Dock of the Bay
Volume VI Number 6
February 12-18, 1998
Post Bookworm: What Maryland Literary Tradition?
photo by Bill Lamrecht
Easton - If you're a would-be Maryland novelist and you believe Jonathan Yardley, you live in such a literary wasteland that you may not want to bother putting pen to paper.
Then again, by Yardley's measure, writing in Maryland is an open field.
Yardley, the Washington Post's chief book reviewer, accorded Maryland little clout in world of literature during the first annual "From Bay to Ocean" regional writer's gathering last weekend at the Historic Avalon Theatre in Easton.
The topic at hand was regionalism in writing and Yardley, who lives in Baltimore, found plenty memorable from the South, New England and elsewhere as he held forth at lunch.
But Maryland? It has "a remarkably slender literary tradition," Yardley said, meaning now and in the past.
"I've thought a lot about Maryland's literary tradition and, honest to God, there isn't much of one," he said.
You could hear the crackle of plastic box lunches as the audience fidgeted in their chairs and cast their eyes to the likes of Tom Horton, Helen Chappell, John Page Williams and more than a few others among them who make a living slapping sentences around.
In Yardley's world, there are writers and threre are serious writers, fiction authors of sweeping vision such as John Dos Passos, Saul Bellow and Ralph Ellison. As far as regions, William Faulkner raised the South to universality, Yardley observed, as Washington Irving did in upstate New York with such stories as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
But to Yardley, truncated Maryland - mountains in the west, the Washington suburbs, then Baltimore, the Chesapeake Country and finally the sea shore - never has been appropriately sized up. Never mind the skipjacks, watermen and the fixtures of Bay lore: It's "tourist shop stuff" in Yardley's view.
Other than mentioning transplanted Southerner Ann Tyler of Baltimore and Christopher Tilghman of the Eastern Shore, he could muster no praise for Maryland fiction - not even for John Barth. (He did remark kindly about Horton's non-fiction books on the Chesapeake.)
And, oooh the things he had to say about Tom Clancy and the recently departed James A. Michener, author of the fat epic, Chesapeake. You'd have thought Yardley was flinging the kind of barbs that fly in that mean-spirited literary world of New York.
Clancy "writes from a region, but it ain't my region," Yardley said, disdain in his voice.
He said that Michener, who died last year, "couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. You start 100 million years ago in the Paleolithic Era and some slug crawls out of a rock. And then you read 100 pages about the slug and then suddenly the slug turns into Tom Clancy."
The Feb. 7 event filled the downtown Easton theater with Shore literati, who gathered over ham, turkey and politically correct veggie lunches in orchestra and balcony for a literary afternoon. Following Yardley on a stage set like a gentleman's early-century study was H.L. Mencken - or a fine impersonation of the vitriolic Baltimore Sun editor.
Next came workshops with successful writers: Horton and Williams talking on outdoors writing, Chappell taking on mysteries and Priscilla Cummings talking on children's writing. The afternoon ended where evening began, with "Chesapeake Scenes," a medley of songs, poems and tales.
"We hope this will be the first of many celebrations of regional literature," said Ellen General, president of the Historic Avalon Theatre Foundation.
Yardley also came down against school officials in the Anne Arundel County debate over the removal of Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings from mandatory reading by ninth graders. Some parents had complained about sexual passages - including a childhood rape - and frank discussions about race relations.
"What you get from Maya Angelou is going to pale by what you get from the Fox Network any night of the week," he said. "No maiden was ever violated by a book. But there are people who believe that books are dangerous."
To any still daring enough to try their fitness in so intemperate an environment as literature, Yardley pointed out Faulkner's footsteps. "Write about what you know," he advised, noting the Nobel Prize winner's fidelity to what he called his "little postage stamp of earth," Jackson - become Yoknapatawpha in his fiction - County.
"Write about your region."
Annapolis Unity KOs Klan
They started it, like a bully throwing a sucker punch.
The Ku Klux Klan threw the first proverbial punch when they announced plans to hold a rally against Black History Month and to promote white "supremacy" at Annapolis' Lawyer's Mall.
Shocked and perhaps caught off guard, the community countered. Citizens and leaders met, with two thoughts prevailing.
One: Stand up and be heard. Rally against the Klan and their message of hate.
Two: Don't give them the satisfaction. Gather the community together on their own, ignoring the Klan.
Saturday, Feb. 7, at 1:30pm, the Klan held their rally, ironically in the shadow of a statue of Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice.
The community landed a one-two combination punch that sent the 40-some hooded figures scurrying back to Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia - and Maryland - just hours later.
The first punch came at 12:30, as hundreds of protesters marched from Rowe Boulevard to St. Anne's Episcopal Church at Church Circle. Walking in this "Unity March" were Gov. Parris Glendening, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Anne Arundel County Executive John Gary, Annapolis Mayor Dean Johnson and former councilman and march organizer Carl Snowden. In addition, church leaders from many surrounding congregations came with their members in support for unity.
