Op-Ed: Is Hunting a Sport? By Bob Moores

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We named him “Lucky” in the hope that he would live up to his name. Our previous cats had succumbed to neighbors’ dogs or speeding cars.

Lucky liked to roam our woods in rural Baltimore County, always returning for food and to sleep in our garage. One afternoon, we noticed upon his homecoming that he had two puncture wounds in the pouch we called his belly. We took him to our vet who successfully repaired the damage. Forensic analysis matched what I had guessed: Lucky had been shot by an arrow. It looks like our naming strategy worked.

Hold that news for a while.

Definitions from dictionary.com:

To hunt: To chase or search for game (or other wild animals) for the purpose of catching or killing.

Sport: An athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess often of a competitive nature.

In this piece, I am not talking about hunting wild animals for food. I am not talking about shooting wild animals to keep them from harming crops, domestic animals, or people. I am not talking about hunting wild animals with tranquilizer guns so they can be tagged for conservation.

No, I am talking about hunting and killing animals either for the sheer joy of it or as a test of your skill and (usually) manhood – to hang a trophy on your wall or phone.

A sport is a competitive test, is it not? How is shooting a defenseless animal with a high powered rifle, shotgun, or crossbow a competitive test? Can the animal shoot back? Has it studied your habits, so it knows how to approach with stealth and guile to gain the best chance of a kill? Does it have the military advantage of surprise? Weapon mismatch aside, does the animal compete fairly with the human hunter in mental acuity?

Many sport-fishermen, those who do not need the food, upon landing their catch release it. The fish has only temporary fatigue and a sore mouth for the experience. Not so with the hunting of birds and animals. Here the only way to claim the quarry is to kill it.
If you kill a wild animal for other than obtaining food or because it is a threat or nuisance, that is, for sport, should that be a source of pride? Think about it.

What if you give your quarry a “sporting chance,” a rather oxymoronic expression from one of my hunter friends? Say your target is a deer 300 yards away. You take the shot with your high-powered, telescope-equipped hunting rifle (as it was my father’s hobby to do).

What if you don’t score a “clean kill”? If the animal is wounded, runs away, and you can’t finish it off, then what? A skilled hunter might say that that situation is unlikely to occur.

Except – in the case of Lucky, it did occur. The bowman didn’t score a clean kill. Nor was he willing or able to pursue Lucky and finish the job. Why did he shoot Lucky? I don’t think cats are shot for food. Was Lucky being a pest? Maybe. But it’s more likely he was a target of opportunity for a frustrated bow-hunter.

Hunting was once (and in some places still is) a necessity. But it was never a sport.

Bob Moores retired from Black & Decker/DeWalt in 1999 after 36 years. He was the Director of Cordless Product Development at the time. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University.

For Love of the Game by Nancy Mugele

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As we speak Jim and I are driving to High Point, North Carolina, and although it is Furniture Market Week, we are not going for furniture. Tomorrow night Jim is being inducted into High Point University’s Athletic Hall of Fame for baseball. I am so proud of his accomplishments (especially his Academic All American honor) although I did not know him in college or when he played for the Cincinnati Reds or Boston Red Sox in the minor leagues. Tonight our children, extended family, friends and Jim’s former HPU teammates, traveling from places near and far, will converge in High Point for a weekend of celebration. (I packed a few special bottles from the Chester River Wine and Cheese Co. just in case!)

That I should marry a baseball player was foretold to me by a psychic when I was in my early 20s. It’s true. I went to Florida with one of my close friends whose mother lived there in the mid 1980s – that is another story, but Debra and I went to the home of her mother’s friend, a psychic, on our stay. I know, it sounds lame, but it was one of those experiences that I will not forget although I can only remember one thing that she said. Sitting in the pink, overly-furnished formal living room, the soft-spoken older woman told me that I would meet and marry a baseball player. I was not dating anyone at the time so I thought it was odd that she would open the discussion with that declaration. Whatever else she told me is long forgotten, but I can still hear the clarity and conviction in her voice as she spoke about my future spouse.

