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This Weeks Lead Story
Meet Ray Mudd, Firefighter. His Tale Will Chill You
A harrowing story of a victim and his painful path to recovery
Pullout 1: “Suddenly, the roof and everything just caved in. It was like the sky was falling. When I looked up, I was surrounded by fire.”
Pullout 2: “One night I thought a balloon in the room was attacking me. It was so real that the nurse had to get rid of it. The morphine did that.”
In 25 years as a volunteer firefighter, I’d gotten my hair singed plenty of times. My ears, too. So what? It happens to everybody.
A blister or two couldn’t hold a candle to what I got out of being a volunteer. It was exciting back in the beginning, in December 1968. There was not much else to do in Deale, where my parents had moved when I was 13 and started Mudds Liquors. When I turned 16, my buddies and I found our fun at the fire company.
I stuck as a firefighter for a long time. I became chief in 1982 and was re-elected each year for 10 years.
I’m still a member, though I can’t do all things that I used to do because of my hands. But I still like to ride once in a while for the heck of it. It’s still exciting, after all that’s happened to me.
April 3 1992: A Fateful Day
It was Election Day. I remember because they were voting at the firehouse. I was at my real job at Schwartz Real Estate around 11am, when I had a pager call: a house was burning. I carried my gear in the car, and since the fire was just up the road on Rt. 258, West Bay Front Road, in Lothian, I figured to be first to get up there. So I took off, wearing my turn-out coat, helmet and three-quarter boots.
Fire was bursting out the second floor windows of this brick and siding house. Two guys that I knew, paid firefighters in neighboring counties, had beaten me to the scene. They’d just happened along and stopped but they had no gear. They told me where most of fire was so I put on my gloves and went in the first floor to take a look. The front half of the house, tall rooms with cathedral ceilings, was okay. But at the back half, the second story was aflame. Nobody was in the house.
When I came back out, engines, hook and ladder trucks and tankers had arrived from Deale, Harwood, Avalon Shores, Galesville and Dunkirk We stretched out our hoses to fight the fire. But by the time the regional battalion chief caught up with us, the fire had burned nearly out of control. Flames were popping out of the roof.
As chief, I normally didn’t even go in on a fire, but today the regional chief sent me inside to find out why we weren’t making any headway.
I could see from inside that the fire had broken further through the roof. With embers of sheet rock starting to fall, I decided that it wasn’t safe to stay inside any longer. So I ordered the firefighters who were inside to leave, and then I waited on the first floor till everybody on both hose lines got out.
But before we could leave, a section of sheet rock fell, knocking me to floor. I could see, but smoke was filling the room and I began to worry about breathing. I wanted to adjust my oxygen mask, but the gloves were clumsy so I took them off. Both the thick gloves were in my right hand and my helmet was off when it happened.
Suddenly, the roof and everything just caved in. It was like the sky was falling. When I looked up, I was surrounded by fire.
The door was just 10 feet away. and I crawled through four-foot-high flames toward it. Wow! I made it, I thought, as the door opened. Then Jack Davis, one of the first guys at the fire, pulled me out.
It felt like I was still laying in fire. My rear end was very, very hot. That’s because the back of my coat was on fire and holes had burned right through it.
I was on fire. They turned the hose on me.
Missing Skin, Charcoal-broiled Hands
All this time I was conscious. I could hear mass confusion. I looked at my charcoaled hands. The skin had peeled off and was hanging in sheets. I knew I was burned pretty badly. I could feel my ears and neck and everything throbbing. My heart started racing and I thought I might be having a heart attack.
“Get me the hell out of this yard,” I yelled. “Get me in an ambulance.” I didn’t want to die out in this yard.
Everything hurt me, even the air. Almost every area I had exposed was burned. The fire had whipped up under my coat and burned my dress pants right off me. I was shaking, so I knew I was going into shock. Worse than the pain was the fright.
I didn’t know how bad my legs were and I wanted to find out so I kept telling them they had to let me stand. They let me, and even though I couldn’t walk, I knew I was all there. That made me feel better.
Finally, they lifted me onto a stretcher and into a paramedic unit. Actually, they lifted me twice, moving me from Harwood-Lothian’s unit into Galesville’s. They started IVs and put sterile coverings on some of my wounds.
All this time, I could hear the radio. They wanted a helicopter to fly me to the Francis Scott Key Burn Center in Baltimore, but on this cloudy, windy day, the helicopter wasn’t flying. I was mad. I wanted to get there as quickly as I could. I refused morphine; I’d heard bad things about it, plus I was scared that if I passed out, I might not come back. I wanted to know what was going on around me.
That’s when I learned that the other guys who’d been in the house when the ceiling fell were all right.
Rings of Fire and a Cleansing Experience
At the Francis Scott Key Burn Center in Baltimore, four or five medics were waiting for me, and I didn’t have a choice about taking morphine.
They worried that I’d ingested smoke and gasses through my air hose or through my ears or even my rear end because, as I said, I was burned in many places. But nothing had gotten inside me, so I guess I was lucky.
It’s funny how pain works. Through it all, the worst was when they tried to get my rings off. My fingers were burned real bad. The horseshoe ring on my right hand cut off easy enough, but they broke three ring cutters trying to get my wedding ring. When the jagged edge of a ring stuck in my burned flesh, all the pain in my body seemed to become localized in that one finger.
“Get that damn thing off, ” I said.
(I just got my rings back, by the way. They’re two sizes larger now and the county wouldn’t pay to make them fit.)
I was covered in soot, ash and burned skin. When they lowered me into the tub and began scraping me with a brush, real pain started.
“I’m glad that’s over,” I said when they finally finished. “I don’t think I could survive something like that again.”
Then, I’m told: “We’re going to do it every day.”
An Excruciating Fight Back
They were reassuring me and treating me so well that I began believing that maybe I wasn’t hurt so badly. I said I’d go home in a week. “What?” someone replied.
I was critically burned. My fingers were like crispy critters, with the tip burned off one of them and all the nails gone.
Soon, the swelling started. My neck became so huge they were worried about my breathing. I had two operations on my hands, with skin grafted on from my sides. My hands were bandaged so that I looked like I was wearing jai alai mitts.
I’d get confused. One night, I thought a balloon in the room was attacking me. It was so real that the nurse had to get rid of it.
The morphine did that. After each skin graft, it would hurt excruciatingly for days because they would scrape skin down to bare bleeding nothing. There would be days I’d be begging for morphine.
I was in that hospital for 23 days, and on each one of them, they lowered me into that tub and scraped.
Three Seconds Last Forever
The house was rebuilt before I got back in operation.
I was home eight months before I went back to work, and even so, I did everything too soon. I insisted on going to the Deale Volunteer Fire Department’s Spring Oyster Roast. For getting to sit there in a wheelchair a couple of hours, I paid dearly; all the bandages stuck and tore my healing skin completely off.
How am I nearly two years later? My ears look okay, except they’re red, and there are patches of red on my face. But I never lost a single hair. My helmet held up good, but I got out just in time because it had started to melt.
My hands are a different story. The outsides are brown and my fingers are clawed. My left hand doesn’t straighten. My right hand is better, because its palm was protected by the gloves I grasped in my fist as I crawled out of the fire. You can even see on my wrists the line where my coat ended.
I haven’t been feeling right since the fire and don’t know if I ever will.
Three seconds, that’s about how long I was in there after the roof fell. But I’ve got to deal with it forever. In real estate, I deal with a lot of new people and I feel like I’ve got to explain: “In case you wonder about my hands, I was burned in a fire.” I hate it every time I say it.
The fire has become the central experience in life. I can’t forget about it even for a minute because my hands are always in front of me.
I had plenty of thinking time since April 3, 1992. I know what’s important now I do more with my family.
Am I afraid of fires? I don’t think so … I went back and rode the truck after I got out of the hospital. I’d probably go in a burning house again but I don’t know for sure.
I’m still a firefighter, so maybe I’ll find out.
Sailor’s Log: From the Chesapeake Through Florida
by Adam Smith
Tuesday I lost all my alligators. We passed a tug and barge on our port side, and I lost all of them. I’d been counting alligators ever since we entered the canal system on Lake Okeechobee. John was now winning with three alligators to starboard.
I hate John, but he as a good eye for alligators.
Do not think we have resorted to counting alligators on the swamp. Oh no, our days are filled with excitement. Since South Carolina, when Rossa Lee Parker emasculated our little Cal 29 with her a single stroke of her swing bridge, we have played esoteric 20 Questions. We look forward to playing the Bozo Super Fun Bucket Game as soon as we finish off the last 11 pounds of Bisquick packed in Bozo Bucket #6.
