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If only the people were as interesting as the monsters

Bill Randa (John Goodman: Patriots Day) believes in monsters. Now he’s got the funding to prove it. Joining the Vietnam War-era exploration of an uncharted island in the Pacific are geologists, biologists and former S.A.S. officer James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston: The Night Manager). Anti-war photographer (Brie Larson: Room) manages to crash the top-secret mission, for no apparent reason. Completing the company is a helicopter platoon led by Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson: xXx: Return of Xander Cage), slightly deranged from fighting a long, bloody and unpopular war.
    Supporting the expedition are high-tech equipment, impressive firepower and equipment to maintain an island camp for several days. They’re prepared to take samples, acquire data and bring anything valuable back for the government.
    What they’re not prepared for is a 30-plus-foot gorilla that knocks helicopters out of the air like they’re mosquitos and a host of otherworldly wildlife.
    Nor are the survivors prepared for Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly: Sing), a WWII fighter pilot who’s been living on the island since crashing there in the 1940s. Marlow explains that Kong isn’t a monster but a protector keeping the people of the island and the earth safe from real monsters.
    With its amazing creatures and fun action sequences Kong: Skull Island is a beautiful example of the power of special effects. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (You’re the Worst) supplies all the necessities for a monster movie: Impressive creature, plenty of cannon fodder, one handsome male lead to tell everyone what to do and a blonde woman for whom both ape and men fall.
    The humans have less to offer.
    As cannon fodder the soldiers provide more chemistry and interest than the leads. Hiddleston must have been the only square-jawed personage walking past the studio during casting. He spends most of his screen time posing majestically while action happens around him. As his leading lady, Oscar-winner Larson has even less to do. Reilly’s castaway Marlow is the exception, with a performance that’s both entertaining and emotionally resonant.
    All is not lost, however. The creatures of Skull Island are wonderful. Kong (performed by Toby Kebbell) is an impressive, stoic warrior with a face far more expressive than anything these humans show us. He is joined by frightening toothy lizards and many more bizarre critters, including a giant spider that has the audience squirming.

Fair Action • PG-13 • 120 mins.

White perch make good sport and better eating

March brings a springtime treasure that almost makes up for its treacherous weather: white perch. These tasty fish have just begun to show up in the creeks, though the winter storm that tormented the Northeast coast might delay the bulk of their numbers.
    A close cousin of the striped bass, white perch (Marone americana) are the most numerous fish in the Tidewater as well as the species most often caught by recreational anglers. They can reach 18 inches in length, but due to Maryland’s largely unregulated commercial netting in the Chesapeake, not many taken by hook and line are over 10 inches.
    The largest white perch on record anywhere was caught in 2012 in a Virginia private pond by Beau McLaughlin of Virginia Beach. It weighed three pounds two ounces and measured 17 ¾ inches. The previous record of three pounds one ounce was taken in 1995. The current record for the Chesapeake is two pounds 10 ounces.
    Living 15 or more years, white perch is a particularly prolific species. The male fish move upstream toward fresh water and await the arrival of females. The females arrive next, usually on an incoming tide, and move into the warmer shallows when they feel the urge to spawn. Each gravid female produces 150,000 or more eggs as she releases her roe in stages in tributary headwaters over one to three weeks from mid-March through May. The males follow, broadcasting their milt over the roe. The eggs will hatch out in one to six days. Fingerlings remain in the shelter of the headwaters for a year or two before descending to bigger Bay waters.
    Finally spent of eggs, the females return downstream to Bay waters while the males stay on station until the females stop arriving. After the spawn has been completed. The fish then regroup and move out to their preferred haunts. Some gather near the Bay shorelines or over shell bottom flats in about 10 to 15 feet of water, others prefer moving back into the estuaries in two- to five-foot depths.
    Fishing for white perch in the springtime is generally a shallow-water experience. A light-action spin rod with six-pound test mono is the optimum tackle. Tipped with a small, weighted casting bobber and a shad dart, a grass shrimp, a minnow or a piece of worm as enticement, the rig is cast out from the shoreline and worked back in a slow, twitching motion.
    When fishing from a boat, target shallow shorelines during the flood tide, particularly areas near submerged brush, fallen trees, rocky edges and around docks or bulkheads. As low tide approaches, the fish tend to retreat to the deeper water. Then a top-and-bottom rig with a one-ounce sinker is a better producer for both shore and boat anglers.
    There is no minimum size nor possession limit for white perch, but a fish much under nine inches lacks enough meat to warrant harvesting.
    Their table quality is unequaled, whether baked, broiled, fried whole or filleted, rolled in panko and crisped in hot peanut oil. If you haven’t tried them, you’re missing out on a Bay treasure.

