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Harriet Tubman now conducting tours

History is a bigger hall nowadays, with room at the table for more people than the old white guys who used to rule there. So a good story for any week of the year is the new prominence coming to Harriet Tubman as a hero of Maryland, New York and our nation.
    Harriet Tubman, a contemporary of Abe Lincoln, escaped slavery only to return home, to Dorchester County, to conduct many more enslaved people along the Underground Railroad she had followed to freedom.
    In “Harriet’s Homecoming: The road was long and never smooth for Harriet Tubman,” Emily Myron tells you more, including the Congressional honor making Tubman the first individual woman to have a National Historical Park named for her.
    As the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park comes together, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park is under construction on Tubman’s Eastern Shore homeland
    Blackwater Wildlife Refuge marks the spot in a landscape that’s mostly open space, farm or preserve. Listening to a new audio tour that’s part of the package will inform your drive along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. You can bike the flatland too, with bike and kayak rentals near the Refuge.
    But that’s down the road …
    In the here and now, we’re telling this story in Black History Month.
    Why bother with Black History Month now that Black History is all our history? Or, for that matter, Women’s History Month in March?
    Memorial times still matter because we know so little of what we know.
    Our own personal history slides into forgetfulness as we march away from back then into the advancing years.
    How much — or little — do you know about the other people in your own life? Your friends? Your brothers and sisters? Your parents? Even your partner?
    Unless you’re a genealogist or writing a family history, I bet we share the same kind of amnesia. Test yourself: Do you know when and where your mother was born? If you can answer those questions, can you go a step further? How did she enter this world: by midwife or doctor or quite spontaneously in a car en route to the hospital?
    (Send me your answers and I’ll send you mine.)
    Even the people drilled into our collective consciousness in school — Lincoln, Washington and all those other presidents we honor February 22 — live on in our memories as a few semi-bright images in a fog of oblivion.
    If we know a little more of black history, it’s because such a big deal has been made of it over the last half century. Memorials, museums, monuments and, yes, Black History Month, make our pictures of the past into bright murals — maybe even movies.
    This week’s feature puts Tubman into focus and opens the way for us to see more. A landscape looks empty until you’ve learned about the people who lived in it before you. Now, 102 years after her death, Harriet Tubman can conduct you through the Shore as she knew it.

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

A cacophony of noise and colors for youngsters

The secret to the harmonious life of the ocean town of Bikini Bottom isn’t friendship, love or understanding. It’s the Krabby Patty. The fast food treat is so addictive that the residents of Bikini Bottom can’t live without it. So when Mr. Krab’s (Clancy Brown: The Flash) secret formula for the Krabby Patty goes missing, the town falls into chaos. To prevent a Krab-induced apocalypse, fry cook SpongeBob SquarePants (Tom Kenny: Adventure Time) teams up with his nemesis Plankton (Mr. Lawrence: SpongeBob SquarePants) to find the secret formula. The search leads to the surface world, where the nefarious pirate Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas: The Expendables 3) may know the fate of the formula. Can SpongeBob save Bikini Bottom from a Krabby Patty crisis? Will the evil Plankton finally learn how to work with his neighbors instead of against them? Can your reviewer make it through this film without a flask? In the interest of full disclosure: I don’t have a child. I was unfamiliar with the travails of SpongeBob, Patrick and the rest of the Bikini Bottom crew, airing for nearly two decades on Nickelodeon. I imagine that most people buying a ticket to see this mass of loud noise and color will have been conditioned by the television show. Alas, my folly was attempting to watch a feature length film without inoculating myself with a few 30-minute episodes first. SpongeBob SquarePants: Sponge Out of Water is best enjoyed by smaller viewers. There are cute moments, but this is a film written and animated for the youngsters. As on television: there is no growth of characters and no real danger. All is back to normal before the credits role. Adults without knowledge of SpongeBob’s antics will find themselves lost in a sea of poorly written puns, silly noises and posterior-based humor. I was not the target demographic, but the film did very well with its intended audience. Children laughed, shouted and clapped their way through my screening. If you are taking a group of children, don’t waste your money on the 3D upcharge. Because of the flat animation style, 3D effects do little besides lightening your wallet. My bright spot was Banderas’ grizzled pirate. As the only human in the film, Banderas must adjust his performance accordingly. He shouts, snarls and high steps around his animated co-stars, clearly having the time of his life. His performance is so full of fun that you can almost forget how inane the plot is. Almost. Good Animation for Kids/Bad for Your Reviewer • PG • 93 mins.

