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The bright stars of the Summer Triangle linger at sunset, with Deneb in the constellation Cygnus almost directly overhead, brighter Vega in Lyra to the west and Altair of Aquila to the south. As they set in the west, the stars of the Great Winter Circle shine in the east.
    Find the hourglass-shaped Orion, marked by Betelgeuse at the shoulder and Rigel at the foot. From Rigel look to the southeast to Canis Major’s Sirius, the brightest star visible. Higher and to the east is Canis Minor and its star Procyon. Arc the northwest to the Gemini twins Pollux and Castor. To the west is Capella in the constellation Auriga. Below that is Aldebaran, the fiery eye of Taurus, and back to Rigel completes the circle.
    The waning gibbous moon moves through the Winter Circle at the end of the week. By the early morning of December 2, the last-quarter moon is a few degrees below Regulus in Leo the lion, and before dawn December 3 and 4 it is close to the planet Jupiter.
    Well below Jupiter but much brighter is Venus. Midway between them is fainter Mars. Saturday the first-magnitude star Spica is within five degrees of Venus.

On the hunt in November

The antlered buck posed statue-like in full-focused attention in a valley surrounded, at a fair distance, by the houses of Fairhaven Cliffs. Perhaps he’d seen me seeing him from my perch well above him, but not assuring him safety were I a bow hunter. That hunting season lasts most of November, the month — this odd sighting reminded me — when Maryland’s 227,000 deer are at their most visible.
    November is rutting season, when bucks go in search of mates, and here one was, where deer, especially bucks, are not everyday sightings. The does and their families, our usual visitors, prefer Kudzu Valley, across the village, where groundhogs are the only neighbors. This was not the only buck I’d seen this month, when deer in Chesapeake Country are about as common as squirrels, and just about as oft seen dead along the roadsides.
    Not only are deer out and about in November, they are single-minded, both males and females hormonally driven to mate — as well as driven to distraction. Thus deer-vehicle crashes peak in November as well, bringing death to over 10,000 deer — and often injury to people as well as to their vehicles.
    The end of mating season coincides with the opening of the modern deer firearms season on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. That’s when most of the deer harvested in a year are taken. Last year 95,863 deer were harvested.
    From November 28 through December 12, hunters will be out in search of deer. So maybe for that time you should leave the woods to them.

The latest in the Rocky series is a knockout

Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan: Fantastic Four) has been throwing punches all his life. Orphaned and alone, Adonis ricocheted between foster care and juvenile detention. When a well-dressed woman visits him in lockup, he’s shocked.
    Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad: For Justice) has sought Adonis ever since she discovered that he is the son of her late husband, heavyweight champ Apollo Creed.
    The grown up Adonis has had the benefits of money, an education and a loving stepmother. But he can’t shake the urge to fight. He works weeks in a finance company, but on weekends he boxes in illegal matches in Tijuana. Fearing that her surrogate son will meet the same end as his father, Mary Anne won’t help him start a fighting career.
    Adonis then travels to Philadelphia, where his father’s greatest opponent lives. Tracking down Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone: The Expendables 3), Adonis begs the Italian Stallion to train him to become a champion. A shell of the man he once was, Rocky isn’t sure he or the kid has what it takes.
    Creed is the first movie in the Rocky series not written by Sylvester Stallone. That could be why it is easily the best film since the original Rocky. Written and directed by Ray Coogler (Fruitvale Station), it honors the icons of the Rocky films while crafting a bold, independent vision. Coogler’s Philadelphia is gritty and punishing, full of life and promise. As Adonis runs through the streets, the neighborhoods seemingly come alive around him.
    Fight scenes are well choreographed and exhilarating. Coogler puts the camera behind Adonis, so the audience is directly in the path of the onslaught. It’s visceral and effective, making more than one viewer scream OH! when a particularly brutal blow lands.  
    Coogler’s biggest triumph, however, is reminding Stallone to act. Alone in the world and waiting to join his dead loved ones, Creed’s Rocky is a tragic figure. Stallone doesn’t push his big speeches, instead turning Rocky into a sad, shambling man who sees Adonis as his last hope for family. Stallone’s natural chemistry with Jordan helps to sell the relationship, which is the heart of the film.
    The heavyweight in this film, however, is Jordan, who breathes new life into the Rocky franchise. Jordan’s natural charisma evokes memories of Apollo for Rocky fans and charms franchise newcomers in equal measures. His impressive physical transformation into a powerful boxer is overshadowed only by the emotional depths he reveals. Adonis is a damaged boy yearning to prove he’s worthy of his father’s name.
    A knockout for anyone who’s ever dreamed of running up the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s stairs, Creed is both a great Rocky film and a great character study.

