Volume 12, Issue 16 ~ April 15-21, 2004
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Dock of the Bay

The Return of Casper Taylor
‘Younger and thinner’ in his new portrait, the former speaker now holds a longer House lease

Casper Taylor held the lease on the rostrum of the Maryland House of Delegates for only nine years, but for many more years he’ll look down on the procession of House Speakers and assembly of delegates to come. Now Taylor, the speaker of the House from 1994 to 2003, holds in perpetuity the gavel he lost after his Western Maryland constituents of 28 years shifted Republican, along with much of the state, in the 2002 general election.

Portraits never lose elections or fall to coups. Cas Taylor now shares that immunity, as his official portrait, unveiled March 30, hangs in the position reserved for the most recently retired speaker, against the right rear marble wall of the House of Delegates.

For the occasion, the deposed speaker returned triumphant to a full House. Not only delegates but their Senate colleagues and a roll call of governors — Ehrlich, Glendening, Schaefer, Mandel and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele — packed the chamber. The message of their collective presence is clear. In the working day, politicians clash and disagree. But at day’s end, they take care of their own.

photo by Sandra Martin
Former speaker Cas Taylor rejoined the House of Delegates last month as his portrait was unveiled at the height of the legislative scramble.
On Taylor’s return, he heard only praise. His successor, Speaker Michael Busch, praised him as “the most patient man I’ve ever been around and the greatest leader I’ve ever dealt with.”

Gambling was not an issue in this encomium, though the new speaker opposes it and the former speaker, now a lobbyist with the law firm of Alexander & Cleaver, counts gambling interests among his many clients.

Here too were family, friends and former staffers, and together with the politicians, they greeted Taylor with a long minute of standing applause that did not die down as he sought to quiet it.

When finally Taylor’s admirers allowed him to speak, he thanked them all. “My heart is full of thanks,” he said to the fellowship of politicians. “For you to pause during the climactic policy-making days is a testimony to unbroken continuity between lawmakers and the people of Maryland.”

After the praise and the thanks came the unveiling.

“She made me look thinner and younger,” said Taylor of Carolyn Egeli, the St. Mary’s County artist who captured him for the ages. Egeli also painted the official portrait of former Comptroller Louis Goldstein.

Indeed Egeli has trimmed a few years and pounds. She has also penetrated flesh to show spirit.

“When I first met him,” the artist told Bay Weekly, “I was struck by his gentleness. But then I saw the sense of power and presence.”

For presence, she placed her subject at the Speaker’s rostrum, framed by the marble walls of the House and the Maryland flag. For power, she included two symbols of the speaker’s might, placing the gavel in his hands and the mace before him.

“The gavel he holds here,” state archivist Edward Papenfuse explains “is carved from the Liberty Tree that stood at St. John’s College. The speaker uses it to gavel order. The mace represents the right of the House to independence and unimpeachable free speech.”

All together, Egeli has painted Taylor as she says she saw him: “a provider, expressing at every opportunity his desire to make people’s lives better.”

Even in oil-painted effigy, Taylor’s lease on this new spot is not permanent. When his successor and prodigy, Michael Busch, joins him as a past speaker, Taylor’s painting will yield the position of honor just as this year the image of his own predecessor, Clayton Mitchell, did. The House walls have room for only 11 portraits. In preparation for Taylor’s ascension, all 11 moved in a process described by Mimi Calver of the Maryland State Archives as “strict chronological rotation.”

“We take them all and move them around one space, and the last one comes down,” says Calver. Typically, the displaced speaker finds a new home in the office building of the chamber where he — so far all of Maryland’s 98 speakers over 227 years have been men — served.

But for Taylor, that day is far away. This was his day to savor. Hands were shaken, backs patted and photos snapped for so long that the speaker missed most of the reception prepared in his honor. Throughout, his beaming face contradicted his popular image as a somber man. To see this new Cas Taylor, you’ll have to visit his old House.


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Ask the Plant & Pest Professor

Q We had a very unsuccessful vegetable garden last summer. I had the soil tested and the report came back 5.5 pH. We put lime on in the fall and again during a very warm break in February. Do you think it will need another dose of lime?