We had been swimming until the alligators escalated that game’s stakes. I had figured that if Darin got eaten up, I could have all his Alligator Points. Maybe I should recap …
As New Bay Times printed (with alarming realism), after our dismasting at Lime House Swing Bridge, we were growing accustomed to the 90-decibel roar of our 17hp Ferryman Diesel engine (Emily, if you are new to this adventure). We were attuned to every variation of speed and every current change. Depth meter replaced compass as our instrument of navigation.
Travel gems have included Sea Brook Island in South Carolina, where we encountered a beautiful floating dock and its lovely boar with complimentary popcorn. As we recapped our adventure for the upstairs bartender, a character piped up from the end of the bar. He, he claimed, had a friend who, having witnessed the whole bout from his truck, wondered if we were still alive.
We proved we were not ghosts by ordering more dark beer. Davis, a friend we made at the Privateer Lounge, gave us food, lodging and a night’s respite from hearing taller sailboats hailing bridge tenders to open up.
We were just as tired of hearing the snap, crackle and pop of our delaminating sailboat. I went to sleep every night expecting to wake up with wet feet. Water had begun to dribble through the stuffing boxes for both rudder post and drive shaft. It was nothing to worry about (it wasn’t our boat), but it kept the bilge pump busy.
Returned refreshed to Stoweaway, we motored to Beaufort, South Carolina where a free sea-wall dockage gave us another excuse to hit a watering hole. A friendly policeman pointed our way. We later learned he was in charge of the city’s parking meters but was jobless for several weeks because everyone parks free for Christmas, when the town commission covers the meters with holiday bags.
Savannah, Georgia, on the other hand, charges $2 a foot at its city dock, but the bars are just as good.
Next morning, as we were backing into a four-knot current, Darin announced we were broke (how many black and tans did we drink?). Ten minutes into the trip, Emily threw a fit, showering me in steam and exhaust. Once again, a freighter was bearing down on us. Darin ran into the port shore to remove us from the Savannah River Channel of Danger. I replaced small hoses with bigger ones and removed Emily’s alternator. We cranked Emily again and she tanked us with a cool spurt of carbon diesel saltwater.
Disaster once again averted, we puttered off to more southern latitudes and alligators.
Captain’s Log: 10 December 1993
Port of Departure: Jensen Island, Fla. (location estimated from rod map. Our charts ended at Jacksonville). 7:20am
Port of Arrival: The Okeechobee waterway, two miles east of Port Mayaca. 4:45pm.
Weather: warm and sunny
Wave Height: Nominal
Wind Speed and Direction: Does it really matter?
Sightings: One naked lady in a passing motorboat. Adam missed it. he was driving down a very tricky stretch of canal, a three-mile straight line.
Saw coconuts in the waterway; sang the theme from Gilligan’s Island.
First alligator sighted. Dips in the water will be short this evening, gentlemen.
Downers: A short rain shower after we went below for the evening. It was the third spot of precipitation during the trip, one of which interrupted the prime tanning hours of the day.
Events to remember: The anticipation of the crew builds. We get to turn west across the state. Our westward turn will put us on the state’s west coast in 13 hours; going around would take 22 days. What’s more, our new direction to the sun will improve our tans.
We cross I-95 near Stuart, Fla. State isn’t actually flat: we have to go through a nine-foot lift lock.
Later in the Day: Going west in a ditch isn’t any more exciting than going south.
Your Volunteer Fire Company:
A Force Marylanders Can Be Proud Of
By Liz Zylwitis
Dedicated to J. Bryan Housenfluck of Crofton, firefighter I/EMT, who was struck down in a car accident last summer. He was 20 years old.
From the day they first picked up a toy fire engine to the day they reached 16 (the legal drop-out age), not a day had passed without the dream of becoming a firefighter. School was another thing.
So the paid and volunteer officers at Arundel Volunteer Fire Department, Gambrills, Maryland, have set a new educational standard for their members.
Members take different routes to meet that standard and to obtain their high school diplomas. Together, volunteer firefighters Thomas R. “Scot” Machande Jr., 22; Martin Moran, 22; Christian Mueller, 23; and even Volunteer Association Vice President Arthur Spencer, 43, applied for and received their GEDs in the summer of 1990. Then, Gerard P. “Jeep” Deosaran, 18, doubled up with night school courses his senior year. He graduated on schedule last June.
These volunteers represent many others in Anne Arundel and other Maryland counties. Anne Arundel, for example has about 750 volunteers certified to respond to emergency calls plus another 650 associate members.
In the past, some volunteers anxious to realize their dreams dropped out of high school to spend full days and nights at the fire department. But volunteer and paid officers wise to the old drop-out trend now use their influence to steer young members back to school.
With the support of officers and members, our new firefighters are schooled in algebraic equations, sentence diagrams and forms of government. More to the point, with discipline, they are prepared to handle fire academy training, ranging from fire suppression to pre-hospital care.
Members still in high school meet grade requirements and weeknight curfews or face suspension from their company.
Deosaran was part of a wave of younger members joining Arundel early last year for whom these new rules were designed.
Building a Fire Company
I met a 16-year-old Deosaran, tall, dark and handsome, playing basketball in his neighborhood one night and through our conversation, I learned firefighting was among his dreams. As a female Emergency Medical Technician since high school, I told him all I knew about Arundel. My favorite fire department was also the one nearest his home; he passed Arundel several times each day, thinking, “What if?”
Then, the house two doors down from his burned to the ground, and he said to himself, “That’s enough.”
He started learning about emergency equipment in a bay that was way ahead of the play room floor. From one of the best-equipped rescue squads in the country to the brushfire jeep, Arundel was hot: They boasted two flaming red (the volunteer’s color) fire engines, an ambulance and chief’s car, too. Along the walls were stacked trophies for softball, volleyball and dress/equipment parades throughout the state. One row of lockers and another, racks of turnout gear and boots, filled the hall.
On the bay’s left side, new kitchen cabinets were being assembled. The laundry room contained washer, dryer and pantry shelves, just like home. The lounge was furnished with bookshelves, boardtable, sectional sofa and large-screen TV (a donation).
To the right, the co-ed bunkroom was being rearranged for better use of space; a future addition was planned. Separate restrooms were equipped with showers. Beyond the alarm room doors were the chief’s office and career firefighters’ quarters. Some departments, like Arundel, combine volunteer and county funds to purchase fire department land, building and equipment. Others, like Deale’s, are owned by volunteers themselves.
Clearly this was more than a workplace; it was a place you could call home.
Deosaran agreed: “School room dividers, institutional desks, chairs, cafeteria tables and colors don’t compare to fire department comforts.”
Now a high school graduate, Deosaran works as a carpenter, student and volunteer. He plans to continue the fire academy series of courses and apply for paid jobs when they become available. “Paid or volunteer, I’m in it for life,” he said. After a short pause, he added, “Hopefully, both.” He’s still dreaming!
“Good firefighters have desire, heart, dedication. They have a will to learn and physical endurance,” said Deosaran. And as for young people who share his dream. “Do it,” he tells them. “Training doesn’t cost the volunteer a dime and the work makes a difference.”
But take it slow. A good start is key. Find a mentor and use what they teach to boost your training. At Arundel, Deosaran recommends Matthew Briggs, 23, a volunteer lieutenant. Finally, get to know other members, especially those in your age group.
Deosaran didn’t feel he had the hang of firefighting until a practice house burning last May. It was then that Chief Robert DeWitt said to him plainly, “Good job.”
Machande, Moran and Mueller remain at Arundel with plans of becoming paid firefighters. Like many volunteers, they wish county officials would give them more credit for time they’ve served when career positions open up. “I feel we are underutilized, considering all the training our firefighters have, especially the officers,” said DeWitt.
From frat-like initiations to pop equipment quizzes, these volunteers continue a tradition of obstacles for new members.
Among the legends, most imaginative, is the medical call invented to prepare a probationary member nicknamed “Spaz.” The call was broadcast through the station as real calls are. On scene, the response team discovered a DOA, bagged the body (another member) and set it on the stretcher in the rear of the ambulance with the probie. On the way to the hospital (back to the station), the body started moving. [email protected]#$%^&*
Later the same night, the ambulance and engine crews were called out on a real DOA. Spaz, who remained in the station, asked about the nature of the call upon their return. When they said it was a DOA, he doubted them.
In an emergency, firefighters work shoulder to shoulder without room for such doubt. Each one depends on the next and vice versa, so that in the end a volunteer’s lifeline is linked to every other volunteer.
Trust and teamwork are strongest in every multi-unit response. The more volunteers on scene, the higher the level of trust and teamwork. Organization and efficiency follow.
All these elements build a companya term of such deep feeling that firefighters think it family and their departments, home.
Building Communities, Too
Fire companies draw from all segments of their communities. To serve those communities, they draw on their varied careers and life experience. They’ve got the leadership and financial planning skills of a good business manager. The physical stamina and strength of a furniture mover. The defensive driving knowledge of a schoolbus driver. They’ve got it all.
