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Articles by Sandra Olivetti Martin

Know where your oyster comes from — and howOysters in Season

Oysters are Maryland’s catch of the season. Oystermen and women are tonging, diving and dredging for Crassostrea virginica in a season that runs October 1 through March 31.
    Last year saw 393,588 bushels harvested with a dockside value of $17.3 million. “The second highest total in at least 15 years due to healthy oyster reproduction in 2010 and 2012,” according to DNR Secretary Mark Belton.
    Nowadays, however, the oysters we eat are increasingly coming from farms rather than wild harvest. Oyster aquaculturists lease sections of water and bottom, plant their own seed and, a couple of years later, harvest their own crop.
    Those oysters keep oyster eaters happy while wild oysters are nurturing a healthy Bay, filtering gallons of water and — given a chance — raising reefs where countless other creatures dwell.
    Ask where your oysters come from, and you’ll be doing good for the Bay.

Letters home from a new soldier, drafted to fight World War I

November 11 brings us once more to Veterans Day, our nation’s day of remembrance of all our veterans, living and dead. The 96-year-old commemoration began as Armistice Day, celebrating the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when soldiers of the Allied Forces and of Germany, the enemy, laid down their weapons.
    The war to end all wars began in Europe on July 28, 1914. The United States joined the conflict as an Associated Power on April 6, 1917, promptly drafting 2.8 million men. By the summer of 1918, 10,000 American soldiers a day were shipped to France to fight.
    One of those drafted was A.L. Dixon, an Illinois country man who described his experiences in regular letters to a schoolteacher in a tiny Illinois village. The teacher was Miss Cora Smith, my first cousin twice removed, whose papers have descended to me.
    Inspired by the Maryland archivists who I interviewed in anticipation of Saturday’s Family History Festival, I opened and read his long-forgotten letters, transcribing (as exactly as I could) one for you to read here.
    I suspect Dix, a sergeant in the Quartermaster Department, never reached France, for his letters continue from Louisville through April 17, 1919. What became of him I don’t know but shall have to discover.

December 13, 1917
Dear Friend:
    When you want to know how good homemade candy tastes, just join the army for the candy was sure good, a sergt” here stoled some of it and when I bawled him for it he said that I should be satisfied to know a girl that could make good candy.
    I know you have a hard time making out my writing and you know how hard I worked in school, gee — but we never thot them days that all of this war would spring up and get some of us shot.
    When anyone trys to tell you that Ky is a warm state you tell em that its all wrong for we have about one foot of snow here and some cold.
    Miss Cora I am making good here nowdays and I am acting Sergt” seems with good luck I will have my stripe some day but don’t tell this for one is never sure of a thing here and I may get fooled.
    I have had charge of the QMC wagon train for over three weeks am boss of 22 mules, 30 men & 25 wagons and you should see my head swell when I line these men up and yell ‘tention’ squadron right boys march, am such a bear on that & they can hear me all over the camp.
    Who is your best ever now days? and does ‘ma’ let him stay late on Sun night? The girls swarm this camp on Sundays but I stay clear of em some of them are kids and I sure would like to spank the ­little fools.
    We had a fine thanksgiving dinner here and I was invited to a home in Lville but I was on duty & missed out.
    Come down and I will take you to a show at our new theater its some play house and will seat 4,000 of us boys and we have the best of shows here, in this barracks we have lawyers – Drs – artist – school supts – and most any kind of trade but all are soldiers now, and we hear better singing here than at a show.
    Me thinks we will soon see France and I hope so, just to get this over with.
    I have taken out $500 insurance and Mother may find herself rich some day soon, sure was pleased the way old Calhoun [County] helpt us boys she is a good old Co that’s sure.
    Some how I have been afraid of you ever since you called me a 2 face and laughed at me when I took that hard fall at the barn gate remember how you laughed at me?
    Must go to work so please write until you get all the news to Camp T — and many thanks for the candy and good letter.

Friend Dix [A.L. Dixon]
Utilities Branch
QMC Dept.
Camp T, Ky

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

Is this “Reefer Madness”?

