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Articles by Michelle Steel

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.
 

Find best friends for bargain prices at Anne Arundel County SPCA

With small sighs of relief, volunteers and workers celebrated a bit more room in the inn.
    Filled to the brim with more than 50 adoptable dogs and 150 adoptable cats, the Anne Arundel County SPCA held two adoption events to make room for more needy animals.
    The shelter houses, cares for and feeds up to 4,000 animals a year while seeking to find them homes.
    Four-year-old beagle mix John Wall, who’d been homeless since December, was one of 14 Lonely Hearts dogs adopted. Four, including John, have moved in with their new families. Ten more applications are in the approval queue.
    So far, 9 Lives for $9 has found homes for 16 adult cats. Here’s hoping the third time is a charm for Franco Magic, adopted again this week after eviction from two earlier homes. He’s been waiting since August.
    The shelter had “a big influx of foot traffic the whole weekend,” says Rita Melvin, development and programs manager. One guinea pig was also adopted.
    Many more animals are waiting.
    There’s still time to take advantage of the 9 Lives for $9 cat adoption special, which runs through Tuesday, June 22.
    “We have so many great cats waiting for homes,” Melvin says.
    All prospective adoptees are up to date on their vaccines, flea protected, spayed or neutered and microchipped. Cats are tested for feline leukemia and FIV. Dogs are tested and protected for heartworms.
    To see the feline bargains and home-seeking animals of other species, visit the SPCA at 1815 Bay Ridge Ave., Annapolis: 410-268-4388; www.aacspca.org.

Calvert Marine Museum chips away at 58 million years

Persistence pays off. That’s the case with retired farmer Bernard Kuehn of Accokeek.
    After 30-plus years combing the stream bed running through his farmland for fossilized sharks’ teeth, Kuehn hit the jackpot this month.
    He discovered the soft-shell turtle fossil that lived over 58 million years ago in the Paleocene epoch.
    Heavy rains this spring exposed new layers in the creek bed, revealing the significant paleontological find on Kuehn’s farm, which was under water millions of years ago.
    The reptile would have inhabited fresh water near the ocean.
    Kuehn’s rare find, which he donated to Calvert Marine Museum, is one of only three known specimens of this species.
    Paleontologist Peter Kranz from Dinosaur Park in Laurel investigated the fossil, then asked Calvert Marine Museum for help in quarrying it.
    Joe and Devin Fernandez from Diamond Core Drilling and Sawing Company had the special equipment, a diamond-blade chainsaw, to cut the turtle out of the rock while preserving most of its shell. The turtle was delivered to the museum wearing a coat of rock.
    Unlike a normal turtle’s smooth shell, the fossilized soft-shell turtle’s shell is bumpy from a skin over the living shell.
    The ancient two-by-two-foot reptile appears to be whole.
    The inch-thick hard shell — like a coat of armor — would have protected the turtle from most predators all those millions of years ago.
    It will take many hands — and months — to remove the rock from around the bones as Calvert’s marine paleontologists study the rare specimen.
    Stop by to see the fossil and the work in progress in the Museum’s Prep Lab.

Help stomp out Emerald Ash Borers and Hemlock Wooly Adelgids

You don’t want to know the hemlock wooly adelgid. The invader — no bigger than a period — is terrorizing towering trees, both hemlock and spruce.
    These pests threaten to wipe out eastern hemlock forests, a loss that could be as dreadful as the loss of American chestnuts. The bug is loose in half the evergreen’s geographic range, 11 eastern states from Georgia to Massachusetts.
    The fight is on, with two Maryland agencies injecting insecticide into thousands of hemlock trees and soil on public lands across the state. The wooly adelgid, which leaves telltale white, woolly wax spots on young hemlock twigs, is at its worst in our western counties.
    The pencil-tip adelgid joins the ranks of Maryland public tree enemies. The emerald ash borer, here a decade, gets special attention May 18-24, days designated by Gov. Martin O’Malley as Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week.
    The iridescent beetle that can fit on a penny has been eating its way through Maryland’s ash trees — and ash in many states east of the Mississippi. To stop its decade-long advance, Maryland foresters have set up a movable quarantine barrier with sentry traps hung in trees throughout susceptible areas.
    The ash tree is a popular city tree as well as an important woodland tree in the Chesapeake watershed and a mainstay of the timber industry. Ash contributes wood for furniture, flooring, bowling alleys, church pews, guitars and baseball bats.
    Losses from the ash borer could exceed $227.5 million in the Baltimore metro area alone.
    What can you do to help?
    In all counties west of the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River it’s against the law to transport firewood because ash borers could have infiltrated the wood. So far, the Eastern Shore is uninvaded. If you have ash trees, look alert. Ash borer infestation shows up in eaten leaves, diminished tree canopy and shoots or sprouts emerging below dead portions of trunk. Woodpeckers are drawn to the trees to feed on the borers. Beneath the bark, D-shaped exit holes tell you the borer was there.

