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Food Friday : Salads – Hold the Lettuce

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Is there anything more boing than a lettuce salad? It is nothing but tasteless, crunchy water, slathered in oleaginous dressings, dotted with hot house tomatoes, sprinkled with stale croutons. Do you remember Bac’n Bits – those leathery maroon soy flakes that purportedly tasted like bacon? I am much happier now that I fry my croutons in bacon fat, and then crunch that real bacon up and scatter it on my salad, not overlooking a smackeral for my constant, dogging companion. How about orange French dressing? Now we can hurl a garlic clove into a bowl, douse it with good oil and vinegar and salt, and there we have it, the best salad dressing ever. Holy smokes, the times they are a changing, and everything salad-wise keeps getting better.

Personally I could never understand the appeal of the iceberg wedge salad. Whack a wedge out of a head of iceberg lettuce, dribble it in bottled blue cheese dressing, serve it on a minimalistic square plate and charge $9 for it. I could do that at home, except that I wouldn’t. I would rather eat something a little more flavorful and deelicious. How about you?

True confession: I violated my summertime rule about shunning the kitchen, or at least the hot stove, earlier this week. Once I had rooted around the internets looking for interesting salads, I must admit to you Gentle Reader – I boiled water. It is shameful, I know, but my cause was good and just, and ultimately, I got three meals out of that half hour of steam heat. I think it is a healthy ratio of time spent cooking compared to time spent eating nice, cool leftovers.

Spy Summer Farm Stand Salad

3 cups fusilli (or any macaroni product you have on hand – fusilli is very attractive and super hard to draw)

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil – or what you can approximate from the grocery store

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 cup diced cukes (I still like the seedless English variety, but use your fave)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (or just chunk up some tomatoes from your kitchen windowsill)

1 ear of cooked corn – slice the kernels off, please

1/2 cup chopped peppers

1/2 cup snow peas

1/2 cup fresh green beans

1/2 cup asparagus tips

1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, cubed, or a handful of feta, or shavings of Parmesan

1/4 cup roughly chopped Vidalia onion

1/4 cup chopped celery for lots of crunch!

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Maldon salt

In a large, large bowl: add the crushed clove of garlic, and whisk it with the olive oil and vinegar. Add the red pepper flakes, and some Maldon salt.

Boil the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain in a colander, rinse with cool water, and shake the water off like a good dog. Add the pasta to the big bowl of garlic and oil. Toss the pasta until it is evenly coated with the good garlicky oil. Set aside.

Boil up another pot of water and toss in the asparagus, peas and beans for a minute or two, just until everything looks as bright green as the first grass in spring. Drain in the colander, and quickly dump them into another bowl filled with ice and ice water, to halt the cooking. Kazaam! Crunchy, green vegetables ready to mingle with your delicious pasta.

Now toss everything together, tear into some French bread, and have a fortifying glass of cheap white wine. You can repeat this as a side dish tomorrow night, and then have it for lunch the day after that. Feel free to embellish – you can add chicken, shrimp, salami, olives, artichoke hearts, sprouts, roasted red peppers, basil, flat leaf parsley – you name it. You can even serve it on a bed of lettuce.

“Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and moon, or good people and noble ventures.”
-M.F.K. Fisher

Food and Eco-Tourism Workshops

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MID-SHORE FOOD SYSTEM COALITION 1Join a round table workshop on “Food and Eco-Tourism on the Mid-Shore,” at any one of the upcoming sessions in the five-county mid-shore region. The first is coming up fast: Thursday, July 21 at noon at the Dorchester County Library.

Why attend? The aim is for you to leave the hour-and-a-half session with three new ideas for your business.  Share in strengthening the regional food systems with positive outcomes by personally involving you and your business in this economic development/marketing workshop.

The Mid-Shore Food System Coalition (MSFSC) is launching this first series of workshops to brainstorm new ideas and revenue streams with a focus on community resilience and triple-bottom-line sustainability.