Great Sports Drama • PG-13• 132 mins.

Captivating, with fine singing, ­excellent choreography, ballet-­quality dancing and a pianist who never misses a beat

With Brigadoon, Compass Rose Theatre brings a fantastical Scottish paradise to life in the highlands of Annapolis. It’s right here amongst the braes. I don’t know what a brae is, but I can tell you this:
    Bagpipes set the mood, so we’re in Scotland. Two young Americans, Tommy (Mike McLean) and Jeff (Lansing O’Leary), appear on the minimalist set, looking down on what we take to be a valley. They’re lost in the highlands. They hear faint music, and through the mist they spot a village. They decide to pay a visit, hoping to get directions to their inn.
    Entering the village, the men find themselves in Brigadoon, a place with a lot of young, pretty women and a few Tartan-clad men of the McClaren clan. A festive atmosphere prevails as the village prepares for a wedding.
    The Yankee newcomers join in the village revelry, dancing and cavorting with the lasses in the freest of manner. Natural human chemistry comes into play, and (as often happens) our two worthies are caught up in what may become budding romances. Meg (Megan Tatum), a lissome maid, is attracted to Jeff and persuades him to come away with her for a wee chat. Tommy and Fiona (Katherine Riddle) stroll off for serious conversations. Their relationship deepens, though Tommy has a fiancée back in New York.
    With fine singing voices, excellent choreography and ballet-quality dancing, backed up by a pianist who never once misses a beat, this play is captivating. We soon lay aside the simple romantic storyline and are caught up in the spirit.
    In a wee discussion, town schoolmaster Mr. Lundie (Greg Jones Ellis) allows the visitors a peek at an old Bible in which certain entries have been inscribed. Coincidences come to light. We learn why the denizens are so worry-free. There are, however, complications. Tommy and Jeff learn that the village appears for only one day every hundred years. This circumstance is the result of an old spell. The downside is that if anyone leaves the village, the spell (the denizens call it The Miracle) will be broken.
    “Why do people have to lose things in order to find them?” Jeff and Tommy lament as they debate the merits of staying in Brigadoon and living happily ever after, versus returning to the real world and its tribulations. It comes down to a crunch: our two Yanks have to make major ­decisions.
    However, the play speaks to the power of pure love, making anything possible.
    They return to America.
    Tommy ends his relationship with his erstwhile NY fiancée and, pining for Fiona, returns to the place where Brigadoon used to be. As expected, there’s nothing there, but lo! … You’ll have to see the play.
    My nominations for standout performances, I lay at the feet (literally) of the lasses who do most of the dancing: Katherine Riddle, Megan Tatum, Megan Schwartz, Ryann Lillis and Elizabeth Spilsbury. The willowy Megan Tatum does an especially good turn on the dance floor. She also shines in her two acting roles.
    In the singing category, kudos go to all and especially the fine tenor Max McLean in the role of Tommy the bridegroom.
    All of the actors made their roles live, but occasionally the dialogue was overridden by the music. However, it’s a small stage, and the piano work was superb.
    This play is well acted, well sung and well danced. You can’t beat that combination.

