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Articles by Sandra Olivetti Martin

They’ll keep us company till the osprey return

Right on time, tundra swans
have dropped from the skies over Chesapeake Country like giant snowflakes. They are big birds, weighing 20 pounds or so in maturity with a six-foot wingspan.
    About December 1, perhaps I heard their raucous cries cutting through the dark of night. Four or five days later on Fairhaven pond, I saw a pair of white birds so big that they couldn’t have been gulls. December 10 the evidence was incontrovertible: a pair flapping over the pond, a couple pair more paddling through the water, skirting the skin of ice.
    That’s modern swan time; used to be they’d arrive reliably for Veterans Day, just as the osprey arrive reliably for St. Patrick’s Day.
    Tundra swans are creatures of cold weather, but the freeze in their Canadian nesting grounds sends them south in search of food. They come as families, parents and a cygnet or two, only four months old and making this two-month flight of thousands of miles from above the Arctic Circle. The big birds fly at about 50mph; they follow the freeze south through Canada, feeling along the way.
    The Chesapeake is a historic wintering spot, and they’ll stay with us from now until earliest spring. So you’ve lots of opportunity to meet them.
    See their loose Vs passing overhead, hear their bark and spy the huge birds close up as small flocks float on Bay marsh ponds and coves, long necks stretched to the muddy bottoms to harvest grasses, clams and other small mollusks. Long-distance flying is hard, hungry work, so it may take a while before those elegant, long necks rise to show you the species-signature black beak.

When you think about it, a homemade Christmas cookie is quite the thing

As a taste treat, it’s hard to complain about an Oreo. Still, you’ll find in these pages reason after reason why store-bought cookies — even Oreos — can’t compare with homemade. Especially at Christmas, which is for cookies what Thanksgiving is for pumpkin pie and Hanukkah is for latkes.
    Taking advantage of that season — and under the influence of my fondness for Christmas cookies — we’ve made this issue the Bay Weekly Cookie Exchange. Just as in a person-to-person cookie exchange, it brings you into the good company of a friendly gathering of Chesapeake Country bakers sharing their cookie traditions, memories and recipes.
    For each of us, Christmas cookies come with memories. If you come from a baking family, you surely have yours. Over the years, your memories grow into stories.
    Those stories enrich our cookie exchange. Reading them is almost as satisfying as tasting the cookie.
    Stretching from a spring boat trip as a child in Texas to gather the fruit for jelly-making to the Christmas baking to gift-giving, the story of Linda Davis’ Mayhaw Thumbprint Cookies is the essence of this season.
    John Janosky’s memories, and cookies, come from Poland. Audrey Broomfield’s Buttergebäck are German. My girlhood cookies, baked by my mother’s friend Margaret, were Sicilian. Where we come from is another part of the story that lives on in our Christmas cookie traditions.
    Your memories are an ingredient — maybe the butter — in who you are. Sharing them, like giving a tin of homemade cookies, extends your family circle to include us lucky recipients.
    Love is another ingredient baked into homemade cookies. Maybe it’s the sugar.
    “I bake to show people I care,” Marion Graham told us for this story.
    Words like those make cookie sharing downright philosophical, one person reaching out to another in the intimate connection theologian Martin Buber described as the I-Thou relationship. Plus, cookies taste good.
    Ingredients are another distinction.
    “I don’t like artificial ingredients,” Marion tells us, “so I bake cookies from scratch and try to make them healthier.”
    Healthier for her means oatmeal, the substitution of egg whites for whole eggs and adding Sugar in the Raw into the mix.
    Whole wheat pastry flour is another step to healthier cookies, as are honey, molasses and, in a couple of recipes I use, olive oil instead of butter. Strange as that may seem, the cookies are delicious.
    Local ingredients from neighborhood chickens and regional cows and wheat fields are another way that at home we can bake a philosophy of living into our cookies.
    Are those reasons enough? They are for me. It’s time for me to get home and bake the spice cookies, made with olive oil, that have been chilling in the fridge. My husband is looking forward to eating some tonight.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Once upon a time …

