Dock of the Bay

Volume VII Number 41
October 14-20,1999

In Fall, Maryland Feasts on Oysters

Fall in Chesapeake Country is oyster season. The call of geese is the alarm alerting Marylanders to harvest and eat the tempting bivalves beneath the Bay. By October, oysters are fat and full after their summer spawning.

Travel the Western shore of the Bay into Southern Maryland on rural roads this time of year, and you'll be lured by hand-lettered signs pointing the way to oyster roasts at firehouses, oyster festivals at fairgrounds and oyster suppers with or without ham or beef at churches throughout Anne Arundel, Calvert and St. Mary's counties.

This weekend, a lot of oyster lovers will travel to St. Mary's County's 33rd Annual Oyster Festival, National Oyster Shucking Contest and National Oyster Cook-Off in Leonardtown.

Others have made their date with the Davidsonville Ruritan Club's long-standing Bull and Oyster Roast.

Meanwhile Peter Stevens of Shady Side, organizer of the West River Heritage Day Oyster Festival in Anne Arundel County also planned for Sunday, hopes folks in his area will think locally and slurp copiously at a first-ever oyster festival.

Oysters at the West River Festival will come from Don Sheckells of Shady Side, who dives for his oysters at Bowie Rock, an oyster bar near Kent Narrows at the Chester River.

How good a year will this be for oysters? we asked Sheckells.

Like every year, he replied, it's got its good points and its bad. In a year that's seen both drought and deluge, 50 percent of the harvest has been lost. That's bad. Still, rain has kept the Bay fresher and cooler, and that's good.

"People here want the Maryland oyster," and there'll be plenty of Chesapeake Bay oysters to eat, Sheckells assures us. That's better still, for oyster festivals are first and foremost about eating fall's favored food fried and frittered, stewed and scaled, raw and ready on ice.

In St. Mary's County, where fame and fortune favor innovation at the National Oyster Cook-Off, you can veer far from those traditional tastes into such alarming oddities as white oyster chili, flavored with cilantro and pine nuts.

But there's more to a good oyster feast than feasting alone.

When you're feasted out in St. Mary's County, you'll want to watch the shucking championship. Last year, Wayne Copsey had the skill, speed and determination to open two dozen oysters in less than two and a half minutes. Men and women compete separately, proving some traditions die hard in St. Mary's.

The Shady Side Rural Heritage Society, sponsor of the West River Festival, also plans to serve more than oyster delicacies. West River was once seat of a major oyster fleet, and the rural waterman's home and museum on the river will be the backdrop for what Stevens calls an "informative event."

Into the 1940s, between 150 and 200 boats "in a constant stream" could be counted coming out of the West River and Parrish Creek in an hour and a half's time, remembers Howard Shenton of Shady Side. Today, only six or seven boats leave Parrish Creek to harvest the Bay.

If watermen and oysters are endangered species, the culture and lore of oysters still looms large in the memories of locals living close by the Bay.

West River's Oyster Festival celebrates this heritage with music and stories, authors and books, antiques and crafts and a children's program. Making music will be Them Eastport Oyster Boys, Tom Wisner, composer of the song "Chesapeake Borne," and Janie Meneely. You'll learn about black watermen from Vince Leggett, meet Chesapeake country authors Mick Blackistone and Pat Vojtech and admire - and, if you like, buy - arts, crafts and model boats made by local artisans.

Whichever oyster roast you attend (and you can go to more than one, this weekend and in weeks to come), you'll be rewarded with a favorite taste of Chesapeake Bay and a whole lot of tradition.

Read "Good Bay Times" this week and throughout autumn for more oyster feasts.

-M.L. Faunce

Bits & Pieces ~ Mosquito Watch

Mosquitoes are still bugging Marylanders. That's the bad news and why, after last month's mosquito-borne viral outbreak in New York, state officials are keeping a close eye on the pests.

"Our Department of Agriculture is aggressively testing mosquitoes and maintaining its efforts to control the mosquito population so that we can continue to ensure the health and safety of our citizens and prevent mosquito-borne illnesses," said Gov. Parris Glendening last week.

