Dock of the Bay

Volume VI Number 19
May 14-20, 1998


  • In Annapolis on Homestretch, Tour de Sol Dries Out
  • Anne Arundel County: Piles of Learning for Horse Farmers
  • Harwood: At Boxwood Farm, Time Inches By
  • Calvert County: Like Bonsai, Writing Mysteries With a Twist
  • Way Downstream ...

  • In Annapolis on Homestretch, Tour de Sol Dries Out

    Gasoline cars may eventually be defunct, with the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association American Tour de Sol - which stopped over in Annapolis on May 13 - giving them a push in that direction.

    The Tour de Sol is a race of 43 Alternative Fuel Vehicles designed and built by auto manufacturers, students and hobbyists. As these concoctions of ingenuity exit the laboratory and take to the highway, the teams vie for the national championship trophy, racing over the 350 mile course from New York City to Washington D.C.

    With many a curious onlooker straining their necks to gain a better look at these strange vehicles, the fleet of ATVs rolled along Rt. 50 into Sandy Point State Park at about 11:30am. During the road ralliers' suddenly sunny pit stop, close to a thousand people got up close to feast their eyes on cars of the future.

    In the crowd, Jason Barnes and Lewis Seidel, students at St. Jane Frances School in Pasadena, liked what they saw. "I'd like to drive one because they can go fast and seem safe," said Seidel.

    Intrigued, Barnes started thinking of designing one himself someday.

    Many of these road-running alternatives follow the lines of a traditional automobile. From Maryland, University of Maryland alumnus Fred Householder competed in a donated Saturn, souping it up with a paired electric motor and ethanol-burning engine. His alternative has been clocked at 90mph and has a 500-mile highway range. But during this year's not-very-sunny 10th Tour de Sol, rain en route dampened his performance, shorting out part of his electrical system.

    "There are still technicalities to work out. You won't start seeing them routinely on the road until the year 2003," said Householder.

    Others look as if they could launch into space at any moment. Their names -The Electrifly, Sunpacer, Spyder Juice, and Kineticar III to name a few - are as inventive as their engines. And not just cars but motorcycles, scooters and even a few electric powered bicycles are in the race, showing off their highway worthiness.

    Some of these vehicles are on the market; among them, sponsoring Toyota Motor Sales' RAV4 electric and General Motors EV1, the world's first production electric vehicle. Toyota's Prius, the first hybrid-powered vehicle marketed in Japan, is the Tour's official pace car.

    Others will never be for sale, but their cutting edge technologies stimulate creative thinking.

    As consumers demand cleaner transportation, inventors and exhibitors from New Hampshire to Hawaii are stepping up with alternatives and showcasing them in the Tour. One class of competitor is electric vehicles battery powered with everything from lead-acid to advanced nickel metal hydride batteries.

    One of the fastest growing classes world-wide is hybrid-electrics, vehicles with both an electric motor and engine driven by an assortment of fuels other than gasoline. Some of the alternative fuels: diesel, propane, compressed natural gas and methanol. Even the sun's power is harnessed. With northeast weather as it is of late, it's fortunate that the solar powered vehicles are designed to retain reserve energy from the sun.

    With the U.S. Department of Energy cosponsoring this year's race and with thousands of people turning out in New York, New Jersey and Delaware to get a glimpse of these cars, the future of transportation is racing at us.

    -MB & NMK

    Anne Arundel County:

    Piles of Learning for Horse Farmers

    It's only horse sense. Way more goes into feeding a horse than a chicken; hence, way more comes out.

    But what really worried Maryland legislators this year was chicken manure. And way too much of it.

    When instead of one chicken you've got, say, 300, you've got the beginning of a problem. You've also got the raw material for what lawmakers called "animal units," the measure that allows the Water Quality and Improvement Act of 1998 to compare horses and chickens. Each unit is equal to 1,000 pounds.

    So what goes for chicken farmers on the Shore can also go for horse farmers in Anne Arundel County. According to the Anne Arundel County Soil Conservation District, "horses make up the largest number of animal units."

    This week Anne Arundel's animal managers can improve their horse sense about how to keep the waste produced by their animal units out of Chesapeake Bay.