Step into the ancient Chesapeake, and you could have become a crocodile’s dinner. So it’s a good thing all those crocodiles were creature of the Miocene epoch (23 to five million years ago), gone long before Homo sapiens discovered the modern Chesapeake.
    Their remains, however, are still here, along the Calvert Cliffs, as well as in coastal states down to Florida.
    There avid fossil collector George Klein, of Chapel Hill, NC, got to know these ancient crocodiles, called ­Thecachampsa, whose length may have approached 30 feet. He’s gotten to know them in such detail — down to each of the 19 bones that compose their skulls, excluding the lower jaw — that he’s published a book on the beasts and their comparison to living American alligators.
    His book, published in digital and hard copies by Calvert Marine Museum, is of necessity skeletal, as bony fossils are all our two species of large crocodiles — Thecachampsa sericodon and Thecachampsa antiquus — left behind. Skeletal Anatomy of Alligator and Comparison with Thecachampsa is the kind of book you’d read as a fossil collector seeking to identify your finds.
    “I expect that this work will inspire on several fronts and further our understanding of extinct alligators and crocodiles by bringing new finds to light,” says Dr. Stephen Godfrey, curator of paleontology at the museum — and sponsor of its Fossil Club.
    That’s where you’d go to get to know crocodiles, great white sharks and many other ancient denizens of the oceanic pre-Chesapeake. You’d also meet human enthusiasts near and far as the club works with fossil collectors all over the world to advance the field of paleontology and grow the museum’s collection.
    Or you could wait a while and maybe see the real thing.
    “Although crocodilians have not inhabited northeastern North America in several million years, as global climates warm,” writes Godfrey, “perhaps they will someday re-inhabit coastal Maryland.”
    Take a look at all that remains of Thecachampsa at www.calvertmarinemuseum.com/276/CMM-Publications.

Could that be the season’s best gift?

Help! I shouted as the tide of all I had to do threatened to overwhelm me.
    My to-do list is so long that I expect it to outlive me. That’s the way it is in my family. My mother never forgave her third husband, John Allison, for dying — with dirt on his hands — before he’d finished planting her rose bed, leaving her in burgeoning spring with a legacy of chores undone. Any new season piles more on the list, none more than this holiday season.
    What I really want for Christmas, I said to myself, is someone who loves me enough to give me a couple of hours help.
    Then I heard the retort of the nail gun my home-improver par excellence was deploying to lay my new wood floor. And up the stairs came my husband, serving as errand boy, with another load of wood. As they worked, my job — removing carpet tacks and nail strips — shrunk to proper size.
    Comfortable as self-pity occasionally feels, it is not a woe I deserve. In managing my home and in doing my newspaper business, I have people I can rely on.
    For at Bay Weekly, as at home, the work is endless. Like a hungry family, Bay Weekly barely digests one meal before it needs another. I’d never manage even my part — just the writing and editing — by myself.
    Nor do I have to. 2016 is no different from 2006 … or 1996 … or 1993. In every one of our 23 years, good people have stepped up to help. Writers continue to find such satisfaction in making stories — and in all the learning this craft takes — that they write for love, certainly more than for wages.
    In all the other jobs it takes to make a paper, that run of good fortune continues. Sales people step up to keep us going, convinced — and convincing buyers — that advertising in Bay Weekly helps a business thrive. Drivers keep their routes for decades, bringing each new edition of Bay Weekly to just the spot you expect to find it.
    If anybody deserves self-pity, it’s Betsy Kehne, who’s done her job unassisted for most of her two decades as Bay Weekly’s production manager. And general manager Alex Knoll, who ought to be an inch or two shorter after carrying it all on his shoulders these many years.
    Not me. I am a woman fortunate in people on whom I can depend.
    Not everybody has the luck of people they can call on to join in seeing their projects through.
    That’s why I want to spend a few words in this gift-giving issue on Partners in Care, a helping organization unique to Maryland. In four regions, including Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, it’s the place to turn when you need a little help but don’t know who to ask.
    Partners in Care (www.partnersincare.org) is an exchange community. Members exchange services — rides, errands, chores both heavy and light, professional services like tax advice and grant writing, even friendly visits or a game of Scrabble. Amazingly, there’s no cost but participation in whatever way you can.
    “Our expectation is that each member will contribute time (volunteer), talent or treasure (money),” says Barbara Huston Partners in Care founder.
    Gently used clothing and household items are resold at Partners in Care’s Upscale Resale Boutique at 6 South Ritchie Highway, Pasadena. That’s where Patricia Caldwell, who you’ll meet in All I Want for Christmas, volunteers. Sales and monetary donations support all Partners in Care programs.
    Age complicates both managing your own to-do list and finding helpers. So many people needing help are older. Members are 50 and older, with volunteers of any age welcome. Often families join together. In 2015, for example, Partners in Care exchanged more than 500 services each week.
    Partners in Care Anne Arundel’s Linda Dennis talks to Southern Anne Arundel residents hoping to age at home Sunday, December 11 at 1:30pm at Captain Avery Museum. You’re welcome to learn more.
    Beyond Partners in Care, you may decide, as you seek to please people you love with gifts this holiday season, that help may be the gift they’ll most appreciate.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

