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Features (Good Living)

Beaches, marsh and mountains blaze with color

     Autumn can be a polarizing season, but I have become quite the enthusiast of this time of harvest, leaf peeping and ubiquitous festivals. I like the hot cider and apple fritters, but what I love most are the seasonal changes we can experience in the natural world.
     Chesapeake Country is a fine place to experience those changes. The watershed we call home is an enormous place — over 64,000 square miles stretched across six states and Washington, D.C. Within those miles are diverse physiographic regions: the ancient Appalachian Mountains, the rolling hills of the central piedmont plateau and the low-lying, marsh-encompassed Atlantic coastal plain. In each of these regions, birds are migrating and mammals are on the move as they forage for precious calories. Exquisite colors adorn the many species of deciduous trees. 
 
 
From the Beaches …
     Close to home, the tranquil, still wetlands of Calvert Cliffs State Park in Calvert County give us a double image of autumn color: in the trees and reflected on Bay waters. As well as its namesake cliffs and fossilized shark teeth, the Bayside park also invites wildlife viewing. I have encountered wood ducks and muskrat as they swim through the season’s colorful double image. 
 
To the Marshes …
     At Calvert County’s Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, you’ll find an unexpected color transformation. An easy stroll on a boardwalk takes you into one of the northernmost naturally occurring stands of bald cypress trees in the lower 48 states. This cypress appears evergreen, but it is deciduous, and its needles change to beautiful fall colors before dropping. If you are lucky, you may be treated to the sight of a bald eagle or barred owl.  
     For a unique sighting of autumnal color, head to saltier marshes to search for patches of glasswort. The plant has simple or branched stems that resemble asparagus stalks. Beginning in late September, it transforms to a brilliant crimson red, making it simple to scan for and identify. Stunning to behold, it is in perfect contrast to the cordgrass, which is turning from green to brown. A great location for glasswort is the salt marshes of Assateague Island.
 
To the Mountains …
     Take in the bounty of autumn leaves in our mountain regions. Two of my favorite locations are Shenandoah National Park and Catoctin Mountain Park, both operated by the National Park Service.
     The famed skyline drive of Shenandoah is a 105-mile historic highway beginning in Front Royal, Virginia, and traversing the length of the park along the Blue Ridge Mountains. By mid-October the drive will be adorned with a kaleidoscope of autumn color. Additionally there are numerous trails in the park, including the Appalachian Trail, to take you farther into the woodlands.
     There’s a trail for everyone, from the novice hiker to the experienced backpacker, and varying levels of intensity. For an easy walk try the Limberlost trail, which is wheelchair accessible. The more intrepid might spend a day hiking Old Rag Mountain and its famed rock scramble. Be on that trailhead early, as the mountain’s popularity equates to large crowds and long lines on the rock scramble. Bring plenty of water and a backpack to clean up after yourself, and follow the adage to leave only your footprints behind.
     Shenandoah National Park holds a wide variety of wildlife, including whitetail deer, coyotes, bobcats and wild turkeys. Its most famous inhabitants are a thriving population of black bears, which will be active as they seek high-calorie acorns before winter sets in. Seeing a bear in the autumn woods is a real treat. A black bear is a rather timid animal and is more likely frightened by you than the other way around. For a safe as well as memorable encounter, always give the bear plenty of space and admire it from a distance.
     Catoctin Mountain Park in western Maryland is much smaller but no less breathtaking, with numerous trails and vistas. While there, make sure to look down at the leaf clutter and you may be fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the ruffed grouse, a chicken-like upland bird that blends in with the forest floor.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
November’s Whiteout
     By November, when the leaves have moved past peak color and the thought of Thanksgiving dinner is piquing our senses, another color not normally associated with autumn is just returning. The marshes and agricultural lands around the Bay will be sprinkled with the color white, signaling the return of snow geese and tundra swans to the Chesapeake.  
When thousands upon thousands of snow geese blast off in flight together in a cacophony of goose call, it is quite the sensory experience.  These birds flock to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, where another large white bird, the while pelican, is also just returning.
     I hope these ideas inspire you to experience autumn in the natural world.
 