A Soil test results should include specific liming and fertilization recommendations. It takes several months for surface-applied lime to change pH. Tilling in lime works faster. You may want to retest the soil before adding more lime or, if you know the quantity of lime you’ve applied, subtract it from the liming recommendation. Most vegetables like a pH of 6 to 7, but potatoes need 4.8 to 6.) To bring a 5.5 pH up to 6.5 in a loam soil, you would need to apply 85 to 110 pounds of lime per thousand square feet.

Because the University of Maryland soil testing lab is now closed, we provide a list of regional soil-testing labs on our website or toll-free hotline.

Incidentally, many people had poor vegetable crops last summer due to cloudy cool weather and fungus-inducing rains.

Ask the Plant and Pest Professor is compiled from questions sent to the website of the Home and Garden Information Center, part of Maryland Cooperative Extension, an educational outreach of the University of Maryland. Ask a home gardening or pest control question and find other help: 800-342-2507 (Mon.-Fri. 8am-1pm) • www.hgic.umd.edu.

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Fossil Finds in Chesapeake’s Sand
With magnifying glasses, students take a closer look at history

Nationwide, thousands of students are meticulously sifting and sorting through grains of Chesapeake sand. What’s so interesting about our sand? Plenty, if you know what you’re looking for.

An abundance of fossils reside in the Chesapeake area, which is a hot spot for geology and paleontology. In regions along the Chesapeake Bay, relics of the past are common finds in the sand. Shark’s teeth, shellfish fragments and bits of turtle shell all provide clues about the Chesapeake’s natural history, where fossils date back 15 million years.

“Fossils can tell us about ecosystems at that time,” said John Chiment, director of the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers, who gathers sand from Chesapeake Beach, Matoaka Cottages and Calvert Cliffs for those thousands of students. Bay Weekly found him at Chesapeake Beach, where fossil-rich sand lines the shores. Abundant fossils make sand-searching exciting for the student scientists.

Some 100 schools are studying Maryland sand through the Chesapeake Matrix Project, but none of them are Marylanders. So far, Chesapeake Matrix has reached students in Michigan, New York and China.

Student scientists sift through Matrix Project sand for fossils and other geologic clues to a region’s past.
The three-month-old Chesapeake Matrix Project is one of many run by Cornell Institute. An older and more established matrix project, the two year-old Mastodon Matrix Project in central New York, sends out 10,000-year-old soil and fossils to more than 80,000 students. These young scientists from six states including Maryland, Africa and China analyze soil from central New York’s filled-in bogs for fossils.

Students of all ages make up most of the Matrix scientists, but senior citizens in retirement homes, prisoners, retired nuns, teachers, families, scout troops and just about anyone interested in exploring also take part in fossil finding. Chiment says he welcomes new participants of all ages and places and hopes that Maryland will take part.

“Citizen science” is the theme that binds all these projects and people together. That’s the specialty of the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers, where John Chiment works to engage everyday people in science. With funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chiment and Tom Janda run the Chesapeake Matrix Project to bring geology and science to the classroom while gathering a vast amount of detailed data. Their citizen scientists investigate and contribute to science instead of simply reading about fossils in a textbook.

The Institute helps blend the Matrix projects into classroom activities by scheduling summer workshops for teachers who learn to identify common teeth. Teachers usually combine fossil hunting with lessons on marine biology, statistics and learning about analysis methods.

They do their fossil hunting in bags of soil and sand sent through the mail. “One Ziplock bag full of sand is enough for about 20 students,” said Janda.

Matrix scientists then sort through the bags, collecting fossils and clues about ancient bogs and ponds or history.

“The classrooms and other groups use what they have,” said Janda. “Dissecting microscopes are best, but some groups use magnifying glasses or sift through smaller and smaller screens.”

It also helps to know what to look for. “What looks like a small particle of sand could be a tooth,” Janda added. Shark’s teeth range from smaller than a rose thorn to as big as the palm of a man’s hand.

Tidbits interest the scientists as much as giants.

“Paleontologists are interested in snails and fish as much as mastodons,” said Chiment. “You have to look at the whole ecosystem.”

