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Assateague's Visitor Center: Escape from Cabin Fever PDF Print E-mail
Written by Fran Severn   
Wednesday, 29 December 2010 13:12


OK, the snow was fun for a day or so. But now the kids are bored with the toys they pleaded for before Christmas or they’ve played video games for so long their thumbs are grafted onto the joysticks. There’s nearly a week to go before schools re-open which means another weekend of enforced family togetherness.

With the weather this weekend predicted to be almost spring-like, escape cabin fever. Toss everyone into the SUV and head for Assateague.

The new Visitor Center opened last fall and it is a treat! The new, spacious layout has all sorts of interactive displays that manage to teach you a lot without you realizing it. The focus is on the role barrier islands like Assateague play in the great ecological scheme of things. There are maps which light up to show effects of winds and tides; displays of shore birds, fish, animals, and other critters and how they live and how their lives are affected by natural and man-made changes in their habitat; what global warming means to the coast and coastal habitat (How long can you tread water?); several great aquariums; and a touch tank. The windows overlook the great vastness of the marshlands. When you exhaust the displays, check out the unusually well-stocked bookstore, and then drive across the bridge and hike the beach or the trails and see if the ponies are out.

There’s even a new guided tour about the ponies you can access from your cell phone.410-864-9128. You’ll be prompted to press 1, 2, or 3 to get more specific information (where to see the ponies, how to safely observe them, legends and facts about where they came from). The tour is free, although you’ll be using your own cell service and minutes.

Ranger-led programs are offered all through the year. Guided walks, aquarium feedings, outdoor ‘scavenger hunts’, and cool lectures about Assateague’s residents and history are held every week. This Friday, there’s a Coast Quest, with a Ranger leading a walk along the beach to see what the waves washed up. Considering this week’s storm, that ought to be interesting. There’s also “Famous Storms of Assateague” a lecture and video presentation of the hurricanes and nor’easters which have run up our coast. You can start the New Year with the annual New Year’s Day Beach Walk, a 90-minute stroll down the beach with cocoa and cookies afterward. Sponsored by Assateague Coastal Trust, it’s a brisk way to meet that resolution to get fit. You can stick with it on Sunday with another guided walk that’s only 45 minutes long.

Click on http://www.nps.gov/asis/index.htm for the weekly schedule. The Visitor Center is open 9-5 daily. 410-641-1441.

Star(ling) Wars PDF Print E-mail
Written by Fran Severn   
Monday, 27 December 2010 10:28


I hate starlings. Remember Bill Murray and the groundhog in Caddy Shack? That’s me and starlings.


I’m a person who tries to catch spiders and take them outside, who leaves the garage door up a few inches in blizzards so the sparrows can take shelter, who named the snake that lives in the crawlspace under the house. All of my dogs have been rescues.


But if I thought I could get away with it, I’d be sitting on my porch with a load of fine shot and taking aim at the flock in my front yard right now.


The greedy feathered freeloaders swarm my bird feeders with a passion that makes a sharks’ feeding frenzy look like a choir practice in a convent. They chase away the songbirds and empty the feeders in minutes. They alight on the hanging corn cobs and strip them faster than a teenager speed-texting the latest gossip.


I’ve spent way too much money on ‘starling-proof’ bird feeders. These usually have some sort of cage around them or are designed to have too small a lip for the starlings to get a purchase. Before I can toss the box the feeders came in into the recycling bin, they figure out that if they land on the cage or feeder, it swings enough for the seed to spill out.


I was told that they don’t like safflower seeds. An easy fix, I thought. The starlings apparently did not read that part of their owner’s manual because they are out there now like a feathered fungus on my front lawn, dining on the seed they’ve scattered from the feeders and chasing away the songbirds.


Last winter, I bought two rolls of 1” coated chicken wire and a dozen wooden dowels. I spun one roll around the dowels in a big circle and cut the other in several strips to make a ‘lid.’ I put the feeders, seed, and corn inside. The openings were small enough for the songbirds to get in but the starlings could not. It was inordinately satisfying to watch those annoying birds sitting in the trees and on top of the contraption, squawking ornithological obscenities at their inability to get to the feast now denied them. I didn’t have a chance to put it up before the storm yesterday, but you can bet that before the next snowfall it will be back in place! I just worry that like Murray's groundhog, they'll outsmart me again!

Full Moon: Eclipse, not Vampires PDF Print E-mail
Written by Fran Severn   
Monday, 20 December 2010 09:14

If the weather cooperates, you'll have a chance to witness a rare astrological event early Tuesday morning: a total eclipse of the moon that occurs on the Winter Solstice. While lunar eclipses occur several times a year, they rarely happen on a solstice. The next one won't happen until something like 300 years from now.

"Early" morning means just that. The earth's shadow will cover the moon for about an hour starting at 2:41 a.m., according to the Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt. The gradual covering and uncovering takes up about an hour on either side of that.

It's going to be quite a show. Since the eclipse occurs at a full moon, the moon will be high in the sky and easy to see. Also, with all of the volcanic activity around the world in the past few months -- like the eruption in Iceland last summer and one in the South Pacific now -- there's a lot of dust in the atmosphere. That means the moon will be an eerie dark red or brown instead of the usual orange/yellow of eclipses.

Unlike solar eclipses which can harm eyesight when viewed directly, there is no danger when looking directly at a lunar eclipse.

If the weather closes in, you can watch the eclipse virtually via the Internet. The Griffith Observatory near L.A. is planning a live video stream. Just Google in Griffith Observatory or Eclipse Video Stream and you should be directed to the site.