 

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It all goes back to Hansel and Gretel

In one form or another, gingerbread has been popular since at least mediaeval times.
    “Gingerbread was a favorite treat at festivals and fairs in medieval Europe — often shaped and decorated to look like flowers, birds, animals or even armor,” according to Smithsonian Magazine. “Several cities in France and England hosted regular gingerbread fairs for centuries.”
    Gingerbread became especially popular in Germany, where monks baked the confection starting around the 14th century. Lay bakers then started making the treat and took their recipes extremely seriously, guarding them as family secrets.
    Building gingerbread houses likely started in Germany. Records of gingerbread houses start in the 1600s but became really popular after the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel was published in 1812, according to The History Kitchen.
    In the tale, a witch lives in a house made of delicious candy and cookies. The house is a trap she uses to lure children into her home and, eventually, her oven. Somehow the story inspired bakers to create their own baked houses, and people liked them, despite their terrifying associations. Gingerbread houses now range from the simple to the extreme.
    This year, the United Kingdom’s National Trust commissioned a gingerbread house that is astounding. Built by an English cookie making company, the mansion took 15 months and 500 hours to create. It was inspired by Waddesdon Manor and is made up of 66 pounds of butter, 240 eggs and 480 pounds of icing. It is six feet tall and has details that many of us would never imagine going into a gingerbread house, like paintings, beds, chairs and elaborate carpets, all made of confection. See the creation at https://waddesdon.org.uk/whats-on/biscuiteers-manor-in-gingerbread/
    Closer to home, a gingerbread White House is always part of the holiday decorations at The White House. This year’s house is constructed of 150 pounds of gingerbread, 100 pounds of bread dough, 20 pounds of gum paste, 20 pounds of icing and 20 pounds of sculpted sugar pieces.
    Fifty-six more pseudo gingerbread houses, each actually made of Lego bricks, represent each state and territory
    If you have $78,000 to splurge, you can order an organic gingerbread house custom made to look like your own home, adorned with pearls and a five-carat ruby from veryfirstto.com.

Trotline your way to a pickin’ party

Heading out from the ramp in a late morning sortie for white perch, I encountered a solo crabber’s boat at the edge of the channel. He was pulling in his trotline from the stern and looked up as my skiff approached.
    Seeking info on the crab catch, I gave him the sign language gesture asking how he was doing (arms open and a questioning look on my face). Shaking his head. he indicated problems. I killed my engine and drifted closer.
    “My line got tangled first thing; It took almost an hour to get it cleared. Then the side of my basket broke open,” he indicated with a flip of his head toward the shattered pieces of a wooden bushel in the bow. “The crabs got out and they’re crawling all over the boat. I’m going home.”
    “Bad day then,” I answered.
    “No, a great day,” he replied. “I got almost a bushel already. I’m just tired of them trying to crawl up my legs.”
    I gave him a thumbs-up as I restarted my motor. He flashed a big grin and resumed retrieving his line.