The good news is that no strange new mosquito-borne diseases have showed up in Maryland.

"I emphasize that we have had no reported cases of any strains of West Nile encephalitis in Maryland and we are taking extra precautions to prevent occurrences," the governor said.

Ground spot spraying continues in areas of Southern Maryland, Prince George's and especially the lower Eastern Shore. "This is our regular mosquito control routine," says Don Vandrey of the Department of Agriculture. "It's on an as-needed basis."

-Darcey Dodd

De-Greasing the Bay

When you go fast food, you go greasy. In gritty pits behind restaurants throughout Chesapeake Country gather fat, oil and grease waste that ultimately spill into the Bay.

Now, thanks to Virginia-based Envirogenesis, there's a safe way to cut the grease. In "Bio-augmentation," natural biological organisms are added to reduce common waste products. Three hundred restaurants, including Red Lobster and Piccadilly's in Annapolis, are doing it.

"Every restaurant will have a grease pit. The grease is pumped into landfills or chemicals are used to break it down," explains Envirogenesis spokesman George Beiter. "Our process is a non-chemical way where it's actually gotten rid of."

How does it work?

For that answer, we turn to former deputy surgeon general Robert Whitney, now with Envirogenesis. "A mixture of natural bacteria strains are concentrated to a level thousands of times higher than normally found in nature," Whitney says. "These ultra-concentrated organisms digest the fat and grease and convert it to water and trace amounts of CO2."

It works, confirms a 20-week study of Taco Bell, KFC and Red Lobster food chains. The Henrico County Virginia Public Works Department study was published by the Water Environment Federation.

"Thirty-six of the top 100 chains in the Baltimore-Washington area are using this," boasts Envirogenesis founder Doug Anderson.

-Darcey Dodd

Breakdown: The Real Action is Between the Boat Shows

As fast as Clark Kent steps into a phone booth and comes out Superman, the U.S. Sailboat Show becomes the U.S. Powerboat Show.

It looks that way. It takes several days of solid back-to-back shift work to prepare for the Sailboat Show. It takes a whole lot less time to break it all down. In the blink of an eye, sailboats file out. The banners covering the show's chain link perimeter have gone from promoting sail to powerboat products, and Ego Alley is chock-a-block with tubby yachts. What happened?

What happened is the stuff of legend. Here's the short form on the Breakdown Spectacular.

The event crew rearranges the docks while exhibitors pull down their sails and sail into the sunset as a squad of impatient powerboats charges in to take their place. To some, it's a Chinese fire drill, a desperate scramble against the clock. "You've got powerboats out there circling like sharks" said an owner of a 43-foot yacht.

Relaxing aboard his 33-foot Cornish Crabber, Patrick Wintershalter, of Brittania Boats, offers his interpretation of what he'll shortly face: "I think perhaps some people have had too many painkillers. People are up on Pusser's roof drinking, yelling and cheering as we leave. The workers have to disassemble the docks to free the boaters, and they must do this in the dark - between 6 and 7pm this time of year since it gets dark quickly. I'm trying to convince my boss this is a fun thing to do."

To others it's an exquisite piece of choreography, where boat show crew and exhibitors display a finesse honed by 30 years of putting on a show, managing within about 15 minutes to pack up and file out - all 450 boats - in orderly form, into the sunset. Then the powerboats, waiting in the wings, sweep grandly in.

"Oh it's gorgeous," says Frieda Wildey of Ocean Options. "Boats just blaze out of here. They radio each other, I guess. People know their sequence in advance. It's exciting"

John J.B.Blount, Pusser's Landing manager, is resting from his lunch rush and gearing up for dinner and happy hour. And the breakdown.

"They all pile in here to watch the boats leave. Everybody gets a big kick out of it. It's a big spectacle. It's amazing they can do it in that short amount of time," he says.

Toward 6pm: Pusser's upper deck, lower deck and the stairs between are filling up with spectators. People have begun to jam the balcony in expectation. At 6pm sharp, two gunshots are fired to end the show.

