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Decking your halls, from trees to poinsettias

Buy a Fresh, Safe Christmas Tree
    For the freshest Christmas trees, buy locally from a Christmas tree grower’s lot or cut your own. Otherwise, you could be buying an imported tree cut in late October or early November.
    Fresh-cut Douglas fir, Scots pine and blue spruce are the most fire-safe Christmas tree species, ranked by the State Fire Marshal based on research conducted by the Bay Gardener in cooperation with the Maryland Christmas Tree Growers.
    Fraser firs are not fire safe. Do not buy them.
    Once you bring the tree home, cut an inch from the bottom of the trunk and place in a bucket of 100-degree water. Keep the tree and bucket in the shade until you are ready to bring it indoors. When you bring it in, cut another inch from the trunk and immediately place it in water. Make certain there is always water in its stand. A good Christmas tree stand should hold at least one gallon of water.

Wreaths and Roping, Too
    Most of the Christmas wreaths and roping sold in big-box stores, grocery stores and many garden centers are made in New Mexico, North Carolina, New Jersey, the West Coast and Canada starting in October. Few of these facilities have climate-controlled cold storage for keeping greens fresh prior to shipping. Most are stored on the floor in sheds and barns and sprinkled with water when they appear to be drying. By the time they reach Maryland, they have already lost a high percentage of their moisture.
    At Upakrik Farm, I wait to make wreaths and roping until Thanksgiving week to assure freshness. I store them on the barn floor in stacks no greater than 10 deep to prevent compression and to assure adequate moisture. I sprinkle the wreaths and roping daily to keep them moist and cool to maintain freshness. Because I sell only freshly made wreaths and roping, I have many repeat customers at the Riva Road Farmers Market. There is no substitute for freshness.

Gather Greens in Your Garden
    For long-lasting holiday greens, gather arborvitae, Canaan fir, Douglas fir, junipers, Nordman red cedar, red pine, Scots pine and white pine. Many broadleaf evergreens will also hold up throughout the holidays. Choose from American holly, cherry laurel, Chinese holly, English holly, English ivy, mountain laurel, pachysandra, periwinkle, rhododendron and southern magnolia.
    Increase the life of greens by cutting one to two inches from the base of the stem as soon as you bring them indoors and immerse them in 100-degree water. Change the water at least every other day.

If You’ve Got Winterberry Holly, Bring It In
    Winterberry shows at its best this season, inviting you to cut it for Christmas decorating. The native deciduous forms of holly grow as shrubs six to eight feet tall. At this time of year, the ends of the branches are filled with clusters of bright red berries.
    Use extreme care when cutting the stems to minimize shedding berries from the stem. Once they are cut, do not put them in water. Since the berries shrink very slowly, they will remain attractive for a month or more indoors. Thus, they’re ideal for making dry arrangements or for decorating the Christmas tree.
    Holly berries are not poisonous, though neither do they taste good.

Keep Poinsettias Pretty
    The brightly colored bracts and dark green leaves of poinsettias make them the ideal Christmas plants. Varieties are better now than ever before. Now available in many shades of red, white, pink and speckled, they retain their bracts and leaves longer with minimal care.
    And no, they are not poisonous.
    Keep your poinsettia fresh looking by careful watering. Check the growing medium daily for adequate moisture by pressing your finger into the medium halfway between the stem of the plant and the wall of the pot. If the medium feels cool and moist, there is adequate moisture. If the medium feels warm and dry, water thoroughly.
    Add water until it flows through the bottom of the pot. If water flows immediately through, the medium is too dry to absorb water. Soak the pot in a basin or pail of warm water for 30 minutes to an hour. Drain the plant before returning it to its place.
    Avoid overwatering. Poinsettia roots are very susceptible to rot.