Look around you and you’ll be amazed by all the community ties each fire company has. Chances are one is directly linked to you.
They protect, entertain, teach and welcome us. They keep us centered and tell us when we’re close to home. We give directions past them and they wave. We hear their sirens, see their flashing lights and make way for them. Our kids meet them at their schools and scout meetings. They set a good example. Our community groups meet and we hold private parties, even wedding receptions, in their fire hall.
In summer, we look forward to their crab feast. In fall, they throw the best oyster roast. We flock to their open house and craft fair. In winter, we visit Santa and look for their model train and light display. They have a different face each season but are never far from home.
To the communities from which they come they’re today’s equivalent of the lighthouse: a familiar landmark that keeps disaster at bay.
“In an emergency, volunteers are the first to respond and the last to leave,” said Ray Mudd, former fire chief, Deale VFD.
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Dock of the Bay
At Patuxent, Supersonic to Superfund
The year was 1942, and a war-shocked military seized the ideal location for America’s warplane test center: 6,500 acres in Southern Maryland, where the Patuxent River joins the Chesapeake Bay.
In the years to come, the Patuxent River Naval Air Station would hone the world’s finest aircraft, from the FH-1 Phantom to the F-18. It would groom astronauts and train the very best pilots.
Fine technical minds figure flight electronics and instrument calibration at Patuxent. Twenty-six commanding officers have overseen the girding of America’s air forces through three wars.
But along the way, somebody forgot to pay attention to what they were doing to the earth. On this idyllic chunk of land, they have made garbage dumps in wetlands, leaked vast amounts of fuels and spilled long-lived pesticides.
As a result, last week the Patuxent station was recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund clean-up site.
“I don’t think anybody is proud to be on the National Priorities List,” acknowledged Capt. Bruce Kendall, Patuxent’s Public Works Officer.
Kendall and a squadron of 28 Patuxent officers and public relations specialists convened on a snowy day to try to explain the Superfund designation. They contended that much of the pollution happened years ago and that they’ve begun cleaning up without EPA decrees.
They disputed being on the list. And curiously, they issued a press release and spoke nearly an hour without using the word Superfund.
Despite their protests, the Patuxent site is likely to remain a Superfund site, thereby serving as a testimony to a half-century of abuse of land.
“I doubt that they would be removed from the list anytime soon,” observed Terri White, a spokeswoman at EPA’s regional headquarters in Philadelphia. “A lot of their problems are long term.”
EPA and Navy documents pinpoint these problem areas:
• Fishing Point Landfill, a 25-acre landfill situated along the Patuxent, was a main dump in the 1960s and 1970s. “The landfill is located in wetlands,” the EPA points out. “It received sewage treatment plant sludge, cesspool wastes, spent oil absorbents, paints, antifreeze, solvents, thinners, pesticides and photolab wastes.”
• A separate 16.5-acre dump, which until 1980 received general and hazardous materials, including hospital wastes.
• The Pesticide Shop, the staging area for spraying DDT, dieldren and a host of now-banned pesticides for many years.
The Navy has identified another 31 sites where clean-up is needed of ammunition, fuels, PCBs, battery acid and whatever else people had the bad sense to dump or leak.
Patuxent is hardly alone among military bases that should have known better. Indeed, Patuxent’s problems are minor compared to the radioactive messes in Washington state, Tennessee and elsewhere around the country, which are costing taxpayers around $7 billion annually to deal with.
By contrast, the Navy is setting aside a couple hundred thousand dollars this year that could grow into the millions later.
Capt. Roger Hill, Patuxent’s commanding officer, asserted that the Superfund designation could be a double-edged sword, perhaps freeing up other pots of federal money.
That’s possible. But Superfund is a troubled program, bled by lawyers from both sides and up for rewriting this year by a skeptical Congress. Patuxent is just one of 26 new sites proposed last week, bringing to a staggering 1,289 the number of places around the country where complicated and costly clean-up is needed.
More realistically, Superfund status might provide a kick in the seat of the pants for the Navy. Two years ago, Patuxent’s anti-pollution efforts won a Department of Defense competition open to installations around the country.
The crew at Patuxent has displayed resourcefulness in its clean-up projects, damming, for example, a drainage field that sent pollution toward the Bay. They have been willing to publicly discuss their problems, perhaps aware that they inhabit a portion of the earth where environmental standards are high, a place rich in history with the Somerville House and the Mattapany Mansion among important landmarks on the base
But the fact remains that one of the finest pieces of real estate along the Chesapeake Bay an area bought for $712,000 and now valued at over $1 billion has three dozen or so nasty, polluted places.
The Superfund designation will test the resolve of the Navy. Will they sit back to see if extra money comes their way? Or will they ante up more quickly than planned, thereby doing The Right Thing at the place where they showed, as Tom Wolfe put it, The Right Stuff?
“There may be a silver lining somewhere,” observed Richard Gallant, head of the environmental branch of Patuxent’s public works.
Maryland: “Keep Your Giant Goldfish at Home”
Should we stock the Bay with grass carp fish that consume up to ten times their weight 66 to 79 pounds on average; as much as 400 pounds daily?
Such was the question when experts convened in Annapolis on a snowy day last week.
When these fish, native to large rivers in China and Russia, were first introduced to U.S. waters back in 1963 as a biological control on marine vegetation, they adapted so well that they took over the food sources of other marine life. For the last 20 years, worried experts have been researching their eating and movement trends.
Today, the grass carp is banned in 35 states, but our neighbors to the north and west Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey remain among those states that stock them.
So DNR officials worry and they ask, “How will grass carp used to control our neighbors’ vegetation affect our Bay’s ecology?”
Our neighbors tell us not to worry. They’ve got their grass carp under control. They impose restrictions on private stockings; in their public waters the only grass carp allowed are sterile and those only in small numbers. They use physical barriers to restrict the movement of these fish; they study and track them.
Still, DNR officials are still shaking their heads over the dangers of grass carp because they’ll “eat any type of vegetation.”
Will the Navy Bottle Up the Last Dairy Farm?
In Anne Arundel, the county council took steps at its last meeting to assure that the Naval Academy doesn’t convert its landmark dairy farm in a way harms the community.
The 880-acre dairy farm the Navy has operated at Gambrills since 1911 is now the last dairy operation in the county.
But with a milk glut, cow hormones that increase production and the economics of dairying in flux, the Navy is considering shifting portions of the farm to other uses.
Residents nearby have grown accustomed over generations to the farm. They worry now that the Navy might do something that disrupts the bucolic setting.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of school children who come there, and this is the only time they have to pet a cow or see a calf,” Oscar Grimes, a nearby farmer, told the county council.
“I beg you, don’t just think about tomorrow or five years from now. Think about the future of the children,” Grimes said.
By a 7-0 vote, the council passed a resolution asking the Navy to work with the community to keep the farm in open-space use. Horseback riding, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, a golf course all were mentioned as possibilities.
“There’s no more land being made,” observed council member Virginia Clagett. “I’d hate to see it change.”
Capt. John Collins, deputy for management at the academy, declined to specify what the Navy might be considering in the way of changes.
“It’s not our intention to sell the land,” Collins said, adding that the Navy would work with local residents on a plan.
Earth Tones, a new long-distance telephone company in Boston, says it will save you 10 percent on your phone bill while investing profits in green causes. The company, formed by environmental groups, has sent out 100,000 brochures to drum up business.
Their slogan? What else “Dialing for Dolphins”...
In Belgium, a company called Solar and Robotics has developed a solar lawn mower that grazes the yard continuously, cutting grass as long as the sun shines. Why would you want one? To save energy and cut down pollution, that’s why.
The mower now costs $3,500. But it is likely to be available for considerably less when Poulon/Weedeater begins selling it in the U.S. next year. The manufacturer is perfecting how to control where it goes, probably with underground wires.
Then people can decide whether to spend a couple thousand dollars or just hire a goat ...
The U.S. government could take a lesson from Hong Kong in protecting people from pesticides. The Hong Kong Agriculture and Fisheries Department intends to start using labels to tell people when they are getting vegetables and fruit free of contamination...
Our Creature Feature this week may be troubling to men in the aftermath of the Bobbitt verdict. Biologists have identified an all-female species of fish thriving in Gulf Coast waters off of Florida, Texas and Mexico.
Amazon mollies named after the all-female tribe from Greek mythology reproduce by cloning. Scientists never were sure of this oddity until a recent round of tests on the tiny baitfish, Science magazine reports.
But the experiments also showed that despite their independence, the Amazon mollies can’t go it completely alone. To get the cloning underway, they need a little sperm from a related species of sailfin mollies.
So even these females need a little help from their male friends.