How Chesapeake Country turns winter from darkness into fun

This season of year, we count on divine intervention to brighten the sun, warm up the days and fertilize the earth. But to assure that the powers that be — the good hand of God or the harmony of the spheres — know we’re paying attention, we pile on human intervention.
    We fire up our lights to combat the darkness.
    We strike up the bands to both cheer ourselves and knock on heaven’s door.
    We feast, give gifts and play out stories that remind us of our good intentions.
    Our contrivances get pretty elaborate as, over the years, we refine them into traditions on which we come to depend.
    These are our winter pageants.
    This issue, Bay Weekly writers report on pageants to which they’re tied by sentiment or amazement.
    Jim Reiter, for one, acts out his love of theater in more ways than one. You know his Bay Weekly play reviews. You may not recognize him as an oft-disguised character — or behind-the-scenes director — in Colonial Players’ productions. This week, he tells you what it’s like to look out on the audience as a character in Colonial’s 35-year homegrown tradition, A Christmas Carol.
    Reporting on another theatrical tradition, staff writer Kathy Knotts tell how Twin Beach Players’ The Best Christmas Pageant Ever turned her doubting sons into theater lovers.
    Music inspires writer Louise Vest, who reports on the friendly competition between Annapolis’ two Messiah productions: those of the U.S. Naval Academy’s and the Annapolis Chorale’s.
    For the secret behind another musical phenomenon, how a 10-story-high Christmas tree bursts into song, read Victoria Clarkson on Riverdale Baptist Church’s Living Christmas Tree.
    For holiday gifts that give twice, Kathy Knotts directs you to the ALS Artisan Boutique, which may be the oldest show around featuring locally made gifts and which, in its 14 years, has raised more than $300,000 to fight ALS, all in memory of one of its victims, Nancy Wright.
    Of course we don’t leave out the lights, for they are the force field we set up to draw the sun back to our side. In Chesapeake Country’s enthusiastic wave of brightness, homes, boats, parks, gardens and whole towns glow in lights. In this issue you’ll read how five hotspots do it.
    We want to leave room for you. Write your own appreciation (100 to 300 words) for publication in one of our next issues: editor@bayweekly.com.
    For now, read with pleasure and book the date you’ll see, hear and delight in these spectacles first-hand.
    Remind yourself, as you enjoy them, that each sound and sight sprang from the imaginations, hands and voices of your Chesapeake neighbors, responding as we all do to the deep and ancient urgings to lighten winter’s long night.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Santa down the chimney, pests at the door

To give Santa a friendly welcome, have your chimney swept before he slides down on Christmas Eve.
    Other seasonal visitors to your home are likely to evoke less hospitable greetings. For as the chill comes on, creatures come in. Mice, for example. And the creatures that like to eat mice.
    There’s not much you can do to keep out a determined mouse. Mice can squeeze through the smallest of openings, gaps you never imagined and will likely never find. They’ll be happily active in the warmth of your home and will likely set up housekeeping before you notice them. Even if one doesn’t run over your foot, there will be signs: chewed linens in tightly packed drawers and, alas, tiny mouse turds.
    How to get rid of them?
    If your cats are anything like mine, don’t depend on them. After no luck with live traps, we’ve had to resort to spring traps. The Bay Gardener advises baiting the trap with sunflower seeds attached with a drop of glue from a glue gun.
    Winged invaders are trying to get in, too.
    Stinkbugs are much reduced by cold winters since the memorable invasion of 2011, when they came by the thousands. They derive their name from the foul odor they release when squeezed. Mostly harmless — though they do bite — they are a determined nuisance.
    Box elder bugs are also out and wanting in this time of year. With red bodies and black wings, they’re a prettier bug than the stink bug. They get their name from their favorite food, the juices of the female box elder tree, which may be covered with the bugs in early summer. Now, they want warmth. But if they come in, they’ll most likely have given up the ghost before Santa’s arrival.