Due date gets earlier year by year

On the first day, he soars through the air in a rollercoaster dance, weaving the sky with his fish flight: the dance of courtship. On the second day, she is with him, perched comfortably in their solitary tower. The osprey have returned to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary. This year’s return date was February 22.
    Isn’t that early? Don’t osprey usually arrive after St. Patrick’s Day?
    Not so, explains Greg Kearns, veteran naturalist at Patuxent River Park, across the river from Jug Bay. This year’s date is a reinforcing statistic in the steady, downward trend of the last 30 years. Just about every year, osprey have arrived earlier than the year before.
    Kearns may have the perfect explanation for this trend.
    “Birds are an ecological litmus paper,” said famous naturalist Roger Tory Peterson. Like those little color-changing strips for testing pH, bird behavior is a prime indicator of our changing environment.
    Osprey, in particular, are key adaptors. “They’ve been here for the last two to five million years, and they’ll likely still be here after we’re gone,” Kearns says. They know when it is the right time to soar on back to their summer stays. As our winters become warmer, the birds arrive earlier.
    And you don’t need to be concerned if winter weather returns for a few days. Osprey can withstand the cold, and their key food source, fish, have already begun spawning over this year’s warm winter months.
    To spot your first osprey of the year, head to the water. About 85 percent of the birds, recognizable by their brown and white plumage, nest in constructed towers close to docks and beaches.
    You’ll see them until late September, when they head back south.

Hoe them out and bury them — or eat them

Winter weeds have loved mild winter we’ve been having. Annual bluegrass, cardamine, chickweed, henbit and mares-tale, to name a few, are twice the size they were this time last year. Unless you eradicate them now, they are likely to cover the ground by the time you’re ready for planting. They may already be flowering and producing an abundance of seeds.
    Attack them without chemicals with a hoe or pull them out of the ground. Then collect them and bury them deep in your compost bin. If you leave them lying, they will most likely take root and resume growth. These cold-tolerant weeds can remain alive and capable of rooting even if they are all turned upside down. Their fibrous roots will retain sufficient soil to keep them moist and growing and the stems that will come in contact with the ground can form roots.
    Weeds are survivors, determined to thrive and reproduce.
    You can also eat them. Add some snap to your salad with cadamine. Common chickweed has a very mild lettuce flavor. Dandelions are quite mild providing there are no flower buds forming on the plants. Wild mustard should now be ready to be harvest, adding zest to any salad. If you like a vinegar taste, add a little oxalis to the salad blend.


No Sun, No Fruit

Q    We are hoping you can help us with a problem in a fruit orchard. The trees in question are Malus Spartan, Prunus armenica Harlayne, Prunus persica Red Haven
    They were planted about five years ago. They initially produce fruit early in the season, but the fruit ­doesn’t mature. At first the problem was assumed to be birds or other pests, but we’ve tried various bird barriers and still no luck. No amendments have been made to the soil recently. I know we don’t have a lot of information to offer, but perhaps you could provide some initial thoughts about what we should explore?
     Does it look to you like the trees are too crowded with underplanting? Or perhaps the surrounding trees are shading them out? Would it be recommended to move the trees to a different location?

