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An Indian family spices up French haute cuisine

     Kadam family life is built around food. In India, young Hassan learns how to taste and create unique flavors from his mother, an intuitive cook. When a riot leads to her death and the destruction of their restaurant, the family decides to try their luck in Europe.
    When the family car breaks down in a remote French village, Fearless Patriarch (Om Puri: Welcome Back) sees not tragedy but fate. He spends the family’s savings on a broken-down building that he deems perfect for an Indian restaurant. The family is confident that their gifted Hassan (Manish Dayal: California Scheming) can convert French villagers to Indian cuisine.
    Their enterprise stands only a hundred feet from a famed restaurant with a coveted Michelin star. Its proprietor, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren: Red 2), doesn’t like competition.
    She bristles at the Kadam family’s music, gripes at their colorful decorations and sneers at what she deems “ethnic food.” Soon the Kadams and Mme. Mallory are locked in culinary war.
    The Hundred-Foot Journey is a cinematic meringue: Light, sweet and without much substance. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this serving doesn’t make for a very memorable cinema experience. Director Lasse Hallstrom (Safe Haven) has made a name directing fluffy romances and family dramas. This sweetly predictable fish-out-of-water tale stays close to what he knows. You know immediately how the story will end and which characters will be paired up before the credits roll. Issues like racism, death and classism are touched only briefly. This is a movie about pretty people making attractive food and finding equally comely life partners.
    On the plus side, Hallstrom’s cinematography is beyond compare. He lovingly captures the creamy peaks of a perfect hollandaise sauce and the bright colors of a chicken tikka, making food a sumptuous, nearly sensual, experience. A bag of popcorn and a soda will be a disappointment during this two hours of exotic, delectable cooking.
    Though there’s not much flavor to the story, actors work hard to imbue their characters with charm and charisma. Mirren does an excellent Maggie Smith impression as a stuffy patrician who learns to open her heart. Veteran Bollywood actor Puri gives dignity and kindness to what could be a horribly stereotypical role.
    The real find is Manish Dayal. His Hassan is naïve yet confident in his own abilities, a sympathetic character you hope succeeds.
Fair Drama/Great Cooking • PG • 122 mins.

 

The very thirsty Silvery Checkerspot

     After being tethered and tightly wrapped since last autumn, checkerspots in the garden are like tiki bar openers, brightly dressed and very thirsty.
    I see the silvery checkerspot,  Charidryas nycteis, feeding in groups at everything: bee balm, summer phlox, Shasta daisies — blooming or not, even experimenting with the artificial woodgrain of vinyl siding on our house.
    Larvae feed on turtlehead, both Chelone glabra (white) and lyonii (pink). Turtlehead requires constant moisture, so populations of checkerspots tend to wet meadows.
    Checkers feed summer and fall, then lay eggs in clusters. The eggs hatch and partially develop as pupae, then hang suspended, literally and figuratively, in brown-speckled white cases over the winter. This period of suspended growth is called diapause, a useful tactic to survive inhospitable seasons whether cold or long and dry. Warm weather triggers full development and liberation.
    Silvery’s larger cousin is the ­Baltimore Checkerspot, Maryland’s official state butterfly, a rarer sight.