At exactly 1:30 - the time marking commencement of the Klan's rally - the bells at St. Anne's chimed for three minutes amid silent prayer, joined by the ringing of bells by the assembled politicians. The only sound, other than bells, were the supporting claps of hands and stomps of feet.
"Annapolis is a city that prides itself on diversity," Mayor Johnson said. "Young and old, black and white, uptown and downtown - it is those people it is that unity that gives us our strength."
The second punch came just a few hundred yards from where the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan had gathered at Lawyer's Mall. At the foot of Rowe Boulevard, several hundred more people had gathered in a separate show of strength, pitting their numbers and their voices against the Klan.
Then came the surprise attack. Try as the Klan might, they were unable to reach an audience.
In what could go down as a historic example of crowd control, the police had cordoned off all of State Circle. Klan members were shuttled via a Maryland Department of Corrections bus to Lawyer's Mall - where no one could see them.
"The Klan has a right to free speech," said Capt. Greg Shipley of the Maryland State Police. "But they do not have a right to an audience."
Mass transit buses, parked bumper to bumper, closed all streets leading to Lawyer's mall to even pedestrian traffic.
Rows of policemen, buffered by mounted police, kept people far from the Klan.
Metal detectors waited across Rowe Boulevard for anyone wishing to join the counter-rally across from Lawyer's Mall, and sharp-shooters perched in windows in case things got ugly. Hovering overhead, a State Police helicopter surveyed the scene.
In all, the rallies were policed by more than 300 officers from the City of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, the Maryland State Police, the Maryland Transit Police, DNR's Natural Resource Police, the state's Department of General Services police, the Maryland-National Park Police and the State Fire Police.
Why all the fuss?
"There was a careful study done on recent Klan rallies," Shipley said. "January 17, a Klan rally in Memphis turned into a 30-minute riot with tear gas. We knew that there were elements there [in Annapolis] that wanted confrontation."
Perhaps so, but police tactics prevented confrontation in Annapolis. There was no violence and only three arrests were made, all involving counter-protesters seeking to get closer to the Klan.
For the knock-out punch, both Mayor Johnson and Gov. Glendening declared February 7 as Unity Day for city and state. Also passed around that day was a petition to give the name Unity Circle to the soon-to-be-built traffic circle at the intersection of West and Taylor Streets.
That should set the hate-mongers reeling.
Maryland's Rural-Legacy Pie 96 Million Plums Short
Judging by the response, Gov. Parris Glendening had his fingers firmly on his state's pulse when he added Rural Legacy to his Smart Growth initiative last year.
The two programs work hand in hand to deliver Maryland from sprawl by, on the one hand, concentrating growth in already developed areas and, on the other, preserving rural land. Money moves both programs.
If money were no issue, Governor Glendening would be able to promptly deposit 53,000 acres of Maryland into the state's Rural Legacy account to draw perpetual interest. That's how much rural land is ready to be preserved in the 20 counties plus Baltimore city that stretched out their hands for state money. More groups are preparing applications for later rounds of grant-giving.
"Extraordinary," said the governor of the number and scope of applications.
So extraordinary that the governor's people are going to have to turn about three-quarters of the applicants away empty handed.
To approve all 23 applications would take $125 million dollars. That's $96 million more than the governor's best-case budget for Rural Legacy spending in the next year. And $15 million more than he has in hand. A mere $14 million has already been allocated; the wished-for $15 million must still make its way through the General Assembly.
While the legislature is pigeon-holing millions, the 23 applications will go through their own long deliberative process, from state agencies to the Rural Legacy Advisory Committee to the Rural Legacy Board. That's a very high-level board, made up of the secretaries of the Departments of Natural Resources and of Agriculture plus the director of the Maryland Office of Planning. The final step is the even higher level Board of Public Works, the triumvirate of the governor, Comptroller Louis Goldstein and State Treasurer Richard Dixon.
Guiding the winnowing will be at least three factors: the significance of the resource, the degree of threat, and the strength of the public-private partnership working to preserve it.
The strong partnership criterion gives hope to Calvert County, which has applied for $7 million in state money to preserve its rural legacy.
"When the governor came out with smart growth, he pumped a lot of money into it so if [a county] had developed areas, it was getting money. For us it was a hardship. Rural Legacy was a response so rural areas like ours could also benefit," said Calvert County capital projects coordinator Sherrod Sturrock.
Land trusts are very active in Calvert, and three - the American Chestnut Land Trust, the Farm Land Trust, and Battle Creek Natural Education Society - worked in close partnership with the county to identify parcels of rural land for purchase. Three million of Calvert's grant request would support those purchases.
The remaining $4 million would be used by the county to beef up its program to keep farmland from development. Under the county's successful program, farmers can keep their land while selling - at market rate - all rights to develop it further.