A    You are trying to grow fruit trees under crowded conditions and in partial shade. Also the trees do not appear to have been properly pruned to allow sunlight to penetrate the canopy, which is necessary for fruit to ripen. Fruit trees must be grow only in full sun, and they must be pruned properly for the fruit to be exposed to a certain amount of direct sunlight for ripening.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Whatever the weather, we want to know where Bay Weekly takes you

Seems like we’ve gone through a whole year since we last met here.
    In weather ways, we have. Tuesday through Thursday in both the first two weeks of March brought spring warmth, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Last Thursday, March 9, was so warm we had to roll up our sleeves. March 14 brought ice. Now we’re back where we should have been in February, except that nine of that short month’s 28 days anticipated spring with temperatures above 60. Don’t look for balmy days again until the end of the month or beyond.
    With one exception, that is. The weather gods have agreed to bless Maryland Day, Friday March 25, with balmy weather. We’re grateful, because the annually celebrated anniversary of the landing of Maryland’s first permanent colonists in 1634 brings us a weekend full of good things to do, many out of doors. It’s a time so rich, and so rewarding, that we’re pledging good weather and giving you a week’s notice so you can mark your calendar. Plan ahead now, and I’ll see you then to celebrate Maryland history.
    Where will Bay Weekly take you this week?
    With St. Patrick’s Day on Friday, need I ask? I’m betting you’ll be eating green, listening green and drinking green, from Irish beer to Irish whiskey to Irish coffee. Easy to do if you follow 8 Days a Week to the Irish restaurants’ celebration. I’m hoping you’ll send me photos and share the highlights.
    As for eating in season, this week you’ll read Bob Melamud’s corn-your-own beef recipe. I got the story early, so mine is in the brine. I’ll let you know how it compares to that highly seasonal commodity store-bought corned beef. Growing up in a Jewish neighborhood, I ate corned beef sandwiches all year long; with Bob’s recipe, I plan to revive that old habit. The next step, he tells me, is homemade pastrami; I’ll be following.
    Where else will Bay Weekly take you? Will you see your first osprey? Telescopes will be out Saturday at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, where, as first-time writer Sarah Jablon tells us, osprey have been in residence since February 24. Patuxent River osprey expert Greg Kearns talks about our spring harbingers at Captain Avery Museum Saturday afternoon and at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center Tuesday evening.
    See an osprey or not, send your photos.
    Almost seasonal mid-March temperatures in the 50s make Saturday good for doing and seeing outdoors. Follow 8 Days a Week to Patuxent Refuge Birthday Bash or to hike at Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, Jug Bay or Beverly Triton Beach Park. At the latter, you’ll be searching for the voice of spring: the tiny frogs known as spring peepers.
    Whatever the temperature, that longed-for season returns to our hemisphere Monday, March 20. So Saturday is not really too soon to burn your socks at Annapolis Maritime Museum — though, in weather-fickle Chesapeake Country, your feet may regret your decision for many weeks to come.
    Wherever Bay Weekly takes you to pick up your paper, shop our advertisers or fill your week with facts and fun … whatever the season or weather, send your pictures and stories to see yourself in our pages.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Meeting the parents is a real nightmare

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya: Sicario) is a successful photographer with a promising future and a beautiful girlfriend. Rose (Allison Williams: Girls) is hip, culturally aware and unafraid to call out other people’s racial biases. Still, Chris is nervous when Rose wants to take him home to meet her folks.
    Rose promises her parents are as liberal as they come. They voted for Obama! They protested in the 1960s! They’re supporters of the ACLU! Hoping that Rose is right, Chris agrees to spend the weekend at their country home.
    Parents Missy (Catherine Keener: Unless) and Dean (Bradley Whitford: Brooklyn Nine-Nine) seem okay, though they throw around hip slang so Chris will know they’re cool, and they tell him they couldn’t be happier with his courtship.
    But the weekend wears on strangely. Chris can’t connect to the black servants, who speak as if scripted. To cure Chris of smoking, Missy, a hypnotherapist, hypnotizes him without his consent. At a family party, conversations with him don’t feel right. He is uneasy.
    Is he being paranoid? Or is something insidious lurking beneath the Armitage veneer of tolerance?
    This brilliant horror take with cutting commentary on racism in America, is one of the smartest films of the year. Writer/director Jordan Peele (Keanu) shows the subtle racism of, for example, the offhanded compliment about a black person’s natural talents for athleticism.
    Breaking down the cultural stereotype that black men are aggressors, Peele makes us feel menace in benign situations, like walking down a suburban street. By embedding his commentary in a traditional horror setting, Peele invites us to appreciate the message without feeling lectured or attacked.
    The cast supports the vision with outstanding work. As Chris, Kaluuya is masterful as a man who’s dealt with well-meaning racism his whole life but struggles to determine whether Rose’s family is benignly clueless or subtly sinister.
    A masterwork of both satire and horror, Get Out is an ingenious summation of the forms of modern racism as well as a suspenseful, funny horror flick.