We’re looking forward to fields of marijuana amid the corn and soybeans in Southern Anne Arundel County.
    That’s one implication of the semiannual survey Anne Arundel County opinion just released by The Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College.
    Medical marijuana is riding a high, according to the survey, with 69 percent in favor of allowing its planting, processing and sale in Anne Arundel.
    Approval comes “with restrictions,” In survey wording, that position is “in keeping with the stance of some county council members but originally opposed by County Executive Steve Schuh.”
    State law newly allows medical marijuana, but Schuh wanted none of it for Anne Arundel. Now he’s said okay, under the council’s strict rules on marijuana as a crop and product.
    Farming and processing the leafy plant are targeted for South County, on operations of at least 10 acres that are guarded but don’t show lights at night.
    Under those rules, you don’t have to be smoking pot to imagine marijuana as Southern Maryland’s new tobacco.
    From colonial days, tobacco was Maryland’s cash crop. Until just a decade or so ago, farmers could make a good income off tobacco, though it took a lot of work that fewer people were willing to do. Now a tobacco field is a rarity.
    Tobacco was laid low after the federal government won an enormous settlement from the tobacco industry for hiding the health risks of smoking. Maryland used some of its share to buy out tobacco farmers; they had to promise never to grow the sot weed again.
    More settlement money was spent on finding new crops to replace tobacco. Broccoli, fancy greens, flowers and grapes were all candidates, but none as good as marijuana.
    Hemp, the cannabis kin of marijuana, is as old as the colonies. Colonizing nations wanted hemp for cloth, thread and rope and required its cultivation. Nation-builder Thomas Jefferson preferred it to soil-depleting tobacco because hemp took less and gave back more, including cattle feed.
    As a specialized hemp product, medical marijuana will take more cultivated growing conditions than hemp grown for fiber and fodder. But both like soil rich in organic matter, so our soils stand to benefit, along with our farmers.
    From farmer to people in pain, marijuana has a broad future with us. Like hemp, it has policy and politicians on its side. That assures a series of open doors. Broccoli, even grapes, were never so lucky.
    Production and sales rules are written into the law, and mostly expressed in the negative. Marijuana dispensaries may not be located closer than one mile apart, for example, and window and counter displays will not be allowed. Look at the other side and you see invitations to an industry, even to special exception zoning.
    Before long, I bet there’ll even be agricultural advice centers teaching best management practices to marijuana farmers. Processing the crop for best medical consumption is a developing science — and art.
    Americans are more favorable than ever before to legalizing marijuana for fun.
    In 2012, Colorado and Washington State made pot legal. Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., followed.
    By 2013, 58 percent of Gallup’s national survey told pollsters that marijuana should be no crime. That number held steady in this month’s Gallup Poll, conducted October 21.

The Anne Arundel County Public Opinion Survey
    In its 20th year, the survey is a project for college students, who learn survey techniques and analysis. Conducting the study is the Center for the Study of Local Issues, headed by Dan Nataf. This year, 589 county residents 18 and older were surveyed by evening phone calls to landlines and cells, with an online panel also contributing.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

Prepare to be scared

What’s the scardest you’ve ever been?    
    Our bio-clocks tick in bodies built of ancient stuff, with primal alarms still set. Autumn’s fading light sets off those alarms big time. Three hours had drained from our days between the 15 hours of the Summer Solstice, June 21, and the 12 hours of the Autumnal Equinox on September 23. Soon after Halloween, the night of the spirits, our daylight hours have shrunk to 10, with worse to come. By the Winter Solstice, December 21, we have light for a mere nine hours.
    In so much darkness, the underworld rises into touching distance. Who knows what might rise out of all that darkness? We know in our dreams — and in our archetypes — and we fear.
    The living dead used to be the worst we could imagine — before B-movies brought them into the mainstream. Are zombies, vampires, ghouls and ghosts scarier than real life? That’s the question I posed to Bay Weekly writers this Halloween season.
    To chill and thrill our readers, I challenged, tell us your stories of sheer terror rising from real life. I bet you’ve hidden just such a story deep in the vaults of your chamber of repressed fright. Now’s the time to bring the reclusive little monster up into the light.
    Read on and prepare to be scared …
    For most of us love to be scared, at least a little, especially if we’re watching from at a safe distance as the sticky hands of dread take hold of somebody else’s neck.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

Young-of-the year index way up

Fish are jumping on Chesapeake Bay. The thousands too small to take home are good news for the future of rockfishing. In this year’s survey, juvenile striped bass approximately doubled the long-term average, 11.9. This year’s index found an average of 24.2 juvenile fish per sample. That’s the eighth highest on record, according to Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which has conducted and analyzed samples since 1954.
    From that good news, you can extrapolate a couple of cheering messages. First, the big rockfish that returned from the ocean to the Bay this spring spawned successfully. Second, according to DNR Secretary Mark Belton, “striped bass are a very resilient species when given favorable environmental conditions for reproduction and survival.”
    Third, rockfishing should be good a few years hence.
    This year’s sampling collected more than 70,000 fish of 50 different species, including 3,194 young-of-year striped bass in 132 sweeps of a 100-foot beach seine at 22 sites along the Choptank, Potomac and Nanticoke rivers and the Upper Bay. Biologists visit each site monthly from July through September to collect samples.
    American shad, white perch and herring reproduction was also strong.