Just two years later a former baseball player sat next to me on a fateful Amtrak train ride and the rest is history. With a nod to a poet during National Poetry Month, Walt Whitman said: I see great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game. And, I could not agree more. I spent many weekend days, including a few Mothers’ Days, watching my husband coach my son in Little League baseball. Their team played in Cooperstown, New York, the epitome of Americana, and our children got to see their Dad’s minor league stats in a record book at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Those memories are forever etched in my mind and I am so grateful to have them stored away. The Major League Baseball All Star game was always an excuse for a party at our house. Anyone and everyone was welcomed as long as they were happy picking crabs in front of the television.

To me, baseball (my favorite professional sport besides ice hockey) is a metaphor for life and I think Nolan Ryan, the pitcher with the most career strikeouts in MLB history, summed it up so well. “One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every once in a while you come into a situation where you want to, and where you have to, reach down and prove something.” Don’t we all come to crossroads many times in our lives when we have to persevere and still stay standing. I also appreciate that in baseball a batter has three tries to make a difference for his team. Failure, and learning from your mistakes – perhaps a few times – makes a person resilient and strong.

Baseball is about the only sport Jim and I can agree to watch together at night. Even though I may be checking my Kent School email or playing Words with Friends while he watches the Os, I like to listen to the announcers. Baseball announcers are the best of any sport for their excitement and genuine passion for the game. And, trust me, Jim would make an incredible announcer. Several times during any given game Jim will make a comment that is then, seconds later, repeated verbatim by the announcers. It always makes me smile.

Congratulations, Jim! We are so proud of #4 on the Panthers squad. For the man you are because of your love for the game, I salute you this weekend.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s.

Barbara and Millie by Al and Marty Sikes

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Admiration quickly comes to mind. Barbara Bush was a singular personality and much loved by the public. Inside the walls of the White House, I suspect she was given a wide berth. Her mind was quick and razor sharp and always protective of her husband.

My role in President George H. W. Bush’s administration resulted in periodic visits to the White House, but I was well outside of the day-to-day intrigue. But I have one enjoyable memory best told by my wife, Marty.

We were at the White House for a State Reception for the President of Hungary, Arpad Goncz. As we were going through the receiving line, the President pulled me aside to visit with Hungary’s leader as I was leaving the next day on a diplomatic trip that included Hungary.

As I visited with the Presidents, the line stopped as Marty was face-to-face with Barbara. And now my co-writer continues:

When I realized that I was going to be visiting with Mrs. Bush, I was quickly thinking, what we will visit about! Fortunately, a few days prior to this evening, Al and I had been watching the start of the 1990 World Series game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics. Mrs. Bush was sitting with the owner of the Reds, Marge Schott, who was known for her controversial behavior. We watched Barbara Bush throw out the first pitch.

As we shook hands, I told Mrs. Bush that Al and I had watched her pitch at the opening game of the World Series. She laughed and then said to me: “You know, of course, they first asked George, but he couldn’t do it, so they asked me. It was actually quite interesting because Marge Schott wanted me to take her dog, Schottzie, with me to the pitcher’s mound and I didn’t want to. Mrs. Schott had been drinking and was very insistent and starting to cause a bit of a scene when I finally thought to tell her, I am so sorry Marge, but I just can’t because Millie (the Bush’s dog – famous for the book Mrs. Bush wrote) loves to watch baseball and is watching the game and will be very jealous.”

Mrs. Bush was so easy to visit with; she put me completely at ease, and I smile every time I tell this story. As we are all aware, she was a very special person – very real and down-to-earth and someone everyone could admire.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

A Chesapeake Portrait, Painted by Almost a Thousand Words by Tom Horton

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Photo by Dave Harp

Combing the beach, I stoop to pick up an essay for my upcoming college nature writing class. It’s a reddish, roundish pebble, tumbling in the clear lapping waves during a campout to the vanished community of Holland Island.

For a couple of centuries, before erosion forced Holland’s people to the mainland, my pebble was a brick, proud and sturdy and eminently useful in its uniform rectangularity for stacking when constructing a home’s foundation with precise edges and level tops.

Made by humans, who have the corner on corners as no other species, the brick has been reshaped by nature, which embraces the rounded, the curved and the meandering, from spiral galaxies and loopy marsh creeks to the shells of whelks.

The brick/pebble thus becomes distilled and refined to a rich essential — to an image — the straight versus the curved, the human versus the natural.