Always look on the bright si-ide of life …
 

     There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who get Monty Python, and those who don’t. The dividing chasm is willingness to accept silliness. Python’s humor is physical (Google Silly Walk), yet it has an underlying winking, silly intelligence that the don’t-gets … well, don’t get.
    Fortunately for Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, the opening night audience for Monty Python’s Spamalot was filled mostly with gets. Based largely on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail — but borrowing from plenty of other Python hits — the Mike Nichols-directed Spamalot premiered on Broadway in 2005 and won three Tonys, including Best Musical. Some of the humor that is directly aimed at a Broadway audience full of Python fanatics fell a little flat in Annapolis (case in point: the Mel Brooks-ish “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway … if you don’t have any Jews”). Some noticeable opening night tentativeness between orchestra and chorus will tighten up over the five-week run. But this is already a delightful production creatively directed by Jeffrey Lesniak and highlighted by stellar individual performances.
    Even if you haven’t seen the movie (and by all means, do, it’s timeless!), you’re in for a silly good time.
    As some Broadway musicals use a thin plot to string together strong songs, Spamalot uses its thin plot — Arthur and his knights searching for the Holy Grail — to string together classic Python comedy bits and a few songs. The songs are meant as much to skewer Broadway musicals as to push along said plot. Python founder and writer Eric Idle wrote the lyrics and book. A parody of Arthurian times, Spamalot revolves around King Arthur (a droll Ruben Vellekoop) and his knights of the “very round” table. The knights are the stars of this show.
    Each plays several roles with comic timing and delivery — not to mention the various speaking and singing voices — all spot on. Standing out in the voice department is David Merrill, whose Sir (Dennis) Galahad gets things moving with a hilarious diatribe about the woes of the working class. He then joins the Lady of the Lake (Alice Goldberg) for a satirical yet lyrical jab at formulaic Broadway called “The Song That Goes Like This.” Merrill’s tenor is a treat. Later he shines as the famed Black Knight, insisting “it’s just a flesh wound” after losing his limbs to his challenger. He reappears as Prince Herbert’s overbearing father, getting into a hilarious back and forth with two guards who can’t quite grasp the concept of “stay here.”
    The other knights — Sir Robin (Fred Fletcher-Jackson), Sir Lancelot (Joshua Mooney) and Sir Bedevere (DJ Wojciehowski) — each contribute several comedic turns. Notable is Mooney as the French Taunter (“I fart in your general direction!”), the Knight of Ni and, of course, Lancelot, whose sexuality is confirmed for him by the singers of “His Name Is Lancelot’ (“he likes to dance a lot; he wears tight pants a lot”). Other standouts: a very funny Steven Baird as Patsy, the king’s dedicated coconut-clopping sound effects toadie; and Austin Heemstra, who narrates things as the historian and gets his own laughs as Not Dead Fred, the Minstrel and Prince Herbert.
    In addition to the very effective duet with Merrill on “The Song That Goes Like This,” Goldberg’s Lady of the Lake takes another shot at Broadway tunes when she returns to the stage in “The Diva’s Lament” (“whatever happened to my part? It was exciting at the start …”).
    Perhaps the most famous Python song of them all, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” opens Act II (and returns very effectively after the curtain call) exclaiming “When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle.” Originally sung in Life of Brian by a chorus of the crucified, it works, very well, here.
    Also working very well is the multi-level castle set by Dan Lavanga and the wide variety of colorful costumes by Linda Swann. Only God and Eric Idle (one and the same in this show) know what was going on behind the scenes during those quick changes.
    Don’t think that because Spamalot runs through August 31 you can just gallop on over and secure a seat. Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has a hit in this one, so the Holy Grail around Annapolis this month may be securing two tickets, not one chalice.


Music director: Steve Przybyiski. Choreographer: Rikki Howie Lacewell. Stage manager: John Nunemaker. Lighting designer: Matt Tillett. Sound designer: Dan Caughran. About 2 hours and 15 minutes including intermission.

Playing thru Aug. 31: Th-Su 8:30pm at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. $20; rsvp: 410-268-9212;
www.summergarden.com.

