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Articles by Elisavietta Ritchie

Like tea-party guests, they’ve visited before, will they be back?

I.    Our first fox comes between red sun and night, his ruff tinged rust with leftover glow. He must know dusk is his color, his hour, as he comes for the mice, moles and voles who scurry through tunnels which lace our lawn in subterranean webs. I’d like to think he thinks he does us a favor policing our scruffy yard.
    He steps among the tiger lilies, alert for whoever slips past underfoot, even his bottlebrush tail still as a stick. He suddenly leaps, digs, bounds, pounces … nabs wind, lands with a look that admits he’s just been outfoxed …

II.    Bibs white against their rusty collars, our twin foxes appear at our sliding garden door each afternoon at four, as if invited for a formal tea party.
    We provide only stale kibbles our white angora Pusscat shuns. Through the glass, she studies the visitors.
    Neither Pusscat nor I twitch …
    The dish clean, the foxes turn but pause.    
    I slide the door. Pusscat bounds down the four crumbling brick stairs, chases the invaders across the garden to the woods, then, satisfied, returns.
    Next day they reappear at four.
    Their visits continue, and wily, they stay alive until the summer’s end.
    Shots resound, hunting season open. Although they surely dive into their dens up our dirt lane, they never reappear …

III.    Why no foxes now? Rabbits have returned since disappearing some years ago, so foxes should be sneaking back, gold eyes glimpsed in headlights, flash of tail …

Just passing through

A big mother of a terrapin the size of our cast-iron frying pan lumbers from the swamp beyond the small garage, up the stones and through the poison ivy and, without stretching her long neck for a glance backward over her carapace, heads non-stop across our lawn toward the far woods to lay her eggs.
    She is my first sighting of this summer, already August, and in recent years all turtles have been scarce.
    She will dig a hole in the lawn or by the swamp at the edge of the locust trees, maybe two or three holes to confuse us, then pump out eggs like ping pong balls.
    No foxes seen this year, and, oddly, no raccoon or possum has yet to show. So this year none might dig the eggs, and within a couple of months, while waving off the bald eagles, I can escort the hatchlings to the cove.
    For a minute I turn away; when I look again, no sign of her.

Marshall Coffman’s martial ministry

     “You learn through both winning and losing,” says 70-year-old Marshall Coffman, who leads a double life.
    As the Reverend Dr. Coffman, he is associate pastor of the Christian Fellowship of Calvert County in Owings. As Sensei Coffman, he is head instructor of Budokan Judo Club at Northeast Community Center. Combining roles, he leads the Judo for Jesus ministry.
    This summer, Sensei Coffman earned the lofty rank of fifth-degree black belt.
    Gaining a first-degree black belt is a high honor coveted by many but achieved by only the most devoted. Rising to the fifth degree — a labor of 23-plus years for Coffman — demands not only technical ability but also sacrifice and devotion. Fewer than seven percent of Judo practitioners wear the red-and-black belt unique to this rank.
    As a 21-year-old U.S. Air Force communications technician, Coffman took advantage of his posting 30 miles from Tokyo to study judo with the renowned fifth-degree black belt Takehide Matsunaga. He learned while studying the ancient arts to teach others.
    From Japan to the Philippines to Colorado Springs to Andrews Airbase, he gained skill as he taught.
    In the Phillipines, he met his wife, Teresita Abellana Gadiana. They have two children, Felipe and Annette. The whole family has studied judo.
    By the time Coffman reached the Washington metropolitan area, he was a respected martial arts teacher.
     At 35, Coffman “felt the call” of a second, more demanding vocation: he devoted 12 years of night school to studying for the ministry. Studying while working at AT&T left no spare time.
    “Judo, I believed, was behind me,” he says. “God will sometimes ask you to give up something.”
    Coffman’s health also seemed lost. He suffered a heart attack, the crippling effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, cancer and triple bypass surgery.
    As he recovered, he realized that poor physical health can damage a person’s spiritual health. In February 2004, he launched the Judo for Jesus Ministry at the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware.
    That summer, the Judo for Jesus Ministry Team traveled nearly 3,000 miles, making gospel presentations in 21 churches with 375 new students professing their faith. The Judo for Jesus Ministry has since seen over 1,000 professions in faith.
    “Sometimes,” Coffman says, God gives what you gave back to you to use for His glory.”

Stovy Brown turned two generations windward

“No student who wanted to join the young sailors has ever been turned down for lack of funds,” says Stovy Brown, who has introduced two decades of Southern Maryland youngsters to sailing.
    To get kids to the water, Brown founded three groups: the Southern Maryland Sailing Association, Sailing Center Chesapeake and, in 1999, the Southern Maryland Sailing Foundation, to support the other two training programs with funding, boats and equipment.
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And it teaches across the curriculum

    “Did you meet any strange creatures on your way to school this morning?”
    My dog … Just a squirrel … My bratty kid brother…
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Summer after summer, you’d hear of some unlucky swimmer, waterman or shellfish eater. Then it happened to me

     On and in, I’ve swum, fished, crabbed, eeled, sailed, canoed, kayaked and written about the Patuxent River — from both sides — since 1960. When you live with a place for over 60 years, you think you know it.
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On and in the waters of the Patuxent

Old barns dripping with honeysuckle and trumpet vines, owlets in cobwebbed rafters, fishermen’s shacks on piers glistening with old fish scales, swallows’ nests glued beneath the splintery planks, pilings where ospreys build their messy nests like ornithological games of pick-up-sticks, duck blinds where wild ducks nest …
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Washington Writers’ Publishing House wants to give you $1,000

Writers and poets of the greater Bay Weekly area, here is your chance to see your best work as a book.
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Veterans recount their stories this Memorial Day

Memorial Day Weekend does more than welcome summer with parades, picnics and pool openings. Begun as a sacred day of remembrance at cemeteries where our war dead rest, the holiday has expanded to honor all veterans, including those still on active duty.
    What better way to honor these veterans than to tell their stories?

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Finding — and giving — refuge from the storm

The deaf cat, a skinny princess getting on, could not hear her own purrs, nor our learned conversations above her head, at a festive gathering in a lovely house on St. Leonard’s Creek beyond Jefferson Patterson Park.
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