Great Horror • R • 103 mins.

If an extraordinary day comes your way, grab your gear and get fishing

Friend and neighbor Frank Tuma and I were enjoying a combination shakedown cruise and yellow perch outing on the Magothy River. At Beachwood Park, we noted a number of anglers milling about with about as much success as we were enjoying, which was none. No one seemed to care. It was enough to get out on the water.
    Tossing minnows, spinner baits and small spoons separately and in combination, then just about everything else in the tackle box, we worked over shoreline spots thoroughly. Targeting fallen trees, derelict docks, jetties, groins and anywhere either of us had ever caught a fish, we exchanged stories of successes and disasters.
    I worked my two favorite outfits. One is a five-foot-four-inch, extra-fast-action Loomis GL2 spin rod with a Shimano Sahara 1000 reel spooled with six-pound P Line. The other is a six-foot St Croix medium-power casting rod paired with a Shimano Calcutta 1000 DC-level wind reel, spooled with 10-pound Power Pro.
    My buddy, ever the more practical and pragmatic of the two of us, used his trusty six-foot-six-inch, ultra-light spin rod of unknown provenance and a mystery spinning reel spooled with 10-pound Spider Line. Frank caught all the fish.
    After working the Upper Magothy to little effect, we explored the nearby creeks lower down the river, trying to rescue the day with a pickerel or two. At about noon, Frank hooked up with a real scrapper on an orange-and-yellow spinner bait with a lip-hooked minnow. I assisted by netting the flashing pickerel for a quick picture.
    Quite near the same spot, Frank then had another smashing strike. His rod bent over, and I could hear his reel grudgingly giving up line in fits and starts as the fish refused to come closer. The battle went on for long minutes, and the water boiled as the fish came near the surface again and again — Never close enough, however, to identify except as a big one.
    Guessing a really big pickerel, then perhaps an early-spawning rockfish, Frank worked the fish gradually closer while I threatened him with disgrace if he lost it. As it finally neared the boat and I leaned over with the net, we caught a flash of a brown and orange flank. Then it was gone. The hook had pulled.
    After a moment of anguish we laughed. This was what fishing was like — and we would have let the rascal go anyway. Now we were free to interpret the brute anyway we felt. It could have been a big channel cat, or perhaps a thick and powerful carp heading to spawn. I suggested a wayward cobia. That was preposterous, but it had been a long day and we were both getting a bit addled after such a successful late-winter’s day on the water.

Filmed in their natural habitat

Legendary in Chesapeake tributaries are spring spawning runs, especially of the season’s harbinger, yellow perch.
    See for yourself, with wonder, a video of spawning yellow perch in pristine water in the Upper Magothy River, documented this year by Magothy River Association volunteers and photographed by Chesapeake Bay Program’s Will Parson.
    The spawning run began on Monday, February 27. In hours, hundreds of fish swam up a narrow, clear stream called the Upper Magothy River in Pasadena, between Catherine Avenue and the Lake Waterford dam/fish ladder.
    The male yellow perch arrived first to locate spawning sites, and the females followed. Several dozen long egg sacks, called egg chains, were photographed in this part of the stream. Each egg chain contains 5,000 to 20,000 eggs.
    Yellow perch have been threatened by development runoff that degrades water quality in many of the tributary streams and creeks on the Magothy River. The Maryland State Habitat Protection Area law requires each county to protect yellow perch spawning habitat. It also requires the counties to improve water quality and limit development in HPA areas.
    “The tragedy is that this should have been declared a habitat-protected area years ago under the Critical Area Law,” says Paul Spadaro, president of the Magothy River Association. “Anne Arundel County chose not to, and now this spawning creek, perhaps the last in the county, is under attack by development.”
    Fishing is prohibited in the tributaries during the spawning months of February, March and April, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police have been enforcing this policy along the Upper Magothy River.
    To see the photographs and videos of the spawn, visit the Magothy River Association Facebook page or www.dropbox.com/s/7u9i43bwpjn6aoc/20170227-YellowPerch.mp4?dl=0.