Spoiler alert: Don’t let the kids read this

Santa Claus is coming to town. Love him or hate him, he’s a fact.
    You’ll see him everywhere in the weeks ahead. If you shop at Westfield Annapolis Mall, you’ve been seeing him since the day after Veteran’s Day. With this issue, we acknowledge his inevitability. And we take a closer look at the man behind the snowy white beard.
    Santa is a man of many faces, writer Diana Dinsick tells us in this week’s feature story. Over many centuries, he’s traveled great distances — a speedy form of transportation is always part of his legend — changing with each destination to resemble the hopes and dreams of the people he visited.
    Woven into each culture’s bigger legend are our many personal stories of Santa. In looking back, I think maybe our Santa stories stay with us forever.
    My son was Santa deprived. That may account for a lot. For one thing, his children, now 15 and 16, are still believers. At least not deniers.
    “Do the kids still expect Santa?” I asked him as I contemplated my Christmas preparations.
    “They haven’t told me otherwise,” he said. “Which is pretty clever on their parts.”
    Indeed, for Santa and company are very generous to them.
    As Santa was to me.
    I was the only child of a very poor little girl, an immigrant daughter who truly found the proverbial lump of coal in her stocking. She and my father — who shared Santa’s build and liked to give gifts — did so well with their restaurant that Mother was able to give me, as she said, “everything I never had.” So Santa climbed down the chimney of our house with a very big bag of gifts.
    Yet from the chronology of photos of Sandra on Santa’s lap, I can tell that I was suspicious of that old man from the beginning. I loved the excitement of visiting Santa Land with my grandmother in our favorite department store, Famous Barr. I put out cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve. But I knew in my heart that my mother was behind all those gifts, and I must have wanted her to get the credit.
    I know what I was thinking when my son’s first Christmas came along. His father and I imagined ourselves conscientious new Catholics. We were so much smarter than our parents; certainly too smart to be tied to old traditions. So Santa Claus skipped our house (which didn’t have a chimney). Our son’s Christmas gifts were moderate, and all of them came from people who loved him.
    By the second child five years later, our house had a chimney and Santa Claus put us back on his route.    Many of our values had changed over those tumultuous years. But not all. I still wanted my children to connect the gifts they received to the labor and devotion of their parents. But I also wanted fun and fantasy, imagination and infinity of possibility in their lives.
    So we put out our shoes on St. Nicholas Day — or a few days later if I’d let December 6 get by me. We rushed to the tree on Christmas morning for a bigger load of presents from Santa Claus. If we could have claimed any Jewish traditions, we’d have celebrated Chanukah, too.
    As time goes by, I’ve even grown fond of pictures with Santa. I haven’t posed for any lately, but our dog Moe did. Both he and Santa were smiling.
    Once again, Santa Claus has come to town. Read his history, recounted by Diana Dinsick, to appreciate the generosity of his beginning, the scope of his influence and remember — if you can — how much he, and the reality of celestial flight by reindeer-drawn sled, once meant to you.


Calling All Cookie Bakers

    Bay Weekly’s Cookie Exchange is set for December 15. Now’s the time to send us your holiday cookie recipes and stories: editor@bayweekly.com.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com
Plus a life in stories: www.sandraolivettimartin.com