Go to the MSFSC website www.MidShoreFoodSystem.org, to review the mission and goals as this initiative moves forward.

To reserve a space, please email director@midshorefoodsystem.org.

Additional “Food and Eco-tourism” sessions are planned for Tuesday, July 26, 8 p.m. at the Kent Library in Chestertown; Monday, August 1, 7 p.m. at the Caroline County Library in Denton; Saturday, August 6 at 10 a.m. at the Talbot Library in Easton; and Thursday, August 11 at 6 p.m. in Centerville at the Queen Anne’s County Library.

August 2016 Skywatch: Planets and Meteors

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I often feature the planets we can observe in our night skies in this column because they stand out so well and because one can get a thrill knowing that they are seeing another distant world in our Solar System. August’s warm nights this year offer plenty of good planet viewing. No fewer than 5 planets show up soon after sunset. And this month the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, always the best one of the calendar year, peaks in the pre-dawn hours of August 12th.

The planet show begins in early evening twilight. As August begins, Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter form a straight line. Venus is closest to the horizon; Mercury is to Venus’ upper left, and Jupiter is at the top of the line. Venus is the brightest of the trio, at magnitude –3.9, and should be easy to spot 1/2 hour after sunset. Jupiter, though dimmer at –1.7, will have greater altitude, so it should be easy to see. But binoculars will likely be necessary to see Mercury, about 8 degrees to the upper left of Venus.

From August 4th through August 6th the crescent Moon will appear to pass through the sky where the trio of planets are found. On the 4th the Moon will be just left of Mercury, with both objects 6 degrees above the horizon 30 minutes after sunset. On August 5th the somewhat fatter Moon will be just below Jupiter, and on the 6th the Moon will be above and left of Jupiter. The Moon being close to the planets will help point them our to us.

During August the orbit of Venus will make it appear to climb steadily away from the Sun, while Jupiter will look as if it is sinking down toward the Sun. This will set up a very close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on August 27th. Indeed the two planets will appear closer to each other than at any time since May of 2000! They will almost appear to merge! Telescope views will put Venus and Jupiter together in the same field of view. And binoculars will separate this stunning planetary pair and will also reveal Mercury 5 degrees to their lower left.

After this great conjunction, the orbits of Venus and Jupiter will cause them to appear to separate. On August 31st Venus will be 4 degrees to Jupiter’s upper left. Mercury’s orbit will have taken it down toward the Sun by then, where it will be lost in the Sun’s glare.

After the skies darken fully look south where two more planets, Mars and Saturn, will be found. Mars the brighter and appearing reddish at magnitude –0.8 is on the border of Libra and Scorpius, almost due south some 10 degrees above and right of Antares, the reddish and brightest star in Scorpius. Saturn glows yellowish at +0.3 magnitude and sits just above Antares. A gibbous Moon will be seen 8 degrees above Mars on August 8th.

Mars’s orbit takes it east (left as we face it) for 3 weeks in August and it enters Ophiuchus on the 21st, passing 2 degrees above Antares on the 23rd, and in line with the star and Saturn. On the 25th, Mars will be 4 degrees below Saturn.

Turning attention now to the Perseid Meteor Shower which peaks on the morning of August 12th over in the northeast sky. The Perseids always rank among the best meteor showers of the year, and 2016 could be exceptional. Some experts are saying the rate of meteors could reach 150 per hour —- some 50% higher than typical years. The reason is because Jupiter’s gravity recently tugged the stream of debris from the Perseids parent Comet, 109B Swift-Tuttle, closer to Earth’s orbit. It should be good anyway, so look northeast anytime form 1 am to dawn on the morning of August 12th.

Moon phases for August: New — Aug. 2nd; 1st Quart. — Aug. 10; Full — August 18; and Last Quart. — Aug. 24.