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

When there aren’t 24 hours in a day

The full moon rises at sunset Friday and sets at daybreak Saturday morning. Look for it less than about two degrees from Aldebaran, the heart of Taurus the bull. December’s full moon is known as the Cold Moon, the Long Night Moon and the Moon Before Yule. And as we approach winter solstice, these are the longest nights of the year.
    In fact, Sunday marks a turning point in the tug between light and dark, with the earliest sunset of the year at 4:45. Why, you may ask, is the earliest sunset separated from the shortest day of the year by two weeks? Two factors come into play, one celestial the other of our own contrivance.
    Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun creates a skew in the exact point of solstice — the overall shortest day — and the earliest sunset and the latest sunrise, which won’t occur until January 4 for us along Chesapeake Bay.
    Additionally, modern timekeeping bases each day on a 24-hour cycle. However, the time between one sunrise and the next — or one sunset and the next or high noon from day to day — seldom adds up to an even 24 hours. The cycle of a solar day is dictated by the time it takes for the earth to make one full rotation. And the speed of earth’s rotation changes, spinning faster when closer to the sun, as it is this time of year, and spinning slightly slower when it is farther away in June, July and August.
    So while the time of sunset will hold for the next week or so, we will continue to lose another six minutes of sunlight in the early mornings before reaching solstice December 21 and more still until January 4.
    Venus is slowly pulling away from the sun, appearing for a few minutes in our early evening sky before disappearing below the southwest horizon. At week’s end this evening star sets roughly 40 minutes after the sun, but each night she appears a little higher and remains visible more than a minute longer than the night before. Even so, you may need to scour the horizon with binoculars to see this planet so early in its evening apparition.
    Mars, too, comes into view as the sun sets, quite a bit higher than Venus but also dimmer. Shining at first-magnitude, the red planet is as bright as the average star — enough to be seen during full moon. While pulling away from earth, it nonetheless maintains its brightness through December and remains in view until setting around 8pm.
    Around 10pm, Jupiter rises in the east-northeast, the brightest object at that time other than the moon. By dawn it is high in the south, with the much fainter blue-white star Regulus 10 degrees to its lower left. The night of the 10th, Jupiter trails the waning gibbous moon by about the same distance. The two travel together throughout the dark hours, shining high in the southwest as dawn approaches.
    If you’re up in the hour before dawn, you may be able to spot the return of Saturn. It is quite low in the east-southeast as the sky begins to lighten, another target perhaps requiring binoculars to see amid the growing glare. But each morning it creeps a little higher and by month’s end is visible a full hour before sunrise.