How to stop the Japanese beetles that cause the problem

     If you have brown patches in your lawn, I expect the cause is Japanese beetle grubs eating the roots of the grasses. Japanese beetles are out in full force, feasting on roses, linden trees and other favorite ornamentals, as well as puncturing and eating peaches, raspberries, blackberries and plums. Soon those same beetles will be landing on your lawn and depositing eggs in the earth. When those eggs hatch, hungry young larvae will begin feeding until fall when the soil cools and they burrow deeper in to survive the winter. Next spring those same larvae will crawl up closer to the roots of your lawn and resume feeding until they pupate and emerge as adults. The larvae are light gray with brown heads and curl into the letter C when disturbed.
    The brown patches you are now seeing are from last year’s larvae that survived the winter.
    Back when we lived in College Park, we did not have Japanese beetles. That’s because College Park was ground zero for the research that resulted in the development of the milky spore system of Japanese grub control. The developer was Dr. George Langford, chairman of the Department of Entomology. To test the effectiveness of the system, in the mid-1950s he treated all of the lawns within the city limits. A single treatment was highly effective.
    When Clara and I moved to Deale in 1990, the lawn was full of mole tunnels. Moles love to feast on. Realizing the mole problem was due to a large infestation of Japanese beetle grubs, I treated the entire lawn with milky spore powder the summer of 1991. It took three years before I had 100 percent control. I have never had to repeat the treatment. Japanese beetles are flying around and feasting on our little leaf linden, and they are laying eggs in my lawn, but the milky spore is digesting the larvae as they hatch. The milky spore system of control is self-supporting once it becomes well established. It has now been almost a quarter century since I first used milky spore, and I no longer have moles tunneling nor dead brown spots in my lawn.
    True, there are insecticides you can spread on your lawn that will kill the grub, but these insecticides have to be redone yearly. The use of them on lawns can also contribute to the pollution of the Bay. If you live near the Bay or its tributaries, do not use these insecticides; to be effective, they must be applied over the entire lawn.
    Milky spore is available in two forms, powder or granular. The powdered form is measured using one-quarter teaspoon at three-foot intervals. The granular form is applied using a spreader. One bag of granular milky spore will cover approximately 7,000 square feet. Milky spore must be thoroughly and promptly soaked into the soil soon after being applied. Applying it just before a predicted heavy rain is best unless you have an in-ground sprinkler system that covers the entire lawn.
    Milky spore can be used in the spring, summer or fall, but now is the best time because this is when the Japanese beetles are laying their eggs.
    Milky spore is a good, safe and effective grub control system, but it cannot be used in conjunction with any of the other harsh insecticides recommended for grub control. Having Japanese beetles laying eggs in your lawn every year keeps the milky spore population alive and well.

Live-line a spot

     We started our drift with just a touch of worry. The tide was falling faster and the wind, in the same direction at about 12 knots, was pushing up some uncomfortable waves. Hooking one of our few bait spot just in front of its dorsal fin and dropping it over the side, I was not confident.
    “I’m not sure this is going to work out,” I said to my buddy Moe. “That’s one of the joys of no Plan B,” he answered. “Keeps things simple. If it doesn’t, we go home.”
    By dropping the motor into reverse from time to time, we slowed the drift and kept our baits reasonably close to the boat. Monitoring our fish finder, I called out the occasional marks as they passed under us. We stuck with this routine for an hour with no success.
    “Looks like they stopped eating, ” I said.
    We had gotten two fish in the mid-20s earlier in the day. Then nothing. Until the fish finder screen lit up with a solid mass of hard arches from five feet down all the way to the bottom, some 20 feet below.
    “Get ready,” I warned. “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen now.”
    At once, something took my bait and moved off.
    “Got a run,” I said.
    “Me too,” Moe replied.
    A few seconds later, I put my reel into gear. When the line came tight, I set the hook. My rod bent over down to the corks, and line peeled out. I heard my friend grunt up in the bow and out of the corner of my eye I saw him struggling with a hard-pulling fish.

Live-Lining: August’s Best Bet
    Right now, live-lining spot is one of the deadliest methods on the Chesapeake to seduce big rockfish onto your hook. The better fish are still mostly holding in small schools in open water cruising for baitfish, making conditions ideal for dropping a live spot down into their midst.
    Getting the bait is the biggest problem. The most desirable Norfolk spot — from three to five inches — are scarce. Perhaps last year’s fingerlings, which would be the proper size right now, were victims of our hard winter. Or perhaps it was just a disastrous spawn in 2013. For whatever reason, right-sized baits have been hard to catch this season.
    Lucky for me, the sports store where I work part-time has a consistent supply, and I have taken full advantage. But this morning when we swung by on the way to Sandy Point at 7am, they were almost all gone. We only managed to score a few.