Shore Wine: Vintage Atlantic Wine Region Comes to the Delmarva

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“Our primary objective is to provide cross-pollination among the many wineries in our four state region,” stated Scott Donnini, of Auburn Road Vineyards, and one of the board members with Vintage Atlantic Wine Region. The relatively new organization held an informational meeting at Crow Vineyard recently. The group exists to promote its 40+ winery members throughout Eastern Maryland, South-Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and Southern New Jersey, with a variety of promotional undertakings. Chuck Nunan, Harvest Ridge Winery, another board member, noted that cross-pollination is meant to increase awareness among winery business members and the consuming public.

Chuck Nunan (left); Scott Donnini (right)

Chuck Nunan (left); Scott Donnini (right)

As one of its first activities, Vintage has prepared a map and guide, (found on their website and with hard copies available at member wineries), which lists not only wineries, but also breweries, distilleries, restaurants, B&B’s and other sites of interest within the 90-mile radius area. Also highlighted are the eight wine trails within the region. “The idea of a map came to me while visiting the wineries in the Finger Lakes Region in New York State. I relied upon that map frequently while traveling there, and it became quite dogeared,” said Donnini.

Regional promotion helps all of us, noted Judy Crow, Crow Vineyard & Winery, and also a Vintage board member. “This is an industry built on high levels of cooperation among wineries, not the fierce competitiveness you see in other industries. Most of our customers enjoy visiting wineries, and we frequently send them to other wineries; those wineries do the same for us. Some of our visitors even know the exact driving distances from one vineyard to another.” By promoting other wineries, members find, they are in fact, helping themselves. Indeed, many member wineries were in attendance at this meeting: Clovelly Vineyards, Chateau Bu-De Vineyard & Winery, Chestnut Run Farm, Auburn Road Vineyards and Harvest Ridge Winery.

Highlighting the importance of Vintage’s efforts, and offering cooperative support, was noted by others in attendance; Heather Ersts (a native of Church Hill) and Leslie Troy, both from the Maryland Department of Commerce, Tourism Development, and Bernadette Bowman, Director, Kent County MD Office of Tourism Development. “The activities of Vintage dovetail perfectly with what we do,” noted Ersts.

Maryland wines are starting to capture wider recognition. Just recently, for example, Crow Vineyard & Winery captured six medals with winning entries in the San Francisco International Wine Competition (July 1, 2016, http://www.sfwinecomp.com/). Crow’s wines stood above 4600 entries, with its 2015 Rose earning a Gold medal (within one point of Double Gold). That same wine also earned the Maryland Comptroller’s Cup 2016, Best In Category award. “The grapes of our region are producing quite compelling wines, on both a national and international scale,” noted Catrina North, vintner for Crow Vineyard & Winery.

Colchester Farm CSA to Host Honey Extraction Workshop

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Are you new to beekeeping? Get ready to reap the sweet rewards.

As part of its Second Saturday Series of educational programming, Colchester Farm CSA will host a Honey Extraction Workshop this Saturday, July 9. The free event will be held at Colchester Farm, 2– 4 p.m.

Participants will learn how to remove the wax cappings from the frames, how to use a hand-cranked extractor, and how to bottle the honey.

Also coming up in the series: a Food Preservation Workshop on August 13, and a Mushroom Cultivation Class on September 10. Participants may offer donations on a sliding scale of $30/25/20. For more information, please visit www.colchesterfarm.org.

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Environmental Series Continues with Talk on Conservation Landscaping

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Lyle AlmondInterested in creating a more ecological woodland garden?   On Thursday, July 7, 6:30 pm at Sumner Hall, Lyle Almond, Forest Stewardship Educator with the University of Maryland Extension Service, will discuss the eight essentials of Conservation Landscaping, and aesthetic and ecological principals of woodland gardening- targeted at owners of 1 to 10 acres of wooded property.

In addition to assisting landowners with design and management, Almond is also the Maryland/Delaware Master Logger Program Coordinator, and writes a monthly column, TreeTips, for The Delmarva Farmer.  He studied Pro Silva Forestry on a Fulbright Scholarship in Europe, and has a Professional Certificate in Landscape Design from the University of Richmond at Lewis Ginger Botanic Garden.

