Boating the Bay - The Captain
by Lee Fifer
Special to New Bay Times
Of the three generations on this voyage of the 43-year-old Lee-Mar, the youngest earns the honors.
Daniel was only six, though he would have added “and one-half!” protesting the shortchange to his experience. His sister was three. Even so young, they had spent many hours playing in, on and next to the Bay, with most of their time devoted to crabbing in our tributary, Rockhold Creek, swimming in Herring Bay and exploring the nooks and crannies of both Rockhold and Tracys Landing Creeks.
All of their time on the Bay itself they spent aboard the old cedar and mahogany fishing and cruising boat their grandfather had built in 1951. Brought aboard as babies in a carrying crib, both had a similar initial reaction to the old boat comfortable sleep while the diesels purred in their ears as they were gently rocked by the wave-slicing bow. Recently they had alternated sitting in my lap behind the steering wheel as we searched for the best location to catch spot, and Meredith’s pink Minnie Mouse rod regularly caught the first and most.
I had finally convinced their grandfather, Carson, age 90, to spend an afternoon fishing, this time for bluefish. Joe, who had replaced all the old cloth-covered electrical wiring in the boat, had also joined us, bringing his lucky (he guaranteed it) rod and reel. The fourth adult was my nephew, Charles, in his second year of college, and an avid fisherman.
As we entered Herring Bay, I recounted the story told me by our neighbor and dear friend, Wayne, a Deale native, of how people he knew had walked from Drum Point Road to red buoy #2, which now stands in open water marking the southern boundary of the channel into Deale. Some years ago, he explained, a finger of land with three farms stretched out over what is now Parker’s Shoal. Only crabs walk that trip today.
The weather was energizing. The Bay’s surface moved with small chops, both gentle and welcoming. As I released the free spool lever of a trolling rig we had brought in the expectation of wrestling a big bluefish aboard, I looked about with pleasure at the gathering of generations aboard a boat I had spent so many hours reconditioning from new electrical systems, to stripped, restained and revarnished brightwork and bulkheads (all six coats), to replaced windows and latches, to hand cut carpet. And all those blisters.
I sat behind the new, bigger steering wheel that allowed a more comfortable grip while scanning the trolling rods, all five, each at its own angle. The pilot’s seat, ten feet from the covered stern cockpit, is well placed for trolling or bottom fishing.
Even the approach of a speeding muscle boat did not seem a threat to this peaceful afternoon.
Daniel stood next to me, already holding on to the pilot’s seat, so my warning of approaching waves was directed at those on the stern, especially young Meredith, who had begun to walk from the seated fishermen to join Daniel and me in the pilot’s cabin. The waves arrived first.
Our slow trolling speed allowed me to turn only slightly into the waves. Meredith had clutched the splashboard which, where she stood in the stern cockpit, was above her head. What none of us expected, though, was that the violent, sideways rocking of the boat would throw the door of the pilot’s cabin closed with such force that the latch holding the glass window in place would release.
The sound of the slamming door and shattering glass shocked us all, especially Meredith. Terrified, I leaped from the seat and strained to determine if the door or window frame had struck her. My momentary relief faded quickly when the sheet of dark, thick blood moved down her forehead. Although the window was two feet from her, a shard of shattering glass had struck her scalp above the hairline.
I grabbed her, blocking the blood from her eyes with one hand while separating her hair with the other to search for glass fragments. She pressed against me in this awkward caress, crying. I found no glass and, after a quick inspection by her grandfather, a retired surgeon, I carried her to the galley to clean her wound and continue applying pressure. Charles helped supply wet towels, as Joe and Dad wound in the lures.
It was only then, when her bleeding had ceased, perhaps five or ten minutes after the accident, that I asked ... who is piloting the boat? We were still in gear and moving!
Although few other boats were to be seen on this weekday, we had been underway the whole time. The thoughts of all four adults had been on Meredith. Still holding her, I emerged from the galley.
There, sitting on his knees so he could see over the top of the wheel, was Daniel. “Don’t worry, Dad, I've been steering her!” he exclaimed.