Brigadoon: Book and lyrics by Alan J. Lerner; music by Frederick Loewe. Director: Lucinda Merry-Browne. Choreographer: Emily Frank. Stage manager: Mary Ruth Cowell. Pianist: Eric Clark. Costumes: Renee Vergauen. Thru Dec. 20. Th 7pm, F 8pm, Sa 2pm & 8pm, Su 2pm, Compass Rose Theater, 49 Spa Rd., Annapolis, $38 w/discounts, rsvp:; 410-980-5857.

How to find hot wintertime fishing

A big El Nino winter is expected, possibly moderating Maryland temperatures. That’s good news for anglers wanting to get in a few extra rockfishing trips, as the season remains open until December 15 on the Bay and year-round oceanside.
    Despite El Nino’s predicted warming effect, however, planning any fishing trip this time of year means getting good information on weather conditions. A 10-day forecast is a good place to start.
    I refer first to the temperatures and, because I have a small skiff open to the elements, eliminate any day predicted to be under 50 degrees, especially as damp, salty air always seems to be extra cold. Even if you have a 30-footer with a heated cabin you will be forced out into the open when the action starts.
    Next, look to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Forecast for guidance on wind speed, direction, precipitation and sea conditions. The first two days of the forecast are generally on target. The third day can be fairly accurate; thereafter, refresh your data as your target date gets closer. Expect significant change.
    On the Bay, winds above 10mph are not recommended for open boats. The seas push higher, and the resultant wind chill can make things very uncomfortable, even dangerous.
    Wind direction is also important, especially if it is from the northwest or southeast. Those directions mean the wind is coming the full length of the Bay, and that has an amplifying effect on wave height.
    For real-time local conditions, look to the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System at Constant reports originate at 10 Bay locations. The rule I follow is that if any two weather sources are in conflict, expect the harsher version to be the more accurate.
    If you’re a shore-bound angler, dress warmly, have extra clothing handy and carry a hot beverage. Temperatures should be above freezing; otherwise your line will ice up in the rod guides.
    Fishing the colder months also means the fish will react differently to bait or artificial lures. Expect very hesitant, almost imperceptible bites. If you’re working lures, do it slowly and methodically; when you feel a bump, react deliberately, staying poised to drop back to give the fish another chance if you feel no resistance.
    Bait anglers will have to watch their rod tips like hawks and will still find their baits stolen. Adding scent such as menhaden and shedder-crab oil to your baits can pay extra rewards this time of year. Jumbo bloodworms are worth the extra cost. Rockfish metabolisms have slowed with the declining temperatures, so they will not eat as often or as much as during warmer months. Persistence and patience are critical to success.
    There can be excellent big-striper action in winter around Ocean City (minimum size 28 inches, limit one fish). The inlet, particularly, is a haven for big fish that can be jigged up or caught on live bait. The surf fishing can also be excellent, and fly and light-tackle anglers working parallel to the shoreline, just behind the break, have hooked up with some giants.