DNR considers protections from bowfishers

Like osprey, cownose rays have abandoned Chesapeake Country for warmer climates. But they’ll be back late spring, finning through our waters to eat, mate and give birth. Baby rays are born, not hatched like their marine cousins, the skates.
    Does their proliferation endanger the recovery of our native oyster, both in the wild and in aquaculture operations?
    That’s been their rep in recent years, for favorite ray foods are oysters and clams.
    “Bay watermen and oyster farmers contend the creatures are threatening their livelihoods,” Rona Kobell reports for the Bay Journal. “An oft-cited 2007 study in the prestigious journal Science said the Atlantic ray population had ballooned because of declines in sharks, their chief predators. In the Bay, hordes of rays were blamed for depleting Bay oysters.”
    How to control them?
    Rays aren’t a high prestige catch in the Chesapeake. Snagged on a line, they give anglers a good fight. But then what are you going to do with a ray? Neither ray nor skate does much as a food fish in America, though both are considered fine fare in France.
    Bowfishers, on the other hand, have made rays a prime target, with tournaments highly popular.
    So popular that, Kobell writes, “biologists have grown concerned about the impacts of such unlimited carnage, noting that rays produce one pup a year and are slow to mature.
    “In the spring of 2015, animal rights groups began filming the tournaments to publicize the slaughter of rays, attracting local television coverage. The groups also began to pressure the governors of both states to stop the tournaments.
    “Advocates for protecting rays gained support earlier this year, when a new study contradicted the 2007 one and found they are not to blame for declines in oyster populations.”
    Now the kite-shaped creatures may be getting a little love.
    “Maryland Department of Natural Resources last month notified fishing groups that it was considering declaring the cownose ray a species “in need of conservation” and setting some first-ever harvest limits to protect them,” Kobell writes. “Last week, DNR called — quietly — for public comment on whether to place a limited ban on the controversial staging of bowfishing tournaments to slaughter the rays.
    What will happen next? That’s a story in progress.

This bird is worth a trip to Easton

Winter anglers in Chesapeake Country, mergansers — common, red-breasted or hooded — are diving ducks that keep birdwatchers guessing as to where they’ll pop up after their last dive. They hunt in packs underwater, herding fish into their serrated bills.
    The hooded merganser that’s just moved onto the grounds of The Academy Art Museum in Easton is a bird of another kind. Standing 16 feet high, this bird will be doing no diving. But he will disappear as his sapling frame disintegrates in time and weather.
    The creation of Donna Dodson and Andy Moerlein, artists who call themselves the Myth Makers, is deliberately “ephemeral” and will return to nature in three to five years. It was finished November 5, constructed in about a week with the help of volunteers.
    Based in Boston, the Myth Makers have worked throughout America and around the world, creating monumental Avian Avatars in locations as diverse as on Broadway and Muskegon, Michigan. The merganser’s creation and the indoor exhibition of the artists’ works is sponsored in Easton by the Maryland State Arts Council, Talbot County Arts Council and the Star-Democrat, plus individuals and local businesses.
    Figuratively, the artists say their merganser represents a proud monument to independent thinking and bravery, in the spirit of Eastern Shore native Frederick Douglass, who said, “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”
    The mergansers will be there for a while; the Myth Makers’ other art only through February 26: ­academyartmuseum.org.

Four generations later, returning to a home they’ve never known

See a monarch this time of year, and you’re seeing an insect with superpowers. Passing through Chesapeake Country is the migrating fourth generation of the distinctive butterfly whose orange wings are patterned like leaded glass. The great-great grandchildren of last spring’s migrating monarchs, these featherweights are repeating the 3,000-mile journey to Mexico, flying on instinct.
    Leaving Chesapeake Country, these long-distance fliers funnel through Point Lookout, Maryland’s southernmost tip, before hopping over the 11-mile-wide mouth of the Potomac River, says Calvert County naturalist Andy Brown. Over the weekend of October 22 and 23, Brown netted and tagged 100 or so there.
    Thence, they continue inexorably southward.
    Their fuel for the long flight is autumnal nectar from such plants as goldenrod and wild aster. As they won’t be laying eggs for many months, they have no need of the milkweed that sustains larval monarchs.
    Before these endurance fliers become parents, they’ll have migrated to Mexico, overwintered in the Oyamel fir tree forests of the state of Michoacan, and flown north again. Their children will be born on the northward migration that will take three generations to complete. 2017’s fourth generation, like this year’s, will pupate perhaps as far north as Canada, perhaps as close as our own yards — if their parents found milkweed there.
    Remember these monarchs. Plant milkweed in your garden next spring to help the age-old fragile cycle ­continue.