That was two year ago, when Daniel was six and one-half.
The Lee-Mar, the 149th boat built by Bronza Parks, follows the classic lines of Matthews cruisers. At 49 feet 11 inches, she draws only 30 inches of water and cruises at 10 to 12 knots.
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Heron Is Timely; Visitors Tardy
Teaser: Normally you don’t come calling on heron. Today is the exception.
When you make an appointment with a heron, don’t be late.
Heron won’t wait.
This Valentine’s Day, the Nanjemoy flock returned to their Charles County rookery unmet, unobserved and punctual.
“They come back so regularly at Valentine’s Day that we call them the love birds. One day there’s nothing, and then they’re everywhere in an explosion of birds,” says Cal Posey, who knows these birds of habit better than anybody.
When the ice finally stopped falling from the sky and the visitors finally came calling, there the great blues were, gliding overhead like pterodactyls evolved to grace. Punctual as ever, they had made their Valentine’s Day appointment and were resettled into routine, leaving the rookery for their day’s work about 9 in the morning and returning about 3 in the afternoon.
The visitors had hoped to tour this capital city of East Coast heron-dom early, before the 2400-bird flock flapped in from the southwest. That would have been a sight to see, says Posey, who was the rookery’s human manager for a dozen years: “Just after sunrise, a lone bird appears, then circles, calling but not landing. Within 15 minutes to a half hour, a host of several hundred arrive and alight.”
The big birds are shy, and wary of visitors. Beneath the towering trees in whose tops they build their nests, “one person walking can spook hundreds of birds into flight,” says Steve Cardano, Posey’s colleague and director of the nearby Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center.
But the visitors were late. The vanguard herons had arrived, and the first eager courting pairs were inspecting or rebuilding their nests depending on how hard this unusually hard winter had hit the treetops.
Forty or 50 feet below, the tardy callers were up to the same thing: nest counting.
In the ordinary way of things, meetings with heron are chance, fleeting and serendipitous.
From February into November, in our Chesapeake neighborhood, heron flaps, regular as Olympian breathing, low over water or high over treetops. Heron haunts the shallows, still and patient as a reed; or wades, meticulously lifting each two-foot-long, sticklike leg, flipping ooze off each thin, handlike foot. Heron fishes, striking sudden and true as a snake. Heron plays hide-and-seek with a shore-gliding canoe, lifting off at each approach, soaring then settling down into camouflage once again just far enough along for the game to be repeated. Heron stands sentinel at the summit of the tallest tree on the shoreline.
Then, as the chill sets in, most birds ease down south to warmer weather and better fishing. Our birds may go to the Carolinas for the winter, Cardano allows. But nobody knows for sure, because nobody climbs the 40 or 50 feet to heron aeries to band the chicks. That’s what you’ve got to do to follow a bird’s wandering.
Even in deep winter, an occasional heron stands over the frozen shallows or cocks its wings akimbo to soak up the thin sun. Who knows? Maybe it’s a local bird toughing it out; or maybe it’s a northerner who thinks this is warm.
Normally, you don’t come calling on heron, who issues few invitations.
Today is the exception. Today, Nature Conservancy makes its annual nest census of the great Nanjemoy rookery and visitors are welcome.
The sun is out, dappling the hills with a nice 50-50 blend of light and shadow as the counters crunch into the woods. Underfoot, the ice crest is as crisp and shimmering as if the thaw were still a hope. Here a parchment-dry American beech leaf is captured in ice; here evergreen fern has escaped. A single, tentative moquito lands. The hardwoods and evergreens of this old forest are tall; bramble has not found the light to thrive, so the way is clear, though the counters, slipping and sliding, wish for crampons on their boots.
Herons have been living in this lovely wood since the mid-’40s, says their old friend Posey. Mayan-like, they abandoned their old nearby city their neighborhood changed when their tall trees were logged and a pig farm moved in. Here, with a little help from unintrusive friends, they’ve thrived in solitude. The feeding, too, is good, with “lots of good marshes and tidal creeks nearby,” says Department of Natural Resources colonial waterbird expert Dave Brinker, who explains that his job “is birds that live in colonies, not 17th century settlers.”