Don’t Count Your Fish until It’s Boated
    It took five long and intense minutes until I had one big beautiful striper showing on the surface some 10 feet away. I reached for the net. The fish, however, took one last hard run — and the hook pulled. I watched that heavyweight vanish back into the depths.
    Soon Moe’s fish was alongside, and I did get that one in the net. It measured over 34 inches, fat and healthy, the virtual twin of the fish I had just lost. We ran back up current and dropped again over the school, managing a 32-inch prize into the boat. That limited us out for the day, and just in time. We were out of spot.
 

While you’re at play, Bay Weekly is minding Chesapeake Country

    Hello out there?    
    With everybody from the president to the financial planner on vacation, I considered printing this week’s paper in invisible ink in hopes of convincing you the stories were right below your eyes if you had the right stuff — lemon juice or infrared light — to see them. That idea fell to our watchful puzzlers, who showed me my ruse would be caught. Since last Thursday, call after note has come in admonishing us for printing clues that — for all the shoehorning in the world — won’t fit into the spaces provided with last week’s crossword puzzle.
    Now that I know you’re reading, I’d better give you the real thing just as we do every week.
    Even in a slow week, there’s plenty to do in Chesapeake Country, as you’ll see in 8 Days a Week. Make haste to buy your tickets for Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s Spamalot, reported by reviewer Jim Reiter as the best way to laugh your way out of summer. Mark your calendar for Irish band The ShamRogues on the lawn (weather allowing) at London Town Sunday, August 17 at 5pm. Look forward to Annapolis Art Walk Thursday, August 21, starting at 6pm.
    Just back from vacation, Madeline Hughes guarantees you’ll never go thirsty, reporting to you on her coffee-shop summer tour of Chesapeake Country.
    Fresh from a vacation of a sort nobody wants to take, contributor Elisavietta Ritchie describes how the nasty bug vibrio vulnificus gave her a week in the hospital.
    More attractive bugs return in Creature Feature, where you’ll meet the Silvery Checkerspot, and Your Say, where the Monarch makes a two-stage appearance, as beauty and beast.
    As a retiree, contributor Bob Melamud reports he’s always on vacation. So he’s stepped up this week with another of his occasional series on the environmental and human value we get for our tax dollars. Cleaning up the Bay One Family at a Time explains the Flush Tax at work in the Calvert County home of Navy aviation electrician’s mate Rob Pryke and wife Brandi.
    
Breaking News on Dominion Cove Point
    Tom Hall returns from vacation in Maine just in time to follow up our July 17 story on the controversial Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas export plan:
    A Calvert County judge ruled this week that the county’s 2013 waiver of local zoning rules for the export expansion constitutes an unconstitutional “special law” benefitting Dominion Resources.
    AMP Creeks Council, a local environmental group, successfully won a ruling that invalidates the county’s pro-Dominion local zoning amendment. Now county officials will have to regroup, deciding whether to appeal the ruling … or figuring out another way to proceed in accord with county zoning protections. The commissioners next meet August 19.
    Calvert County Attorney John Norris said the exemption granted Cove Point was not designed to expedite the project but to defer to the expertise of federal regulators like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Environmental Protection Agency.
    “I really believe the intent of the text amendment was to do no harm, and not to create any overlap or conflict of regulations,” Norris said. “I’m not sure any county in the state has the ability to analyze an extremely unique project like this.”
    Calvert is Maryland’s smallest county.
    Dominion Cove Point spokesman Karl Neddenien said the company is analyzing the ruling and confidently awaiting FERC approval. The company hopes to begin construction on the $3.8 billion export terminal later this year.
    “We don’t see any schedule impact,” Neddenien said.

How many losers does it take to save the universe?

