to restore oysters in the Bay. The Corps’ annual budget, for ­example, is roundly $2 million.
    That’s some of the investment on three of the points of the 10-point plan:
1. Focus on targeted restoration strategies to achieve ecological and economic goals
2. Expand the sanctuary program
5. Rehabilitate oyster bar habitat
    Four years in, there’s plenty to report in terms of work done — and some successes achieved.
    Will it work to restore native oysters?
    “It is working on a small scale right now,” says DNR’s Eric Weissberger. “Will we see take-off on a larger scale, reaching a tipping point where it takes off on its own? It’s way too early to tell.”
    Starting next year, a new Republican governor will set his own course. A look back at Robert Ehrlich’s four years, 2001 through 2004 — when planting alien Asian oysters in the Bay seemed the last, best solution — reminds us just how different that could be.
    Will we keep it up?
    First comes the will, then the way.
    Read on for the first Bay Weekly report on what we’re doing to restore oysters and how it’s working.
    Writer Bob Melamud starts from the bottom up with shell, reporting on oyster recycling and revisiting the Harris Creek Oyster Sanctuary.

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

It takes good eyes to encompass a world of wonders

Could there be more out there than meets the eye?    
    It may be so, just like it was impossible to predict the forces that led to this week’s wave election.
    On faith or evidence, the world is full of believers in forces unseen, seldom seen and selectively seen.
    Believers in God and gods live in a universe populated by alternative species. Classified with military precision, their supernatural numbers range from the Supreme Being, or Beings, down to flitting sprites and cute little cherubim and putti. As with mortal armies, there are legions of both good guys and bad guys. Devils have their own hierarchy, and names, just as angels do.
    Divine beings above and below are recognized by faith, though lucky — or not so lucky — mortals among us may be selected for encounters. Who knows when the devil might appear with a bargain we had best refuse? Is he or she waiting in the wings for the presidential election two years hence?
    Far better to meet Mary mother of God updating her appearances at Guadalupe and Fatima.
    Other kinds of beings — who knows who or what — animate searchers of the sky to amplify their sight and hearing, even travel into space in hopes of alien encounters.
    Ghost hunters, as we wrote last week, are just as determined if not quite so technologically sophisticated as pollsters.
    Artists and writers give as much attention to these parallel universes — plus worlds of giants, dwarfs and leprechauns — as to our plain old ordinary one. Who knows what such fantasticists really see — and what we don’t see.
    Worlds out of sight are close at hand as well as distant in space and place. Ordinary Earth is layered with life beyond plain sight. Has every bird in the Amazon forest been seen and classified? Every life form in the deep, dark sea? Every bacteria and virus longing to infect us?
    There’s way more to the world of the small than meets the eye. As numerous as angels in the heavens or stars in the sky are life forms that we’d never see without wonder glasses that magnify our eyesight so we can peer into their secret minuscule worlds. Cells are multiplying, atoms spinning all around us.
    Even the leaves on the trees are shaking with surprises. Summer’s green fades, revealing yellow, orange, red and purple that were there, invisibly, all along.
    What else in plain sight are we missing?
    Election Day plus one holds other orders of revelation. Pollsters have devised multi-million-dollar methodologies in the political science of reading human preference. Yet how we vote remains a morning-after surprise.
    (Good thing, for how many would run if pollsters certified the winner on Day One?)
    The news of November 5 is that True Blue Maryland has a Republican governor. Throughout the state and Chesapeake Country, dark horses have won and favorites lost.
    In such a world of wonders, why shouldn’t there be more fish in the sea? In our great Chesapeake Bay, is Chessie impossible? I haven’t seen the creature that goes by that name, but many have. This week, when the impossible comes to be, we offer you four decades of testimony from Chessie sighters, brought up to date by Chris Gardner’s most recent sighting this August.
    In additional homage to what we may not see, our story is told by the ghost of Bill Burton.