The Chestertown Environmental Series lectures and films are free and open to the public.  They are held the first Thursday of each month, 6:30 pm at Sumner Hall, 206 South Queen St.  In Chestertown.  The series continues on August 4 with the film, “Blue Gold.” The world’s supply of fresh water is dwindling rapidly.  Will future wars be fought over water, not fossil fuels?  The series is curated by Margo Bailey, and is sponsored by the Town of Chestertown.  For more information, go to http://www.chestertown.com/environment.

Food Friday: Cherry Pie for the Fourth of July

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Hooray for the Fourth of July!

Are you getting excited about the Fourth of July? I am. I ready for a four-day weekend, sleeping late, fireworks, swimming, languidly of course, and generally enjoying some summertime. No computer for me! I am still steering clear of the kitchen, too. If something needs to be cooked then it has to go on the grill. That will free up some of my valuable time for books and blockbuster movies. Surely Independence Day: Resurgence can’t be all that bad. Dana Stevens of Slate magazine thought it was a delightful summer movie, after all.

For our old neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July extravaganza we decorated our bikes (and the dog) with crepe paper streamers, bunting and flags. More importantly, everyone brought a covered dish to share. We would all admire one friend’s trademark handiwork every year: the ceremonial red, white and blue cake. She baked a simple vanilla sheet cake and decorated it with a bucket o’whipped cream, a precise arrangement of blueberries and some snappy red waves of strawberries, sliced with surgical skill. It was a crowd pleaser. We’d light a couple of sparklers and feel patriotic. And then we fall on the cake like a pack of wolves. Forget about always having room for Jell-o, give us Red White and Blue Cake, even though we had already stuffed our suburban bellies with all the standard cookout goodies. You know the drill: potato salad, cole slaw, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, watermelon, beans, weenies…

We grownups would all stand in the back yard, swatting at the mosquitos, waiting for it to get dark enough to go to the fireworks downtown. The sun never seems to set fast enough on the Fourth of July. Can you remember the joy of writing your name, in newly mastered cursive, with the glowing tip of a spent sparkler? Some bright spots never diminish with time.

I can’t compete with Lisa’s annual patriotic confection, but I can appeal to a different crowd: a large pitcher of sangria. The founding fathers would have enjoyed this during that hot July in Philadelphia.

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2012/08/stone-fruit-sangria

Even though I am in my summertime kitchen denial, I do like to have a few things up my sleeve and sitting in the fridge. Sometime between the end of our latest Orange is the New Black binge and bedtime, someone I know will want a dessert-y snackum. Even if it doesn’t have any chocolate, this is a sweet summer treat. And the fresh tangy cherries are so lush and tempting and ephemeral

Just a Little Bit of Time Spent Slaving Over a Hot Stove Cherry Pie

Pre-fab pie crust
4 cups fresh cherries, pitted
1 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

Take the pie crust out of the packaging. Recycle the plastic, please. Bake as per directions.

Pit the cherries (very important!) and arrange most of them in the baked crust. Reserve about 1/3 cup.

Mash remaining cherries, and combine with sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Gradually stir cornstarch mixture into the boiling cherries. Reduce heat and simmer mixture until thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Allow the cherry mixture to cool slightly and then pour it over the cherries in the pie shell. Canned cherries never tasted like this!

Chill for several hours before serving.

This is one I am going to make for the Tall One when he next visits. Ever since he discovered Walker’s shortbread biscuits while on walkabout in Scotland a couple of years ago and brought them back to the intrepid colonists here he has had a fondness for shortbread.

http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/06/sweets-cherry-amaretto-tart-recipe.html

Now I need to go supervise the our the ritual grilling of the hamburgers, brats and ears of corn. Have a wonderful, and safe, Fourth of July! Walk away from the computer!

“Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation and freedom in all just pursuits.”
-Thomas Jefferson

Food Friday: Blueberries for Dad

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Just in time for Father’s Day, June is busting out all over, summer is almost here, and if you listen carefully you’ll hear the blueberries ripening. Little globules of vitamin-rich blue goodness! ’Tis the season to revel in local blueberries!