You’ll get feeling as well as fun in this play on why actors do what they do

The quality that 2nd Star Productions brings to its big musical productions is exemplified not only by sold out houses but also by recognition among its peers. 2nd Star last month received 21 nominations from the Washington Area Theater Community Honors, a local collaborative of amateur theaters that judge each other’s shows and present awards in March. Only one of those nominations is for a non-musical, A Soldier’s Story. The majority were for the highly acclaimed Hello Dolly and Children of Eden. 2nd Star’s range is illustrated by its nonmusicals, as evidenced by that dramatic A Soldier’s Story, and more recently the intense and well-acted 12 Angry Men. Now, on the other end of that spectrum, comes the comedy farce I Hate Hamlet. The plot: Andy Rally (Zak Zeeks), a young, successful TV actor, comes to New York from Los Angeles after his hit show has been canceled. He rents a large, gothic apartment from real estate agent Felicia (Nicole Mullins). The apartment was once occupied by famed actor, womanizer and drunk John Barrymore (Fred Nelson). Andy isn’t too high on his agent Lillian’s (Carole Long) offer for him to play Hamlet in a Shakespeare in the Park production. He’s even less enthralled with his girlfriend Deidre’s (Malarie Novotny) determination to stay chaste until they are married. He’s tempted by his Hollywood buddy Gary’s (Daniel Douek) offer of millions to give up the New York theater life and do a TV pilot. Where to turn for guidance? And for a damned good sword fight? Barrymore himself, of course. As the ghost of Barrymore, not exactly alive but still very much kicking as he haunts his old digs, Fred Nelson stalks the stage with the intimidation of a star so macho that even his black tights strain against the testosterone. From his fluid physicality to his well-modulated voice, Nelson brings us a Barrymore who, for all his weaknesses in life, demonstrates a genuine passion for the stage and a compassion for those charged with playing the character many consider Shakespeare’s most difficult role. As Barrymore cajoles and convinces Andy to take on Hamlet, he also comes to grips with lost love in the form of Lillian, with whom he had a fling back in the day. A highlight of this show is the tender and funny scene between the two as they dance, quietly, in the dark and come close to rekindling that youthful lust. Long and Nelson are two fine actors. Their ability to take a fast-paced farce on a brief detour of affection is a fine lesson in the less is more school of thespianship. That’s a school that Zeeks as Andy seemed to graduate from as the second act rolled around. His first act of too-punched punch lines and overwrought volume eased into a more nuanced second act that offered a much clearer window into his character. Perhaps it was opening-night excitement, and as the run progresses the talented Zeeks will ease more comfortably into the role and reject the temptation to force things. He’s got the character right; he just needs to share Andy with the audience rather than hit us over the head with him. Director John Wakefield keeps the pace moving at a good clip, though he could have reined in some unnecessary mugging. Nowhere in the script — though it’s been a long time since I’ve read it — do I recall a strange accent indicated for the character of Gary. Douek is funny in the role and has wonderful stage presence, but too many of his lines are lost as the audience strains to understand this unidentifiable dialect. As always, Jane Wingard’s set design is a winner. Along with Garrett Hyde’s lighting, it invites us to settle in for an evening at Barrymore’s. Mary Wakefield’s costuming of Barrymore is spot on, though the bunny slippers on city girl Deidre were a cheap-laugh-seeking misstep. Quibbles aside, I Hate Hamlet is a funny, fast-paced and at times warm look at why actors do what they do. Thanks to Nelson’s mastery of the stage and his keen sense of when to envelop the audience and his cast mates in broad theatricality and when to simply tell a story, we’re treated to a farce that has feeling. Playing thru Feb. 22: FSa 8pm; Su 3pm (and 8pm Feb. 19): Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Join the fight for dark skies

