|The Fish Gods Sided with Bay Weekly
"Elaine, if you had not met Johnny, you'd probably be a professional fisherman by now with your own TV show."
It's 8:30 Sunday morning, and master fisherman Bill Burton is talking trash on Dawn Marie, one of the boats in the Chesapeake Bay on the Bill Burton-Bay Weekly annual fishing tournament.
As Burton speaks, Elaine Marple, co-owner of Johnny's Bait House at Deep Creek Lake, is reeling in her sixth or seventh rockfish in a display of angling that amazed even wily old pro Burton.
"If you'd have never met Johnny," Burton continues, speaking of her husband, Johnny Marple, who had yet to land a keeper rock, "we could be traveling around to tournaments across the country. I'd be your press agent and Johnny would probably still be back selling minnows out of a cardboard box."
By 9:15, Dawn Marie had caught its limit of striped bass, fishing on the famous Stone Rock near the mouth of the Choptank River. Like all of the boats on this trip, Dawn Marie had more fish than it could handle. But then Dawn Marie, captained by John Motovidlak of Tilghman Island, headed north for a new fishing adventure - jigging for trout.
In a remarkable afternoon of fishing, Dawn Marie hauled up some 100 sea trout along with a dozen bluefish. And sure enough, Elaine Marple outfished everybody on the boat. She won pools for both the day's biggest rockfish and the biggest trout, at one point landing two five-pound trout at once.
"It happens every day; women always catch the most fish," said Motovidlak, who kept alive his own personal record of catching his limit on every trip since July despite fighting a chronic case of Lyme disease.
Fishing in the Burton-Bay Weekly annual extravaganza is about more than fishing. It's about friendship - old friends and new acquaintances alike.
On Dawn Marie, for instance, Burton got to spend the day with Johnny and Elaine Marple. The Marples met Burton in 1957, when Burton, then the outdoors writer for The Evening Sun, came to Western Maryland to fish.
"He was big and loud," recalled Johnny, who decided to play a trick on the brash Burton. It was Saturday night, and Burton said he had to have a Sunday Sun in the morning. Marple took care of Burton, wrapping the front section of The Sun around its arch rival, the long defunct News-American.
"And I charged him $1.50 for it," Marple laughs.
On other boats, the mood was just as light.
At the wheel of 48-foot Brooks Hooks, Captain Buddy Harrison Jr. needed his sea legs as he headed into three-foot seas and a brisk headwind to fish over the oyster bed known as The Diamonds. It proved a rich fishing hole; Ramona Polciennik landed a 24.5-inch rock only two hours out. Her reel was hot, as was that of Bay Weekly contributor M.L. Faunce. Together, they emasculated a group of old high school buddies reuniting on the Bay. "You ladies are making us men look like girls," remarked one.
Aboard Tradition, a classic wooden charter skippered by 'No Toe' Joe, it was a day for the uninitiated. Curtis Blackwell, a fisherman out of Richmond's landlocked suburbs, plucked four keeper rock from the chum line on his inaugural outing on Chesapeake Bay. "Keep that up and we're going to have to make you sit down," quipped Rich Walsh, of North Beach, who would land but one fish before day's end.
What slack Blackwell didn't make up for was picked up by Walsh's teen-age nephew John, in for the trip from Chicago with his father Jack. John caught three keeper rock plus a toadfish and one marauding gull that escaped without injury. Though runner-up in count, the younger Walsh was unparalleled in relaxed fishing form: one leg perched on the aft rail, rod resting on thigh, fish reeled in with typical adolescent reserve. By the last catch, he didn't even have to rise from his seat.
It was a good day. Weather defied predictions of rain and biting chill, instead greeting anglers with beautiful skies, bright sun and comfortably brisk temperature. Boats returned with limits of rockfish, a few with added troves of trout and blues.
Can't wait till next year.
-Bill Lambrecht, Mark Burns & M.L. Faunce
Nation's 'First' Journalist Raises Funds and Eyebrows
To open a new library in Calvert County, fiesty, petite Helen Thomas opened the book on presidents. The 80-year-old dean of White House correspondents transported her audience of 225 to the Front Row at the White House - as she called her 1999 book - to raise both $8,000 for the Calvert County Public Library Foundation and more than a few eyebrows.