Twenty-five percent of Maryland’s blue herons are now fledged at the Nanjemoy colony. In recent years, Maryland has hosted 35 to 40 rookeries and Virginia 154, which together are home over 27,000 breeding adult herons. “They’re doing well, with populations increasing over the long term as we improve water quality and reduce environmental contaminants. The low point was slightly after the turn of the century when the threat was hunters, and women wore heron feathers on their hats,” Brinker says.
Posey is the Nanjemoy heron’s oldest and first friend. He watched them settle into the Nanjemoy rookery and, when logging threatened this home too, he suggested the Nature Conservancy add the rookery to their protected collection of rare properties. Roused Marylanders signed on to “Save a Nest,” and the 288 acres was purchased as a Nature Conservancy preserve.
A couple of years ago, more friends, the Nanjemoy Stewardship Committee, persuaded a hunting club to change its plans for locating a target range nearby.
A nuisance is what this year’s tardy counters would be had the herons not soared out for lunch. They’ll be gone a while; crabs, crayfish and frogs haven’t yet popped out for spring, and many shore waters are still iced over, making small fish harder to find. Hungry heron will happily eat meadow voles, but they may have to range 10 or 15 miles to make a meal.
Good thing they’re gone: over 1300 is a lot of nests to count. To manage the job, Nature Conservancy has sent a trio; with them come Brinker from DNR; two from New Bay Times; Nanjemoy Educational Center Director Steve Cardano, plus a school busload of 27 top biology students and their teacher Doug McIlvaine of Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf.
“That total’s real exciting, over a hundred more than last year,” says Nature Conservancy’s heron watcher Linda Kramme.
“Wow!” said Brinker.
We’re an awed and noisy crew, craning our necks to spot, in the tops of white oak, Virginia pine and tulip poplar, the homes that heron builds. Once we’ve seen a couple of these tire-sized, stick woven, tree-top nests, we find them everywhere. Tree #244, a vast, five-trunked tulip polar, has three nests in its main trunk and two in its second-biggest member. This year’s full house is a 12-nest beech tree, two down from 1992’s14 nest high, which was two down from 1991’s 16-nest high.
Above the nests, the sky is violet blue. Heron has returned, and spring is coming.
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Powered by Imagination, You Can Row the Bay and Beyond
by Eli Flam
Special to New Bay Times
Never mind the winter weather; you can row the Bay these days by putting your mind to work. Nor do you have to stop at South River, or Cove Point; you can cover the world with help from the Row-a-log (no patent pending).
It all came to me while waiting a turn to row in a small, windowless gym in Washington, D.C. Plugging away was a woman with dark eyes fixed on some urgent inner landscape pull/slide, pull/slide, pull/slide...
The rower machine’s little screen blipped 32 strokes-a-minute, a good pace even with minimal tension on the rods. Time, three minutes and 30 seconds. She passed 300 strokes and continued strong, getting somewhere all right, mind running free when suddenly the back of my neck prickled and a vision burned through those dull grey cinder-block walls.
On the River
The woman was rowing down the Potomac River in an elegant single scull with a pair of 10-foot oars, slick as could be, in the clear under a brilliant blue sky. She passed Hains Point, Fort McNair; the muddy Anacostia eddied in. Planes to and from National Airport zoomed almost overhead. On slid the woman, against the tide, priming the line at the end of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
But wait, she was pulling forward, or backwards-forward, if you will, setting her own rhythm. A new beat snuck in: “Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah ... Jordan’s river is chilly and cold, hallelujah ”
Finally the woman stopped, and I thought: the Row-a-log.
Now fancy pulling machines come with screens to set up in front, for “touring” videotapes, as with exercycles, or for simulating racing competition. But why box yourself in with all that expensive gear and settings cooked up cafeteria-style?