The waning crescent moon rises ever later in predawn skies this week. Friday it appears before 3am, and by 5am it is well placed above the southeast horizon, forming a tight triangle with golden Saturn to the right and red Antares, the heart of Scorpius, below. The ringed planet stands above the scorpion’s head, one degree of its uppermost, second-magnitude star Graffias.
    By Monday the moon is a thin crescent low in the southeast at 6am. If skies are clear and you have an open view of the horizon, you might be able to catch the reappearance of Mercury. Your odds will be better with binoculars. Look to the lower left of the moon’s outside arc. The next morning, the last remnant of the waning crescent rises within an hour of the sun, and now Mercury is just a few degrees to the right of its inner curve.
    Mercury never pulls far from the sun and does not climb high into the sky. Plenty of people may not even realize they have seen it when looking at an exceptionally bright “star” hugging the horizon at dawn or during evening twilight.
    You shouldn’t be as hard-pressed to spot our neighbors, Venus and Mars in the west-southwest at dusk. The two are only five degrees apart at week’s end, well within the field of view of binoculars or a telescope. By Wednesday they’ve cut the distance by half on the way to a one-half-degree conjunction on the 21st. There’s no confusing the two, as Venus blazes at –3.9 magnitude, while Mars smolders at first magnitude. In the exponential calculus of stellar magnitude, that means that Mars, as bright as your average star, is 99 percent dimmer than the Evening Star.
    Jupiter is a fixture of the night sky right now, rising in the east-northeast as twilight fades, almost directly overhead at midnight and clinging to the west-northwest horizon as daybreak approaches. To its right is the dim constellation of Cancer the crab, while to its left is the easy-to-identify Leo the lion.
    This week marks the latest installment of the Globe at Night campaign. Its goal is for ordinary people to record and submit their star counts. The target this time around is the constellation Orion, which is high in the south by 8pm. You can download star charts and instructions at www.globeatnight.org. Your results along with thousands from around the world help astronomers measure darkness and raise awareness about the threat of light pollution.

Yellow perch are climbing the rivers

The yellow perch run is on. It may seem early, but small male yellow perch have been caught in a number of locations around the state for over three weeks. That can only mean one thing: The bigger fish will show up any time — if not already.
    These yellow neds are on the move, swimming to the headwaters of Bay tributaries to spawn.
    Driven by increasing daylight and temperatures, the scent of their natal waters and mysterious Mother Nature, this species is the first of the year to appear in numbers in the fresher water of the Chesapeake.
    Minimum size is nine inches and the daily limit is 10 fish per day. They are particularly delicious, rivaling white perch for table quality. Fried and paired with sliced tomatoes, simmered greens and corn bread on the side, they make the finest meal you can serve this time of year.
    Light- to medium-weight spin tackle spooled with six- to 10-pound mono will do just fine for tangling with the neds, whose size can run up to 15 inches or more (a citation is 14 inches). They will eat earthworms, bloodworms, grass shrimp, minnows and even wax worms.
    With water temperatures this time of year generally under 40 degrees, the fish do not respond well to artificial lures. But when fish abound, they can be caught on shad darts, small Tony and Nungusser spoons, Rooster Tails, Mepps spinners and small jig heads with soft plastic curly tails.
    My preference is a five-foot-four-inch, light-action spin rod, six-pound line and a tandem rig with a gold number 12 Tony and a lip-hooked minnow on the long leg and on the shorter a 1/16-ounce shad dart tipped with a grass shrimp, all fished under a weighted bobber.
    Casting the rig out toward likely spawning areas such as flooded brush or downed trees in three to four feet of water, I twitch the rig back slowly, continually working over a large area until I locate fish. The bite is generally tide driven, with a falling tide just after the flood the best.
    When fishing a low tide, target the deeper areas in the center of creeks and rivers and fish your baits close to the bottom. Since the fish are constantly on the move, you never know when or where you’re going to find them, so moving around and trying one area after another, either from a boat or from shore, is the strategy for success.
    It is also a good idea to have on hand a big Mepps spinner in size 3 or 4, silver or gold, dressed with squirrel or bucktail. If your yellow perch action suddenly dies off or hasn’t yet materialized, try casting the larger lure. Quite often a large pickerel or two (which follow the schools of yellow perch this time of year) have moved into the area and queered the perch bite. The Pickerel will be suckers for the big Mepps and an exciting addition to your day.
    The Department of Natural Resources website maps a number of locations where yellow perch fish have been caught during the spring run on both the Western and Eastern Shores: http://dnr2.maryland.gov/Fisheries/Pages/maps.aspx.