So how do they get visitors out? Even the public library is more aggressive than the boat show on this order. People continue to wander leisurely even as boats leave and workers break up docks around them. The Pusser's crowd helps out by hounding the stragglers with whistles and screams.

At 6:15, the huge catamarans on the outer limits of the show have begun peeling off. They are beyond the catcalls of the roistering crowd of sailors, sailboat owners, boat show participants and locals. Many are veteran breakdown spectators, and they are primed for a spectacle. Though fairly genteel folk, at this event they become, as every one of them would readily agre,: bleacher bums.

The boat show breaks apart like Hudson Bay pack ice in spring. The outer boats, also the largest, melt away as workers scramble to clear lanes among the floating docks. The fat cats sweep gracefully into the sunset, picking their way smoothly through private boats at anchor out in the creek. They are the only boats in the show to get away with it.

At 6:30, a few show visitors still wander the dock. The crowd, now five deep, pressing against the balcony, heckles them more aggressively. Spectators have taken most of the chairs from the tables to stand on and get a better look.

Who said this was fast? The pace is glacial. Actually, it's a little like a parade. The boats drift by the row of spectators, and sometimes a crew member will issue a stately wave like a homecoming queen. But folks don't boo parade floats. They boo boats that leave slowly.

"Taking a boat out of here is like being a lounge act in a really bad club, said Elvia Thompson, an Eastportorican.

Things pick up as the breakdown reaches into Ego Alley. You're about to enter the worst part of the show, a potentially humiliating gauntlet of hooligans who will jeer your every attempt to ease your big boat through an obstacle course of floating dock sections, pier pilings and other boats.

You look up and see a fat guy in a muscle shirt leaning over the balcony to give you advice, his face red with the effort. "Remember, the dock gets right of way," he says.

By 7pm the pace dies down. The big boats are gone, along with the chance to witness a mishap or some fancy footwork. The crowd is tapped out.

Was the breakdown spectacular everything it was cracked up to be? In a way it was, but not the way it was hyped. It's like a baseball game or a Dead concert, where the actual spectacle, even for a fan, is almost beside the point. Yes it's interesting to see the boat show come apart in skilled hands. But it's no showstopper.

As the last boats coasted by, with minimal ridicule, a woman said, "It's so sad to see them leave." That's it: The breakdown spectacular is a way to mourn the passing of the boat show.

-Christy Grimes

Let It Shine: AA Women Reflect a Heroic Light

If Fannie Lou Hamer's name isn't a household word, it should be. She's the woman who told the world "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Hamer, at right, was beaten and jailed for her advocacy of human rights. Sterilized against her will, she became a champion for women's rights. Thwarted in her attempt to register to vote in 1962, she joined the Civil Rights Movement, traveling the roads of her native Mississippi with Martin Luther King to let freedom ring. Challenging the white domination of the Democratic Party, she helped form the Freedom Democratic Party.

Hamer's name lives in Chesapeake Country households because of the work of the Rev. Paul A. Murray and a group of community activists, elected officials and business owners. This October 6, on the 82nd anniversary of the late Hamer's birth, Anne Arundel County's Third Annual Fannie Lou Hamer Reception, honored six "women of excellence" in her name:

· Lavertta Tilghman Harden of Severn, a federal attorney specializing in employment law, and president of the Anne Arundel County Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, who said "If I stand tall, it's because I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me."

· Glenda Gathers of Severn, a community activist and children's advocate, who said, "We have a lot in common: a desire to change things, and the theme song written in Hamer's memory, 'This little light of mine, I'm gonna make it shine' - is healing our children."

Such women make a difference because they "have a passion for people," said keynote speaker Delegate Virginia Clagett, the longest serving female elected official in Anne Arundel County.

At the ceremony at the Banneker-Douglass Museum, Annapolis Mayor Dean Johnson saw another similarity between Hamer, whom he met at the Democratic National Convention in 1964, and these 1999 Fannie Lou Hamer Award winners.

