Dock of the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 40

October 3-9, 2002

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Articles for this Week:

Harvested ~ My Oyster Garden’s Fall Crop

Early on a September Saturday, I hauled up my oyster cages for the last time. The cages’ sleek, angular design had long since become obscured by an irregular crust of barnacles and the thick silk of algae that covered them. Much had changed since I first lowered a few thousand oyster spat into Severn River last fall.

After adopting baby oysters as small as the nail of my pinkie finger, for 10 months I had fretted over their care. Would I recognize a flatworm infestation before the pests devoured my oysters? Could I protect the oysters from freezing winter air? Would they get enough oxygen and nutrients?

Now, as I harvested my crop of year-old spat for planting on a sanctuary bed, it was time to take stock: of the oysters, of the Bay, of me. Trying to serve as a steward of nature offers opportunities for introspection like that.

First, the oysters. As I tugged hand-over-hand on the four ropes tied to the dock, I was struck by how heavy the cages had become. I’d begun with about 60 pounds of oyster shell, to which a few thousand tiny spat were attached. Now, their weight was nearly doubled — not only by barnacles but by the growth of the spat themselves. With each cage that I hauled up, at least one blue crab — number-one size if I’d had a net handy — dove for safety, a hint of the proliferation of life around my cage-bound mini-oyster beds.

Inside, tiny black crabs scuttled across the mounds of shells. Fish the length of my finger flopped. Black mussels perched on the oyster shells, and segmented worms inched along their surface. Oyster reefs give a home to some 300 species of underwater plants and critters. Judging from what spilled out onto the dock, some 175 of those species were represented there.

Watching these species flourish and swarm had been a marvel all year long: for me, for the local kids — and especially for the grown-ups, who spend so much time focused on practical things like the stock market and work and paying the bills that a few minutes gazing at an oyster reef went beyond recreation.

Of all the species, though, it was the oysters that astonished me. These once-tiny spat had grown to the size of silver dollars and more. My stewardship had been rather lax. I’d hauled them onto the dock for lengthy drying sessions far less often than the recommended every two weeks. (Hence my amazing crop of barnacles and algae. If I’d let the cages dry out more often, those hijackers might not have taken such a firm hold.) I was a proud parent, to be sure, but my young charges were raised on a theory that could be called benign neglect.

But they survived, flourishing in spite of me — just as our Bay has stubbornly continued about its fragile way in spite of human interference.

As I turned my young oysters over to a T-shirted man in the parking lot of Anne Arundel Community College, I expected some sense of ceremony. Perhaps I wanted him to remark on how handsome my oysters were, or how brilliant. Maybe I wanted him to tell me where they’d be planted or assure me that they were in good hands. Instead, he didn’t offer me much beyond a “Name? River?” and “Thanks.”

Letting go of my oysters was like dropping off my daughter at school. She’s too busy moving on to spare a backward glance.

My oysters have graduated to the open reefs of the Bay. May they continue to flourish.

Want to plant an oyster garden? See 8 Days a Week.

— April Falcon Doss

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Farewell, Betsy Crozer: Two Sailors’ Sad Saga

When Betsy Crozer was diagnosed with cancer last year, she never imagined she would outlive her longtime companion, Tom Olchefske.

photo by Brent Seabrook
Boatyard Bar and Grill owner Dick Franyo accepts a flag from Betsy Crozer while Ron Pence narrates.
Crozer met Olchefske through Singles On Sailboats, an Annapolis organization that unites boat-owners with willing crews. She invited him aboard her boat for a two-week cruise to New England in 1992.

“After that we were inseparable,” Crozer told Bay Weekly in July.

Olchefske and Crozer began living a life of adventure together in 1998, aboard the 39-foot sloop Tropicbird. They spent that summer sailing south to Bermuda, and the next three years sailing the Caribbean out of Trinidad and the Windward Islands.

But Crozer fell ill in 2001 and returned to Annapolis for surgery. Olchefske planned to sail Tropicbird home to the Chesapeake, alone.