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Trash Incinerators: Burn This Idea Now
Planners in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties are considering regional incinerators hulking, smoke-belching $100 million contraptions as the answer to future garbage problems.
Incinerators are bad ideas from good people who fall victim to shortsightedness promoted by consultants and companies who build them. Across the country, incinerators are causing headaches for communities unable to find enough trash to pay for them.
Health risks from the pollution they create are open to debate; that’s what the U.S. Supreme Court did last week. In this debate, no one disputes that you produce dioxins, lead and a witch’s brew of toxics when you stuff gobs of garbage in an oven.
It’s also true that communities face higher taxes to keep incinerators going. In some, the zeal for recycling has also dimmed with the illusion that you can burn your troubles away.
The Supreme Court last week hashed out an issue that could derail our local incinerator plans. The court was asked to decide whether the ash from incinerators the gunk left at the bottom and in the stacks should be formally declared hazardous.
Why is this important? Because disposing a ton of so-called non-hazardous ash can be accomplished for as little as $20 in today’s markets. But finding a permanent home in a secure landfill for a ton of “hazardous” ash can cost over $400.
One burner can generate over 100,000 tons of ash each year. The Illinois incinerator at the center of the court case produces 140,000 tons. Where does the money to get rid of it come from? We’ll give you three guesses:
(a) from the consultants who advised building the incinerator;
(b) from the out-of-state corporations that built it;
(c) from local taxpayers.
The Supremes may, of course, conclude that the toxic leavings of incinerators are not technically hazardous even though their components are. If that’s what they decide, we have a slew of other reasons for rejection.
For one thing, the laws surrounding incinerators and their pollution are as gray as the ash. Here’s what a federal judge who had this case earlier wrote: “What we have to work with here is a statute subject to varying interpretations, a foggy legislative history and a waffling administrative agency (the EPA). Where do we turn?”
There’s a clear message here. If you build an incinerator, buddy, don’t look to government to solve your problems. Because government doesn’t have a clue.
(P.S. If you guessed (c) in the quiz above, you’re thinking straight.)
When All News Is Local
We at New Bay Times listen when people and other papers talk about covering of local news. What exactly is local news?
Is it a drug bust down the road? Is it a mugging at the mall? Is it a midnight shooting at the convenience store? Is local news all crime?
Knowing about crime can be helpful in an era when randomness and violence is on the rise. But we think there’s more to local news.
In New Bay Times, what you have seen for nearly a year is a broader view of local news built on two things:
One, the Western Shore of the Chesapeake Bay is a community unto itself. The more we understand that, the more we band together to protect our regional interests, the better it will be for business and life in general.
Two, we live in a computer-filled world where technology is changing the definition of news. We are at the toll booth of an information superhighway in which everything will soon be zooming at us even faster than today.
Very shortly, all of us will have the option of 500 cable television channels, video telephones and gadgetry our grandparents couldn’t have dreamed up.
So what’s a newspaper to do?
Here at New Bay Times, we will continue to do more in our second year than tell you about hoodlums and drug punks. We will help you sort through mind-boggling changes.
We will look out for your health and protect your right to clean water and clean air.
We will become even more of a family paper, knowing that bringing up kids gets tougher by the day.
Finally, in our local news, we will remain committed to the Chesapeake Bay, which can keep us all united, happy and prosperous.
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Letters to the Editor
Into Our Second Year
Dear New Bay Times:
Your great little newspaper has given me a greater appreciation of the Bay all those timely articles on ways to help save the Bay, the interesting “people” stories, tips on shopping, eating, entertainment.
Keep up the good work and continuing success into a second year for you all.
Mary Ellen Holbrook, Fairhaven Cliffs, Md.
Dear New Bay Times:
Your editorial “Drug Abuse Versus Constitution Abuse” is superb.
Governments, federal, state and local, should serve citizens, helps citizens. They are not properly working for citizens (who pay them) if they lack a sense of proportion and humanity.
It is not healthy for government officials to treat rank and file citizens with contempt and arrogance.
We need law enforcement … with sensible priorities.
Bob Jones, Washington, D.C.
Wanted: Your Opinion
Dear New Bay Times:
Officials of Anne Arundel County are now considering the feasibility of constructing a regional Waste-to-Energy conversion plant to cope with the growing problem of solid waste disposal. A Waste-to-Energy facility is a state-of-the-art trash incinerator that burns municipal solid waste under controlled conditions and uses the heat to generate electricity.
The Chesapeake Environmental Protection Association, a member-supported citizens group founded in 1969, has a sustained interest in solutions to waste-management problems and may choose to take a position, pro or con, on this matter.
Readers of New Bay Times are invited to send written opinions or comments to CEPA; PO Box 117; Galesville, MD 20765.
C. W. Hiatt, Harwood, Md.
The Real Meaning of Christmas
Dear New Bay Times:
In this troubled world, we feel we must tell our story of compassion, kindness and love.
My sister and I live in Deale, where we are both employed at Happy Harbor Inn. On Christmas Day, we received a terrible phone call, telling us our mother (the mother of nine children) had passed away suddenly.
Right away, we received community support. Pig-Outs, another local restaurant, called to fix food for the funeral and Parks Liquor, another local business, sent a tractor over to plow our road so people could park for the wake. Our boss and her daughter, Barbara and Karen Sturgell, were absolutely unbelievable. Barbara and Karen started a collection at Happy Harbor. Hours later, they had collected over $1200 from customers and coworkers to help our family with expenses: to bring a sister from Arizona, flowers, funeral expenses whatever.
When we returned home, the house was full of food sent by Happy Harbor, Pig-Outs, Knights of Pythias #48, and cakes and breads baked by our friends and coworkers.
Words cannot even begin to express how we feel. It was unbelievable. Our family would like to thank each and every person involved in whatever way. The last few days have passed in a haze, but we would like to share our story of love.
May God bless everyone.
P.S. I can’t forget the people that offered babysitting for any of the 26 grandchildren and the 18 great-grandchildren our mother had.
J.R. Hvizda and Oma Brooks Deale, Md.
Dear New Bay Times:
Thanks for the richly anecdotal “Toast to Gene” in your December 1 issue. As a beneficiary of his hospitality and humor for these last 36 years, I chuckled my way through your aptly drawn word portrait. May we all honor his memory by living our lives with “style and abundance.”
P.S. On my holiday visit to the cemetery where both he and my father are buried, I took some oysters.
Linda Claire Kulla St. Louis, Mo.
Dear New Bay Times:
Reading Eli Flam’s article about books on the Bay (Vol. 1: 17), my eye fell on the words “Unexpected Pleasures” and as I began reading, I said, “Who could possibly know about these books of mine?” Then I looked for the author’s name, and it all clicked. It’s always good to see something Eli’s written.
Phyllis Naylor Bethesda, Md.
Green for Green
Dear New Bay Times:
Thanks for your good article on the “Greening of Annapolis” (Vol. 1: 15), which brought the Alliance for Sustainable Communities
a volunteer landscape architect and a contribution of $50!
Anne Pearson Annapolis, Md.
St. Marys? By Mail
Dear New Bay Times:
With great good fortune, I stumbled across New Bay Times (Vol 1: 13) in Solomons. Fortunate, because the “Flight of the Osprey” answered so many questions I didn’t know enough to ask.
New Bay Times does not seem to be available in St. Mary’s County. I enclose a year’s subscription.
Good luck to you, and I appreciate the work and endeavor you are pouring into New Bay Times.
Vi Englund, Valley Lee, Md.
Editor’s Note: We hope to be more seen in St. Mary’s County soon.
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Think It’s Cold Now?
Back in the 20s and 30s, It Was So Cold That …
by Vern Gingell
So we think it’s cold now? Well it is, kinda, but was it ever cold then! Let me tell you about the 1920s and 1930s: Wow!
During the mid-1920s, and I am sure even before, the winters were long, with bitter cold beginning before Thanksgiving and lasting late into March. Snow stayed on the ground; on the Bay, ice extended from the Western Shores of Herring Bay as far as they eye could see, beyond Poplar, Jefferson and Coates Islands to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In 1935, for example, February’s daytime temperature never rose above freezing, but the mercury dropped into the single digits at night.
The ice was so thick, in some places three feet or more, that all commercial shipping literally ground to a halt.
Many families along the Western Shore’s waterfront and inland farmlands drove their horse and wagons out on the frozen Bay, where, with large saws, they cut ice blocks into 25 and 50 pound pieces. These ice blocks would then be carted ashore and stored in deep underground caves, some with bricked entrance arches, and one large ice storage room in back. Bay ice would cool food and beverages in their ice boxes during warmer months. The old Ford farm right off Fairhaven Road still has its ice-storage cave, located approximately 100 feet behind the house where Peggy Eversfield lives.