"This program allows us to give more rewards to farmers and to reach more farmers," said Sturrock.
Meanwhile, Anne Arundel County has asked for $4.6 million for two projects to add 955 acres to its rural legacy.
In the smaller project, the Severn River Land Trust hopes for $1 million to preserve 75 untouched acres of land bordering Brewer Pond in a 1,000-acre region it calls the "Green Cathedral."
Coined by Severn River Association president William Moulden, the name focuses, says Severn River Land Trust Director John Sherwood, "on the quiet, the majesty of built cathedrals that translates to this natural area very well."
A million dollars would help buy the development rights to a piece of that rural legacy for a coalition made up of three similarly named groups: the Severn River Land Trust, Association and Commission.
Anne Arundel hopes for $3.6 million more to add to its Southern Arundel County Rural Legacy Area. With the millions, development rights would be purchased on three private farms south of Route 214:
· The 300 acre Riggleman property, which would swell the Patuxent River Greenway. The property is between the 620-acre Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary and the Patuxent River and near the 180-acre Natural Resource Area. Across the river in Prince George's County are 1,500-acre Merkle Park and the 700-acre Patuxent River Park.
· The 250-acre Carlton property on the north side of Polling House Road, which abuts Anne Arundel County's second largest contiguous block of conservation easements, totalling 640 acres.
· The 340-acre Weston-Lankford property west of Route 2 and north of Southern High School, which is adjacent to the county's largest block of easements, totalling 750 acres.
"Our overall goal is to preserve a rural legacy of 20,000 acres as contiguous as possible," said county planning spokesman John Morris.
Update: Will El Niño Foil Yoyo and the Swans?
photo courtesy of Defenders of Wildlife
You may remember the trumpeter swans that made their maiden journey from Virginia to Maryland's Eastern Shore this past December. Yoyo, Isabell and Sydney were hatched in an experimental program to restore these magnificent birds to the Eastern Shore.
Improbably, the birds were trained to follow an ultra-light plane, and in mid-December the group took off from a field near Warrenton, Va. After several days of planned rest stops, all arrived safely in Maryland near Dorchester County's Hongo River. Bob Harris' nearby farm is serving as a migratory wintering ground for Yoyo, Isabell, Sydney and the four other swans that made the trip by truck.
How are the swans fairing in their new home?
"They're doing great," says Bob Ferris, a biologist with Defenders of Wildlife, the project sponsor.
Have this winter's heavy rains bothered the swans?
"It rolls off their back like" well, you know what, says he, adding scientifically that "larger birds can conserve heat better than smaller fowl as the surface area displaces the water."
Harris notes that the swans have spent 90 percent of their time at the farm, taking flight to feed on underwater grasses at a pond, where the plentiful food is often frozen in a normal winter.
This year's mild winter poses other questions for the biologist. It was expected that the swans would take off to return on their own to Virginia in late February or early March.
"We'll just have to wait and see," Harris says. "With the weird weather we're having, and no real definite climatic signals, the swans aren't getting all the cues they need."
Harris, who finds raising the swans as full of worries as raising your own children, said each swan has its own personality. His favorite is Yoyo. "She was the first to do everything since she was more imprinted on humans. When Yoyo was hatched, she didn't have clutch mates, which establish the pecking order in the first few days. Yoyo has a mind of her own."
What if the swans don't take off on their own? "We'll round them up and fly them back," says Harris.
In West Virginia, they'll soon be debating roadkill on the Senate floor. Sen. Leonard Anderson last week persuaded a Senate committee to pass legislation that lets people collect roadkill "for the dinner table" without going through red tape from the state ...
New England lobster fishers are sounding a lot like Chesapeake Bay watermen. The Outer Cape Lobstermen's Association last week sued the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, arguing that a new rule against harvesting large female lobsters doesn't work. Part of the rule requires them to cut a V-shaped notch in the tails of egg-bearing females signifying that they should be released ...
In Japan, there's an Olympic-sized debate underway about how green the Nagano Olympics really are. The Japanese planted 40,000 trees around the luge and bobsled track, demanded low-emission vehicles and built a pond near the cross-country ski venue to protect frogs. But Masao Ezawa, chair of the Anti-Olympics People's Network, argued: "People will live forever with their beautiful mountains scarred with concrete like the bones of a dead fish "
Our Creature Feature comes to us from Virginia, where two members of the animal kingdom - the box turtle and the timber rattlesnake - are waging a fierce competition. But they're not battling in the woods; they're fighting it out in the Virginia State Legislature for the title of state reptile.
The snake, it should be noted, has history: It appeared on the Revolutionary War flag. But the box turtle is making a charge, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Del. George Grayson (D), a turtle pusher, sized up the competition: "The difference between the box turtle and the timber rattler is the difference between Tom Hanks and Arnold Schwarzennegger."
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VolumeVI Number 6
February 12-18, 1998
New Bay Times
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