As for me, I'm still adjusting to the time shift between Australia and Delmarva. My brain and body think that 2:00 a.m. Tuesday here is really 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday. I'll be bundled up and watching!

If you decide to sleep in, the next lunar eclipse that you'll be able to see is next December, but it will only be a partial eclipse.


A Dozen Versions of Blue Christmas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Fran Severn   
Tuesday, 07 December 2010 17:12


I'm not sure which radio station started the tradition of switching its programming to seasonal music 24/7 for the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's kind of a nice idea if you are in a holiday mood and want to hear carols instead of the station's usual playlist.


As the fad's caught on, though, it's become very clear which stations have a deep library from which to draw on, and which have about 7 compilation CDs that they load into a player and hit the 'shuffle' switch.


A few years ago, I was in Florida for much of December. It was about a 15-minute drive from the house to the ranch. After a long day of classes and working with the horses it was a nice decompression time, driving home while listening to familiar tunes. The station had a lot of Christmas music, so I rarely heard the same version of any song twice. The station management wanted to be inclusive, so they'd toss in a version of "Dreidel, Dreidel" and "Hava Nagila" every now and again. Recognizing that there are a lot of Hispanic families working on the horse farms around Ocala, the playlist included the one and only Spanish-language Christmas song they could find,” Feliz Navidad.” At least once during each commute, Jose Feliciano wished me a Merry Christmas from the bottom of his heart. (Ta-da-da-da!)


Then there's "Blue Christmas." Longer ago than I want to remember, I worked at a small radio station in Bel Air. How small? The signal barely covered the town, and it was a 'daytimer;' we only broadcast from dawn to sunset. One of the DJs had his own record collection which augmented the station's meager library. One of his holiday records was a compilation LP, a collection of 11 or 12 artists, each one doing a version of "Blue Christmas." One was the Elvis classic; I don’t remember who the others were. The station had no playlist; we jocks could play whatever we wanted. So the game became whether we could squeeze in all of the covers during our legal broadcast hours each day during the week before Christmas.


I've searched for that album for several years, Googling every variation of "Blue Christmas Compilation" I can think of and checking used/rare music listings. It was probably a non-commercial record sent out by a label to just radio stations, because I can't find it.


My personal 'it's-not-Christmas-until-I-hear-this-song" is "All I Want for Christmas is You" by Vince Vance and the Valiants. The story goes that the group pretty much broke up shortly after the song was recorded, although they apparently get back together to perform it for special gigs. It's consistently the most popular Christmas song on Country stations, which is odd, since it's not really a 'country' sound. The sound is Lisa Layne's husky voice belting out the lyrics that tells her guy to forget shopping, mistletoe, and decorations. She just wants *Yoo----ooo!.* Retailers cringe when they hear this song. What guy is going to the mall when he's got that hot babe waiting at home? I like it because it's about what's really important during the holidays -- family, love, caring -- and not a big ticket trinket. Plus, I'd *really* like to have a voice like that. It's sure not how they sing in the choir!

Danny Doughty: Delmarva's Jotful Artist PDF Print E-mail
Written by Fran Severn   
Tuesday, 07 December 2010 17:03


The Eastern Shore inspires many artists. Most of them work with familiar themes like "dog with duck" and "Skipjack on Bay," the very things that all of us who live here love so much.


But some take the inspiration in a different direction. One of them is Danny Doughty, a self-taught, 'visionary' artist from Willis Wharf, VA. No MICA or RISD graduate here. With typical, self-depreciating humor, he says he's a graduate of HKU -- Hard Knocks University. All techniques and style come from his love of his work and a lot of experimentation. With vibrant colors, smooth shapes, and gentle themes, he transports us back to a simpler time and place.


The scenes are far from dramatic -- people planting in their truck garden, doing laundry by a stream, cooking outside, or fishing in a creek. Each one is suffused with joy and the happiness of a simple life well-lived.


In writing, it's said the story is in the details. That's often true of painting, as well. But Danny has mastered the technique of 'less is more.' His subjects come to life by the simple lines which shape their bodies and surroundings. If you are familiar with R.C. Gorman, the Navajo artist whose paintings of women may be 'nothing' more than curved lines and shading, you understand how it works. Except that instead of Gorman's muted shades, Danny celebrates his people with solid, bright colors and solid, confident shapes.


Also like Gorman, he's long been interested in translating his paintings into sculpture. Gorman created a few bronzes on his own. Danny, on the other hand, has a team of talented sculptors -- Joyce Fritz-Ritz and Bob RItz -- eager to turn his pictures and ideas into miniature three-dimensional dioramas as smile-inducing as his paintings. Another artist, Elissa Crouch, uses his paintings as the patterns for her richly textured hooked rugs that are truly tapestries. His scenes grace furniture and ceramic serving dishes, too.


You can browse Danny's work on-line (www.thefolkhouse.com). To fall completely under the spell of his work, though, you need to see it in person. For that, it's a trip to Joie de Vivre Gallery in Cambridge. Owner Joy Staniforth's been a fan of Danny for many years. When the first exhibit of his work was a smash hit, she quickly made it a permanent, expanded gallery. Joy's gallery is already an oasis of delightful surprises, so Danny's inclusion is a natural addition.


Take a look. I'll bet a season's worth of candy canes that you'll be thinking of where you can hang one of his paintings. Joie de Vivre Gallery, 410 Race St. Cambridge. 410-228-7000. www.joiedevivregallery.com


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