It was so cold in those days that it was no surprise to glance out over the Bay and see cars and small trucks racing over the thick ice, spinning and sliding in arcs and figure eights like ballerinas of that day.
The thirties were fabulous years for ice skating and ice boating on the open reaches of the Bay as well as in such tidal arteries as Fairhaven’s own tidal lake. Two or even three hundred skaters might be gliding smoothly and effortlessly across the ice. Ice hockey and all manner of ice games, such as Jail House Breakout, were played by the young, teens and preteens, as well as older folks upwards of 70 years or maybe even more.
Everyone was welcome and many would come from North Beach, Deale, Friendship, Owings and, yes, even from Washington and Annapolis to enjoy the winter pleasures of this fabulous area. To make it pleasanter, huge bonfires were built, scattered all along the perimeter of our lake for everyone to enjoy, and that they did, while new friends were made and old ones made welcome.
But, alas, as winter with its cold icy grip passes slowly into spring, the surface of the Bay makes a dramatic change, but not without fanfare, for the change is abrupt and awesome. In the distance near the center of the Bay, sounds like cannonading would echo and reverberate in the stillness as huge hunks of ice broke up and slid across the surface of the remaining ice while water would cascade upward 20 or 30 feet in a dull green-and-white, foam-frothed arc.
The end of winter is then at hand. Once again, ships of commerce would ply their way long the Bay, north to the port of Annapolis and Baltimore Harbor and then south along the coastal southern states.
Yes, good people, it is “kinda” cold now, but only a feeble reminder of winters past. Brr-brr!
Matt Ford and Charlie Walton prompted the writer’s memory for this Reflection. Fairhaven, their vantage point, sits just about at Bay midpoint on little Herring Bay.
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King Crab Will Pinch You if You Don’t Watch Out!
Business as usual. Now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty of crab management in Maryland, and business as usual means that business interests in Chesapeake Bay Country that means commercial interests are of paramount consideration. The recreational crabber gets the leftovers.
Since long before the first issue of New Bay Times, there has not been such a controversy as that involving DNR in the ongoing Crab War initiated several months ago when Gov. William Donald Schaefer who else? got into the act.
The King Crab who reigns in Annapolis is best known for his partiality to business interests. His bottom line thinking shows in the controversial proposals and “re-proposals” about curtailing catches of our beloved crustacean, the blue crab.
If you sports crabbers want to stop the “crab-grab,” you must write, call, and/or attend at least one of the two public hearings scheduled to discuss DNR so-called “re-proposals.” And might I suggest you also make your sentiments known to the governor.
Sun outdoors writer Pete Baker summed the situation up appropriately in a recent column under the headline “Recreational Crabber May Take Pinch.” After questioning whether restrictive measures should not be directed toward where they might most benefit the crab (the commercial catch), Baker suggested the recreational crabber “is without an effective lobby in the legislature or on a Blue Crab Advisory Board.”
He also suggested the recreational crabber needs only a “reasonable chance to take his/her two bushels per day” from a resource that, in effect, he/she owns.
Then came his capsule comment that best describes the dilemma of not only the sports crabber but of fishermen and hunters as well: “But in this state, too often money talks and the rest of us walk.”
Well said, Pete, and through the years we have done much walking. Our most recent hike was a couple months ago when former Speaker of the House Clayton Mitchell and the King Crab combined forces to override DNR’s original curtailment proposals for the troubled Canada goose.
We walked when commercial interests prevailed far too long in conservation efforts to curtail catches of rockfish, yellow perch, and hickory and white shad . Also in earlier moves to cut back on the hunting of geese and ducks. And, who needs be reminded of oysters?
With Maryland’s natural resources, we have a history of economic impact statements prevailing over environmental impact statements.
I, for one, am tired of walking. There are too many miles on my feet. In this crab issue, it’s time to say “enough’s enough.”
It’s time to give the little guy a break; no more giving in to business/commercial interests at the expense of recreational interests, which incidentally pretty much concur with the interests of our natural resources.
The sportsmen of Maryland have an enviable record in their willingness not infrequently their demands to make sacrifices now so that things will be better in the future. They were the first to lobby for restricted rock catches, later a rock moratorium, the same with shad and yellow perch. The fought for meaningful cutbacks in waterfowl regulations. The list goes on and on.
The bottom line has been a losing struggle and in the end, recreational interests paid a big price. They shared in the eventual moratoriums and other extreme restrictions that could have been avoided had their arguments been given thorough consideration.
In the crab issue, no one can deny that something has to be done. The recreational crabber has long warned of excessive pressure on crustaceans, and now that someone is finally listening, guess who is asked to make the greatest sacrifice? If you know the answer, it’s not a question.
Sure the economy of Chesapeake Bay Country is important; watermen and others in the seafood and waterfowling industries are hard pressed and deserve reasonable consideration. But so do recreational interests. Their sport is very important to their lives; humans must be able to enjoy the out-of-doors, to cleanse our spirits, to relax, and to bring home some of the bounty of the Bay for personal consumption.
And let us not forget, that while doing so, we are also contributing appreciably to the economy. Motels, marinas, service stations, eateries and others that cater to outdoorsmen profit by what we spend in our chase of fish and fowl.
Back to the crab issue. DNR will consider comments on its “re-proposals” for curtailing catches, and unless pressed, will probably not consider original proposals that were covered in previous meetings. If this sounds complicated, join the club.
Last summer, in his extraordinary press conference that kicked off a move to curb crab catching, the governor announced a series of proposed regulations. Eventually they went to hearings, and some were modified. Those modified, now called re-proposals, are the only subject for the planned hearings.
We have been informed the proposals not modified are not subject to further comment. They will either be approved or rejected. Word is, approval is destined for most, including discriminatory shortened hours for recreational crabbers.
However, if there is widespread adverse reaction to some of the original proposals, perhaps it could influence the department to reconsider them on its own. We’ll cover them after a rundown on the re-proposals:
• Traps/trotlines: Unlicensed and licensed noncommercial crabbers would be limited to no more than 10 collapsible traps and/or ring traps per person, with no more than 25 traps or rings per boat, regardless of how many people are aboard.
Trotline length would be limited to 1,000 feet per person, or 2,000 feet per boat.
• Gear separation: Increase the distance between traps, trotlines or rings to 100 feet. It is currently 50 feet.
• Reparian crab pots: Property owners in all counties would be limited to two pots set from their property. Currently, four are allowed in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, St. Marys, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester Counties.
• Cull rings: Require one 2 5/16-inch cull ring in the upper parlor of all crab pots, except in peeler pots with a mesh of less than 1 1/2 inches on each side or pots with a mesh greater than 2 inches.
As for the original proposals remember, these are supposed closed subjects that target sports crabbers, the hardest of all would knock out effective crabbing hours.
Originally proposed and presumably favored by DNR is the provision that recreational crabbers working from a boat be allowed to work the Chesapeake proper only from sunrise to 5pm and tributaries from sunrise to sunset. Shoreside and pier crabbers would not be affected.
Meanwhile, commercial crab potting would be permitted from 4:30am to 5pm and commercial trotlines from 3am to 5pm. Hey, is this an added restriction if these commercial hours are already pretty much in effect by watermen’s choice? If you know the answer ...
What’s are working people to do on weekdays, especially if they crab on the Bay proper? They don’t get much opportunity after they finish their day job and drives home. Why doesn’t the recreational crabber get the same starting hours?
Rich Novotny, executive director of 6,000-member Maryland Saltwater Sportsfishermen’s Association, promises to fight for a recreational crabbing start an hour before sunrise maybe even for longer evening hours.
Many recreational crabbers, either by choice or time limitations, want and need that earlier start. Let us not forget the recreational catch is considerably less than the commercial harvest; thus the time restrictions sought by the governor would not reduce overall catches much.
Also, has it been taken into consideration that commercial crab pots “operate” 24 hours a day while sports crab gear is highly restricted on the clock?
Proposals would also limit recreational catches to one bushel a day, two to the boat. Currently, in some instances it can be more. The old noncommercial crab license program for recreational crabbers willing to buy a license enabling them to catch more though not for sale is pretty much being phased out.
Nothing wrong with the suggestion that crabbers be required to buy a crabbing license if they don’t posses a $7 tidewater fishing license, but at least grant equal opportunity. Sports crabbers are estimated to number between 300,000 and 350,000.
Also, not on the agenda for the upcoming hearing is the original proposal to reduce commercial pots to 300 per licensed crabber and 900 to the boat. The liberal boat limit was proposed to allow licensed crabbers to work together on a boat for more efficient operation while limiting overall crab pot numbers. Currently, there is no limit to the number of pots allowed by a commercial crabber; some set as many as 1,000.
The profusion of crab pots has become a touchy point with many sports fishermen in much of the Bay. They create navigational problems, not to mention disrupting trolling patterns. Nighttime navigation can be a nightmare as many pots are painted dark colors that cannot be seen after sundown and are in such tight clusters that getting through them without snagging a propeller is more than a challenge.
Thankfully, DNR is looking at this problem, though not under the current crab plan. Hopefully, first it will reconsider the discriminatory thrust against recreational crabbers before it implements its proposals and re-proposals. Enough said
Chesapeake update ...
• Boat show: The 40th annual Chesapeake Bay Boat Show, with several hundred craft on exhibit, will run Jan. 29-Feb. 6 at Baltimore Convention Center.
Fishing workshops are scheduled on both weekends, beginning at 1pm and continuing through afternoons and early evenings. Water ski seminars will be held the last three days of the show.
Queen of the show will be the Bayliner 52 Aft Cabin Motor Yacht. Hours: Jan. 29, 11am to 9pm; Jan. 30, 11am to 5pm; Jan. 31-Feb. 4, 5pm to 9pm; Feb. 5, 11am to 9pm; and Feb. 6, 11am to 7pm. Admission: $7 adults; $3 children under 12. 410/449-9910.
The Arctic storm that caused so many problems in Maryland could also have provided at least part of a solution for one tidewater woe. On the lower Eastern Shore, especially in Dorchester County including Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the South American imported furbearer known as nutria has become so abundant that it threatens the ecology of the marshes. With fur prices low, few trappers bother to try for them.
However, nutria are not as hardy as muskrats with whom they share the marshes. In cold weather they often “platform” one atop the other above the frozen tundra, but many of those on the outside of the heap perish. Trappers report the prolonged cold snap took a heavy toll, but plans continue to further thin out the pesky intruder that gobbles up marsh habitat needed by other wildlife.
Cold as it seemed, the big storm doesn’t even make a dent in global warming problems predicted for a decade for the lowlands of Dorchester County in particular; other Chesapeake shorelines to a lesser degree. For years, we have been warned that a sea-level rise of just a couple inches in Dorchester County would create catastrophic woes.
Arctic Storm was just an experience of the moment; global warming is a problem about changing climates over the long haul.
More Arctic Storm
As ice covered roads and everything else during the big storm, salt for melting the slippery stuff became scarce for highway departments and homeowners. Radio and TV storm reporters suggested lawn fertilizer be substituted, people listened, and hardware stores did a brisk business.
The ice melted, but the only trouble is and this information came too late runoff from the fertilizer adds another burden on the Chesapeake. State environmental officials ask that it not be used in the future.
Arctic Storm also isolated for days icebound Smith and Tangier Islands in the lower Chesapeake. Relief finally came for the nearly 1,000 residents when DNR’s icebreaker, J. Millard Tawes, cut a path to the islands from Crisfield. The Tawes was followed by the 90-foot cruise ship Steven Thomas, loaded with milk, bread, diapers, cat food, mail and other essentials.
Maryland watermen, like those elsewhere, are looking with a wary eye on recent federal Food and Drug Administration proposals to insure the safety of seafood products. There is widespread concern that bureaucratic red tape will mean more time and expense and the publicity won't help either.
Proposed is that seafood handlers maintain detailed records of their safety procedures, and that shellfish containers be labeled to indicate where caught. In the past, Maryland has had few problems.
Delaware will try to reduce its rockfish catch by 27 percent by closing its season from June 16 through Sept. 2. It previously had a year ‘round season, one a day of 28 inches or more. Size and creel limits remain the same.
DNR employee Edwin A. Lewis, 38, died when he tried by canoe to rescue a loon trapped in ice at a farm pond near Redhouse in Garrett County. Lewis’s canoe overturned, and he succumbed to hypothermia.
These birds so common on the Chesapeake appear adept and graceful, but on land or ice are awkward and have difficulty taking to wing
More Boat Expenses
The Coast Guard boat licensing program went down the drain,
but now FCC is drafting a proposal to significantly increase the cost of radio licenses afloat for both recreational and commercial fishermen. Can we ever win?
Bald Eagles Increase
DNR’s recent eagle survey turned up 146 bald eagles and one golden eagle, the fourth highest count on record. Most were observed in tidewater country, much of the remainder on the larger reservoirs.
Learn to Fish
Salt Water Sportsman Magazine’s popular National Seminar Series will make a stop from 9am to 4pm on March 5 at the University of Maryland.
Tidewater and ocean fishing will be targeted. Fee, $35. Call toll free 800/448-7360.
Hunting & Fishing Show
The third annual Mid-Atlantic Hunting & Fishing Show will be held Jan. 28-30 at Maryland State Fairgrounds, Timonium, featuring many seminars and hundreds of exhibits.
Hours: Jan. 28, 1pm to 10pm; Jan. 29, 10am to 9pm; and Jan. 30, 10am to 5pm.
Admission, $6 adults; $3, children 10 to 14; under 10, free. 717/676-9900.
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Thar She May (or May Not) Blow
When whale-watching at the mouth of the Chesapeake, you have to be ready for whatever comes your way.
Barely 50 feet from the dock, still well inside Virginia Beach’s Rudee Inlet, volunteer guide Bill Bennett primes a passenger.
“Have you seen a whale yet?” he asks an eight year-old girl.
She jerks her head toward open water then looks sheepishly back at Bennett.
Hey, don’t blame Bill Bennett. You gotta be ready when you go whale watching at the mouth of the Bay on a Virginia Marine Science Museum tour.
You must be ready, of course, for huge whales. But you also have to be ready to learn about other creatures marine life and things that fly. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll be ready for Bill Bennett.
We’re in 30 feet of water now, heading southeast into the Atlantic Ocean, with folks gathered at the bow. They are ready. An irreverent passenger pipes up with a question.
“Where are the harpoons?”
Serious nature-watchers blanch, but Bennett is undaunted. He launches into a story about 19th century Portuguese whalers, a tale Hemingway must have heard. They spot the whale from a hill and rush to their harpoon-laden boats for an epic conquest.
But by the time Portuguese sailors they get their fellow mammal to shore, there’s only half of it. Great white sharks have feasted. As Bennett speaks, a boy’s eyes grow big as whale spouts.
Which, by the way, is how you find the whales by the upward squirts when they breathe. Or maybe you’ll spot a flock of frenzied birds diving into the menhaden missed by the feeding whale.
On this crisp January afternoon, you also see many human creatures in all states of readiness for a modern-day whale hunt. Among the 60 or so on board, you see people bundled in Gore-Tex, insulated jumpsuits and furry parkas that could keep an Aleut toasty on a long Alaskan night. Some have Bushnell binoculars and lenses on their cameras as big as searchlights.
You also see very tough (or dumb) folks with only sweatshirts and no gloves. You see young lovers warming one another under a canopy. They are not ready.
We cruise toward the shipping lanes, Virginia Beach growing tiny off the stern. Through a microphone, Chris Mast, the museum’s official guide, hedges bets.
“The whales are out here, but it’s just like a fishing trip: you don’t always know if you’ll be successful,” she says. Groans sound.
Whales have been sighted on about two-thirds of the January-February trips.
This very morning, she discloses, a plane hired by the museum spotted a school of humpbacks a little farther off shore. A man of about 50 remarks to his mate that next time, maybe they should go whale-watching from the air .
A 60 foot-long fin whale was spotted in these waters last spring. “There’s even a chance that you’ll see one of these,” she says. Hopes soar anew.
Whale-watching began here three years ago when a pod of juvenile humpbacks showed up. The term juvenile is used advisedly; the humpies are between 30 feet and 40 feet long even though they’re only between two and eight years old.
The experts aren’t sure why they came. Perhaps they strayed off course on their way from the Northeast to the Caribbean. Then again, maybe they were drawn by bountiful menhaden, anchovies and baitfish.
“If you’re a humpback too young to breed, the most important thing to you would be eating,” Chris Mast observes. The irreverent passenger nods.
Whatever their reason, the whales have been capering about for four winters now, insulated by their blubber against whatever weather. Their pod is thought to be growing. There are Two Nicks and No Fin and Rabbit, known for some awesome acrobatics. And there’s Tattertail, a humpy who arrived with portfolio: his knobby head adorns a postcard from New Jersey.
But so far this day, the fun bunch is elusive. The irreverent passenger wants to holler “Thar She Blows” both for the sound of this phrase and the reaction. But his companion advises that in the confusion, someone might end up in the water. Probably the irreverent passenger.
We learn while we wait. Whales are mammals just like you and me, air breathing and birth giving, who grew tired of the land and moved back to the waters from which we all evolved.
Two broad categories of whale share the modern world with us: one has teeth and one doesn’t. Toothed whales are smaller and faster: they must catch everything they eat. Their toothless cousins, including our local humpbacks, need only open their mouths and in rushes food, borne on a tidal wave of water. When they spit that long drink of water back out, all the goodies in it are caught in fringed curtains of baleen that hang from the roofs of their mouths. Relatively sedentary baleen whales grow much larger.