Let the mind float free. Pick any site or stretch of water near or far. Keep a count with the timer screen, if there is one, for data. If not, keep track on your own.
Figure that each stroke “carries” about, say, 10 feet. Say you do a decent 15 minutes four times a week, for arguments sake at 25 strokes a minute, an easy-going pace. That adds up to almost three miles weekly, more than 10 miles in a month.
Jot down the figures each time on a Row-a-log you fashion yourself. Picture the trip in advance or underway: you are a camera, your own camcorder, VCR. Mix in weather and water traffic and landscape and people. Start the next trip at the last finish point.
At some three miles a week, down the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial, the woman would reach Popes Creek in Charles County in about four months, near where Confederate sympathizers rowed the injured John Wilkes Booth across to Virginia after he shot Lincoln in Ford’s Theater. They needed a second night; strong head winds and currents foiled them the first time.
Some 80 or so years later, on a parallel tack, Sylvia Plath wrote:
...I am rowing, I am rowing
though the oarlocks stick and are rusty
and the sea blinks and rolls
like a worried eye ball,
but I am rowing, I am rowing,
This story ends with me still rowing.
But with a Row-a-log, your achievement has no limit. Go to the Nile where rowing may well have started more than 3,000 years before the birth of Christ, or on to the Irrawaddy, where royal Thai barges still are propelled by dozens of men pulling at long sweeps.
No need to stay cooped up in windowless gym or cramped basement. As you row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream-of-consciousness, latch on to the words of Theodore Roethke:
To follow the drops sliding from
A lifted oar,
Head up, while the rower breathes,
And the small boat drifts quietly
To know that light falls and fills,
Often without our knowing it
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Dock of the Bay
Peggy on the Bay: Lieutenant in a Looming War
Margaret Ann Reigle has, to put it mildly, a different outlook than many who have watched the ailing Chesapeake resurrected from abuse and unwise development.
“People are getting mugged and bludgeoned by government bureacrats,” she says. “The environmental movement is not really about the environment; it’s about a political concept of land use and restrictions.”
Reigle’s words may sound like poison, but her sentiments on behalf of “property rights” are gathering steam across the country.
The so-called Wise Use Movement often fueled by oil, mining and timber money is attracting people mad at government and weary of environmental rules. (Leaders took the phrase from Gifford Pinchot, the early 1900s U.S. Forester in the early 1900s, who asserted that we need to make wise use of our resources.)
The effects of these anti-environmental crusades are bubbling in statehouses, county boards and in Congress. Recently, property-rights advocates recently blocked an effort in Congress to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to the president’s cabinet.
Now they have their sights set on passing a landowners’ protection bill and watering down efforts to preserve wetlands and endangered species.
Reigle’s fight has moved from local to state to national issues. She arrived in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore in 1988 after retiring from a top job on the business end at the New York Daily News. Two years later, she founded a newsletter after helping neighbors embroiled in a dispute over wetlands.
Today, her Fairness to Land Owners Committee has 14,000 members in 46 states, and Reigle, 49, operates in the vanguard of the property rights movement. Among her pursuits, she’s co-anchor of a of a series of programs on Empowerment Television, which is headed by archconservative Paul Weyrich. The next episode airs March 22.
Reigle didn’t expect to be alighting in Annapolis this winter, where’s she’s been promoting property-rights bills since 1990. But there she was last week, testifying against a bill that would allow the state to take over duties of wetlands regulation. (See Politalk in this issue.)
On this issue, Reigle was on the same side as the environmentalists whom she dreads but for different reasons. They worry that the state could not handle the job. Reigle has several complaints, among them the prospect of state officials tramping around on private property.
“It may be fine for a developer who has consultants,” Reigle says of further wetlands rules, “but for the moms and pops trying to build an extension on their homes, it is very burdensome.” “Moms and pops” frequently are invoked in Reigle’s litany of the injured.
For years, environmental advocates been wrestling polluters and the rap that environmental protection costs jobs. Now, with Peggy Reigle and her allies in the ring, the conservationists have a new challenge.