November 12, 2005 – November 29, 2014

Angel of God my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side to light, to guard, to rule and guide.
    I never expected the guardian angel of grade school prayer to be corporeal. Certainly not a dog.
    The stiff fur of a yellow Labrador retriever covered 125 pounds of vibrant muscle. His chest, where the fur whirled in vortex, was broad and deep. Foot pods were thick and black, indifferent to ice and stone. Lower legs were strong with bone, springy with tendon. Lips black as pods fluttered in elastic opposition to podal density. Quivering whiskers rose from black pores. Ears were soft as silk purses, eyes big, brown and soulful — an angelic giveaway.
    Moe was pure creature, the far end of the spectrum from pure spirit. Yet he did guardian angel to a T.
    By my side? Twenty-four/seven.
    Moe was my dictionary for the words dogged and hounded.
    I have been dogged. I have been hounded. You do not need to hear the trumpet bay of beagles, bassets and blue ticks to experience hounding. A dog who is yours has no need to track you like a fugitive. He has you. Moe hounded with big brown eyes, deep breath and proximity.
    I came to morning not at the alarm clock’s siren summons but at Moe’s silent hounding, head on the side of my bed.
    Dog presence softly told the hours of my day: time to eat … time for a walk … time to play in creaturely abandon … time to be creaturely companions.
    Waking time, breakfast time, waiting time. Moe was a study in patience. He waited through all the diversions that stood between one place and the next.
    “Come on,” I’d say, “we’re going now.” Still he’d lie, giant head between shapely paws, until key in hand I opened the door. Only then would he rise, joint by joint until the whole dog stood, stretched nose to tail and trotted into whatever came next.
    For about 1,700 of Moe’s days, what came next was getting into the car, which for Moe was the lifelong effort of a hundred-year-old dog. My car is  small coupe, so he squeezed into the back seat like yarn threading a small-eyed needle.
    I calculate that he and I drove 100,000 miles together in my little Audi TT. Nine years of Moe time is clocked in its fabric, leather seats worn raw, dog hair woven into carpet, drool stains marking seat back and window ledge. You might have seen us together. He made, I’m told, a memorable sight, with his big head out the window. Parked, I’d often open the hatch to give him air. Resting his head on the seat back, he’d put on the look of the world’s saddest dog as he awaited my return.
    Moe was my assistant at four Bay Weekly offices, one in Deale and three in Annapolis. (He also had a Washington, D.C., office, where he assisted husband Bill, but that is their story.) At work, his job was not demanding. Mostly, he’d lie on his cushion under my desk, waiting for lunch, for biscuit, for walk, for the ride home, for whatever tedium and pleasure those hours would bring.
    The best of the pleasures were wild romps through the woods with holy terrier Nipper, also dead this dog-bereft year.
    Ever this day be at my side … Yes, Moe was.
    Moe’s presence was mostly insinuative. But it could be intrusive. He could sound a clarion bark that shook pictures off the walls, deer out of brush and souls out of their hiding place.
    As my guard, he was potentially formidable. I never locked my car when Moe was in it, and seldom closed the windows. Who would enter a confined space occupied by a 125-pound likely growling creature with inch-long canine teeth?
    I stepped out of the office into secluded lots at all hours, for Moe stood between me and whatever might lurk in the shadows. I slept through the midnight creaks of an empty house fearless of all intruders but ghosts. Moe guarded our house — and all inside — with authority.
    But Moe was more than a guard dog. He gave us the light and guidance I was taught to expect from my guardian angel, even one appearing in such unexpected form.
    To whom God’s love commits us here …
    If those words mean what they say, do they not promise the constancy of God’s love in day-in, day-out presence that is, if not intrusive, perhaps dogged?
    If God’s love is immanent in all creation, it may not be so far a leap of faith to find divine outreach in a dog.
    Some force for which I can find no better explanation emanated from Moe. The very sight of that big dog broke down the barrier of conventions that separate us from one another. Beautiful women kissed this dog as if they were princesses and he their frog. D.C. suits fell to their tailored knees to embrace him. Old men buried their fingers in his fur and wept for their lost dogs. Dog lovers were the biggest but not the only hearts open to Moe. Friends or strangers, loners and gregarians, people fell for Moe.
    “He’s just a dog,” Bill or I would say.
    But many people saw more in him.
    “He’s a magnificent creature,” a last-days friend pronounced. For even as brain cancer advanced, Moe kept his magic.
    For the nine years that were Moe’s eternal present, I felt that magic every day, so it needed no words.
    On Moe’s death, it found words.
    All the days he was at our side, our lives were lighted, guarded, ruled (dog walk is the unbreakable rule) and guided.
    Just a dog opened our hearts.