Turn that manure into compost instead of applying it to fields

The new governor of Maryland has made a major error in allowing poultry farmers to continue applying their phosphorus-laden chicken manure on land that is already overloaded with phosphorus.
    What the chicken farmers and the governor are ignoring is scientific evidence that clearly identifies excessive levels of phosphorus in soils as the cause for phosphorus-induced trace element deficiencies, lower yields, lower nutrient values and Bay pollution.
    The smarter strategy is to grow soybeans one year then corn the next. Legumes like soybeans fix their own nitrogen and leave plenty in the ground to grow a crop of corn the following year. If this rotation were followed, farmers would only need to apply potassium when soil call for it. When the soil needs potassium, it can be added as either potassium chloride or potassium sulfate, both cheaper to apply than tons of chicken manure.
    Phosphorus is essential to plant growth. But too much causes other essential plant nutrients to bind to it, starving plant roots. Such essential trace elements as iron, zinc and copper are essential to plant growth, as are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
    In the mid 1970s I was asked by fellow University of Maryland faculty members who specialized in vegetable crops to review soil tests from fields of sweet potatoes near Salisbury. The total phosphorus levels in those soils were so high that they were reducing yields. I recommended they stop applying phosphorus and apply only nitrogen. This was a major change in culture for these farmers because they had been accustomed to applying tons of 10-10-10 before planting each season’s crop.
    So much phosphorus had been applied that it took several years with none before yields started to increase.
    In the early 1980s, rhododendron growers tried dosing their plants with lots of phosphorus to force them into flower under shade. It worked, but it also stunted growth and caused iron deficiency symptoms on the foliage. Full sun alone would have produced healthy tall plants with flowers.
    My conclusion from these and other studies is that plants do not need much phosphorus to be productive.
    Over-applying phosphorus not only leads to reduced yields and lower nutritional value. It also contributes to Bay pollution.
    Allowing farmers to make yearly applications of chicken manure on soils already saturated with phosphorus lowers yields of grain and forage crops. Since most of these farmers do not plant cover crops, their phosphorus-enriched soils erode into the Bay.
    There are other better uses for chicken manure, as compost or as a source of energy. The ornamental horticulture industry — the second largest agricultural industry in Maryland and the nation — is a ready market for quality compost. Yet Maryland has to import compost from as far as Maine to meet its needs. Maryland Environmental Services is well versed in the science and technology of making compost.
    Gov. Hogan, please encourage chicken farmers to form a co-op to manufacture and market compost.