    At a May 14 workshop, horse farmers get a preview of how Maryland's new law applies to them. Regulations aren't yet written to cross the t's and dot the i's, but, broadly speaking, for the first time Maryland farmers must manage the nutrients that go onto their fields and come out of their animals.

    Farms with over eight animal units or $250,000 gross income, that is. Smaller farms aren't regulated by the law. Still, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Fred Samadani, "whatever size their farm is, people should become good, aware operators. It's not only regulation and law; we should be good citizens to help our environment."

    So the Anne Arundel Soil Conservation District and the Lower Western Shore Tributary Strategy Team are reaching out early to teach horse owners about the elements of the good nutrient management plans required by our new law.

    That means rotating pastures so horses don't graze one pasture until there's no cover left. It means managing manure and fertilizing pasture and hay lands with no more than they need. Good for many pastures is tall fescue mixed with clover. Pastures seeded with a 25 percent cover blend need no added nitrogen fertilizer, according to Dr. Les Vough, forage crop extension specialist at the University of Maryland.

    Good management means, says Soil Conservation's Lillian Griffith, "learning how to save their money and improve the health of their animals while saving the Bay."

    On many farms, Maryland's Agriculture Cost-Share Program antes in almost 90 percent of the cost of many conservation practices.

    Now that's not chicken feed.

    Learn more from the Anne Arundel Soil Conservation District: 410/222-7822.


    Harwood: At Boxwood Farm, Time Inches By

    Alex Ryback, of Harwood, pats his 27-year-old in a fatherly way and bends to touch his diminutive 14-year-old. The teen is going through quite a growth spurt.

    You can adopt either one after this delicate stage has ended. When you do, you must be gentle with the clippers or, better yet, leave the clippers in the drawer.

    "Let me explain why I say don't touch it," begins Ryback, 76, a Ukranian by birth, speaking in a thickly European accent. "If you go to a barber and he cuts you all around, you can come out wearing a crewcut and looking very bad."

    And nobody wants a boxwood with a crewcut - least of all boxwood lover Alex Ryback.

    And love boxwoods he does. He's put 2,000 of them in the earth and watched them rise up from the ground ever so slowly like bright green cartoon characters. They're round as beach balls or cylindrical or Baby Huey-like. Finding two alike is a trick. What is most extraordinary is their age.

    Just off Rt. 2 south of Annapolis, about one mile north of Southern High School and within earshot of moaning trucks, Ryback's nine rows of boxwoods stand resolute against the race of time.

    A 14-year-old bush barely reaches your knee; the 27 year-old might climb to mid-thigh. Ryback's business contradicts this era of hyper-capitalism, when success is measured quarterly counting plastic arches. After nurturing a plant for a quarter-century, he sells them for around $60. In other words, he's paid about $2 a year for his work.

    He sells his beloved boxwoods, but not very actively. Sometimes he has a "Boxwoods" sign on the west side of the highway denoting his business. Right now, you'll need a dose of Ryback's patience; boxwoods can be picked out and paid for but shouldn't be unearthed for a few weeks.

    That's because they're growing, and it just so happens that boxwoods haven't grown like this in a long, long time. The warm, wet spring has created a veritable boxwoods incubator that is producing two and three inches of growth on some bushes. That's like a turtle putting on track shoes and running a 100-meter dash.

    "In 49 years I've been doing this, I've never had one grow three inches in three weeks. I can't explain to you why this is happening," Ryback said.

    Ryback can tell you something of his curious devotion to boxwoods and how he began in this painstaking trade. It was back in Europe, before he grew tired of the swaggering communists in the Ukraine, when he found a branch broken from a boxwood grown by his brother-in-law. He stuck it in the dirt and three weeks later, it had made itself a home and was growing.

    He did much the same in the U.S. after he arrived here in 1958 and borrowed starts from the adjacent farm. About that time, he had a serious spinal operation. Neither he nor his wife, Maria, have great health. But even amid afflictions, Ryback's ardor for snail's-pace growing never has ebbed.

    "I just like it," he said, adding a piece of indispensable wisdom. "If you are doing something you like in life, you never get tired of it."


    Calvert County: Like Bonsai, Writing Mysteries With a Twist

    The bonsai tree nailed him to the floor like a pin through a butterfly.

    What devilish mind thought up this murder weapon? Local writer Peter Abresch's, that's whose mind.