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

Good for laughs but not much else

Here’s my short list of useless gadgetry to avoid as you shop for the gardeners on your holiday list. I found them in the gardening catalogues now arriving in the mail.
    Bulb planters are a gadget I find useless. Instructions with such tools recommend that tulip, narcissus and hyacinth bulbs be planted six inches deep. Most topsoil layers are often less that six inches thick, which means that by following such instructions you are planting bulbs on subsoil. Subsoils are low in nutrients, tend to be acid and often compacted. It is no wonder most bulb crops planted with bulb planters survive only a season.
    There is no substitute for digging a 12-inch-deep planting bed for bulbs, amending the subsoil with compost, adjusting the pH to near 6.5 and planting bulbs with their tops six inches below the soil surface.
    Fertilizer tree spikes may sound like a good idea, but their effectiveness is questionable. We tested these spikes without measuring any benefit to the trees. However, we did observe tufts of lush green grass growing around each spike.
    When you drive a fertilizer tree spike into the ground, you compress the soil around the spike, thus limiting root growth because roots will not penetrate soils with compaction of 85 percent.
    There is no substitute for augering holes four to six inches in diameter and 10 inches deep at two- to three-foot intervals and filling the holes with compost. Start from five to 10 feet from the tree trunk and extend beyond the drip line.
    Compost starters are another waste of money. Any good garden soil contains all the microorganisms essential for inoculating a compost bin. Compost from an active compost pile also makes a good compost starter. I have found that most compost starters are dry. If used as directed, they will require a month or more for the microorganisms to become active. They function best when moistened and stored at room temperature for three to four weeks before mixing them in the new compost pile.
    The Aqua Farm Hydroponic Fish Food Tank tickled my funny bone, but that’s about all it is good for. Growing plants on top of an aquarium won’t work. It is impossible for fish to generate all of the nutrients plants need. Fish feces is very low in nitrogen because fish use most of the nitrogen from their food. A Deale fish farm tried this concept with no luck. The only way fish can contribute to the growth of plants is after they die and are composted. Native Americans grew gardens by burying dead fish in the soil before planting their crops.
    As a scientist who has worked with soils and plants for more than 60 years, I find it hard to believe that a $50 piece of electronic equipment can provide sufficient information needed to grow plants. In this case I am referring to the 4-way Soil pH, Moisture, Fertilizer and Light Meter. This instrument has three prongs you insert in the soil to obtain all this information. Its single probe three-way analyzer will supposedly provide you with soil pH, fertility and temperature. Also amusing are the manufacturer’s instructions.
    Roots spread out well beyond the stems of plants. They travel the path of least resistance, branching and clustering when they find an area rich in organic matter and nutrients.  Studies on the root distribution of tomato plants have demonstrated that a single root may extend 15 feet from the base of the stem, penetrating as deep as 20 inches.
    No gadget can replace taking good soil samples and having your soil analyzed by a reputable soil-testing laboratory such as A&L Eastern Laboratories.
    Skip the VegiBee Garden Pollinator, too. Unless you are growing greenhouse tomatoes, there is no need for either the single- or five-speed variety. Tomatoes growing outdoors are self-pollinated by the wind shaking the plant. In the greenhouse, where there is no wind, the single-speed pollinator model will do the same job as the five-speed model at half the price. It is a waste of money purchasing one of these for growing tomatoes in the garden regardless of the claims made by the manufacturer.
    Nor should you fall for the red Tomato Crater for growing softball-sized tomatoes. Research has demonstrated that mulching tomato plants with red plastic will increase yields because of red light reflecting back to the foliage. Red light has long been recognized for enhancing plant growth. However, I find it hard to believe that a disc 11.5 inches in diameter can reflect much red light once it is shaded by the foliage of the plant. Furthermore, the disc does little to conserve soil moisture as compared to the red plastic mulch.
    Next month, I’ll report on useful garden gifts.

You say you want a revolution. Well you know, we all want to change the world.

Saved from the Hunger Games quarter quell by rebels in District 13, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence: X-Men: Days of Future Past) is haunted by violence and death. Plagued by nightmares and guilt that she left her pseudo boyfriend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson: Catching Fire), she wakes every night screaming.
    The rebels don’t have time for Katniss’ mental troubles. They need her to join their revolution as The Mockingjay, a symbol of truth and justice fighting the corrupt Capital.
    Can this Katniss inspire the nation?
    A movie about rebellion and sacrifice but mostly teen angst, Mockingjay is a placeholder with some great performances. The problem with any Part 1 is that we know Part 2 is coming. We know the stakes aren’t very high. It’s not likely Katniss will die or any decisive battle be fought when the studio has another movie to release in a year. You’re paying $15 for a prologue.
    Lawrence does a great job encapsulating Katniss’ pain and mental angst — within the confines of the material and her costars. Like a typical teen, Katniss is obnoxiously focused on her love life. Her obsession with Peeta is understandable — or would be were she not surrounded by suffering. When thousands are slaughtered in the name of the rebellion, it’s hard not to get frustrated at Katniss’ kneejerk worry about her boyfriend’s pain.
    It doesn’t help that Katniss is paired with two of the biggest drips ever to slump their way through a love triangle. As Peeta, Hutcherson is wooden, diminutive and blond. As Gale, Liam Hemsworth (Catching Fire) is wooden, tall and brunette. Both mope over Katniss, both do the right thing when called upon and both pout prettily in every shot. Watching Katniss waffle between these two ninnies in the face of the serious circumstances makes her seem silly.
    Fortunately, the boys are on the periphery. Director Francis Lawrence (Catching Fire) wisely fills the film with more capable actors to help star Jennifer Lawrence sell a setup plot. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Jeffery Wright and Elizabeth Banks all show up for five-minute cameos. Each is excellent, but the movie becomes a bit of a clip show, reminding you of characters you liked in previous films.
    Still, Mockingjay is probably essential viewing if you’re planning on watching Part 2.

Fair Action • PG-13 • 123 mins.

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.