Do It Yourself    
    Finally, a good year for crabbing. After three years of Maryland Department of Natural Resources promising that crab numbers were improving, they are. Bouncing back from the slow recovery of a female population once again driven into near collapse by commercial over-harvest, the recreational crabbing season is proving a good one.
    Recreational crabbers can once again expect to get a family crab dinner with their own hands in a reasonable day’s effort, though DNR continues to add constraints on recreational crabbers: no female harvest, reduced trot line length and delayed starting time (all to favor the commercial sector). There’s no better crab than what you yourself provide.
    Feasting on succulent blue crabs a mere two or three hours out of the water is one of the finest epicurean experiences a Marylander can have. Just about anyone can catch their own, with a minimum of equipment, although a boat of some kind (even a borrowed kayak) is required to get the job done with a trotline.
    The trotline is the best, most effective device for catching crabs in any quantity. Six hundred feet is the current legal maximum for one crabber. If you fix a chicken neck bait every four feet on your line, that’s 125 baits (about 10 pounds of necks).
    Motoring, paddling or quietly pulling yourself down the crab line and netting each crab as it lifts up from the bottom, you can now expect to fill a basket in under a day. Starting early is the key as the crabs will usually stop moving to feed by about 11am and won’t start up again until later in the afternoon. On cloudy days, the bite may stay steady.
    Anchored on either end and marked by identical buoys, the trotline is kept on the bottom by about three feet of galvanized chain on each end. Constantly running the line with a wire-basket net will maximize the catch you will accumulate in the traditional split-wood bushel basket. The current minimum size for a male crab is 5¼ inches.
    Choose a day with a good tide running right from the start, for crabs move with the tidal current, and you need a steadily moving crab population to keep your trot line producing.
    If you’re not catching and the tidal current is moving, try another location. The one you’re at is probably not going to work.
    Area sports stores or crabbing stores offer the most affordable supply of line for crabbing and can fill in the details of just how to set it up, how to tie the slip knot for the chicken necks and the current depth where crabs are being found (right now it’s between six and 10 feet). They’ll also have a ready supply of chicken necks and the proper nets, anchors and floats.
    Crabs inhabit just about every body of water that feeds the Chesapeake. As long as you’ve got a good run of water (i.e., 600 feet) of the proper depth you have an excellent likelihood of catching Mr. (but not Mrs.) Blue Crab.

Neighbors joining neighbors to celebrate our independence

Is there anything more fun, more moving and more important than a hometown Fourth of July parade? Whether joining the parade or watching it, we celebrate our independence as a nation and as a people.
    Across the land, communities large and small decorate themselves, their dogs and conveyances from baby buggies to trikes and bikes to convertibles, tractors, fire engines and floats. In a partnership of faith and delight, we join as one entity united by shared purpose.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Annapolis Parade

From Amos Garrett Blvd., down West St., around Church Circle and down Main St. Parade at 6:30pm, fireworks at 9:15pm (Main St. and Spa Creek Bridge closed 6-10pm), Downtown Annapolis: www.annapolis.gov.

The state capital bursts with patriotic pride every Independence Day with a parade, music by the USNA Concert Band at Susan Campbell Park and spectacular fireworks over the harbor.
    Marching in the parade is a special honor, says Glenn Carr, a parent volunteer of a Special Olympics athlete who has marched for the last four years.
    “We’d been loving the Annapolis parade for a number of years,” said Carr, “and I started thinking Why can’t we be a part of the parade? We see a lot of other civic groups here and Special Olympics is a great cause that people love to support.”
    Anne Arundel Special Olympics athletes wear their uniforms and medals and march with a banner and wave flags.
    “This year we have a decorated van as part of our procession,” says Carr. “It’s a lot of fun, and we love to expose our athletes to the public.”
    The sight of these smiling marchers draws a lot of cheering and love from the crowds, he adds. “One of our athletes, a young lady who works at a grocery store, saw some customers at the parade that recognized her, and she was absolutely thrilled. I always tell them to ‘bring your flags and spread your happiness’. It’s a great day for our country.”
    Park at city garages and take the Circulator trolley ($1) to the top of Main Street. The trolleys run 8am-midnight. Shuttle service ($1) is also available from Gate 5 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to Lawyers Mall 5pm-midnight.
    The closer you get to downtown the harder it will be to park and the more difficulty you will have getting out of town after the celebration.
    Watching by boat? Because of the anticipated crowds, boaters are urged to select their preferred viewing area anchorage early and are warned to avoid the 1,000-foot safety zone around the fireworks barge.


Cape St. Claire Parade

Parade begins at 10am from the Cape St. Claire firehouse, travels one mile to River Bay Rd., then to the beach; fun continues at the main beach 11am-2pm: 410-757-1223; www.cscia.org/d/July4th-celebration.