High in calcium and potassium, it keeps lawn and garden soil balanced

Wood ash belongs in the garden or on the lawn, not in the trash can or in the compost bin. Wood ash is basic in nature and an excellent source of calcium, potassium and trace elements. This means ash can be used as a substitute for limestone. A five-gallon pail of wood ash will treat approximately 100 square feet of a garden or lawn with a pH of around 6.0.
    I have divided the vegetable garden into three zones and treat each zone with wood ash once every three years. The wood ash has done such a great job of maintaining the pH of the soil that I have not had to apply lime or potassium on the garden for the past 25 years.
    Select a calm day for applying wood ash, as it is easily carried away by the slightest breeze. I use a trowel to spread the ash from the pail, applying it until the ground appears covered like a heavy frost.
    Wood ash won’t supply magnesium, an element often low or deficient in Maryland soil. Without magnesium, chlorophyll’s efficiency in converting carbon dioxide to sugars is considerably reduced. Since wood ash does not contain magnesium (though limestone does), I also apply Epsom salts at the rate of five to 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet depending on the soil test results.
    Don’t dump wood ash in the compost pile. Wood ash is basic in nature, and the microorganisms involved in composting perform best in an environment that is mildly acid. Adding ash will stop the composting process.
    Never use a paper, cardboard, wooden or plastic container to carry wood ash. Ash may appear cool when you remove it form the fireplace or stove, but hot embers can remain buried and when exposed to air can ignite. Put your ash in a metal container and store it outdoors in a sheltered place a couple of days before spreading in the garden. I can remember my grandfather removing ash from the parlor stove and spreading it in the garden only to turn around to see dried corn stalks smoldering.
    Here’s another use for wood ash that’s now largely forgotten. My grandmother dumped wood ash from the kitchen stove into a wire basket in the shed. She then flushed the ash with dishwater several times, collecting the water to make lye soap. Do you remember Grandma’s lye soap — or the old popular song by that name?

Irrigate Your Garlic
    Your garlic plants are thirsty. Neither rain nor snow has provided them with water. February’s extra-warm, sunny days have activated the garlic plants into wanting to grow. Without adequate water in the ground, the tips of the leaves are showing yellowing and brown crispy tissues. Irrigate them now for bigger cloves of garlic at harvest.  Italian, Polish and German garlic is not planted as deeply as elephant garlic, making them more susceptible to drought damage. Soaking the soil with water now also makes the ground less likely to freeze deeply should the weather turn cold again.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

If only the storyteller were as durable as the story

As a Bay Weekly reader, you may feel like you know us Bay Weekly writers pretty well.
    One way and another, our writers reveal a lot about themselves.
    Sandra Lee Anderson — Sandy — sure did in the eight years she helped fill our pages. On hearing the news of Sandy’s death on Saturday, March 4 at age 73 from an aneurism, I gathered up her stories for Bay Weekly. Twenty thousand words-worth between 2007 and 2015, when she turned her writing energies to her own book. All together, they record the life of a rare and wonderful woman, utterly different from each of us — and not so very different.
    Sandra Lee Comstock grew up in the west, but this daughter of a water reclamation engineer and fisherman couldn’t avoid the pull of Chesapeake Country.
    Her first experience was a waterfront place that had been the residence of a vegetarian society:

    Signs claiming Salt is Poison hung on musty walls. Locals maintain it was a nudist colony. We slept beneath rafters where a long wall divided the dorms for men and women. I fell asleep to the rhythmic waves through the screened window. On that beach I found my first great white shark tooth, two and a half inches long.
    I married another fisherman. Charlie bought a boat and moored it at Flag Harbor, down the beach from the vegetarian beach house. Charlie and I built two houses away, near enough to visit our friend, glimpse the water and easily comb the beach for sharks’ teeth.

    Her adopted home fell short in one way only: winter.