After six days pheasant hunting, we were exhausted, wind-burned — and ecstatic

“Congratulations,” my wife, Deborah, said to me over the phone early that morning. “You boys have managed to put yourselves in the coldest spot in the whole country, and that includes Alaska.”
    I was pulling on a pair of thick woolen socks while outside swirling snow was accumulating in the parking lot of our motel. In De Smet, South Dakota, the outside temperature gauge read five degrees above zero as we prepared to go ring-necked pheasant hunting. A stiff 30-mile-per-hour breeze made the wind chill calculation minus 20 degrees.
    A reasonable person would, perhaps, have hesitated, saying to himself, Maybe it would be wise to wait for another day. That kind of good sense is not often found among dedicated bird hunters. Besides, the number of wild pheasants in South Dakota was predicted to be the highest in years.
    The pheasants themselves were hardly inconvenienced by the descending frigid mass of arctic winter air. The ring-neck is a century-old immigrant from Northern China, where it was also no stranger to extreme winter conditions.
    Introduced to America in 1881 by Judge Owen Denny, the U.S. Consul to China, this superb game bird immediately adapted to our continent, especially the agricultural areas and particularly South Dakota, which long ago proclaimed itself the Pheasant Capital of the World.
    As we transferred our dogs into insulated kennels in the beds of two four-wheel-drive vehicles, it was obvious that the pups were not going to be bothered by the cold. Brewster, a four-year-old English cocker spaniel endowed with a delightful personality and boundless energy, was already rolling and frolicking in the parking lot snow drifts as we sorted things out.
    Along with Brewster were six field-experienced springer spaniels — Astrid, Buck, Gino, Penny, Sony and Susie — plus Sandy, a big muscular yellow Labrador whose role it would be to bust through any cover too stout or snow drift too deep for our mid-sized spaniels.
    The 10-day bird-hunting trip had been meticulously planned and put together by Tom Schneider with Meade Rudasill, both Annapolitans, avid wing shooters and springer spaniel fans. They had been making this pilgrimage for ring-necks for 20 years.
    This year they invited me to join the adventure along with their three other companions and gun dog handlers, Kevin Klasing of Mt. Airy and Jim Zimmerman and Tim Wachob, both Pennsylvanians.
    Below-freezing weather had one advantage: Ring-necks, particularly the roosters, yard up or gather in flocks under such conditions. They also seek out the densest cover for protection, usually close to an energy-dense food supply such as corn. If South Dakota has anything in large quantity besides ring-necked pheasants, it is cornfields.
    This year, especially, it had cold as well. That five-degree morning was just the beginning. Within two days, the temperature had fallen to minus 11 and the wind chill to 40 below. But ring-neck hunters are a hardy lot; with proper clothing and mad determination, we managed an exceptional hunt.
    Switching out dogs on a regular basis and selectively hunting only the smaller (about a quarter-mile or less), denser patches of cover kept our energy levels up. We also returned frequently to the trucks for restorative warmth. Almost every day we bagged our limits of roosters (three per gun per day; hens are protected from harvest) though it often took us to closing time (5pm) to get it done.
    We did not keep track of the shells we expended. The ring-neck can quickly attain 65 mph in level flight. Add in a 30 mph tail wind, you’ve got a particularly difficult target to bring to bag. By the end of six days in the field, we were just about out of ammunition, exhausted, wind-burned — and ecstatic.