A great Father’s Day weekend activity might include visiting a farmers’ market or a farm stand, to spend some quality intergenerational time together. Our children never ate blueberries except in muffins and pancakes until we visited a blueberry farm in Maine, and they got to fill both their buckets and their greedy little gullets with blueberries that they hunted and gathered themselves. Now they are confirmed blueberry aficionados. I should have started with spinach. Hit the farmers’ markets near you on Saturday to pick up a nice fresh pint or two of locally grown blueberries. And if it is early, satisfy your yen with strawberries or blackberries. Yumsters.

You can start the Father’s Day’s celebration off with blueberry muffins at breakfast! http://www.onceuponachef.com/2014/07/best-ever-blueberry-muffins.html Mr. Friday starts each day in a healthy manner – unlike me – who still yearns for those good old days of cold pizza for breakfast. No. Mr. Friday has always set a good example, and manfully tosses a handful of glistening blueberry goodness on top of his bowl of leaves and twigs every morning. So I imagine he will like the next suggestion. For a more health conscious father, you can exhibit some restraint and be oh so au courant with this smoothie treat: http://www.blueberrycouncil.org/blueberry-recipe/blueberry-green-tea-smoothie/ You can probably even sneak in some kale or trending broccoli rabe and he will never notice. Take that, Mr. Friday!

Here’s an easy one for getting out of the house quickly in the morning, yet still getting some nutrition inside your busy dad: http://www.southernliving.com/food/kitchen-assistant/fresh-blueberry-recipes/blueberry-soy-shakes

What are you doing for lunch? How about a colorful salad? For a delightfully cool lunch salad, try pairing blueberries with cucumbers and some feta cheese. The weekend promises to be steamy, so plan ahead. http://www.blueberrycouncil.org//blueberry-recipe/blueberry-cucumber-salad/

Cocktail hour! John Derian is as stylish and clever as folks come, and this is his recipe for a Blueberry Smash. Deelightful! http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/blueberry-smash

I thought this drink was a little sweet, which goes to show the dedication I have toward providing you with accurate food info: https://marlameridith.com/blueberry-martini-recipe/ .

But maybe your dad has a sweet tooth. In which case, maybe you should just concentrate on a really good, old-fashioned dessert. And try to be a good baker, and roll out your own pie crust. Imagine your pride swelling as Dad enjoys the juicy goodness of a slice of your home-baked pie. There is no better way to indulge the fathers in your life than with a nice home-baked blueberry pie. http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12654-blueberry-pie-filling?smid=fb-nytdining&smtyp=cur

Or should you be more restrained (and less blue) and try this lemon blueberry poke cake? http://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/how-to-make-homemade-lemon-blueberry-poke-cake-article

Be careful not to try any of Willy Wonka’s magic Three Course Meal Chewing Gum on your dad. Mr. Wonka is still working on the getting the kinks out of the formula. You do not want your dad to blow up and turn into a giant blueberry like Violet Beauregard did: “’Blueberry pie and cream!’ shouted Violet. ‘Here it comes! Oh my, it’s perfect! It’s beautiful! It’s . . . It’s exactly as though I’m swallowing it! It’s as though I’m chewing and swallowing great big spoonfuls of the most marvelous blueberry pie in the world!’’
-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

“She picked three more berries and ate them. Then she picked more berries and dropped one in the pail-Kurplunk! And the rest she ate. Then Little Sal ate all four blueberries out of her pail!”
-Robert McCloskey, Blueberries for Sal

Chestertown Farmers’ Market: http://www.chestertownfarmersmarket.net/
St. Michaels FreshFarm Market: http://www.localharvest.org/st-michaels-freshfarm-market-M625
Centreville Farmers’ Market: http://marylandsbest.net/producer/centreville-farmers-market/
Easton Farmers Market: https://avalonfoundation.org/easton-farmers-market
Lockbriar Farm 10051 Worton Road, Chestertown, MD 21620. http://www.lockbriarfarms.com/u-picking-at-lockbriar/
Redman Farms 8689 Bakers Lane, Chestertown, MD 21620. http://redmanfarms.net/