By piecing together clues and patterns found by students, the Cornell team will be able to unearth information about a region’s history, including changes in salinity and temperature. With the amount of data sent in from the Matrix Projects, said Chiment, the Institute “might even be able to answer questions that previously no one has been able to pose.”

Join the Chesapeake Matrix Project: Tom Janda • [email protected].

— Carrie Steele

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Earth Journal ~ Blood Root
by Gary Pendleton

Judging by the tone and the number of comments I’ve recently overheard about the weather, it seems people are anxious for spring. The need to get out, to feel spring temperatures, breathe spring smells, to dig in the ground and experience other rites of spring are as strong as they get in these parts.

In the woods, where soils are rich and loamy, the pale green leaves of bloodroot are inching upward through carpets made of last fall’s leaves. This is bloodroot time, before the budding trees shade the forest floor. It is time for all the early spring-blooming flowers to spread their leaves and take energy from the sun. Hallelujah! Spring is here!

The soil is warm enough to spur the plants to grow. The air is warm enough for ants and flies and other pollinators to play their vital role. In return, the plants give the pollinators food in the form of nectar and pollen. Without this early-season source of food, some species of pollinators might not survive chilly early spring weather. Other plants that bloom later rely on some of the same pollinator species to produce the seeds that ensure continuation of their species. So while the early bloomers get their needs met, they are also serving as links in an ecological chain.

Bloodroot, Sanquieria canadensis, is one of the very early spring-blooming native flowers, which are known collectively spring ephemerals. They’re called ephemeral because, in most cases, by early summer the flowers and even the leaves will have decayed back into the soil. They are the wild equivalent of daffodils and crocus.

Bloodroot is in the poppy family. The flower petals are snow white. Can you guess what color the roots are?

“This plant is extremely poisonous” (italics original) says Ethnobotanist Dr. James Duke in the Handbook of Northeastern Indian Medicinal Plants. For a plant with biologically active properties, there is often a fine line between what is toxic and what might be medicinal. A number of Native American tribes used bloodroot for a variety of medicinal purposes. The Algonquins used it for heart ailments, the Potowatomi for diphtheria and sore throat and the Delaware to enhance women’s sexual vitality. Captain John Smith wrote that “at night … they set a woman fresh painted with pucoon [bloodroot] and oil, to be his bedfellow.”

Scientists have identified sanquarine as one biologically active compound produced by the plant that seems to have genuine medicinal value. The compound was used as an ingredient in some toothpastes to reduce plaque and fight gum disease. Sanquarine might also find commercial use in ointments for dissolving warts, according to a Duke University study.

It is questionable whether the compounds found in bloodroot have much commercial potential as medicine. But there is no question that, for those who know to look for it, bloodroot is good medicine: a seasonal symbol of hope and renewal.

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Way Downstream …

In Virginia, a new Bay cleanup plan pinched by budget woes falls short of what advocates had hoped for. Without new revenue like Maryland’s “flush tax,” Virginia says it will be able to reduce the 87 million pounds of nitrogen and phosphorous it dumps into the Bay each year by about only 30 million pounds over the next six years…

In Annapolis, the confusion for recreational crabbers has ended. DNR has established a $15 license for recreational boaters (unless they have a $40 recreational fishing license). There’s no recreational crabbing on Wednesdays except hand lines, dip nets or pots from private piers. On the main Bay, crabbing must cease by 5pm and on tributaries at sunset…

In Spain, Ernest Hemingway would be irked. Pushed by animal rights advocates, the city of Barcelona last week declared its opposition to bull fights, a step toward banning them in part of the country where they became famous…

Our Creature Feature comes from Australia, where a real-life crocodile hunter saved an 11-year-old girl from becoming lunch for a 10-foot-long beast. This was not Animal Planet’s Steve Irwin or any of the celebrated fellows but a retired croc hunter named Ray Turner who heard screaming last week from the shallows behind his boat-rental shop near Queensland.

When Turner saw the croc’s jaws clamped around the girl’s arm, he leapt onto its back and poked it in the eyes with his fingers. “They will always let go when you go for an eye because it’s their vulnerable point and their livelihood,” he told the Associated Press. The rescued girl was in stable condition with lacerations and puncture wounds.

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Last updated April 15, 2004 @ 1:12am.