“They don’t have to do much but suck some water in and they get a mouth full of fish,” Mast says of the baleens.
Bill Bennett strolls up to the bow, toting a hunk of the baleen. It looks like a filter. Then he pulls a plastic dolphin from his pocket as Chris Mast reminds that the dolphins will be arriving here by the hundreds late May or June. The museum also takes people dolphin-watching.
By now, after about 90 minutes on the water, we’re headed back to shore. Chris Mast points out the cormorants and buffleheads as she explains how wetlands nourish open waters.
Forward-thinking passengers have stationed themselves on a starboard bench to soak up sun. Some (including a representative of New Bay Times.) doze. They are no longer ready.
Here’s that mouthy passenger again, accosting Bill Bennett about the pirates who once ruled these waters. “On those boats, people who didn’t get what they want would mutiny and throw the captain and crew overboard,” he says.
Bill Bennett casts a nervous glance and walks a little quicker.
“Unfortunately,” says Chris Mast, “the whales have eluded us today.”
Don’t depend on your blubber. Dress warmly for the Virginia Marine Science Museum’s two-hour voyages from the mouth of the Bay along the Atlantic shore. The 65-foot observation vessels cast off pretty much when the captain chooses Fridays through Mondays through February. After you’ve booked, they’ll call to confirm sailing time. $12 for adults and $10 for kids: 804/437-4949
On the Water
Days of water chilling on the Chesapeake. Then, overnight, the shorewater has become brilliant, brittle shards of frost. Nightly, the freeze sets deeper, and in the morning we find the Bay frozen into icy rings like big scales on a carp.
Each day the ice spreads. Bounding for his ball, the Big Lab skids, his toenails carving lines on the surface. We try the ice, creeping first along the ankles of the cliff, then venturing farther. Beneath our weight the surface bends; we’ve gone far enough.
The changed world brings us glee in small adventures.
The gulls, who feed on the open waters they ride on, seem frozen in the Bay. The ice extends too far for ducks or swans to dabble. “They’ll have a rough time, but they’ve evolved here for thousands of years,” says Steve Cardano of the Nanjemoy Environmental Education Center. “They’re adapted to these conditions. Except nowadays, when the Bay’s not giving them much to eat, they don’t build up a layer of fat to protect them.”
Each day, the ice spreads farther. The huddled birds go without food or seek the open waters of the lower Bay.
Breaking up, the ice that nearly spanned the Bay presents another spectacle. The tracks of icebreakers follow the curves of rivers into creeks. Along shores, where the tides work just as hard when they’re undercover, ice buckles and breaks from below, leaving ruins of overlapping chunks and slabs. Strangely, on other days just as cold, instead of solid ice the shoreline water is a thick, salty slush.
What’s at hand can’t fascinate like what’s far away, glimpsed but not understood. The Eastern Shore seems to appear in the distance, as frosty white as we are here. We goggle our eyes to see. But when we blink, the ice palaces we’ve fixed have flowed frostily forward as if sped on a mightly current. We stare and grope with mind and eye.
Only one way to unravel this mystery: by air. Freeway Airport’s Mark Valdez takes New Bay Times photographer Steven Anderson for the ride of his life. The Cessna 172 soars from Solomons to Severna Park.
In the main Bay, chunks of ice indeed float sluggishly down the open channel. There’s power in that ice: On January 11, 1977, break-loose ice swept away the Hooper Strait Lighthouse on the Eastern Shore. When found, it had traveled five miles.
This year, traffic is light on the Bay: from the air, we witness a lone tug pushing a barge. A low-slung Baybuilt meanders through the ice. No escaped lighthouses.
The Patuxent is all ice in its northern reaches, but for a narrow snake of moving water in its center. Bayward, the ice is wider but the river just as narrow. Near Benedict, the ice recedes to the shoreward. The wide river at Solomons is open, but the harbor is frozen except where the breaker has cruised.
Ice. It slowed us, stopped us and went away.
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From the Ocean to the Bay: Will Our Waters Sustain Us?
(Pull-out quote) Fascination with waves, the smell of salt water and the call of seabirds bespeak our deep-seated psychological connection to our oceans.
For centuries, sailors feared traveling too far from shore lest they be eaten by sea monsters or fall off the edge of the earth. Poseidon, Neptune and other gods and mystical forces not humans ruled the watery depths. People did not even think about managing or protecting the marine environment. Oceans were infinite, too vast to explore, let alone defile.
They may appear invulnerable, but oceans are subject to the same pressures that undermine the rest of our environment population growth, industrial expansion, rising consumption and persistent poverty.
Marine fishing, which supplies the world with more animal protein than any other source, is in global crisis. According to the United Nations, fish stocks around the world are at their limits. At the same time, the multibillion-dollar coastal tourism industry has been hit by polluted beaches, marred coral reefs and degraded coastal waters.
Since the dawn of life, oceans have been our keel. Stretching from the brackish waters where rivers flow into the sea to the depths of the ocean, the marine environment holds roughly 90 percent of the world’s living things. Oceans cover 71 percent of the earth’s surface and their deepest trenches plunge farther below sea level than Mount Everest climbs above it. Oceans contain 97 percent of the water on earth.
Oceans contributed life itself. The very first organisms, scientists believe, were bacteria that developed in the depths of the seas some four billion years ago.
Time and evolution have distanced us from these origins, but we still bear the traces of saltwater heritage in our blood. The universal human fascination with the procession of waves, the smell of salt water and the call of seabirds bespeak our deep-seated psychological connection with the sea.
Researchers are also turning to the sea in search of medical cures and unique compounds. They have derived anti-leukemia drugs from sea sponges; bone-graft materials from corals; diagnostic chemicals from red algae; and anti-infection drugs from shark skin.
If, on the other hand, we were to declare war against oceans, our best offensive strategy would be to target the coasts. These waters are under the greatest stress because coasts are the natural crossroads between human activity and the sea. Here is where agricultural and urban wastes flow in from the land, smoggy clouds pour out their contaminants, ships flush their tanks and cities bulldoze wetlands to extend their land.
The Chesapeake Bay also has been overwhelmed by pollution from distant sources. Farmers are the source of one-third and air pollution another one-fourth of the nitrogen pollution that has contributed to the Bay’s decline.
Our war against oceans may be an undeclared one, but so far the coastal attack seems to be a “winning strategy.”
Fishers are the first to encounter the limits of the sea. The catch grew rapidly in this century, but has now begun to falter. Starting at under five million tons at the turn of the century, the world’s annual catch topped 80 million in recent years. It peaked at 86 million in 1989 but fell back to 80 million in 1992.
Boats managed to keep the total catch climbing in past decades by abandoning fished-out stocks and pursuing new species. These are typically lower-value species that were previously undesirable because they were too small and too bony to be good for eating.
Today, overfishing is a worldwide problem. All 17 of the world’s major fishing areas either have reached or exceeded their natural limits; nine of those are in serious decline, the United Nations estimates.
To turn the tide, individual nations and local communities must take action. The first step is to stop destroying fish populations. When fishing grounds are open to all comers, fishing continues well after sustainable catches have been surpassed.
On land, the most important action is to control coastal development. Governments may need to go even further in restricting coastal development as sea levels rise and storms from the sea grow stronger.
Along the Chesapeake Bay, governments have reduced some forms of pollution. But the population is growing rapidly, development along the Bay continues, runoff from agriculture has increased and the load of nitrogen nutrients entering the Bay is growing.
The complex links between land and sea make the task of protecting oceans seem daunting if not impossible. But it is precisely because of these links because oceans touch the lives of all of us that we can not ignore the health of oceans if we are to protect our own place on the planet.
This article is adapted from “Safeguarding Oceans,” a chapter in State of the World 1994, Worldwatch Institute’s annual report on the world environment.
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To Love an Oyster
“If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with,” advised Stephen Stills, pop singer from the era of enlightenment.
Seventies’ wisdom has a lot to teach oyster lovers of the nineties.
“There was a time,” the Chesapeake’s own Tom Horton tells, “when oysters were marketed by locale and people would buy them that way.”
Evidence of those days lingers: you’ll still see recipes that call for “Belon” or the more local “Lynnhaven” oysters from down Virginia Bay way, recalling the era when every stretch of salty water had its own oyster, distinct by variety or environment. Remember Blue Points? That was a fine oyster region in Long Island Sound. Today, Blue Point is a trade name, and Blue Points are farmed by aquaculture.
Traces of the good old days remain. When Elliot’s Oyster House in Seattle throws an oyster party, even in these days four dozen or more varieties may show up.