Outdoor Sculpture Invitational—Artists in Dialogue with Landscape on View at Adkins Arboretum

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Ashley Kidner installing 'Swalevine'

Ashley Kidner installing ‘Swalevine’

Full of humor and surprises, Adkins Arboretum’s eighth biennial Outdoor Sculpture Invitational—Artists in Dialogue with Nature is on view through Sept. 30. As you walk down one of the quiet, forested paths, you may see a flash of blue where Julia Bloom’s stick sculptures cascade between the leafy green branches or delicate silver sparkles where Elizabeth McCue’s spider webs nestle in the grass of a sunny clearing.

Inspired by particular sites on the Arboretum grounds, nine artists from the Mid-Atlantic region have created work in close collaboration with the landscape. There will be a reception and guided sculpture walk on Sat., June 25 from 3 to 5 p.m. in conjunction with the reception for John Ruppert’s photography show in the Visitor’s Center.

Melissa Burley 'Ripple' close up

Melissa Burley ‘Ripple’

In addition to his indoor exhibit, Ruppert is showing an enormous aluminum pumpkin. Sitting under a tree near the Visitor’s Center, it’s a casting of a 700-pound prize pumpkin bred for its enormous size. A symbol of the bountiful harvest, it’s fun and it’s funny, but it’s also a clever way of calling to mind how hybridizing and genetic modification are changing our agricultural systems.

The influence humans have on nature is a theme that runs through this show. Set beside a bend in the creek, Melissa Burley’s “Ripple” evokes the glitter and splash of moving water. In a world where drought and pollution are all too common, its flashing mirrors and brilliant blue transparent disks call to mind the color, clarity and beauty of fresh, clean water.

Ashley Kidner, who works as a landscape contractor, takes on the problem of the introduction of non-native plants into the environment with his “Swalevine,” a huge twisting rope of vines collected from the Arboretum. Eliezer Sollins also gathered natural materials from the Arboretum’s grounds. Standing cheerfully at the edge of the forest, his “Earth Feeders” are made of everything from hollow logs to seedpods to goat’s fur and are meant to decay naturally, adding nutrients to the soil beneath them.

Eliezer Sollins Earth Feeders #1 close up (1)

Eliezer Sollins Earth Feeders

Such creative responses to the landscape both celebrate nature and invite thoughts about how its complicated ecology is too often upset by human intervention. Bridgette Guerzon Mills’s artist’s books tell stories about the beauty and fragility of the ecosystem. In a meditation on the challenges both plant and animal species face in adapting to our changing world, one of them has pages made from melted plastic grocery bags that look amazingly like the book’s bark covers.

While these artists are concerned with nature’s vulnerability, its amazing vitality is also an important theme throughout this show. In the folklore of many cultures, dragons are symbols of the earth’s energies. Tucked around the corner of the Visitor’s Center, Marcia Wolfson Ray’s “Dragon” doesn’t exactly look like a mythical beast, but there’s something about its twisting, turning line of open cubes of sticks encasing bristling bundles of dried plants that suggests a dragon’s dynamic strength and vitality.

Marcia Wolfson Ray installing Dragon

Marcia Wolfson Ray installing Dragon

Gary Irby conjures nature’s presence as something much larger than ourselves. You’ll get a start when the twin mirrored “eyes” of his “Nature’s Watching” suddenly glint at you from the side of the path. It’s comical, but there’s a message here. Standing on the forest path, you realize nature’s not only a very big thing, but you’re totally surrounded by it and, in a very real sense, it is indeed “watching” how humans treat or mistreat the environment.

This show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists. It is on view through Sept. 30 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410–634–2847, ext. 0 or info@adkinsarboretum.org for gallery hours.