He left on June 7, 2001, after arranging to make regular radio calls to friends back in Trinidad. When he failed to make a single call, Olchefske’s friends notified the United States Coast Guard. Tropicbird was found June 20, but Olchefske’s body was never recovered.

Crozer scheduled a memorial service for her lost love at the Naval Academy on October 29, 2001 — her birthday.

“I chose it so I wouldn’t have to be alone,” she said.

She wasn’t. Ninety-seven people turned out for the service. Nor was Crozer alone when, a year after Olchefske’s disappearance, she added the Singles On Sailboats flag from Tropicbird to the dozens that decorate the Boatyard Bar and Grill in Eastport. Her fellow Singles packed the place, and helped her say goodbye.

Betsy Crozer died a month later, on August 10, in Annapolis.

“She apparently knew this was going to happen when we had the ceremony at the Boatyard,” Ron Pence wrote the Singles. “After that night, she e-mailed me that she finally felt some closure on her loss of Tom, so I’m hoping she departed this earth with some peace of mind.”

An expert ornithologist, Crozer was consulted about wildlife rehabilitation after the Exxon-Valdez disaster in Alaska. She once owned a marina in New Jersey, and she traced her roots back to colonial Delaware. She is survived by two brothers and many friends.

— Brent Seabrook

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Making Our Bay a Federal Issue

Picture this: a large educational center to teach people from all over the country about the wonders — and problems — of Chesapeake Bay. Or a string of national parks for visitors to explore built on uninhabited islands on the Bay. Imagine a nationally recognized monument or park devoted entirely to the preservation of our very own Chesapeake.

It could happen.

A federal study is underway to determine the possibility of integrating parts of the Bay into the National Park Service. This preliminary Special Resources Study is a year-long effort of the National Park Service and the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The Special Resource Study focuses on the Bay proper and its surrounding shoreline. Any concepts that might be considered in the study will likely have a substantial foothold along the Bay.
Last month, four public meetings, including one in Annapolis, were held across the region to discuss the $235,000 study. Forty to 65 people attended each workshop, program director Jonathan Doherty said, and helped to generate many new ideas.

“All of the workshops were characterized by thoughtful, interested and engaged discussion,” Doherty said, noting that the study is still in “a very early stage.”

The meetings drew curious individuals and local government representatives. Andrew Loftus of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee of the Chesapeake Bay Program saw it as a good first step.

“Everyone had lots of questions, including the National Park Service representatives,” Loftus said, noting that many people mistakenly referred to the project as “The Chesapeake Bay National Park.”

In fact, the Bay cannot be a national park, which makes this study extraordinary.

“Usually we’re asked to study a specific site, but the Bay’s obviously too big to make it a national park,” said Warren Brown, planning chief for the Park Service.

Rather, several aspects of the Bay would be considered as “units,” or components of the national park system. These could include monuments, educational centers or aquatic preserves. Six concepts were introduced to get citizens at the town meetings talking.

At this early stage, Brown hopes for open minds. “There are a lot of concepts being discussed,” he said, “and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive.”

Where would the money come from?

“There are a lot of unmet needs for the parks currently; most people would want some assurances that money won’t be taken from other pots before they would support any proposals,” said the Bay Program’s Loftus.

Apparently, the Bush administration agrees. The president is unwilling to sponsor additions to the National Park Service until improvements are made on existing programs, according to Brown.

Still, Loftus has a vision of how the National Park Service can help the Bay.

“We have a number of great, separate things in Maryland that already talk about the bay, but nothing really points people to these places,” he said, dreaming of a series of visitors centers to connect and unite different areas of the Bay.

But that’s far in the future. Closer at hand are more public meetings this winter, leading to a final study report to be presented to Congress mid-2003.

Until then, comment and keep up at

— Sarah Williams

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In Season ~ Way Down Yonder in the Pawpaw Patch

Ahh, autumn, that mellow time of year. It’s the end of summer; school is back in session; baseball pennant races are heating up; the days are becoming noticeably shorter and cooler. At the beach, the water is still warm but the crowds are mostly gone.