In every faith, we look ahead in hope

On American’s feast day, Thanksgiving, we look back at “the great and various favors” of our year. I hope you were inspired in your recollection and naming of your blessings this Thanksgiving Day by George Washington’s apt words, quoted in last week’s Letter.
    Now we rush full of anticipation into the winter holidays.
    These great holidays rise from separate faiths, but all share a common theme. Each turns us toward the future.
    Advent — marked on special calendars in many a family — begins November 29 with anticipation building in the day-by-day countdown to Christmas.
    The Jewish eight-day festival of Chanukah, beginning December 6 this year, celebrates a victory of the faith and the surprising longevity of the light, which burned in the restored temple in Jerusalem for eight days when there was only oil enough for one.
    The Winter Solstice, December 22, marks the victory of the sun, which strikes a balance with darkness, then climbs again to ascendancy after six waning months.
    Christmas, December 25, celebrates the birth of a baby who was both man and God, bringing the light of hope to humankind. Even secular Christmas, presided over by Santa Claus, promises the magical fulfillment of all our hopes in a shower of gifts.
    New Year’s, which belongs to us all, tells us we get another chance.
    No wonder we love these holidays!
    Each of our seasonal rituals brings us back to the wellspring of hope, a visitation as old as human memory can stretch. Shopping for gifts, which begins in earnest Black Friday, we’re following the example of Saint Nicholas … of the Magi who followed the Star of Bethlehem to bring gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus … and even deeper in history, the sacrifices made to sun gods to reverse the dying of the light.
    Cutting the Christmas tree and gathering greens, we dip deep into many other ancient cultures, bringing evergreen life into our homes at the nadir of the cycle of cold and darkness. Holly’s red berries not only brighten the season; to Christians they recall the blood of the dying Jesus staining his crown of thorns. Mistletoe is magical in many cultures and gives permission for love.
    Stringing the lights, lighting menorahs, decking our halls with lights, green and glitter: All defy the darkness.
    Our hopes spill out onto our lawns in Christmas cribs, Santa, elves and flocking reindeer.
    Baking warms our homes and sweetens the season.
    Arguments about whether our greetings should be Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays do wrong to this season of celebration. So intermingled are our traditions and united our hope that we are all in this together.
    Menorahs, bonfires or Christmas stars, our lights shine on our neighbors and theirs on us. Together, we of many faiths transform the dead of winter into a winter wonderland.
    I hope you’ll nurture the spirit of the season in your heart, home and community.

  1. Sandra Olivetti Martin

Editor and publisher;

In this historical biopic, women become warriors for the right to vote

A London laundry worker since she was seven, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan: Far from the Madding Crowd) works long hours as harsh chemicals corrode her lungs. She’s paid less by the hour than male co-workers, who get to spend their days outside the factory making deliveries.
    It’s abominable. It’s unfair. It’s life in early 20th century England.
    A coworker who believes in the suffragette movement, which demands the vote for women as well as equal rights and pay, convinces Maud to join her at a parliamentary hearing on the working conditions. But their testimony falls on deaf ears.
    Thus Maud joins the suffragette fight as the women turn from marching and chanting to blowing up letterboxes.
    Shamed by neighbors and friends, Maud’s husband threatens her with homelessness and loss of her son. It’s a terrifying threat, as under the law women have no rights to their children.
    A fascinating look at the women behind the equality movement, Suffragette is a gripping but unfocused movie. Director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) knows her history and excels at detailing the injustices suffered by the suffragettes, from beatings to force feedings to stalking by the police. But her characters remain a mystery. It’s hard to care about the beating or death of a character whose name you can’t recall.
    One notable exception is the firebrand feminist played by Helena Bonham Carter (Cinderella). As Edith Ellyn, a highly educated pharmacist and dedicated suffragette, Bonham Carter easily steals every scene she’s in. Edith is a fierce proponent of the movement, who delights in blowing up symbols of the patriarchy and refuses to apologize for her behavior. Her husband is her partner in her causes, often acting as the getaway driver.
    As Maud, Mulligan offers a heartfelt performance, selling her transformation from suffering to suffragette.
    Doing better with facts than people’s stories, Suffragette rolls like a documentary, opening a window into a time that now seems almost unthinkable. Women have had the right to vote in England and America for less than a century; stay after the end for a list of when women around the world earned the right to vote.
    See Suffragette to understand how far the women’s movement has come — and how far it has to go.

Good Historical Drama • PG-13 • 106 mins.

There’s a lot to see before dawn

Venus, Jupiter and Mars command the pre-dawn sky, strung out in a nearly straight line above the east horizon. The first-magnitude star Spica crests the horizon a little before sunrise, adding a fourth point in the string of lights.
    Of the three planets, Jupiter is highest, rising around 1:30am. Venus is more than 20 degrees below Old Jove and rises almost two hours later. But once over the horizon there should be no mistaking the Morning Star. About halfway between Venus and Jupiter is Mars, dim and orange-hued compared to the blazing glow of the other two planets. Test your eyes Saturday before dawn, when Mars is within a fraction of a degree of the 4th-magnitude star Zaniah, or Eta Virginis, the seventh-brightest star in the constellation Virgo.
    Before dawn Thanksgiving day, the full moon is high in the west. Less than one degree away is Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the bull, which the moon will pass in front of in what’s called an occultation.

Fine dog work, great company and challenging birds make for a ­memorable hunt

A double layer of warm technical clothing, heavy brush chaps and a stout hunting coat were barely holding the elements at bay.
    Out front a wild pheasant had just broken from cover, speeding low over dense treetops and right at me. Backlit by the sun, I couldn’t tell if it was a rooster or a protected hen, so I held my fire, waiting for the bird to display its colors. Fingering the safety, I tried to warn my partner of its approach but doubted that he heard me over the roar of the wind across the thrashing prairie grasses.
    I was standing at the end of a South Dakota shelter belt, a quarter-mile line of closely planted trees outside an inner row of thicker evergreens, bordered by smaller bushes and then more evergreens. It was the only cover that could withstand the relentless gale ripping since dawn across the flat agrarian Huron County countryside.
    The belt offered weather protection to the farmhouse and barns some 200 yards distant. As the trees also bordered an enormous harvested cornfield, it also offered ring-neck pheasants an ideal laying up spot on a 30-degree morning.
    Gusting at 50 mph, the wind was at my back and I had to guard against being pushed off balance. Off to my right about 25 yards distant stood my partner, the ramrod of the hunt, Tom Schneider. We were blocking at the far end of a drive that hoped to break some wild, tough Dakota ring-necks out of cover and into range.
    The rest of our party from the Maryland-Virginia area — Jim Zimmerman, Kevin Klasing, Mike Wilkerson and Steve Roth — were pushing from the other end of the shelter belt behind their trained springer and cocker spaniels, in a hammer and anvil movement.
    Then the bird out front lifted from the trees, turned, opened its wings and caught the wind. Its long, graceful tail and iridescent green head — set off by a brilliant white collar — announced that it was a rooster. I threw my gun to my shoulder. The bird’s air speed was boosted by the gale, blowing from a leisurely 30 mph to about 70 in an instant. I fired twice but never came close as the bird zoomed toward the horizon.
    Stuffing two more shells into my gun’s magazine, I peered under the trees and saw a half dozen more roosters running toward us in front of the spaniels. As they neared, pandemonium broke out. Birds were flushing everywhere through the trees and into the wind. Shooting and reloading, then shooting again was as exciting as it gets hunting ring-neck pheasants in South Dakota.
    Wind-burned and exhausted, we all agreed it was one of the best hunts we’d ever had. We seldom came close to downing the legal limit on most days, but we had shared the finest aspects of the wingshooting sport: fine dog work, great company and challenging birds.

A sweet potato the size of a turkey

This sweet potato could be the vegetarian answer to the Thanksgiving turkey.
    It looks the part, though Birgit Sharp — who grew the lookalike at American Chestnut Land Trust’s Double Oak Farm in Prince Frederick — calls it The Swan.
    At 25 pounds, nine and one-quarter ounces, it’s big enough to do the job.
    Certainly, it’s proof of the providential bounty of the earth and the ingenuity of its human farmers. It’s the product of hugelkulture beds, an innovative technique of farming in mounds of decaying wood debris and organic matter.
    Sharing the bounty is also commonly practiced at Double Oak Farm, as staff and volunteers grow organic vegetables, fruits and herbs for donation to Calvert County food pantries. Stewardship of this good earth is a fundamental value of American Chestnut Land Trust, founded in 1986 to preserve natural woodlands surrounding Parker’s Creek.
    Word is still out on whether the potato will meet the knife at a Thanksgiving table.