Follow the one to the other and you’ll be surprised at all you see

The coming of the U.S. boat shows to Annapolis each October turns our thoughts toward the water. For all that’s new — and some that’s old — in boats and everything yet imagined to support the boating lifestyle, you go to the shows. In Bay Weekly’s pages, we support that lifestyle with reflections on the meeting points of people, boats and water.
    Last week, as the U.S. Sailboat Show flourished, sailor-writer Al McKegg took us to sea and back home again in his story about life’s turning points. This week, October 15 through 18, the U.S. Powerboat Show takes the stage at City Dock and powerboats fill our pages.
    This week’s feature story was born from reflections on my own boating experience, which began smack in the middle of the Short, Fast History of Powerboating, as I learned from Richard Dodds, Maritime History Curator at Calvert Marine Museum.
    “Modern boating has its origins,” he told me, “when people thought they could do anything: in the early 20th century’s energy, inventiveness and optimism.”
    The key? The internal combustion engine.
    Learn more in our Bay Weekly Conversation, starting on page 8.
    From there we visit a couple of powerboat extremes. One is the USS Calvert, whose ancient mariners reunited this month to visit Calvert County, their ship’s namesake, and Sparrows Point in Baltimore, the shipyard where it was born. The other is the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, which last month broke its way through arctic ice to the North Pole.
    In this week’s Sporting Life, columnist and extreme fisherman Dennis Doyle recounts the pleasures and possibilities of fooling around in small boats. Chesapeake Country, he writes, is “one of our nation’s largest maritime playgrounds.” A small boat — his own is 17 feet — with an outboard power, “will get just about any adventure underway from a crabbing excursion to sightseeing, bird watching, visiting waterfront restaurants, catching a rockfish or filling a cooler with perch and spot.”
    All those, I agree, are very fine pleasures. Last night’s dinner at the Martin-Lambrecht home was a tasty rockfish caught that very morning in a boat a bit longer but with no outboard motor. Our hour-long kayak paddle rewarded us with many of Doyle’s list of pleasures, bird watching prime among them. For gulls and terns had led us to the fish, with the many hungry six- or seven-inch-long rockfish that took our flies giving us first-hand experience of Maryland Department of Natural Resources survey conclusion reported in these pages: many baby rockfish were born this year.
    We saw other birds as well: kingfishers, mallards, egrets, one heron and a pair of fishing bald eagles.
    Sightseeing was spectacular. The 360-degree view you get out on the water puts you and life’s concerns in perspective. Simply put, the world is a lot bigger and richer than it seems from the inside. Take the long view, and you get the sky’s thrilling moving picture, all the richer because it encompasses all our senses. Take the short view, and you begin to see that water is a multi-hued triple exposure of itself, sky and land.
    It was all so pretty it could have been a picture. Here we were for this hour, living the timeless unity of people, boats and water to which impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte had opened our eyes at the National Gallery of Art on this October’s first rainy weekend.
    You don’t need a boat — or a great painting — to see like that. But both help.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

What’s in your suitcase?

Twenty seahorses do not belong in your suitcase. Which led to trouble last month for a Vietnamese traveler arriving at Dulles International Airport.
    All 20 live seahorses, found in a routine baggage check by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, were seized. Had the seahorse collector possessed only four, she could have kept them: The baggage limit is four seahorses.
    Because of over-harvesting for aquarium trade and medical research, seahorses are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. From 1990 to 1995, the world’s estimated seahorse population declined by half. Asian waters are the most popular for seahorse harvesting.
    Of some 50 species that inhabit shallow, warm waters around the world, the Chesapeake is year-round home to one, the lined seahorse, with populations extending as far north as Calvert County. Lined seahorses, like many other seahorse species, mate for life. So if you see one, perhaps clinging to your crabpot, put it back. Not in your aquarium — or your suitcase.