It’s also the time to wander on down to the pawpaw patch to gather one of North America’s most overlooked wild fruits. The fruit of the pawpaw is as sweet and rich as custard. About the size and shape of a small potato, they have thick green skin that develops brown spots and looks bruised when ripe. Inside, the pulp is a pale orange, and there is a number of large seeds

Pawpaw trees grow in clumps along flood plains and stream valleys where the soil is rich. They are small- to medium-size trees with slender trunks. The large leaves grow to about 10 inches, with a narrow base gradually spreading out to a breadth of about six inches, then narrowing to an elongated point. The shape, which allows water to shed efficiently, is typical of trees that grow in the humid tropics, and the pawpaw is the northernmost relative of a large tropical family.

After finding a pawpaw patch you might have to carefully inspect many trees until you find one with fruit, which may be high up and out of reach. If you shake the tree, ripe fruit will fall with a thud. Pawpaws are heavy, so watch out that one doesn’t fall on your head.

Many flowering trees produce colorful or sweet-smelling flowers that attract birds and butterflies, but pawpaws produce flowers that attract flies and beetles as pollinators. The flowers are dark maroon and emit a faint, rotten scent. This is consistent with other wild flowers that rely on such decomposer organisms to reproduce. This odd-seeming floral presentation might sound repulsive, but the flowers have an interesting shape and the unusual color is attractive. I seek them out in spring, making note to check the area for fruit in the fall.

Pawpaw trees may have an advantage over other species in our deer-overpopulated woods. The leaves emit an oily scent and have a bitter taste that deer seem to find unpalatable. The twigs are a source of bio-active chemicals that scientists are using to develop botanical pesticides and anti-cancer medications.

Many commercial nurseries have begun to promote the pawpaw as an attractive residential landscape tree because of its attractive growth form and fall color, the leaves turning a very nice shade of yellow. They are also the host plants of the caterpillar form of the beautiful zebra swallowtail butterfly.

Pawpaws are delicious all by themselves, but the taste is so sweet and rich that some folks find the flavor a bit much, preferring to consume their pawpaws as an ingredient in a pie or pudding. In contrast to persimmons (another great wild fruit), I find that one or two pawpaws satisfies my appetite while I could eat persimmons for an hour. As I recall, Euell Gibbons, the late guru of wild foods, had a recipe for pawpaw pudding in one of his popular books but I seem to have lost my copy. This recipe comes from the Ohio University web site.

— Gary Pendleton

Pawpaw Muffins

Dry ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t salt

Wet ingredients:
1 cup milk
1 t vanilla
1 T vegetable oil
1/2 cup pawpaw

Mix dry and wet ingredients separately, then mix together with a wooden spoon.
Lightly coat muffin tins with vegetable oil and pour in batter.
Cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

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Way Downstream …

On the Eastern Shore, some folks around Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge are complaining because Maryland is prohibited from spraying for mosquitoes on or adjacent to protected land, according to reports. Others are no doubt pleased that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues the policy, which is designed to protect wildlife from chemicals …

In Miami, the tragedy of Dan Goodman, the director of the Kanapaha Botanical Garden, reminds us to be careful around huge creatures. While weeding a lily pond, Goodman stepped on an 11-foot-long alligator that responded by biting off his arm below the elbow …

Our Creature Feature comes from Virginia, where a blind turtle named Lars underwent a double cataract operation this month. The young loggerhead, who weighs 115 pounds, was found floating in Cape Charles in April on his last legs … make that flippers. It’s bad enough being slow, but when you can’t see it’s hard to find lunch.

After nursing and fattening by the Virginia Marine Science Stranding Museum, Lars received the operation — rare for reptiles — from Animal Eye Care and a team from North Carolina State University, the Virginian-Pilot reported. When the turtle awakened, the team watched him closely — and Lars watched them, his sight returned.

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Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly