view counter

Articles by Michelle Steel

Marvels lie under the sea

Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you

     –The Little Mermaid: Under the Sea

Thousands of photos and videos of the seafloor, its creatures and the coastline — most areas never seen before — are now just a mouse-click away, thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey Coastal and Marine Geology Video and Photograph Portal.
    The Portal is a treat for you and me and a great help for coastal managers faced with decisions from protecting habitats to understanding hazards and managing land use.
    The largest database of its kind, it delivers detailed, fine-scale representations of the coast plus maps of the exact location of each recording.
    A work in progress, the Portal so far covers the seafloor off California and Massachusetts with aerial images of the Gulf of Mexico and Mid-Atlantic coastlines.
    Some 100,000 photographs have been collected along with 1,000 hours of trackline video covering 2,000 miles of coastline.
    Upcoming are Washington State’s Puget Sound, Hawaii and the Arctic.
    Start with the tutorial: http://tinyurl.com/qbh5o4v.
    Then dive in: http://cmgvideo.usgsportals.net.
    Learn more about USGS science: http://marine.usgs.gov.

Vote bracket by bracket for the Live ­Science champion

Which scares you more? A scorpion crawling up your leg? Being devoured by the King of the Jungle? Swimming with a killer whale?
    As March Madness brings the nation’s top college basketball teams into quick-death competition, the website Live Science jumps in with a parallel competition in the Animal Kingdom. Bracket by bracket, you’re invited to advance your worst fears in its no-holds-barred Killer Animal Tournament.
    Starting March 16 and for the next three weeks, vote for the animal you believe should win in four divisions: Land, Air, Sea and Creepy-Crawly. As eliminations progress, you’ll vote in new pairings until, from 16, only eight, four, two and one are left standing.
    Competing are:
    Land Lubbers: African lion versus white rhino; and polar bear versus African elephant.
    Creepy Crawlers: king cobra versus Brazilian wandering spider; and poison dart frog versus deathstalker scorpion.
    Sea Dwellers: killer whale versus saltwater crocodile; and great white shark versus hippo.
    Airborne: African-crowned eagle versus mosquito; and lappet-faced vulture versus peregrine falcon.
    Cast your votes at www.livescience.com/49887-deadliest-animal-tournament.html.
    Share your votes on social media using the hashtag #LSAnimalMadness.
    Watch for the announcement of the Killer champion on April 6 at 3pm.
    Local shout out: Two of the contenders earn a local shout out. Peregrine falcons in residence on the 33rd floor ledge of the Transamerica skyscraper in downtown Baltimore are now Reality Television stars. See them live 24/7 at the Chesapeake Conservancy’s new webcam: www.chesapeakeconservancy.org/peregrine-falcon-webcam.
    In a science first, an Andinobates geminisae froglet has hatched in captivity, Smithsonian Institution researchers report. This tiny poison dart frog, the size of a dime, is a conservation-priority species in its native Panama because of an amphibian-killing chytrid fungus.

Look and listen before they leave

Trumpeter swans returned to Chesapeake Country after many years.
    “I have lived at this location on the Chesapeake Bay for 19 years and have never observed trumpeter swans before,” said life-long bird watcher Randy Kiser of Shady Side. “Their sound was unmistakable, so different from the tundras.
    “They stayed for about an hour and then moved on,” Kiser said.
    He wasn’t alone in his trumpeter sighting.
    A D.C. Ornithological Society birdwatcher confirmed that Kiser’s five “was the largest group identified in a long time.”
    Five were also reported in St. Michaels that same February afternoon.
    How to tell them apart from the more common migratory tundra or invasive mute swan?
    Trumpeters have all-black bills, while tundra swans have black bills with a tear­drop of yellow near their eyes and mute swans have bright orange bills with a black knob on top.
    Trumpeters have their necks kinked back at the bottom in a hard C-shape.
    The biggest difference is sound.
    Trumpeters have a very loud, trumpet-like call; hence their name. It’s mainly a gentle honk, like a single short toot on a horn, repeated, often in series of two to three notes, do-do-doo.
    Hurry to catch a glimpse of these Chesapeake visitors. The spring thaw in mid-March to early-April signals their departure. So Chesapeake County is vacated by swans just about the time osprey return.

Oh, the creatures we’ve seen

You find them sitting atop shelves at libraries, inside toy chests and in the hands of parents turning well-worn pages in a nighttime ritual of reading the rhymes, words and wisdom of Dr. Seuss and his unforgettable characters.
    From 1928 until his death in 1990, Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote and illustrated 60-plus books for children and adults as Dr. Seuss.
    The Seuss menagerie includes Horton the elephant who preaches that all people are important; the mischievous brat Cat in the Hat; the Lorax, who speaks for the trees from his thorax; the Grinch, who rescues Whoville in a pinch; and Sam I Am, who pesters an unnamed character in a text of 50 words to try Green Eggs and Ham.
    If Seuss were alive, he’d be celebrating his 111th birthday on March 2, a day that’s been adopted as National Read Across America Day.
    On July 28, more creatures will join the menagerie.
    The literary equivalent of buried treasure, Dr. Seuss’ What Pet Should I Get? is set for release. Probably written between 1958 and 1962, the manuscript was found in his office by his widow and secretary in 2013. Two characters are the brother and sister who listen to Seuss’ telling of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Maryland Zoo seeking humans

See the Zoo like you’ve never seen it before — on the scene and behind the scenes.
    The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is seeking 200 new volunteers to help make successes of such events as ­BunnyBonanZOO, zooBOOO! and Brew at the Zoo.
    January 25 is your once-a-year opportunity to learn the aardvark to zebra of volunteering at the third oldest zoo in the United States, representing nearly 200 species in natural settings replicating their native habitats.
    The Zoo’s 1,000-plus volunteers work with humans, animals and plants. Working with animals is at the top of the training ladder. Long-timers may request to handle animals like chimpanzees and the Animal Ambassadors, including the Baltimore ravens Rise and Conquer.
    New volunteers typically bring special skills — like face painting or gardening — or start with visitor relations. Entry-level jobs range from leading crafts and games at special events to answering visitors’ questions to keeping animals and humans on their best behavior at the Goat Corral or Camel Rides.
    “Nine times out of 10, the number one question is where’s the bathroom,” says Jane Ballentine, Director of Public Relations.
    Volunteers as young as 14 are welcome in the Junior Zoo Crew. There’s no top age limit for volunteers. Perks include free admission to the zoo and field trips.
    “We try to set up at least two field trips a year to other zoos and aquariums to keep the camaraderie going,” says Ballentine.


The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore’s Volunteer Open House: Sunday, January 25, 11am-2pm: Mansion House Porch: 443-552-5266; volunteers@marylandzoo.org.
 

Hibernation is convenient when you live in a shell

Wiggling antennae poke out from under coiled shell of the second-most prolific species on earth, the gastropodal snail. On land and in oceans and freshwater, 43,000 snail species live. North America has 500 land species, which brings them, usually stealthily, to all our gardens.
    But you won’t see them this time of year, for many snails hibernate from October until April. Hibernation is convenient for snails as they carry their beds on their backs. In dry areas, snails can hibernate for years.
    Covering their bodies with a thin layer of mucus to prevent drying out, snails live off the stored fat in their bodies. They dig a small hole in the ground and bury themselves or find a warm patch to slumber the winter away. Then, they close off the entrance of their shells with dried mucus — called an epiphragm — that hardens into tough skin. This snail-made mucus door prevents predators from harming them during hibernation and keeps them warm and cozy all winter.
    The epiphragm is usually transparent and sometimes glues the snail to a surface, like a shady wall, rock or tree branch. In hibernation, a snail’s heart slows from about 36 beats per minute to only three or four, and oxygen use is reduced to one-fiftieth of normal.
    Snails often group together over winter. If you find one, expect many more in that protected hiding place. They burrow under loose flaps of bark, behind stacked paving slabs, around planters and pots and in gaps and holes in walls.
    “I retire within myself and there I stop. The world is nothing to me,” said the snail in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Snail and the Rosebush. And with this, the snail withdrew into his house and blocked up the entrance.

Swine seek your Jack-o-lanterns

Maizie, Pumpkin and Scarlet love pumpkins. They devour them like pigs because, well, they are pigs. Now they want your leftover ­Halloween Jack-o-lanterns.
    Over 1.4 billion pounds of pumpkins are sold in the United States every year, 80 percent in October, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many are displayed at Halloween and at Thanksgiving, then tossed in the garbage. That’s a lot of rotting pumpkins. Pumpkins don’t decompose well in landfills, giving off methane gas as they break down, which plays a role in climate change, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
    So the trio of swine at Historic St. Mary’s City is doing its civic duty gobbling these big orange fruits.
    Historic St. Mary’s City is collecting pumpkins for the plantation pigs through mid-December. Deliver new or used squash to the bin outside the Visitor Center, 18751 Hogaboom Lane.
    Shriveled and carved retired Jack-o-lanterns are just fine by these swine. The carved grins and grimaces amuse the staff and satisfy the pig’s appetite, too. Either way, they’re full of vitamins.
    If you have large numbers to share, contact Aaron at 240-895-4978; aaronm@digshistory.org.

Hearts beat in time with the building suspense

Twin Beach Players’ Halloween season production of the eternally terrifying Legend of Sleepy Hollow took seven months in the making — from spooky sound effects to thick fog and period costumes to uniformly spot-on acting.
    Eerie sound effects help transform a gymnasium into the town and forest of Sleepy Hollow, where I edged forward on my seat as suspense built to the hair-raising climax.
    Washington Irving gave us this story now embedded in American tradition, and he himself appears to tell it to us. As Irving, Kurt Kugel leads us through the play with his supernaturally quiet narration.
    The nervous, studious and awkward Ichabod Crain, played brilliantly by Justyn Christofel, comes as a new teacher to a town haunted by a Headless Horseman. My heart went out to Ichabod as he fell hopelessly in love with the town beauty, Katrina Van Tassell (Brianna Bennett) much to the dismay of her suitor, town brute Abraham “Brom” Van Brunt (Ethan Croll).
    Brom captures the role of the bad guy as he makes it his duty to teach the schoolmaster a lesson in humility and gathers the boys of Sleepy Hollow to scare Ichabod.
    Tales are told of the Headless Horseman’s rampage through the woods that Ichabod is willing to brave to attend a party at the home of the apple of his eye, who has herself invited him.
    When Ichabod cuts in on Brom to dance with Katrina, Brom plans revenge: confrontation with the Headless Horseman.
    Each character in the supporting cast of townspeople has distinct charms. There are gossips, troublemakers, clowns and bystanders who don’t know what to make of the new schoolmaster — nor he of them and their tales.
    Dawn Dennison’s costumes are perfect to period.
    The basic stage conveyed many settings, such as a handful of human trees with long, skin-hugging, black-gloved arms reaching to the sky and creeping thru Ichabod’s hair as if they were twigs in a haunted forest. Children played forest animals, with an opening dance number led by an adorable spirit (Koral Kent) who makes a huge impression, all without speaking a word. She wisps in and out in her pumpkin costume with the grace and poise of a ballerina. When she places a pumpkin into the hands of the Headless Horseman, she seems immune to terror.
    Don’t miss this spooktacular production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Playing to full-house crowds opening weekend, it’s sure to sell out as Halloween approaches and the barrier between worlds grows thin.


The original production of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was adapted for Twin Beach Players’ by resident playwright, Mark Scharf, who also penned last year’s production of Frankenstein. Pioneer Drama Service will publish both scripts.
 
Playing thru Nov. 2: FSa 8pm; Su 3pm; plus 9pm Oct. 31 at North Beach Boys and Girls Club; $15 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Encounters with wild neighbors

The creatures of Chesapeake Country are out in force. Since the last full moon on June 13, critters of every make and model have been hopping, waddling, crawling, slithering, walking, meandering and flying out of cover and into view.
    Since that moon, treetops flash with male fireflies signaling their mates. Closer to ground, females flash in their own code. Strange flying things come nearer still.
    Luna moths hang around my porch light in pairs, glowing in iridescent shades of green. Through a door left open after dark, a Pandora sphinx moth of many more shades of green visited editor Sandra Martin’s home, staying long enough to be photographed and drawn.
    A bunny sits alone in the yard and watches me with caution, then hops off to safety. Old Man Toad — who arrives every year in early summer — visits me in the evening on the patio and poolside. A family of geese swims in a neighborhood pond.
    At our Bay Weekly office, a lone praying mantis nymph the size of a thumb-pad, scales an enormous wall.
    These are safe entrances into the world we share. More often, encounters involve risk, usually for a wild thing not yet evolved to avoid human machines.
    Since the last full moon, I’ve seen four box turtles survive road crossings. The last one made me a hero as a school bus full of kids cheered as I carried the turtle out of the way of the oncoming bus and to safety.
    Eight ducklings haphazardly waddling without Momma Duck on Route 2 were scooted to safety on a nearby patch of grass by two human mommas.
    A wild turkey mother and chick scampered across a winding country road, then climbed an embankment to safety. Families of deer — three after moonset June 30 — looked left and right before crossing.
    But too often roadways mean death: deer, frogs, possums, raccoons, skunks, snakes, squirrels, turtles lie killed, often crushed, along our roadways.
    Drive carefully; we’re not alone here.
    Send us your sightings with photos: calendar@bayweekly.com.