October is fickle; take your fun on the first fair day

For the sake of fair weather for the rest of October, I hope you’ll join me in prayer, rain dance, even in singing Sting’s Heavy Cloud No Rain — whatever your preference. It’s not for my sake I ask; I’m fine with wind, rain and fog. I’m asking for all the folks whose outdoors fun and festivities were rained on, rained out or blown away. Cancellation notices flooded October’s first weekend, dampening plans and spirits.
    Who wants to go on a hayride on sodden bales and slippery trails? Take a roll in a cornbox disguised as a wading pool? Get all wet in a maze of dripping corn? Faced with such prospects, Ecoasis, Greenstreet Gardens, Homestead Gardens and Knightongale Farm shut down fall festivals that had been months in the works — but are only fun when the sun shines.
    Ecoasis has moved its one-weekend-only Apple and Pumpkin Festival to October 17 and 18. Other festivals have more tries for good weather: Homestead’s Fall Festival continues through October 25; Greenstreet Gardens and Knightongale Farm keep going through November 1.
    Annmarie Garden’s first Saturday Makers Market and the Annapolis First Sunday West Street Arts Festival, both cancelled last weekend, hope for better weather come November. As does Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, which folded its 30th Anniversary Celebration and Concert and plans only a “scaled-down” celebration November 7.
    Hope springs eternal, but is it well founded?
    October is potentially pretty close to the sweetest month in the Chesapeake calendar — except when it rains like the dickens. Three decades of experience with Chesapeake have taught me that one October weekend is sure to preview winter’s chill. Uncertainty is the best we can plan for as this 10th month falls right smack in the middle of the Annapolis rain graph: the sixth most (or least) rainiest, according to
    Why then does the biggest festival in Chesapeake Country, the U.S. Boat Shows, come to Annapolis every October?
    “October is when new boats debut,” the Boat Shows founder Ed Hartman told Bay Weekly. “If you want to order a new boat for the spring, October is the time to do it.” Plus, summer heat would make the tents and the insides of the boats insufferable.
    Fickle as October is, Hartman says in his 46-year memory it has given the Boat Shows “close calls, but no real weather problems.”
    In other words, the shows went on despite all ­October had on offer, including:
    • Several hurricane threats, though all have veered off as Joaquin did;
    • Days with rain, and show-goers in foul-weather gear with umbrellas, but never a washout;
    • A few days of water so high boots were in order;
    • One day in the 1980s brought snow flurries.
    Showers are predicted for the Sailboat Show Friday and Saturday.
    If fall fun is on your calendar, and I sure hope it is, your best bet is to follow the age-old practice of farmers to make hay while the sun shines. Take your fun on the first fair day.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher;

Butterflies release commemorates life

“The butterfly is a symbol of how lives change and are transformed,” said Calvert Hospice’s Linzy Laughhunn as he set free one of 72 monarchs during a celebration of life ceremony at Chesapeake Highland Memorial Gardens in Port Republic.
    Chesapeake Highland Memorial Gardens are surrounded by open land where the released monarchs will find milkweed on which to lay their eggs and for nectar as they prepare for their epic migration to Mexico.
    The commemorative monarchs are shipped overnight in a dormant state from Fragrant Acres Butterfly Farm in Chickamauga, GA, ( and brought to normal temperature about an hour before release.

Milkweed nurtures monarch caterpillars

Plant milkweed, we’re told, and monarch butterflies will come. It’s true. My milkweed is crawling with caterpillars.
    Only one or two of the orange-winged monarchs alighted on this little grove of milkweed when I was watching. I saw no egg-laying or tiny eggs on the undersides of the spearhead-shaped leaves. Only when I noticed the sorry state of the patch did I see caterpillars. Clippers in hand, I had cut a branch when a horned head poked out at me.
    A half-dozen yellow-white-and-black-striped caterpillars were devouring the milkweed, reducing it to stems.
    A week later, the population had risen to a dozen and a half two-plus-inch-long hungry caterpillars.
    Clearly, a lot was going on when I wasn’t looking.
    Any day now, big change is coming. After a couple weeks of voracious eating, the monarch caterpillar hooks itself to a leaf and shimmies into its homemade silk chrysalis. Inside, the caterpillar metamorphoses, emerging in about 10 days as a gorgeously winged monarch.
    Those butterflies will drink the nectar of other plants in my butterfly garden — Joe Pye weed, ironweed, boneset, black-eyed Susans, purple coneflower and more — before heading south and west in the later stages of a journey whose map they inherit.
    The annual pre-winter migration from Canada to Mexico takes four generations, each lasting roughly six weeks.
    This generation of monarchs must be rising all over Chesapeake Country, as my butterfly garden was part of a widespread campaign to bolster the species. Two dozen neighbors planted their own gardens, and our Fairhaven effort joined many more throughout the region and the nation, all part of the Monarch Watch Waystation Program.
    Keep your eyes open! On the wing, new life should soon be invigorating this threatened, far-traveling species.