    I love winter, Sandy wrote four years ago this week. My growing up was Colorado, and cold-side Oregon, and cold and snow are in my blood.
    But not in Maryland. Real winter has been missing so long that I fear global warming has turned it into a memory.

        So, interviewing longer-time Calvert countians, the retired D.C. schools administrator chronicled the Great Blizzards of Yore, writing appreciatively of times when school closed for two weeks.
        In Chesapeake Country, she and Charlie became oyster gardeners. Many of her stories chronicled efforts small and large to restore our beloved bivalve.

    This story started when I met the ranchers, the westerner wrote on October 2, 2008. They wear chaps for protection, and they work on ranches, but they’re not wrangling cattle. They’re raising oysters.
    Richard Pelz, the trailblazer, brought oyster ranching to Maryland at Circle C Oyster Ranch. …

    She wrote of building homes for bluebirds, another species restoration effort shared with Charlie, who in turn took photos for her stories:

    Charlie’s anticipated carefree hobby placed us squarely against the travails of nature. We overcame territorial wrens, bad locations and opportunistic chickadees to welcome bluebirds to our home. In the process, we found some of that elusive happiness.

    The couple’s land garden also supported Chesapeake Country wildlife.

    Something has been nibbling on husband Charlie’s cantaloupe, she wrote in September, 2012:
    I suspected the squirrels, and Charlie blamed mice or voles. Friend Fritz Riedel happened to snap another candidate: an eastern box turtle. It’s circumstantial evidence, but very convincing. Charlie’s conclusion is a new twist on the fable of the turtle and the hare: Turtles are faster than humans at getting to a ripe cantaloupe.

    Calvert County history, especially school history, intrigued her, and she, in turn, educated us, introducing us to places like the Old Wallville School. And to the people who brought them to life, like the educational giants Ms. Regina Brown and her sister Ms. Harriet Elizabeth Brown, who hired the young Thurgood Marshall to win equal pay for Calvert’s black teachers.

    The second-grade students of Calvert Elementary art teacher Shari Adams, Sandy wrote in December, 2009, saw nothing they could recognize in the bits and pieces of the Old Wallville School, which opened last month, reconstructed for students of history.
    “What is it? Is it a shed?” today’s schoolchildren wondered from the windows of their modern, low-slung fortress of education.

    Best of all were her stories of people who without paying much attention were making modern history. We need love stories for Valentine’s Day, I’d tell Sandy, or mothering and fathering stories for Mother’s and Father’s Day features, or jobs people do for Labor Day stories. Never fail, she’d find a couple of deeply human stories, like Guffrie M. Smith Jr.’s Father’s Day recollection of Guffrie M. Smith, Sr.:

    Because of his humble beginnings, you were in awe of what my father accomplished. His mother died when he was five, and he was raised by his uncle, who worked him from sunup to sundown and hired him out to a dairy farmer. He always said, “Work never killed anyone.” If work killed anyone, it would have been him.

    Sometimes, we learned more about Sandy from one of those assignments, as in a story on our first jobs:

    I was a carhop in Phoenix at a Dog n Suds Root Beer drive-in. People parked beside a speaker and placed their orders. We carried hotdogs and root beer in mugs to the car on a tray that fit into the window slot. Diners ate in their cars. It didn’t pay much, but I loved working nights under the desert sky.

    Among the love stories Sandy told was How I Met Your Father.

    Our match was made, not born, she confessed of a pursuit and retreat that spanned the continent, from the campaign headquarters in Northern Virginia where they met to California.
    “I want to get married,” I told him a couple of years in.
    “What if I don’t?”
    “Then I’ll go away.”
    I accepted an invitation to work on a political campaign in California.
        “Don’t come for me without a piece of paper in your hand,” I told him.
        I packed my car and headed west.
    Eventually, he followed.
    I got a message that Charlie was in the air and would arrive at 5pm. I didn’t know that Charlie broke a Saturday night date and got drunk on champagne with his roommate, toasting his future married life.

    That was 45 years ago last month.
    Charlie recalled a bit of that story when he called to tell me that Sandy had died and he wondered what kind of a life he’d have without her.
    How I wish the storyteller were as durable as the story.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com