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

7 million Books for International Goodwill

B.I.G. stands for Books for International Goodwill. Taken at face value, the word tells another truth. Books for International Goodwill is big. This week, the 18-year-old Parole Rotary Club project packs its seven millionth book in its 300th shipping container.
    Those milestone figures tell only part of this big story. Books come in at the rate of 1,500 a day. Local readers make many of the contributions, dropping off loads of books 24/7 at the B.I.G. Annapolis warehouse at 2000 Capital Drive. Overprints from publishers add volume.
    Dealing with 547,500 books a year takes 600 volunteer hours, 95 percent contributed outside Rotary by citizens motivated by the B.I.G. mission.
    That would be supporting schools, libraries and literacy projects in countries where books are a dreamed-of luxury. Most are former British colonies as most B.I.G. books are in English. Uganda was the first. B.I.G. began as an effort to send books to three schools when a bookless principal there asked friend and now-deceased Parole Rotarian and B.I.G. founder Leonard Blackshear for help.
    In 18 years, books have been sent to over 30 countries in tractor-trailer loads of 20,000. Eight hundred box-by-box shipments have gone to Peace Corps volunteers and 1,000 to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Seven million books would fill Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to a depth of eight feet.
    The shipments are funded by donations and monthly book sales.
    “B.I.G. is a win-win-win operation,” says Rotary organizer Steve Frantzich. “Those donating books realize they will go to a good home. From an environmental perspective, B.I.G. has saved the county over 6,000 cubic feet of landfill space from once-discarded school and library books alone. Finally, recipients receive the tools they need for empowerment through literacy.”
    Browse 70,000 well-organized books and buy at bargain prices — 50¢ to $1.50 or $30 a bagful — to fund Books for International Goodwill this Saturday, Nov. 1 from 8am to 2pm at 2000 Capital Dr., Annapolis: 410-293-6865; www.big-books.org. Next sale, Saturday, Dec. 13.

Meet ghosts, Volvo ocean racers and a 1,900-mile runner in this week’s paper

If ghosts do haunt historic places, they may view ghost hunters of Melissa Barba’s ilk with the same distaste long-time celebrities feel for paparazzi. Two or three centuries into the job of haunting, a new generation comes hunting with intrusive paraphernalia: flashlights, cameras, camcorders and voice recorders. So, if you follow Barba’s instructions in this week’s feature, “If There Be Spirits, Now’s the Time to Find Them,” don’t be surprised if the ghosts of Point Lookout, William Paca House and Jefferson Patterson Park are uncooperative if not downright irritable.
    Haunted as historic places may be, you don’t need to go far — in time or place — to find ghosts. They’re rising up from the earth, clinging to trees and shrubbery, blowing in the wind. Visit most any neighborhood in Chesapeake Country or across America, and you find them. Expressive celebrants of the holy day and holiday of Halloween have hung ghosts, skeletons and the popular roll of dead or undead characters in their yards and driveways.
    This year, a neighbor on Fairhaven Road has bedecked a long drive and front yard with gauzy orange bows as well as white plastic bag ghosts à la friendly Casper. Morning and night, it calls to me. I have driven in for a closer look.
    For I appreciate such efforts, in every form. Even huge spiders, giant illuminated pumpkins and inflated Frankensteins are okay by me this time of year.
    ’Tis, afterall, the season.
    As Mother Nature’s children fall and flee our world, human natures long to pierce the mystery. Ghosts seem to be calling to us from the nether world. Or is it we calling them?
    Whoever’s calling who, the meeting of the worlds of the living and dead is a celebrated tradition this time of year. Its timing is rooted in sky as well as earth, balanced on a nice celestial ellipsis midway between the autumnal equinox, Sept. 22, and winter solstice, Dec. 21.
    The celebration goes by many names. Samhain was the sacred festival of Celts and Druids. Hallowe’en, our festival, is the evening, or e’en, of the Nov. 1 Christian feast All Saints Day, honoring the good souls who’ve gone to heaven. November 2, the following day, is All Souls Day, honoring the not-so-good dead earning their way into heaven. In Mexico, the same day is the celebrated Day of the Dead, which has icons scarier than ours, including calaveras, effigies of human skulls often made of sugar.
    The Day of the Dead, I’m told, is ideally feted in cemeteries where your living and dead families get together for a high-spirited reunion.
    My most recent family are buried in Illinois and St. Louis, and earlier generations I don’t know where, so my Day of the Dead celebrating won’t take me to their resting places this year. In plenty of fine Chesapeake County cemeteries, historic St. James Parish in Lothian for one, I could meet up with old friends. Other dear ones lie not so far away in Arlington National Cemetery.
    But if ghosts are real, do I need to travel to find them? Won’t any so motivated find me? Maybe our own ghosts are the spirits that give us goose bumps this time of year.

    Ghosts are not the whole story, even this time of year. In this week’s paper, you’ll encounter superhuman and well as supernatural phenomena.
    The Volvo Ocean Race, now nearly three-quarters of the 6,500 nautical miles from Alicante, Spain, to Cape Town, South Africa, returns to this week’s paper, introduced by Steve Carr, who’s chronicled three earlier races in our pages.
    Here, too, you’ll meet near-superhuman Al DeCesaris, the Annapolitan who biked cross country last year and is now running the whole East Coast to help find a cure for his niece and other kids suffering Sturge-Weber syndrome.
    Read on for these and all your favorite Bay Weekly features.

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

What to do when skunks move into the neighborhood

We’re a little worried about our new neighbors. They’re a well-dressed couple, but their reputation precedes them — malodorously.
    Skunks are more often smelled than seen. Now that we’re seeing them, can smelling them be far behind?
    Not necessarily, according to Maryland Department of Natural Resources. It costs a skunk a lot of energy to spray a load of musk at you or your dog. That’s energy they’d rather preserve, especially this time of year when they’re fattening up for lean months ahead.
    Food is the most likely reason skunks are checking out the neighborhood. They’re omnivorous, glad to feast on mice, voles, your trash or the veggies growing in your garden.
    Except for their legendary spray, skunks are defenseless. With a full pouch of musk a week in the making, a cornered skunk wants only to escape. Encountered, it will try to run away. Next, it will try to warn you off by stomping its front paws. If that doesn’t work, it will turn around, lift its tail and spray.
    Though not 100 percent effective, Neutroleum Alpha works way better than smearing yourself with peanut butter or tomato juice:
1 quart fresh three percent hydrogen peroxide
1⁄4 cup baking soda
1 tsp dish soap as a degreasing agent
    Mix in large open container. While the solution bubbles, use it to thoroughly wash skin or fur. Then wash with soap and water.
    Better is to discourage skunks from moving into the neighborhood by securing your trash. Try placing ammonia-soaked rags in places that attract them.
    A final resort is hiring a trapper. You’ll pay for the service, and caught skunks will be euthanized under Maryland’s rabies vector law. Though they are seldom rabid, they rank as one of four main species that can carry the disease.


Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Nuisance Hotline: 877-463-6497.