This gives my fledgling essayists a useful lens. Later in the semester we’ll look at farm drainage ditches versus swamps, the former doing one thing very well — whisking rainwater from cropland; the latter doing no one thing spectacularly — just nurturing life in diversity unknown to the ditch and the cornrow.

They may expand their view further, to the pavement and the curb, the gutter and the storm drain, versus the woody debris and leaf duff of the forest floor; they may ponder which of those landscapes, during a downpour, a trout in a stream would most like living next to.

A photograph may be worth a thousand words, but a good word image is worth a hard drive’s worth of photos. Word imagery is especially important when you are writing to explain a six-state, 64,000-square-mile, Atlantic-to-Susquehanna ecosystem like the Chesapeake Bay. Here are a few of the images I’ve found useful over the decades:

The Skinny Bay

From Havre de Grace, MD, to Virginia Beach, the Bay’s about a million feet long — and up to 100,000 feet wide. Yet the average depth is around 21 feet. So many implications flow from that.

Large as it looks, the estuary has scant water to dilute runoff from Cooperstown, NY, to Altoona, PA, to Lynchburg, VA, so how we use the land matters big time for water quality.
This essential shallowness also means that light penetrates to the bottom copiously, growing lush habitats of seagrasses, which support waterfowl and waterfowl hunting cultures and soft-crabbing.

It means that wind pushes water around so easily that it is often more important, ecologically, than the tides. It also also dictates the classic “deadrise” designs of skipjacks and other watermen’s crafts, evolved to make their living in skinny water.

Wet

The Chesapeake ecosystem for most of time is widely understood to have been green, with forests covering most of its watershed. But thanks to the scientific detective work of people like Grace Brush of Johns Hopkins University, we now comprehend how much of the landscape was also wet, dammed and ponded by millions of beavers.

Brush’s work, now in book form — Decoding the Deep Sediments, available from Maryland Sea Grant — shows how prevalent the pollens of aquatic plants are in sediment cores that allow us to look back through what was washing into the Bay in centuries past.

Green and wet. Why does it matter so much? Because that landscape fostered the healthiest Chesapeake, the landscapes we should most try to emulate and restore.

Ask yourself, WWBD — what would beavers do?

Edges

Edges are inherently interesting: the gradations of color and texture that artists employ to draw the eye to the glorious intersections of the seasons, adorned by the great migrations of fish and fowl they trigger.

Life loves an edge. Hunters who prowl the seams where forest meets field know this, as do fishermen who troll the dropoffs from shallows to channels, as do blue herons and egrets, nesting eagles and beachcombers (I prefer “proggers,” the waterman’s term for them).

The Bay, with around 11,000 miles of tidal edges, is at the heart of the heart of this phenomenon. That includes the overwhelming preference of humans to also locate along the edge, drawn by everything from places to discharge waste, cool their power plants and hoist drinks to the sunset.

The search for peaceful co-existence between humans and the rest of edge-loving nature is a fundamental tension that runs through much of my writing.

Ecosystem Services

If you would be popularly read, avoid such terms, but not what they include. Consider the oyster. The revelation in recent decades of their immense values in filtering and cleansing Bay waters has fundamentally changed the way we regard them — not only as a tasty food and commerce by the bushel, but also as sanctuaries for the health of the Bay.

Some scientists say it’s likely that the reefs, built by oysters to form undisturbed, undredged, untonged communities, are at least as valuable for habitat as for their filtration.

And One Last Favorite: Horseshoe Crabs

These marvelous animals are living fossils for whom the rise and fall of dinosaurs was just a short span in the species’ history. When they scrabble onto remote beaches in May and June, with nothing else in the scene but the full moon gleaming on their bronze-colored shells from above, sand and the lapping of saltwater below — that’s as close as you will ever get to traveling back in time half a billion years.

Tom Horton has written about Chesapeake Bay for more than 40 years, including eight books. He lives in Salisbury, where he is also a professor of Environmental Studies at Salisbury University. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Bay Journal.

Letter to the Editor: After a College Suicide, A Campus Needs Healing

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I know the Washington College students are in pain, because four years ago I was one of them.