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

This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count needs your help

The drakes are displaying, showing off their splendid colors, their best dance moves. Cardinal and Carolina wren pairs cavort; the chickadees are singing. Love is in the air.
    You can learn about the birds, if not the bees, this Valentine weekend in the 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, February 13 to 16. Citizen scientists all over the world help the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada by counting birds in back yards, fields, woods and waterways. This four-day count produces an annual snapshot of bird population trends. How many snowy owls, pine siskins and redpolls —birds irrupting from far northern climates this year — are in Maryland right now? Let’s find out.
    Anyone can help. You join the count by tallying the total numbers of each bird species you see while watching for 15 minutes or longer on one or more days of the count. To record tallies, go to www.BirdCount.org. There you’ll learn how to set up a free account and enter your checklists. Submit a separate checklist for each new location, each day or the same location at a different time of day.
    Need help?
    Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary volunteer coordinator Lindsay Hollister can help. “We train on Saturday, February 14 at 2pm,” she says. “Everyone is welcome, the more the merrier.”
    On the Count website, you’ll find an online bird guide, birding apps for your phone, tips for tricky bird IDs, (is that a white-throated sparrow or a song sparrow?) and local events you can join with other birders.
    There’s also a photo contest for your pictures of both birds and watchers.
    Look for the prehistoric-looking pileated woodpecker hammering in the trees, for swarms of robins drinking in puddles, black vultures and turkey vultures (yes, we have two kinds) soaring overhead and bluebirds popping up in fields and even at the beach. In 2014, Great Backyard Bird counters saw close to 4,296 different species. That’s 43 percent of all the bird species in the world.
    Last year, more than 144,000 checklists were submitted worldwide, including almost 4,100 from Maryland, which ranked 11th among U.S. states.
    With your help, we can make the top 10 this year.
    “We especially want to encourage people to share their love of birds and bird watching with someone new this year,” says Dick Cannings of Bird Studies Canada. “Take your sweetheart, a child, a neighbor or a coworker with you while you count birds. Share your passion, and you may fledge a brand new bird watcher.”

Start with a little resveratrol, add tryptophane …

My mother was not always right.    
    But in hitting the nail on the head, she had far better accuracy than I credited.
    A woman who believed she could do anything, she invested even more of her capital in cooking than she did in looking good. And she looked very, very good.
    The way to a man’s heart is his stomach, she advised.
    Ohhh mother! I scoffed, for that was back in the day when I believed love sought you for yourself alone.
    I have since learned that in this wisdom she nailed it.
    On the feast of love, Valentines Day, this is advice worth taking. Especially if you’re among the third of Americans who say they are only “a little” — worse, “not at all” — satisfied with their sex lives.
    That sad condition is reported by the survey company Survata, which invites online newspaper readers to share their opinions for a fee. The finding is not entirely scientific, but it is thought-provoking.
    Could a lovely dinner improve a lovelorn love life?
    Like love, sex and reproduction, food is a biological necessity.
    Can the pleasure of one enhance the pleasure of another? Can a satisfied stomach lead to an enamored heart — and beyond?
    Tradition tells us that’s so, offering a rich menu of foods supposed over the ages to be aphrodisiac. Oysters, chocolate, coffee, honey, artichokes, avocados, figs and an assortment of Valentine-red comestibles, including wine, beets, chili peppers, pomegranates, strawberries and watermelon.
    How could you resist loving the person who serves you foods so delicious? Foods so amorously beautiful?
    Modern science adds chemistry to the equation of lovely foods and love. Each of these contains chemicals that promote wellbeing and enhance libido. Phenethylamine and tryptophan in chocolate, for example, boron in beets and resveratrol in red wine.
    Scientific my mother was not, but she knew a lot about love. She had well-fed husbands and admirers aplenty. On this subject, I’ve taken her advice, and the results are good.
    Odds on, your mother as well as mine believed in this old wives’ tale. Think about it. Who should know more about the love that binds a family than old wives, who had just that as their job descriptions?
    Cooking for love is a womanly art to which men aspire in this modern world. Equality is fine with me. I love a meal cooked by my husband.
    This Valentines Day, food writer Caiti Sullivan continues the womanly tradition, offering a four-course meal planned to unite eye, tongue, stomach and heart in a feast of love.

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

What would you do if you lost yourself?

