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Volume xviii, Issue 17 ~ Apri 29 to May 5, 2010

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Ask and You Shall Receive

The solution to weeding out invasive garlic mustard is the latest rabbit to pop out of
Bay Weekly’s magic hat

Proofreader Martha Lee Benz was distressed. In blue ink, her neat handwriting shouted her complaint. Earth Journal columnist Gary Pendleton had made her care about the falcate orangetip (not, thank you Martha Lee, orange-tip or orangetipped) butterfly, which makes a timely meal for migrating birds.

The phoebes and warblers that eat Anthocharis have only recently arrived in the woods, Pendleton wrote in his Earth Day column, “Earth’s Magic Connections.” The timing of their arrival coincides marvelously with the emergence of the butterfly — just in time to provide a crucial meal to the birds.

He had told her that the fragile chain was frayed by the invasion of garlic mustard, an alien that lures the short-lived butterflies. Instead of nourishing their caterpillars, as native mustard does, Pendleton wrote, “the invasive exotic is poisonous to the caterpillars that eat its leaves.”

But he had not told the conscientious Benz — or you — how to stop the spread of this alien that breaks the chain.

“Tell us how to get rid of the exotic mustard,” she wrote.

We depend on our proofreaders, both Martha Lee and Dick Wilson, to keep us honest. That’s their job every Tuesday afternoon. Have we written cleanup (or orangetip) three different ways in one story? Do our figures add up? Have we spelled everybody’s name right?

Correctness, consistency and clarity are the usual province of proofreaders. But ours are wizards who also make us think in terms of value — in both what we put in and what we’ve left out.

In this case, Martha Lee was right. So was Gary.

Earth Journal is a tidy package. It gets its bang from how it’s focused. Gary brings one — or occasionally two interdependent — species into sharp focus. That species is also the subject of each column’s illustration. In softer focus is the background: connections, reflections, history and legend. Earth Journal — which Gary has written and illustrated for Bay Weekly for 11 years — is tidy in another way. Each month’s column must fit in just about the same space.

So the eradication of garlic mustard was a step too far for “Earth’s Magic Connections.”

On the other hand, Martha Lee had raised a question that couldn’t be begged. As a proofreader, she’d rightly question the passive voice construction I’ve just written. In truth, it was a question I, the editor, couldn’t beg.

Magician is the synonym for editor, in that anybody who claims the profession must be able to pull rabbits out of hats. The real magic is how the rabbits get in the hats. That’s an answer I can’t claim to know. That they do is a truth I take on faith.

The very morning our Earth Day paper hit the streets, Martha Lee’s rabbit popped out. Friends of Patapsco Valley & Heritage Greenway emailed me the news of their 11th Annual Garlic Mustard Challenge, upcoming on Sunday, May 2. (You’ll find full details in 8 Days a Week.)

Concerned and fun-loving folks like Martha Lee are invited to Patapsco State Park to compete with other groups to pull out as much of the invasive garlic mustard weed as possible in two hours.

The competition will be tough. Brian Schexnayder from Arbutus is the individual hero, having pulled several hundred pounds by himself last year.

The harvest is then cooked in the Chef Challenge and consumed communally — by people, not falcate orangetip caterpillars. The Friends’ garlic mustard cookbook includes 42 recipes, from Garlic Mustard Oatmeal to Warm Potato Salad with Wilted Garlic Mustard Greens. (Find it at

New recipes will be served this year. But first the chefs have got to have the mustard.

So, Martha Lee, there’s your answer.

Sandra Olivetti Martin

editor and publisher; [email protected]


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from the Editor