    Abresch, who calls himself, "Calvert County's other published writer," has been penning tales for 20 years. After graduating from Texas Western College, he taught dancing at Arthur Murray's before settling into a job as an earth scientist. He finished his government career in 1992 as a computer programmer for the National Weather Service.

    "Programming is very creative," he says. "It took the mental energy from my writing. As I approached retirement, I planned on writing again. The creative urge needs an outlet."

    Bloody Bonsai, a James P. Dandy Elderhostel Mystery, is Abresch's first published novel. It debuts as A Write Way Publishing Book.

    One of the intriguing things about this novel is the knowledge woven into the story's fabric. As a past-president of the Potomac Bonsai (say bone-SIGH) Association, Abresch knows the technical ins and outs of creating these miniature plantings. He gave the Calvert Garden Club some of his professional hints at their February meeting. More appear in his book.

    In addition to bonsai, the author soaked up details of sand, ocean and beachfront towns while attending an Elderhostel writing conference on the shores of New Jersey.

    Combining all these elements into what Abresch calls a cozy mystery, Bloody Bonsai's action takes place during an Elderhostel bonsai class in a hotel on the Jersey shore.

    James P. Dandy, the central character, is widowed and venturing back into singledom. Abresch describes him as "grumpy, because men on their own want to sit around the house. But his family pushes him into trying a new experience."

    As his soon-to-be close friend Dodie Swisher says, "You've ridden a bike haven't you?" And sure enough, James is off, adjusting to the dating world.

    Into this seemingly innocent setting of Elderhostel, a grisly crime is committed. James P. Dandy and Dodie Swisher become the crime-solving sleuths, the Nick and Nora Charles of the senior set.

    Joining the ranks of authors marketing their works, Abresche has been on the bookstore circuit this month, reading and signing his book throughout the Baltimore-Washington area at mystery bookstores and chains such as Borders and Barnes & Noble.

    But Abresch has had enough free time that he's already written his sequel to Bloody Bonsai. The dynamic duo from his first success reappear as the series continues.

    Where? It seems that Peter Abresch and his wife, Annemarie, took an Elderhostel course at the Baltimore Culinary Arts Institute. Says he: "I promise an interesting murder and some cooking tips as well."

    Meet Abresch Sat. May 30 at the reading and signing of Bloody Bonsai at 1pm at Mystery Bookshop, 7700 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda: 301/657-2665.

    -Carol Glover

    Way Downstream ...

    In Texas, 60 to 70 women ranging from students to grandmothers spent a week as guests of the Ruckus Society learning how to become "eco-warriors," the Houston Chronicle reported. The boot camp trained the women in tactics ranging from nonviolent civil disobedience to "in-your-face confrontation." Said program director Donna Parker: "I don't like going to jail. But at times, I feel I have no choice "

    A truck accident in Ohio last week gave new meaning to the term slick highway. Nearly 7,000 gallons of animal fat spilled, flowing into the highways grooves and congealing. Following clean-up of the road with 3.5 tons of dishwashing detergent, it was declared a "low-fat artery," the Associated Press reported

    In Chile, private investors have launched a scheme to control smog, and it's raising some eyebrows around Santiago. According to Newsweek, they've strung a 131-foot hot-pink nylon chimney from the ground in hopes of providing a means for air pollution to escape to higher altitudes - and away from people's noses

    North Carolina's U.S. Senate race this year may focus heavily on pollution from corporate hog farms, given the early coverage. One candidate, incumbent Lauch Faircloth (R), may find it hard to duck the issue since he's an owner of a corporate hog farm

    Our Creature Feature this week comes to us from the United Kingdom, which is in the midst of an animal celebration that you may find curious: National Bat Week. Through May 17, 90 local bat groups from across Britain are holding bat walks, bat talks and festivities aplenty honoring the world's only flying mammal.

    Wondering what's going on, we flew to the bat's own web page ( and learned plenty. A bat will eat 3,000 mosquitoes in an evening. Some species of bats have become extinct. Why? One sentence summed it up: "Bats have suffered from human ignorance and misunderstanding together with the loss of feeding habitat and roost sites."

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    Volume VI Number 19
    May 14-20, 1998
    New Bay Times

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