Ever the newswoman, Thomas opened her wide-ranging 25-minute tour with the guys in the news: presidential hopefuls George W. Bush and Al Gore. Neither got off easy from the woman who says that treating presidents equally is "easy because I hate them all." Bush, however, suffered the most, as she damned him with his own record, including "mocking a woman on death row," supporting a tax increase that favors the wealthy and choosing in Dick Cheney a running mate so conservative he had voted against a resolution calling on the South African government to free freedom fighter Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison.
In the conservative Calvert crowd, eyes widened, and jaws dropped.
Thomas has never been shy of speaking her mind. Writing it was another thing. For her 57 years with United Press International - two thirds of them covering presidents - Thomas injected no opinions in the news she wrote. Her journalistic objectivity ended last year, when she quit the venerable news service after its purchase by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church-owned Washington Times. Her new job as columnist with Hearst News Service demands opinion.
Sitting in an office writing a twice-weekly column run by 30-papers around the world is no easier than trailing globe-trotting presidents, says Thomas. "It' s hard," she said, "to write opinion after all those years of hard news."
Hard news has always been Thomas' speciality. "Anyone can write about the good things that happen. It's all the bad that goes on that makes it news," Thomas told a questioner pushing for a good news press. "That's what makes the headlines and what people want to read about."
Thomas' hard-nosed coverage has made her the woman presidents and power brokers love to hate. Introducing her longtime friend, Calvert Library Foundation member Donnie Radcliff - herself a former Washington Post reporter covering First Ladies - recalled Thomas' fearsome reputation.
Questioned by Thomas at a dinner party about his presidential aspirations, General Colin Powell asked sotto voce, "Isn't there a war we can send her to?"
Thomas said she had never regretted that or any of the questions she has asked, only the ones she did not.
She also recalled a pivotal political moment: "Watergate transformed the press," Thomas said. "We became more hard driving and more cynical."
Adding to that cynicism has been her front-row look at the humanity of men at the top. "I've seen many presidents during both their highs and lows," said Thomas. "They know when they are in the hallowed grounds of the Oval Office what they are in for. Some groan about the schedules and their solitude, and I always tell them, 'Sir, all we promised you was a rose garden.'
"There's no love lost between the president and the press. The press is there to tell the story, good or bad," Thomas said.
This did not carry, though, to First Ladies, who Thomas universally admired for "rising to the occasion." In token of their esteem, Radcliff presented Thomas a personally inscribed copy of Nancy Reagan's latest book, I Love You Ronnie.
In an evening dedicated to books, Thomas inscribed plenty of her own. Titilated by presidential gossip, many from the woman-dominated audience lined up to get Thomas's book and signature. Many held multiple copies, accounting for a night's sale approaching 100 books.
Before the event, as others munched on Rod 'n' Reel's buffet of crab dip, pasta salads and carved meats, Thomas explained that books were her reason for donating her time to Calvert County and its new library.
"Our quest for knowledge should never end no matter what age we are," said Thomas. But, she added, libraries are especially "important to our children. Often they are the only place where they have access to books that they can choose from to enjoy something so simple yet so valuable as reading."
Calvert's new Prince Frederick central library promises to be attractive to readers of all ages. In keeping with Thomas' theme of life-long learning, it will be christened a Learning Center. As well as books, the new, spacious building will house new technologies for literacy. And comfort: Look for over-stuffed chairs, cozy reading areas and a coffee shop.
Button Your Overcoats: Almanacs Predict Winter
When I lived in Alaska, talk of winter started shortly after summer solstice. Marylanders wait until autumnal equinox. After a string of mild winters, the muttering's begun. "We're gonna get hit hard this year," the prognosticators say, recalling that last winter was the nation's warmest in the 105 years records have been kept.
A neighbor wonders why the squirrels seem so busy digging holes the size of flower bulbs all over her yard. She's sure the holes aren't for the daffodils she's been meaning to plant. Everywhere, acorns crunch underfoot. And the woolly caterpillars snaking across country roads and city streets are woollier than ever.