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

Hero-worship deflects Jon Stewart’s aim for a great movie

Iranian-born journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal: El Ardor) has great hopes for his homeland. Living in Canada and working for Newsweek, Bahari specializes in reporting on Iranian politics. In the week leading up to the country’s 2009 elections, he returns to Tehran optimistic that Mir-Hossein Mousavi will be elected president and usher in a more moderate era. The younger generation shares his hope.
    Their hopes are dashed. Fanatically conservative leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is re-elected in a seeming landslide. Iranians take to the streets decrying the election as a fraud and demanding a recount. The government responds with violence, slaughtering protestors.
    Bahari sees it all from behind the camera. Knowing the risk, he gives his footage of the deadly protests to the BBC. The night after the footage leaves the country, Bahari is dragged from his mother’s home and imprisoned.
    Accused of being a spy for the West, he is thrown in solitary confinement where his only human contact is with an interrogator who identifies himself as Rosewater.
    Can Bahari keep his integrity? Or will the government break him as violently as they did the protestors?
    A compelling true tale of one man’s struggle to maintain his sanity under torture, Rosewater scratches at greatness but ultimately settles for mediocrity.
    If you’ve watched a news program in the last 10 years, you won’t be surprised to learn that the repressive Iranian government isn’t a fan of protests or a free press. First-time director Jon Stewart’s choice of graphics adds to the sense that he’s creating an extended news report.
    Stewart also fails to give his subject — hence his lead — much character. Bahari is so unrelentingly saint-like in his persecution that it’s hard to relate to his humanity. Like most saints, Bahari is most interesting when he’s suffering. When he’s free, he’s simply a good guy: He doesn’t judge the political climate, he makes friends wherever he goes, he looks on the bright side, he loves his wife, he chats with friendly ghosts. Add some singing animals, and he’s starring in a Disney movie. His motives are unexamined and his naiveté is improbable. How could Bahari be so shocked by his false imprisonment when his father and sister were held captive for years on trumped up charges?
    Stewart has sacrificed his great movie to hero-worship.

Fair Drama • R • 103 mins.

A fat eel is the best winter bait

I could feel my bait strongly swimming downward next to the bridge piling. Judging its descent at a couple of feet off bottom, I thumbed the reel spool, both to keep it out of any rubble it might dive into and to incite its efforts to escape. It briefly struggled against the increased resistance. That was all that was necessary. Something powerful grabbed the bait then swam away.
    A five-count allowed about 25 feet of line to slip under my thumb. I slowly raised my rod tip, then lowered it to allow a little slack in the line. Hoping the rockfish had the bait well back in its jaws, I dropped the reel into gear and waited for the line to come tight. When it did, I struck back hard.
    My rod bent in a severe arc. I could feel the heavy headshakes of a good fish transmit up the line. Then the striper took off running, headed for the general direction of Baltimore. There was little I could do to stop it.

The Art of Eeling
    More than any other seasonal change, cold alters fishing tactics and baits for stripers. One of the better tempters, especially for large winter-run stripers, is the eel. Called big rockfish candy because the whoppers love them so much, eel is one of the surest bets for seducing a trophy rockfish this time of year.
    The one downside to eeling, as its more dedicated practitioners call it, is handling the slimy devils. Slipperier than a bucket of eels, is an old saying. They are impossible to grasp with a bare hand and a challenge to control if you do manage to get hold of one.
    Fortunately, there are solutions to these problems. Keeping the snakelike creatures restrained in a net bag in your live-well or an aerated bucket will allow you easy access to them. Using gloves or a piece of rough cloth simplifies holding them until you can manage to get them on a hook.
    One of the better alternatives I’ve found is to store them on ice. I use a small lunch-pail-sized cooler with a good layer of ice (or better yet reusable plastic ice blocs) on the bottom covered by a thick wet towel. The snakes become dormant when stored this way and will live for quite some time, days even, if maintained cold and covered by another layer of wet towels.
    They can be easily handled in this passive condition using just a piece of towel or a cloth glove. Once you’ve hooked them up and tossed them in the water, they quickly regain their vigor.
    Put them on your hook in a way rockfish favor. Because rock have very small teeth, they will usually attack a larger bait toward the head to immediately control it. Your hook should be toward the head of the eel, where the fish is likely to strike.
    Sliding the point through the corner of their eye sockets gives the hook a solid purchase. Some anglers prefer to hook them under the chin and out the top of the mouth, particularly if the eels are to be fished weighted on the bottom. Others, especially anglers drifting their eels suspended under release bobbers, hook them lightly under the skin at the back of the head. There is rarely a need to place a second hook farther back on an eel. In fact, using a second hook on this writhing critter will lead to an impossible-to-unravel tangle.
    Once a striper strikes, allow it to swim off with the bait. Give it time, a five-count at minimum, to subdue the prey and work it back in the throat in preparation to swallowing. Use a strong short-shanked hook, at least a size 4/0, that can withstand a good deal of pressure because your chances of hooking a really big rockfish will never be better.

Farewell Fish and Eel
    The rockfish headed toward Baltimore that day probably arrived within not too many minutes. Somehow, during that express-train run, the hook pulled free. I lost the fish, but my hands did not stop shaking for quite a few minutes, and it wasn’t from the cold.