First, they are spreading the word that the backers of many Wise Use groups are the polluting companies whose exploitative ways have damaged the earth. And with environmental laws under attack, they are also returning to basics.
“We must remind people why why these laws were passed in the first place and of all the good they’ve done,” observes Michael Crook of the National Wildlife Federation. “They didn’t come in through the back door.”
Righting a Wrong
When boat-owning fishermen of the Chesapeake license their craft for fishing this year, they’ll once again be issued a gratis license entitling them to fish from any boat. This free permit was lost last year in a legislative/DNR fumble.
Seems that when the 1993 General Assembly passed a bill to raise the private boat fishing license which allows all the boat’s occupants to fish without buying a regular tidal license from $25 to $30, it somehow deleted the section that offered the owner a license to fish from other boats as well.
When finally discovered, the omission brought howls of anger from sportsfishermen, but no satisfaction. Finally, during this session, the Legislature corrected their oversight.
Or was it an oversight?
So while the license is returned, the question remains: Who’s to blame for a an “oversight” that forced thousands of boat owners to buy additional fishing licenses?
The bill was fostered by DNR, approved by the legislature, both of which should be expected to monitor proceedings. Whose responsibility was it to catch slips like this and why wasn’t it caught? Why, too, no public apology?
Somewhere there are answers, and we’ll do our best to get them. In the meantime, get your new boat fishing license with the tidal permit included before there’s another change.B.B.
In Mosquito Control, Do We Get Stung Either Way?
With ice still packing the earth, governments are getting ready to fight mosquitoes. This season, there’ll be some changes.
The state of Maryland has agreed to take over spraying in Annapolis after the city complained in a letter Dec. 7 that it could no longer afford a program of its own. Maryland took over spraying in the rest of Anne Arundel County two years ago.
In a reply last month, the state Agriculture Department said it would make plans to hire the people needed for mosquito surveillance and “appropriate mosquito control.” The state also said it would run an education program for people who have questions.
We have a couple. Is it necessary to spray these chemicals? Is it worth it awakening to the groan of truck-mounted sprayers and clouds of chemicals wafting in our windows?
The state relies on Cythion, a form of the pesticide malathion sold by the Swiss company Cheminova. Many communities around the country especially in California, but as close as Fairhaven Cliffs, which has refused spraying have debated the wisdom of using malathion. Governments contend that the dangers and annoyance of mosquitos are worse than the chemical.
Yet a three-year study by the federal Agriculture Department acknowledged last year that heavy spraying can harm the environment and some of the people in it. The study advised people who are sensitive to chemicals to stay indoors during spraying and for as long as a day afterward.
Anne Pearson, who heads the Alliance for Sustainable Communities in Annapolis, is among those requesting the state conduct further studies to prove that spraying is needed.
“They seem to feel that they must give people a quality of life in which they sit by their barbecue and not be bothered by mosquitoes,” Pearson remarked.
Cyrus R. Lesser, chief of mosquito control for the state, observed that spraying is just one of the weapons. His office sends out people to clear mosquito breeding grounds, like standing water. The state also uses microbial pesticides and less dangerous chemicals at times.
Lesser insists that there’s the threat from spraying is overblown. “In our review of the recorded literature, we have found no documented case of a problem when it was used according to the label,” Lesser said. “We feel like we can minimize any risk to the environment.”
Lesser also affirmed that people have a choice. If a neighborhood or community association does not want to be sprayed, all it needs to do is write or call the state.
Here’s the address and phone: Department of Agriculture Mosquito Control; 50 Harry S Truman Parkway; Annapolis, Md. 21401; (410)841-5870.
And if you want to look at that federal report, write to: Harold Smith, Chief of Environmental Analysis; Room 545, USDA; 6505 Belcrest Rd.; Hyattsville, Md. 20782.
Is Disney’s Park a Goofy Idea?
Here at New Bay Times, we lauded the proposal for a new Disney theme park over in Virginia as a welcome recreation outlet for the region. Perhaps we spoke too soon.