Forget The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity. The most bloodcurdling movie of the last five years is a quiet drama about a brilliant woman slowly losing everything that matters to her.
    Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore: Mockingjay Part I) is a linguist, professor and sought-after speaker. The fiercely ambitious woman raised three children while climbing to the top of her field. She wrote the seminal textbook in linguistics, teaches a popular course at Columbia University and still finds time for date night with her doctor husband (Alec Baldwin: Blue Jasmine).
    On her 50th birthday, Alice is going strong, noticing only a few signs of aging. Sometimes she forgets a word when speaking to a class, as well as names. But when she gets lost jogging a well-known campus trail, she worries. Her diagnosis is much worse than the brain tumor she fears. She has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
    Refusing to be defeated, Alice throws herself into finding ways to keep her mind. But occasional lapses turn into frequent confusion. She can’t hold a conversation. Words slip from her mind just as she needs them. Her own home betrays her, and she finds herself lost.
    To her family, Alice’s descent is torture. Their strong, vibrant matriarch is reduced to childlike behavior. Husband John tries to be strong, but he misses his partner and escapes into work so that he can afford his wife’s expensive care and forget that the woman living with him now barely resembles his love. Her children help when they can, but watching her deteriorate means glimpsing their own possible futures.
    Poignant, beautiful and utterly terrifying, Still Alice shows us the horror that is Alzheimer’s disease. Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (The Last of Robin Hood) wisely choose to underplay the drama, slowly building on Alice’s deteriorating state. There is no tension to the story, no miracle to save the day. The film peaks in the middle, when Alice breaks down. Thereafter it slowly fades away, mimicking Alice’s journey.
    As Alice, Moore proves that she remains one of the best actresses of her generation. Her performance is a slow descent into hell. Everything that makes up a person, her ability to express herself and her memories, is stripped away until Alice is a shell, capable of only the most basic vocalizations. It’s a brutal performance, one that will likely earn Moore the Oscar and one that will leave you weepy and uncomfortable.

Good Drama • PG-13 • 101 mins.

Lovejoy awaits at the edge of sight

Lovejoy awaits at the edge of sight

The waning gibbous moon rises around 8pm Thursday, with Jupiter high above it. Between them is the blue-white star Regulus of Leo the lion. Sunday the moon rises around 11pm, with the white star Spica 10 degrees beneath it. As daybreak approaches Monday morning, the two are even closer together high in the southwest. That evening the moon rises just before midnight, and now it is the one trailing Spica. Before dawn Thursday the 12th, the now-crescent moon shines within 10 degrees of golden Saturn, with Antares, the red heart of Scorpius, a little farther toward the horizon.
    The waning moon leaves the evening sky bereft of its powerful glow, making these next two weeks your best chance to spot  Comet Lovejoy before it’s gone forever — or at least the next eight thousand years. The fifth magnitude comet hovers at the border of naked-eye visibility between the constellations Perseus and Andromeda.
    Binoculars will bring it into view as a faint, oblong smudge, while even a modest telescope will reveal its brighter coma and trailing tail. You might even be able to discern the green-glowing head of the comet and its blue-hued tail. These colors are a tell-tale sign of the comet’s molecular composition, the green from diatomic carbon and the blue from carbon monoxide, both being charged by interstellar ultraviolet radiation. In contrast, naked-eye comets appear white, a result of sunlight reflecting off particles of dust and debris.
    Technically titled C/2014 Q2, the comet is named after amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy, of Australia, who discovered it last August. Lovejoy has identified four earlier comets.
    Night by night, Comet Lovejoy is inching north, from the feet of Andromeda toward the outstretched arm of Perseus. By this time next month it will be one, if not two, magnitudes dimmer and much harder to find as it heads to the outer solar system.
    Closer to home, Venus and Mars hover above the west-southwest horizon at twilight on their way to a fabulous conjunction later this month. They are maybe a half-dozen degrees apart this weekend, the size of your fist held at arm’s length. And Jupiter shines from sunset to sunrise.