The night Peter Quill’s mother died, he was abducted by aliens. Twenty years later, Peter (Chris Pratt: The LEGO Movie) remembers Earth by a troll doll and his mother’s Walkman. He travels the galaxy scavenging rare treasures from abandoned planets, listening to a mix tape of his mother’s favorite tunes.
    On a treasure run, he steals an orb from an abandoned building. Suddenly, he’s the target of a galaxy-wide manhunt. Turns out the orb will help the evil Ronan (Lee Pace: The Hobbit) exact revenge on the galaxy he blames for killing his warlord father.
    Quill is soon accosted by Gamora (Zoe Saldana: Rosemary’s Baby), an assassin working for Ronan. Gamora is in turn thwarted by two bounty hunters, a genetically modified raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper: American Hustle) and a sentient tree creature Groot (Vin Diesel: Riddick), both also after the price on Quill’s head. This team of sworn enemies, petty thieves, disinterested third parties and psychotics are all that stand between Ronan and the galaxy’s destruction.
    Guardians of the Galaxy is a silly action movie with ridiculous characters, big budget explosions and a machine gun-shooting raccoon. It’s also the best time I’ve had at a movie all summer. Director James Gunn (Super), who co-wrote the script, creates a universe filled with witty heroes, slapstick humor, thrilling action and awe-inspiring visuals. In other words, he understands how to make a film based on a comic book.
    In his big-budget debut, Gunn isn’t overwhelmed. He manages to orchestrate high-paced action that packs emotional punch. But Gunn’s real accomplishment is the script, which imbues a jumble of clichés — like the bad-boy thief with a heart of gold — with credible personalities.
    Script and direction make a good framework for the actors to vitalize. Pratt has long supplied comic relief in film and television; Guardians of the Galaxy is the star turn he deserves. With granite-jawed good looks and a devilish smile, Pratt turns Quill into a Han Solo for the modern era. He’ll shoot first and betray comrades for a quick buck. But when the fate of the universe is on the line, Quill will do the right thing.
    As a tortured assassin looking for vengeance, Saldana is a tough, smart heroine with a tremendous sense of right and wrong. Think of her as the Black Widow — if Marvel gave her an independent storyline.
    Supporting the two leads are a crew of oddballs. It’s not surprising that a tree with eyes, a tattooed and stupid tough and a smart-mouthed raccoon provide comic relief. It is surprising that Gunn allows each character a moment of dignity that makes them emotionally powerful.
    Unlike The Avengers — a movie about special people learning to set their egos aside and work together to be even more fantastic as a unit — Guardians of the Galaxy is a film about what losers can do if given half a chance. Quill’s crew isn’t the brightest, the strongest or the fastest; in fact, we watch each of the members fail spectacularly a few times. But they figure it out in the end. It’s a powerful message for those of us who haven’t discovered how to craft an Iron Man suit.

Great Comic Movie • PG-13 • 121 mins.