Teen players give you hope in youth and humanity

An all-teen cast draws a fine line between the real and unreal in Twin Beach Players’ Harvey. We’ve known Elwood P. Dowd since 1944, when Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play opened on Broadway, but most notably in James Stewart’s 1950 movie incarnation.
    In all those years, nobody has ever seen Dowd’s best friend and constant companion, a six-foot-three-inch tall white rabbit named Harvey.
    Dowd describes Harvey as a pooka, a benign but mysterious creature from Celtic mythology who is especially found of social outcasts — like Dowd.
    The word comes up several times in the play, always with a mysterious air as if it’s too taboo to be spoken. Nobody else wants to think like Dowd, who is either a nut or a drunk.
    Or is he?
    Twin Beach Players give us glimpses of Harvey — a fedora hat with two holes poked out for rabbit ears, a door that mysteriously opens when Harvey is invisibly passing through, Dr. Chumley sideswiping by Harvey and Elwood’s conversations with his imaginary friend.
    As Dowd, 14-year-old Cameron Walker does such a believable job of talking to Harvey you’d think the oversized rabbit was in the room next to him.
    Dowd’s family doesn’t share his wide-eyed guilelessness. Prim sister Veta (Marina Beeson) is as much put out by his dinner invitations to people he’s just met as she is to his constant opening of doors for invisible lapine friends.
    And how will she ever find a husband for her daughter Myrtle Mae (Abby Petersen), with an uncle whom most of the town regards as a nutcase.
        Myrtle Mae and Veta join forces to have Dowd committed to a sanitarium run by Dr. Chumley (Jeffrey Thompson). Naturally, things do not go according to plan.
    Twin Beach Players keeps the set simple — a cushioned chair, a phone, a bookcase and a desk and chair. All three acts take place in either the library or Chumley’s Rest, the ­asylum.
    The only sound effects are a ringing telephone and the one-time sound of a large rabbit hopping across the stage.
    The elaborate costumes, made to order by Dawn Denison, suit an era of propriety.
    The teen actors playing grown-ups are mature in roles and dramatic skills. No one missed a beat — or a line.
    Veta is dramatic and loud, overbearing to her brother but not to her audience.
    Newcomer and first-time actor Danielle Heckart, who plays Judge Ophelia Gaffney, shows the audience that even a fourth-grader can pull it off.
    Asylum orderly Wilson (Matthew Konerth) adds humor with impromptu actions and one-liners. I couldn’t wait to see him pop back on stage and hear his next crack.
    Dr. Sanderson (Dean Stokes) and Nurse Kelly (Olivia McClung) are believable in their roles as medical professionals: He, the stoic psychiatrist with a secret crush on her and she, the obedient employee with an underlying twist of sarcasm.
    Camden Raines keeps her duel roles — Betty Chumley and Ethel Chauvenet — separate and ­successful.
    Cab driver E.J. Lofgren (Ethan Croll) is true to his role as a cabbie, complete with New York accent and toughness. Despite his short time on stage, he resolves the conflict with his worldly view of patients with mental illness.
    You leave this quirky comedy about human oddities and outcasts feeling pretty good about yourself and everybody else, including large rabbits.

Director: Annie Gorenflo. Producer: Matthew Konerth. Light and set design: Sid Curl. Sound: Michael Happell. Prop master: Camden Raines. Music: Bob Snider. Costumes: Dawn Denison. Youth Troupe directors: Rob and Valerie Heckart.

Playing thru June 29: FSa 7pm; Su 2pm at North Beach Boys and Girls Club. $5; rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.