The Cape St. Claire community joins together to celebrate Independence Day with a parade down to the main beach area. The atmosphere is family-friendly with lots of youth sports groups passing out goodies along the route. Rhiannon Dunn, coach of the Cape Rugby Football Club, says the kids in her co-ed touch rugby team plan to throw candy and trinkets from their float.
    “This is our third parade,” she says. “I love the Cape. I’ve lived here about 16 years, and I love the parade. It’s a chance for the whole community to come together and enjoy our neighbors. We are like a small town. Even being so close to D.C. and Baltimore, we still have that small town feel.”
    Dunn reports that for the players, it’s a can’t-miss-event. “It’s like one of their favorite things to do even being in the midst of our playing season.”
    Her favorite thing? “There are a couple of really interesting floats. For being a tiny community parade, the amount of effort and enthusiasm that goes into it is interesting. We are working on a float, but I am not sure how floaty it will be since just last week I realized that July Fourth was coming up. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime.”
    Prizes are awarded for the Most Patriotic and Most Creative entries. Games and activities at the beach after the parade include tug of war, a sandcastle building contest, a water balloon toss, spoon and egg races and watermelon eating contest. Grillmasters compete to win the title of best Backyard Ribs in the Cape — guest judges sample entries and choose a winner.


Galesville Parade

From Anchors Way, between Galesville Park and Hardesty Funeral Home down Galesville Rd., turning right onto East Benning Rd., winding until it passes the community center, then out on West Benning and across to the Anchors Way starting point. Main St. closes at 12:45pm; parade at 1pm: 410-867-2648; www.galesvilleheritagesociety.org/July4th.shtml.

The historic waterfront community of Galesville began its Fourth of July parade tradition late, in 1994, with just fireworks, sponsored by the Galesville Heritage Society. A parade was added the next year. Each year the festivities grew a little more, until the fireworks brought in so many people that it overwhelmed the community’s resources. So the fireworks ended, but the parade lives on.
    The Annapolis Drum & Bugle Corps, a Color Guard and Uncle Sam lead the parade, followed by fire engines, antique vehicles, floats of all kinds by individuals, local businesses and civic groups, decorated bicycles and walking, marching and equestrian groups.
    Each year, a contingent from Oak Crest Farm in Davidsonville joins the parade. A dozen or more young riders carrying large American flags sit proud atop decorated horses with braided, beribboned tails. The riders show their patriotism in their American flag-print riding clothes and cowboy hats. Riders and horses march in formation, showcasing their paired skills.
    The parade route is lined with cheering onlookers, along with private and public cookouts and barbeques. Volunteers in white shirts, blue shorts and red bandanas monitor the route, answer questions and hand out water. The parade usually takes about an hour, but there may be delays for accidents, mechanical difficulties or just plain enthusiasm for the day.
    All paraders earn ribbons, with volunteer judges awarding prizes in various categories.


Severna Park Parade

From St. Martin’s in the Field Episcopal Church along Benfield and Evergreen roads to downtown Severna Park. 10am: 410-647-3900.

Severna Park is not an incorporated town like Chesapeake Beach or a city like Annapolis, but the sense of community is strong, especially on the Fourth of July, when Severna Park hosts one of the largest parades in the area, a community highlight for more than 40 years.
    “It’s a way to celebrate our nation’s birthday, the spirit of freedom and our love of country,” says Linda Zahn, CEO of the Greater Severna Park and Arnold Chamber of Commerce, who leads the effort. It takes months of planning and about 70 volunteers to plan and execute a successful parade.
    Just how successful is it?
    “We don’t have an official count, but it must be thousands,” Zahn told Bay Weekly. “Last year it rained through the entire parade. People stood in the rain watching, and almost all of the marchers marched.”
    This year’s theme, Celebrating Harmony in America, seems an appropriate choice for this election year.
    Eighty to 100 parade entries are likely, from simple politicians waving from convertibles to 30 antique cars. As in most hometown parades, there will also be local school bands, fire departments, businesses and community groups.