But it gets harder and harder, in this era of bottom truths, to be with the oyster you love. Chesapeake Bay oysters, reduced by overfishing and oyster viruses, are not quite so scarce as hen’s teeth. Three-fourths of Maryland’s Bay is too salty for oysters to survive the dual dread diseases MSX and Dermo. Virginia gave up its oyster season this year. In the York River, where once famous oysters grew, there are no oysters worth harvesting.
Louisiana oysters are just fine except you can’t eat many of them, polluted as they are this year by the sewage-borne bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus.
Washington state oysters? Nowadays they’re mostly Japanese, overharvesting having just about done in the native Olympia, Yaquina and Willapa oysters. But those big Japanese oysters are growing just fine in the prime waters of Washington’s Willapa Bay.
Times are tough overseas, too. You won’t find many native Rock oysters in New Zealand or French oysters in France unless you’re as wily a pursuer of oysters as Horton, who joyfully recalls “standing out in ocean off Normandy at low tide, eating oysters with the oyster farmer.”
Like Washington state, nowadays the French and New Zealanders farm Japanese oysters, “a highly fecund, robust species that has thrived when introduced to a variety of places,” says Takoma Park’s Beth Baker, writing in the journal BioScience,
So far, the Chesapeake Bay has not been one of those places. It may never be, according to Dr. George Krantz key researcher at the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory.
Our native oysters, called Atlantic or Eastern oysters, are holding on by the skin of their teeth, especially in the fresher upper reaches of the Bay.
Upper Bay oysters, of course, will lack the salty tang some fanciers prefer. That “sweet, mild flavor” made the Baltimore oyster famous.
But that’s not everybody’s love. For the past few years, Horton, the foremost writer on Bay issues, has been buying up-Bay oysters, then hanging them out in crab pots to soak in the saltier southern waters off Smith Island until they’re salty enough to suit him.
“My ideal area of salinity is 17 to 18 points per thousand,” he says, discriminatingly.
But neighboring Chincoteague’s oysters are way too salty unless they’re all Tom can get.
“I’d eat oysters from Havre de Grace to Chincoteague. I think raw oysters might be my favorite seafood. I’ve eaten them at 5am for breakfast on a skipjack.”
Some folks will swear the best Bay oysters come from the Patuxent River off Solomons. Others like theirs from the Potomac. Another Bay cousin, the Rappahannock oyster, seems firm, pink and sweet. Of course, they’ll only grow in the river’s fresher reaches.
Mid-Bay oysters, in comparison, seem amorphous and gray but just as good. If you can’t be with the one you love …
Love the one you’re with …
Seventy-four year old Joe Meek spent a lot of years in Maryland. He retired to Mobile, Alabama where the golf course never closes and, he says, the oysters are better.
“I was surprised at how much better the Gulf Coast states oysters were. I’d always been told that the Chesapeake oysters were the best in the world, but they’re not.”
Southern oysters, he says, are smaller, saltier and tastier, comparable to what he always called Captain’s Cove oysters from Chincoteague.
Jeanne Porta, 32 year-old nurse came from Missouri to Alabama, whose oysters she swears by. Those nice small Alabama oysters are just the right size for her. She wouldn’t want Louisiana oysters even if she could eat them. They’re too big for her.
Ask her to talk about Alabama oysters, and she lights up and grins. “They’re fun to eat, it’s a social thing. Nothing is better when you’ve been laying on the beach all day, than a fresh shucked chilled oyster and an ice cold beer. Folks get drunk and eat oysters and they think they had a big time. Life’s simple down here.”
In oysters and in love, life’s pretty good. Even if you can’t be with the one you love, you can love the one you’re with …
Yes, oysters have been known to disagree with people. Tom Horton caught hepatitis from an oyster: “a little bit of warm water Red Sea oyster in Ethopia.” He should have known better.
So should Jim Caldwell of Fairhaven, Maryland whose work as an energy consultant takes him around the world. He knows now he should never have eaten oysters six ways in the Philippines.
“Most were raw and good,” he recalls. “But at least one was bad.”
Far from home and traveling, he suffered for three days. Then, for two years he couldn’t touch an oyster. Until one day in New Orleans, the romance with oysters started all over again.
Should we follow the lead of Joe Meek who sublimates his repressed love of raw oysters into oyster stew?
No. Laughing Gourmet is with Tom Horton, a little suspicious of folks afraid of raw oysters.
Should we douse our raw oysters in hot sauce to kill that nasty vibrio vulnificus? No, warns Tom’s Baltimore Sun colleague Rob Kasper, who took scientific advice on the matter: the trouble is deeper than hot sauce penetrates, in the oyster’s stomach.
Listen instead to nurse Jeanne Porta: “Since oysters are a filter for the water, all the bacteria in the water will wind up in your body. Be careful where you get your oysters. Makes sure they’re fresh and ask where they’re from.”
In the nineties you take your oysters like your love, prudently.
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Eroding Away to the Bay
Consider this: for every foot of Bay shoreline, a foot of erosion happens each year. That erosion washes away recreational beaches and shorefront property, degrades water quality and smothers plants and shellfish.
Those serious problems prompt serious discussion among the Bay experts. Eighty-nine scientists and stewards met recently to discuss how erosion in the rivers and tidal areas affect the Bay. The day-long meeting was sponsored by the Bay Program, which is staffed by the EPA Annapolis office.
Here’s what they found: Shoreline erosion seems to have more direct influence on the Bay than stream-bank erosion. But it’s not clear just what that influence is, according to Bay Program staffer, Russ Mader. “Sediment is important, but by itself sediments aren’t a culprit, but a contributor. With everything else, the problem gets bigger,” he explains.
Twenty-five thousand acres of Maryland’s tidal shoreline have eroded away during the last century. Some areas in Calvert County lose four to eight feet to erosion each year. In Virginia, 20,000 acres have been lost to erosion in the last one hundred years.
Just how bad is the problem and what has it done to the Bay? Erosion contributed to the already dangerous nutrient levels. Specifically, Mader says, “that answer is still up in the air.”
Finding the gaps in data and research was the purpose of the meeting. They concluded that all Bay states need to know more about whether erosion feeds the nutrients that are strangling the Bay’s aquatic life and grasses.
Moving upstream to the rivers, scientists found river erosion is more a local problem. Here the culprit is stormwater runoff from roads and subdivisions. Development has created more runoff which is getting to the streams quicker.
Streambeds and banks can’t handle the extra water, so they flood and erode, creating unnatural amounts of sediment. That extra sediment hurts the living resources within the stream. For example, sediment covering a gravel bed inhibits trout spawning.
Very simply, humans are pushing Mother Nature’s streams beyond their limits. As we know, it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. Along the Susquehanna River, erosion has caused an average of $400,000 each year.
Scientists are just beginning to study this erosion problem, as the Bay Program focus shifts upstream. The next step is to condense the meeting information into a list of ideas for research and where to turn next. That list will be reviewed by a Bay Program subcommittee which will recommend which issues should be funded for further research.
While the committees are meeting, the erosion continues.
Batters Up for the Bay
Baseball fans will have a chance to make a double play in February. And for a good cause.
The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay is honoring television broadcaster Chuck Thompson for being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. A black-tie dinner with sports and political celebrities is planned for the Baltimore event, which will be emceed by ABC-TV broadcaster Jim McKay.
Tickets for the February 12 dinner are pricey at $150 each, but Alliance president Fran Flannigan says it will be a fun night, and the proceeds will go to help the Bay right here in Maryland. “The Alliance will use the money to expand programs in Maryland, to do more local work,” Flannigan explains.
Tapping into the sports world is a new idea for the environmental group. The Alliance hopes to turn old sports fans into new Bay fans by sponsoring the event and throwing in a little Bay video appetizer with the meal. “It’s an effort to break out of preaching to the choir, as a new way to reach audiences who aren’t members of conservation organizations,” Flannigan says.
You are invited, but tickets are selling fast. If you’d like to join the fun and make a double play for baseball and the Bay, call the Alliance: 410/377-6270. Don’t delay: reservation deadline is February 8.
One Word: Insulation
The January deep freeze may have left you longing for a toastier house and dreading the February heat bills. If so, Uncle Sam has a tip. One word: insulation.
Do you know how much attic and wall insulation should be in your house? What about the specific kind of insulation fiberglass vs. cellulose? The U.S. Department of Energy has the answers to those questions and probably any others you could conjure up.
The insulation information is available free of charge from the Conservation and Renewable Energy Inquiry and Referral Service. The staff at CAREIRS assures us that the info sheets are a lot simpler to understand than that name. As one spokesman put it, “This is basic consumer information written for Joe Homeowner.”
There must be lots of Joes and Janes out there wondering about insulation. The service gets hundreds of inquiries each day. Don’t be bashful about requesting the information: you paid for it through your taxes. Call 800/523-2929.
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