Why your vote matters

To a lot of us, Election Day means no more than Push-the-Peanut Day.
    A record low of 21 percent of Marylanders voted in June’s Primary Election. General Elections about double that percent.
    That indifference I don’t quite get, for I love to vote. Election Day is as patriotic a date to me as the Fourth of July. True, punching my ballot, even for the candidates I most believe in, isn’t as much fun as parades and fireworks. But I feel pretty special exercising the right won for me not only by spunky rebels in britches but also by long-skirted Suffragettes. My grandmother marched so I can vote.
    Patriotism is one reason I vote — but not the only one.
    I vote because the people we elect have huge influence over our lives, for better or worse, and I’d prefer it be for the better. From statewide candidates like governor to local ones like North Beach mayor and city council, they’ll be making and enforcing the rules we have to live by.
    For that reason, Election Day amounts to more than peanuts for all of us.
    We give particular power to the people we elect to the General Assembly. They infiltrate our lives in all sorts of ways, even putting their hands in our pockets as they dictate the taxes we pay. In turn, we depend on them to give us value for those taxes.
    Interestingly, for most of us who live in this part of Chesapeake County, delegates are also the people we can hold most accountable to represent us. It’s a simple fact of numbers. Anne Arundel County’s half a million citizens are represented by only seven council people. (Annapolitans and citizens of tiny Highland Beach do better; incorporated as towns, they elect mayors and councils). Delegates, on the other hand, are broadly accountable to only about 40,000 of us. Given the number of citizens who develop the relationship, it can be pretty intimate.
    That same close relationship holds in Calvert, though that county’s form of government also gives its 91,000 citizens five commissioners to represent countywide interests. Citizens of the towns of Chesapeake Beach and North Beach have local representation, as well.
    In this week’s issue, you’ll be meeting many of the people seeking control over and responsibility for your life.
    We reached out to Anne Arundel and Calvert’s applicants for top state jobs — senator and delegate — in the General Assembly. Twenty-eight replied.
    We asked one question: How do you use the Bay, and what will you do to keep this great resource alive and well?
    Our readers, we told them, value the Chesapeake as our environmental, cultural and economic heart — and they vote their values.
    Candidates who answered our question seem to agree. From tax-overboard tea partiers to tax-and-spend liberals, they professed dedication to the Chesapeake and its restoration. Over Bay Weekly’s 21 years, Bay restoration has risen to orthodoxy.
    Over the years, the General Assembly has voted Bay values in hundreds of ways huge and small, by reducing the polluting flow of nutrients, both nitrogen and phosphate, from our sinks and toilets, water purification plants and septic systems, farm fields and yards, roof tops, roads and parking lots. That work takes money, and they’ve often made hard decision on where the money will come from.
    Will the people we elect this time do even more, as Bay restoration demands? They all say so, and they all sound good. So how can you foresee the actions that will follow the words?
    Look for specifics, and be wary of candidates who suggest that Bay problems are somebody else’s fault. Bay restoration is a job for which we each have first-person-singular responsibility.
    This feature gives you grounds to judge the Bay bona fides of job seekers whose prospects depend on you — and more.
    You’ll also meet these candidates as people seeking your trust. It’s harder to tar all politicians as scoundrels — harder to use that I-don’t-vote excuse — when you get closer to them as individuals.
    Read on, and I promise you will.
    I’m looking forward to November 4, when I’ll wear my i voted sticker as proudly as others wear their American flag lapel pins.
    I hope you’ll join me at the polls on Election Day.
    Or, if it’s more convenient, vote early. Early voting runs eight days, from Thursday, October 23 through Thursday, October 30, both weekdays and weekends, from 10am until 8pm. (Find early voting at www.elections.state.md.us/voting/early_voting_sites.html.)

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

Keep him in the lab and out of my kitchen!

Call him Drosophila melanogaster in the lab, where a century ago the fast-breeding creature helped scientists understand chromosomes and set out mapping genes.
    At home he’s the common fruit fly, aka the vinegar fly.
    Each autumn the tiny winged pests arrive in your kitchen. There they swarm, hovering intrusively over edibles you’d rather they had no part of. From the bowl of fruit to the compost container even to the fridge, they are with us. The tiny pests enter through open doors, windows, even screen mesh. Inside, they multiply.
    They’re here to stay until the frost, unless you take measures against them.
    Though they’re glad to drown in your glass of wine, the better trap is a paper funnel directing them into — but not out of — a bottle or jar baited with an ounce of wine or vinegar. If that doesn’t work, visit your hardware store for disposable fruit fly traps baited with nontoxic lures the flies like even better than your apples.