A fellow student committed suicide on campus grounds in the first week of my senior year. Losing him left a deep, slow-healing wound on everyone. In the following days, the college administration made clear efforts to support the students as they grieved.

Now that I have left, I know that sharing news about this type of death is never simple. Considerations, like whether an announcement would cause more pain, must be made.

With a college that sells itself on being like a small town — and which at times can be as claustrophobic — news travels quickly. By the time then-President Reiss issued a public comment through a campus-wide email, students already knew what happened.

Five hundred students, including myself, stood in Martha Washington Square while Reiss and a pastor held a moment of silence for our classmate and friend.

National studies have found that suicide rates, particularly those among college-aged men and women, are on the rise in America. The suicide rate is 12.5 per 100,000 population among ages 15 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Five suicides in the last four years can be connected to Washington College, two of which occurred on campus. Two deaths happened this year, and one occurred weeks ago.

Reports from students on the administration’s response, particularly regarding a student-led vigil to honor their friend, puzzled me. I understand that the administration waited out of respect before announcing the student’s death.

I cannot fathom why students were told not to walk to the same place where four years earlier, hundreds of students mourned.

These students were ordered to grieve out of the public eye, and that is upsetting and offensive to me, as an alumna that shared this experience.

A question to the administration: what has been done to improve mental health care on campus in the last four years?

Is there a plan to increase access to care to students and staff that are hurting? Or a prevention campaign that not only ends the stigma of talking about this, but encourages those to speak out if they see a friend struggle?

I am heartsick of the repeating news of another tragedy at my college. The students may not know me, but I know them. They are not alone.

Katie Tabeling

Remembering Barbara Bush by Craig Fuller

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Early in February 1985, when I accepted the position as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush, I had some idea of what I was getting myself into. On the official side, we had the entire second term of the Reagan/Bush Administration to complete. On the political side, we had a presidential campaign organization to build and an election to win in 1988.

What I did not fully comprehend was that I was also being invited into a family lead by Barbara Bush.

The opportunity to serve the Vice President was a high honor. The privilege of being invited to be so close to the Bush family would be an extraordinary life-long experience.

While sad to see her leave us, it is remarkable to hear so many people from around the world express their profound affection for Barbara Bush. She touched many lives in exceptionally positive ways during her 92 years.

While I had a close-up view for only a fraction of those years, the impact certainly never left me. She was honest, frank, funny and never for a loss when asked her opinion. These are traits extraordinarily valuable when you are trying to get through a presidential campaign.

Soon after accepting the position as her husband’s chief of staff, I asked if we could have lunch. While I didn’t know her well, I knew there was no way to go through the next four years without a strong bond.

We had a delightful lunch, and she said she had two requests. First, she knew that she would have to do events and travel during the course of the four years; but, she said, she really wanted to be able to end her day with her husband if at all possible. Second, she suggested she probably would do anything asked of her, but she did want to understand why.

Pretty remarkable!

I told her I had two requests. First, having been around the White House for four years, I knew how people liked to present themselves as carrying an important message from someone. I asked that if she ever had anything she wanted to share or communicate that she do it directly and indicated I would try to do the same. We both agreed that “messengers” usually get it wrong anyway. We were together a great deal, and I think we both lived up to this commitment without exception which was extraordinarily valuable.

My second request was that she help me understand who the really close friends were since I was being bombarded by calls wishing me well from people explaining that they were the closest of friends to the Bush family. She said she would help and offered to share their private Christmas card list which she suggested would give me a good place to start. A couple of days later the list arrived and I realized the extent of the challenge….there were hundreds of names on the list.

We traveled throughout the world and the country together. I observed how beloved she was wherever we landed. There truly were close friendships everywhere we went in the world. While she never had the formal title of Ambassador, I know of no finer Ambassador our nation has ever had whether she was greeting people at a residence or traveling to world capitals.

My last opportunity to spend time with her occurred a few months ago in Kennebunkport when, with Karen, I attended a small event for the Bush Library. For a few moments we sat alone with the President and Mrs. Bush in their home, and I shared how enjoyable it was to be with them in a place that had so many wonderful memories. Without missing a beat, she said, “and some that were not so wonderful as well!” She still got that last word!