Can two old geezers find a future past resentment?

For Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, Twin Beach Players reunites the biggest comedy team in Vaudeville for a nostalgic performance of their once-famous Doctor sketch.
    Willie Clark (Jeff Larsen) and Al Lewis (Tom Wines) were the act to catch for 43 years. But 11 years ago, Al walked out, leaving Willie to hold the bag of gags.
    Now, in their golden years, CBS asks them to reunite in a show that pays reverence to the great comic stars through the years. It’s a second chance in a lifetime, but resentment — and tension — get in the way. Clark’s nephew and agent (Tom Weaver) has to figure out a way to get the two geezers to bury the hatchet and pull off the television show.
    Mayhem ensues when Clark ­nearly dies trying. His heart attack keeps the double-trouble duo out of the television show.
    Fate has another plan for them: living together in relative peace and performing their acts in a retired actors’ home.
    Opening night brought not only the old boys but also new comfort to the theater’s small venue at North Beach Boys and Girls Club. Thanks to Twin Beach master carpenter Justyn Christofel, the audience looks down on the action from moveable-bleachers.
    But play-goers didn’t fill the bleachers or help keep the Sunshine Boys’ uptempo.
    Highlights — like the Doctor sketch rehearsal for a CBS television show and the scene where the boys threaten each other with dagger and cane — bring comic relief to a play slow to take off in Act 1. Act 2 regains momentum as the old boys regain their old timing.

Aidan Davis as Eddie; Staci Most as Vaudeville Nurse; Samantha Wadsworth as Nurse. Director and production designer: Sid Curl. Assistant director and stage manager: Donna Bennett. Costume designer: Dawn Denison. Music designer: Bob Snider. Setting and make-up designer: Wendy Cranford. Lighting tech assistant: Katherine Willham. Lighting and sound board operator: Camden Raines. Audience design: Richard Keefe Jr. Promotions and advertising: Viv Petersen and Philomena Gorenflo. House management: Lynda Collins and Viv Petersen.
Playing FSa 8pm; Su 3pm thru April 13 at North Beach Boys and Girls Club, North Beach. $12 w/discounts: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Everybody gets into the spirit

Mayhem meets knee-slapping ­comedy when the Herdmans collide head-on with the Christmas story.
    Barbara Robinson’s Christmas alternative — it’s no Christmas Carol — is a good choice for Twin Beach Players: Both have to do with a small town where everybody has a part to play in making Christmas.
    The fictional small town’s kids have grown weary of wearing bed sheets to play the same role and speak the same lines year after year in the annual church pageant. Boredom yields to horror when the Herdmans come to town.
    The dirty half-dozen Herdman kids bully their way into the cast and hijack the pageant. With no idea what’s going on — they don’t even know the Christmas story — they make up a script as they go along.
    As we watch, the pageant turns into a huge, hysterical mess.
    Forty-six of the town of North Beach’s real-life children, from preschoolers to teens, are inspired, whether as angels, shepherds or Herdmans — who’ve stolen the key parts of Mary, Joseph, Herod and the Wise Men.
    In this community of theater, parents leave the audience to take the stage alongside their kids. Ten adults stay on-stage, enjoying their roles as avidly as the kids do.
    The audience is enchanted, moved from tears to side-splitting laughter in no longer than it takes to blink.
    The theater — normally a Boys and Girls Club gym — is decorated for the holidays. The young cast’s singing of classic carols — including “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Away in a Manger,” “We Three Kings” and “Silent Night” — open our hearts. Recorded Christmas music continues during the short intermission.

Playing F & Sa 7pm, Su 3pm thru Dec. 15 at the North Beach Boys and Girls Club. $12 w/discounts: 410-286-1890; www.twinbeachplayers.com.