This tempest is a summer storm you won’t want to miss.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale of an eerie desert isle where a band of royal castaways is marooned in style. No, it’s not a new sitcom or reality show. It’s William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a supernatural classic of haunting beauty playing for the next two weekends at the Bowie Playhouse. It’s also the Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s last production in that space before moving to new space on Chinquapin Round Road in the fall.
    The story begins before the action with Prospero (Brian Keith MacDonald), the deposed Duke of Milan, living in exile for 12 years with his teenage daughter Miranda (Jenny Donovan). All that time he has been plotting his retribution. Toward that end, he has become a powerful sorcerer by studying books provided for him by his confederate Gonzalo (Joe Palka), who spirited the father and daughter to safety along with basic comforts like a vast library complete with ornate shelving and a leather armchair. In Prospero’s service are a vile semi-human, Caliban (Alex Zavistovich), rightful heir to the island and son of a now-deceased witch, and three sprites: Ariel (Raven Bonniwell), Ceres (Emily Samuelson) and Juno (Micaela Mannix). All help Prospero exact his revenge on his traitorous brother, Antonio (Grant Cloyd). Thus the eponymous tempest, a supernatural storm conjured by Ariel, which is so ferocious you would swear you were caught in a real microburst if only the theater sprinklers were employed.
    The villainous Duke Antonio is shipwrecked along with his co-conspirator Sebastian (Elliott Kashner) and a royal entourage including King Alonso (Brian McDermott), Prince Ferdinand (David Mavricos), Prospero’s old friend Gonzalo, the jester Trinculo (Charlie Retzlaff), the drunken steward Stephano (Kiernan McGowan) and the noblewoman Adrian (Amie Cazel).
    Prince Ferdinand, separated from his shipmates, is delivered to Prospero and Miranda by Ariel so the youngsters may fall in love and marry, as is Miranda’s birthright. What follows is a series of trials involving frustrated lovers, treasonous assassins who play upon Caliban’s resentment, comical inebriates and generally clueless witnesses to supernatural intervention in the natural order of things. Finally, Prospero is returned to power, Ariel is freed from his service and Caliban is presumably left in peace at his master’s imminent departure.
    As with many of Shakespeare’s works, the plot can be overwhelming, so don’t try to follow it too closely. Just bear in mind that this play is more about witchcraft than story, and enjoy the ride.
    This production is technically a more impressive show than Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s typical fare. The simple set features a sheer curtain of oceanic scrim enhanced by dramatic special effects such as strobes, thunder and wind that either comes from a machine or supreme acting. A disorienting sonic décor of shifting chordal suspensions composed for this show by Gregg Martin keeps the magic alive throughout. The sprites cavort in bodysuits of a rich aquatic palette, while the aristocrats glory in resplendent crimson and gold.
    Major performers behind the mystery are Bonniwell and her sprites, Samuelson and Mannix, who gambol and tease and seethe and flit around the auditorium in a dreamy suspension between sea and sky from the moment the doors open until closing curtain, their every move a nuanced ballet. Zavistovich’s man-monster, with his dreadlocks, crazed eyes and rabid smile, menaces and cowers in extremes of animalistic power and vanquished powerlessness. Yet he is an eloquent beast. MacDonald commands the stage as if it truly were his home, and Retzlaff’s physical comedy makes him the king of fools.
    This tempest is a summer storm you won’t want to miss, but you can’t watch it from your porch. Get your tickets now, before they vanish.

Director: Jay D. Brock. Scenic designer: Andrew Cohen. Choreographer: Sally Boyett. Lighting designer: Catharine Girardi. Costume designer: Maggie Cason. Composer/sound designer: Gregg Martin.
Playing thru Aug 17, F at 8pm; Sa at 2pm & 8pm; Su at 3pm at Annapolis Shakespeare Company, Bowie Playhouse, White Marsh Park. $30 with discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513; www.annapolisshakespeare.org.

Organic matter adds ­hidden benefits to soil

Addition of organic matter does great things for soil. It works as a slow-release fertilizer and source of essential nutrients. It reduces the density of heavy silt and clay loam soils. It improves soil’s nutrient retention and increases water retention. All of these benefits redound to plant growth.

Retention of nutrients
    Adding organic matter to soils increases the retention of nutrients and makes them available to the roots of plants. This process is known as increasing the cation-exchange capacity of soils. You learned in the July 24 column how organic matter releases nutrients slowly through mineralization. In addition to supplying the major elements, compost supplies trace elements such as boron (B), iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), sulfur (S) and copper (Cu). These essential trace elements are important to the growth of healthy plants and to the quality of the crops they produce. But they’re not part of commercial fertilizer mixes.
    Increasing the cation exchange is especially important in sandy loams or loamy sands. Nutrients leach through these sandy soils quickly. Because sandy soils are well aerated, they do not retain organic matter. So to maintain productivity on sandy soils requires frequent applications compost or animal manure and the use of cover crops.
    On sandy loams or loamy sands, use no more compost or manure than six cubic yards per 1,000 square feet for the initial application. On silt or clay loam soils, make that four cubic yards as these soils are better able to retain nutrients than sandy loams or loamy sands. Repeated applications should be one-half or one-quarter.
Water-holding Capacity
    The addition of organic matter to sandy soils increases water-holding capacity.
    The addition of organic matter to heavy silt or clay loam soils increases water infiltration, thus increasing their ability to retain water while at the same time allowing excess water to drain.