Should we be battening down for an early winter with record snows?
Caterpillars and acorns, green house gases and global warming don't impress the Dublin, New Hampshire, publishers of The Old Farmer's Almanac, which claims 209-year longevity. Solar activity and current meteorological data are the basis of their "secret" formula for long-range forecasts. Their prediction? Winter will get off to a cold start in November and be colder than in recent years. Snowfall will be below normal, with the snowiest periods in mid-November and mid-January.
The home-grown Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack - "200 years and going strong" - originally kept immigrant farmers who had settled in the area weather-wise. First published in 1797 in German by founder John Gruber, the Western Maryland almanac offered readers views on politics and religion as well as climate changes. Gruber's descendants carry on the almanac today. By their predictions - the basis of which are "secret" - both November and December will be cold to colder with rain, snow and plenty of flurries.
The National Weather Service claims weather predictions cannot be made with any certainty so far in advance. That hasn't stopped almanacs from annually serving up their forecasts, along with facts and fun, tables and tides, recipes and helpful hints, wit and wisdom. Used more by gardeners and vacation planners than farmers these days, the almanacs go right on predicting.
An Alaska friend used to say "I hate the weather here, but I love the climate." In Bay Country, folks say "if you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it will change."
Gems from the Landfill
"Our guys come up here during lunch to enjoy the view," says Millersville Landfill manager Raymond Riggin. He stands atop Cell 4 of the landfill, at over 200 feet one of the highest points in Anne Arundel County. From here he points out Baltimore's downtown skyline, Key Bridge, Baltimore/Washington International airport's control tower and the National Security Agency. "On a really clear day, you can even see the Bay Bridge," he says.
Here are a few more tidbits uncovered from Anne Arundel County's biggest landfill and recycling center:
The fill occupies 563 acres.
It's used by 900 to 1,000 people each Saturday and Sunday.
A visitor's center is planned for its old office.
Gulls aren't the only birds to frequent the fill; ducks like its healthy neighboring wetlands.
With creative recycling, Millersville Landfill is extending its life. Riggin estimates it will be operating until at least 2060. Some day it may be converted to parkland, but probably not until the 22nd century.
Concrete blocks and asphalt are broken down for road-building and other construction.
Old tires are sent to incinerating facilities to fuel their super-hot fires.
\Brush from road clearing and residential dumping is chipped, re-chipped and mixed on-site with organic trash to make rich compost; what the landfill doesn't use, it sells.
Some of Millersville's labor comes from minimum security work-release prisoners, who are monitored by roaming police in converted ambulances.
Cell 8, the current active cell, will reach a maximum altitude of 243 feet.
Way Downstream ...
In Virginia, investigators have found dangerous levels of asbestos around a vermiculite mine at Louisa, 20 miles west of Charlottesville, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Andrew Schneider reported last week. Federal investigators, prompted by Schneider's nationwide exposés, last week offered free medical testing to find out if people are afflicted by the deadly fibers ...
In Silicon Valley, Calif., people may wonder why their neighborhoods smell like fast-food restaurants on garbage day. It's because the company with the garbage contract, GreenTeam, is converting its 95 trucks to run on biodiesel, a blend from French fry oils, old grease and other unconventional fuels...
In Los Angeles, Price is Right host Bob Barker has showed again that he is forever the animal rights activist. According to the Associated Press, last week Barker went to the set of the CBS series Big Brother to rescue five chickens that had been used in filming the series. Barker said that the chickens "clucked and clucked in happiness" ...
Our Creature Feature comes from Paris, where scientists are insulted by the desire of a Chicago artist, Eduardo Kac, to display their rabbit as a work of art. The rabbit, named Alba, had a jellyfish gene inserted back in her embryo stage. As a result, she looks sort of odd. But scientists at the French agricultural research institute, which goes by the acronym INRA, insist that she is not green. Not exactly.
But one of the scientists acknowledged, "Under blue light, this white rabbit's eyes may appear slightly green and its fur may present some tinges" of green, Reuters reported.