Virginia taxpayers are getting upset at all the costs, including $163 million for road improvements near Haymarket, where the park would be carved. That’s a lot of walking-around money, even for big-time Mickey Mouse.
Meanwhile, environmental advocacy groups put out a report identifying 32 potential sites other than Haymarket.
“The major problem is that their site would bring urban sprawl in yet another direction from Washington,” asserts Bob Dennis, chairman of the Take a Second Look campaign.
Dennis also points to potential water and sewage problems along with Disney’s reluctance to give people information they want.
“They say we’re just a bunch of rich estate-owners out here. But that’s not true,” Dennis added.
Little Crabbers in the Crosshairs?
In recent hearings on proposed DNR crabbing restrictions, sports crabbers let their objections be known about a program they claim targets them.
Many expressed outrage when they learned how little proposed regulations would cut into commercial catches. Commercial crabbers would be limited to 300 pots now considered the commercial average, but captains could hire a mate for a day and add another 300 pots for $10 a year. Not enough? Hire still another mate, pay another ten bucks, and get 300 more pots.
DNR admitted that’s getting well above the current average, but explained that stricter limits lie ahead.
What’s more, commercial crabbing hours are much more lenient than recreational hours. Many sport crabbers complained that earlier commercial hours would let trotlines be set early enough to squeeze out sports trotliners, whose day starts later.
Recreational crab restrictions potting at piers means that a community pier no matter how long could hold only two pots no matter how many residents in the community. In Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles and St. Marys and Baltimore Counties on the Western Shore the limit currently is four, as it is at some Eastern Shore counties. Now it would revert to two, and be enforced.
Picture recreational potters in a community trying to outrace each other to set their pots first. A judge will need the wisdom of Solomon. Still more wise judges will be needed to sort out another proposal to maintain a distance of 100 feet from existing rigs.
The entire crab issue poses a difficult image problem for DNR. BB
Above in Dock of the Bay, we write about anti-environmentalists. Here’s one more example: a mail ad for radio host Rush Limbaugh’s newsletter proudly proclaims that the envelope “was not printed on recycled paper”...
Down in Kentucky, state government has set aside $600,000 for a job corps to help businesses and towns with pollution problems...
Activists worrying about the dangerous chemicals that keep golf courses lush and then spill into the countryside have more ammunition from a new University of Iowa study.
A survey of 618 former golf course superintendents found an unsually high incidence of tumors in their lungs, brains, prostates and elsewhere ...
Who says electric vehicles won’t work? A battery-powered Chevy S-10 pickup set a world record last month by driving 831 miles in one day at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. The pickup stopped every hour or so for high-speed recharges, the sort which may be available at local filling stations in a few years...
Get ready, Annapolis. In Boston, the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, has donated three pounds of red worms to be used in state office buildings to eat banana peels, pizza crusts and leftovers from stateworkers’ lunches...
Stormswept waters of the Chesapeake have claimed the lives of a couple of kayakers in recent years, but in California a 34-year-old woman kayaker survived when a Great White Shark struck her craft with such force that she was sent 10 feet into the air. She tried several times to get back into her kayak, but it kept tipping over because of a 20-inch gash in the hull. Another kayaker rescued her. A San Francisco aquarium director said that these sharks often bite, then back off to allow their victims to die before they commence feeding. Thankfully, no such sharks in the Chesapeake.
This week’s Creature Feature comes to us from frog-jumping land out in California, the locale for Mark Twain’s short story: “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
For 65 years since Twain’s famous story, they’ve been holding the Jumping Frog Jubilee, sort of a track meet for athletic amphibians.
Now there’s a twist. Authorities hereabouts found out recently that people are refining a hallucenogenic drug produced by local toads. These lumpy toads with no better name than Bufo alvarius secrete a fluid from a gland on their back which resembles LSD when dried and smoked.
Toking toad juice called bufoteine is illegal even in the Kingdom of the Jumping Frog. Two people, one of them an Explorer Scout leader, were arrested.
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