What he remembers most about the Freedom Democratic Party organizer, said Johnson, is her eyes.

"Notice the look in the eyes [of these women]," said Johnson. "They aren't done yet, either."

- M.L. Faunce

Needed: 100 Volunteers for Herring Bay

You've had a swell summer on Chesapeake Bay. Now you can give something back - especially if your part of the Bay is Herring Bay.

Volunteer this Saturday, October 16, to join in the Great Herring Bay Stream and Shore Survey. You and a partner or two will walk one of 40 sites in the 25-square-mile watershed to identify potential trouble spots polluting the little bay in our big Bay.

From north to south, Herring Bay stretches from Curtis Point in Southern Anne Arundel County to Holland Point in northern Calvert County. The Herring Bay watershed, a small watershed in the large Chesapeake Bay watershed, is home to productive farms, thriving marinas and small rural communities. It includes the communities of Owensville, Lothian, Churchton, Deale, Tracey's Landing, Fairhaven, Rosehaven, North Beach Park and the eastern half of the Shady Side peninsula.

The more of us who live in the watershed, the greater the pressures. In that sense, all who live, work or play here are part of the problem. Saturday's hands-on effort is a first step at being part of the solution.

In the morning, over bagels and coffee, volunteers learn about what they're looking for: all sorts of water quality hazards, including channelized streams, in-stream construction, unshaded streams, trash and debris, areas of erosion, exposed sewer lines, sewage overflow, fish migration barriers, pipe outfalls, unusual stream conditions such as gasoline or chlorine bleach odors, and derelict and abandoned boats.

Then you and your partner will choose your grid, get a map and get to work. Most will go by foot, with a few surveying by kayak, powerboat or airplane.

"The Governor's Tributary Strategy Team for the Lower Western Shore came up with the idea, but it has to be the people in the area who carry it out," says Peg Burroughs, of the sponsoring Tributary Strategy Team.

A year in the planning, the survey is sponsored by the Tributary Strategy Team in partnership with the private, not-for-profit organization Save Our Streams, Anne Arundel County agencies and the Maryland Department of Nature Resources.

Once survey results are analyzed, they'll be reported in a still-to-be scheduled community meeting. Then, Save Our Streams will help citizens and governments plan how to correct the problems that have been discovered.

To be part of the solution, show up in weather fair or foul by 9:30am Saturday, October 16, 1999 at Deale Elementary School. By 3pm, weather permitting, most surveys should be ready to be returned to the school. Wear long pants.

-M.L. Faunce

Way Downstream ...

In Virginia, Smithfield Foods may escape a state fine for allegedly committing 22,000 clean-water violations that polluted a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. A judge ruled that the state can't fine Smithfield because the U.S. EPA already had ...

In New Jersey, people are being asked to pick between wetlands and cranberry bogs. The state EPA recently approved a plan to allow cranberry growers in the Pinelands region to expand their bogs by 60 acres of wetlands annually for the next five years. Environmental advocates want Gov. Christine Todd Whitman to intervene.

In Minnesota, two new studies into the strange outbreak of frog deformities blames a "chemical soup" of pollutants in ponds and lakes. The studies say that frogs' thin skins give them little protection against pesticides and other pollutants ....

In Florida, they're hopping mad over a proposal by the National Marine Manufacturers Association to remove the manatee from the list of endangered species. Some boaters chafe under speed limits to protect the manatee. Nonetheless, a Tampa Tribune editorial called the industry proposal "breathtaking in self-serving arrogance."

Our Creature Feature this week comes from the Web, where a strange breed of people congregate. They're skunk-owners, trying to raise a skunk but not a stink, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Believe it or not, there are about 250,000 around the country who have their own organization, Owners of Pet Skunks (Oops). Each month on the Web ( they feature a different creature, like Shadow, who, we read, "lets her humans sleep in her bed."

| Issue 41 |

Volume VII Number 41
October 14-20, 1999
New Bay Times

| Homepage |
| Back to Archives |