Soil Density Reduction
    It won’t work to use sand to improve the drainage of heavy silt or clay loam soils. Short of 55 to 60 percent, the addition of sand will only result in making the soil like concrete.
    Adding 10 percent compost will increase both the organic matter concentration and the productivity of heavy silt or clay loam. Pine fines are one of the better organic materials to use to lighten heavy soils. Pine fines are a waste product from the manufacturing of pine bark mulches. Because pine fines contain high levels of lignins — a source of organic matter that resists decomposition — pine fines will persist in the soil for a long time.

Disease Control
    Another hidden benefit of amending soils with compost is its ability to control soil-borne diseases. Quality compost contains three naturally occurring fungicides and numerous beneficial microorganisms known to control common soil-borne diseases as fusarium, pythium and rhizoctinia. To get this bonus, use recently made compost. As the compost ages, these benefits are gradually lost as the biological activity of the compost decreases.

It takes work to live together in a peaceable interspecies kingdom

Oh the trouble love brings!    
    Just about any time your heart runs away with you, you run up a debt you’ll be paying for day, hours, years. By a certain age, we homo sapiens are supposed to know (but do we ever?) about the birds and the bees. But a dog or cat can slip under the radar, fooling us into believing that all interspecies matches are made in heaven.
    When reality hits, you’d rather have a pie in the face than a foot in some of the messes that await you.
    This week’s Dog Days Pet Spectacular is a reminder of the ransom due to the reckless heart.
    “Dogs do what comes naturally,” Animal Behavior College Dog Trainer Laurie Scible advises in this week’s feature, Good Dog! “Many behaviors we don’t like are things dogs love.”
    Rolling in dead fish, for example. Friend Sue’s dog has never met a dead fish he doesn’t love. My Moe ­doesn’t crave that perfume. But peeing over another dog’s scent? That’s an opportunity he never misses. As a youngster, before we’d persuaded Moe to learn house manners, he made covering some former dog’s scent a housewarming gift to a new neighbor. To everybody’s chagrin, the original dog had left his calling card indoors. It gets worse, of course, because peeing is only one element of housebreaking. There’s pooping, too.
    Why should we be surprised? Housebreaking is a learned behavior among animals of all species, even us.
    Of course we shouldn’t be surprised. Still, Scible’s pointers on housebreaking read as a wake-up call as shocking as a shrill alarm at 4:42am. It’s a serious, life-changing routine she prescribes. It punctures my willful notion that love means living happily ever after.
    I know I should have let that illusion go by now. It’s been ridiculed time and again by creatures of many species, dogs even more so than my first husband. But deep in my heart, implanted by my childhood reading of Albert Payson Terhune’s books about the valiant, empathetic Lad — the dog ideal holds indelible … despite the untellable failure of my dalliance with a collie. I’m still clinging to the notion that being my best friend comes naturally to a dog.
    That’s a popular fallacy. It can happen to you.
    On a weekend visit to St. Louis, I finally made acquaintance with Pal, the white-nosed brown dog adopted by my son Nathaniel’s family after falling under the spell of the mostly virtuous Moe on their visit here last summer. You may remember that I tried to warn them off, writing for that purpose (and all our reading pleasure) the story of the incorrigible Slip Mahoney, our family dog during Nat’s childhood.
    You can guess, by the name they’ve chosen, what Nat, Liz and Ada Knoll hope for in a dog. Indeed, Pal completes their circle. But healing the neuroses heaped upon that yearling in his formative weeks in a junkyard is a job for Dr. Vint Virga, the vet and animal behaviorist who, the New York Times Magazine reported in the July 3 issue, is devoting his life to Zoo Animals and Their Discontents.
    Animal psychology is a far more complex subject than we allowed ourselves to imagine. They have behavioral customs and social systems, even consciousness, just as we do. Living together in a peaceable interspecies kingdom means recognizing that now-obvious reality and adapting to it — just like my cats do when they train me.
    Bottom line: Slip Mahoney wasn’t incorrigible. He was misunderstood.
    Read on in this week’s Dog Days Pet Spectacular to learn the lure and lessons of interspecies company.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com