I know her family wants us to celebrate her life and what a life it was!

I count myself fortunate to have been a part of it for a time.

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

The Snake in the Internet Garden by David Montgomery

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A major purpose of a liberal education, harking back to Greece and Rome, was once to prepare the student for the duties of citizenship. I am reminded of this by a recent news report of new digital techniques for creating fake news, in this case by manipulating the image of a person’s face to make it talk and say the words that another is speaking. President Trump confessing to numerous made up love affairs, or Speaker Pelosi condemning Planned Parenthood, for example. The dangers that the reporter cited included national security, political dirty tricks and in particular deceptions in social media.

I have to confess that my reaction was that anyone who believes what they read in social media deserves to be deceived, and the more I considered it, the more I liked that thought.

It should be difficult to deceive a thoughtful person about anything that matters. Scam artists exploit the greed of their victims as much as their gullibility. Trolls exploit the prejudices and hatreds of their audiences. Bloggers and politicians trust the intellectual laziness of their listeners to get away with contradicting themselves and perpetuating falsehoods that could be checked by looking up a single citation. The anonymity of the internet tempts many to pretend to be something they are not, for innocent or not so innocent purposes.

On the demand side, supposed friends and co-workers believe accusations that they see quoted in blogs or news services. In the grand tradition of gossip, neighbors read and start to believe the most outrageous inventions about their neighbors and their children.

There is nothing new about vulnerability to deception. The serpent tricked Eve, Jacob deceived his father to obtain the blessing intended for his brother Esau, and Iago convinced Othello that his wife was unfaithful. It did not take digital image manipulations and the internet to create opportunities for liars and deceivers.

Technology may raise the stakes, allow more people to be deceived at once and require more vigilance, but the remedy is still the same: “Trust but verify.”

That is where we get back to liberal education. There was also a time when education served to build character, and also to recognize character in others. Learning to read fiction well fosters an ability to recognize what is in character and what is not in character for a person in a story. Indeed, a large part of the craft of an author is to create and communicate character in such a way that the reader is able to see and understand why the figures in the story act as they do. It also fosters a critical sense of “that’s not right, ” recognition that some story lines are simply out of character.

The ability to assess character should thus serve as a check on gossip and on false news. The sense that “that is not what he or she would say” is usually a good guide.

Of course, there are times in novels and in real life that someone does something out of character, either more noble or more base than those who knew them would expect. Here is where verify comes in. If no one verifies stories, the liars will win. Even a few who are willing to check, if they are themselves gatekeepers of information, may be sufficient to break the train of re-tweeted falsehoods. If the story stands up – eyewitnesses, documentary evidence, forensic examination – then the improbable may be true.

The character of the observer matters, too. One virtue that seems lacking in this time of instant communication is prudence – in this case, prudence takes the form of “think before you type.” It may not be the original deception that matters, but the extent to which a deception is accepted as truth and instantly re-tweeted, leading to the outcome that no later correction can possibly reach all those whose opinion of a person, product or institution was warped.

The greater harm may come from the imprudence of those who observe the deception and fail to verify before trusting and acting on an unexpected claim. This reaction could be to repeat a harmful falsehood, or fall prey to an offer that is too good to be true. Charity is another helpful virtue, not to believe the worst of someone or something that was trusted for good reason, until proofs are checked. So is Temperance, to avoid being taken in by something that appeals to greed or other vices.

Logic and rhetoric were also topics in the classical and liberal curriculum that appear to be greatly neglected today. According to Aristotle, there are 13 fallacies commonly used in rhetoric. Some involve deceptive use of language — Accent, Amphiboly, Equivocation, Composition, Division, and Figure of Speech, and others are arguments that appear valid but are not — Accident, Affirming the Consequent, In a Certain Respect and Simply, Ignorance of Refutation, Begging the Question, False Cause, and Many Questions. At a guess, 95% of what politicians and politically motivated commentators say falls in one of these 13 categories.

Aristotle pre-dates digital manipulation by a good 24 centuries, and his analysis of fallacies was motivated by the speakers and politicians of his day, who stood on pedestals in the center of cities and were heard and believed by all the citizens. Not quite as large a census, but still immediate and universal coverage.

His purpose, as should be the purpose of our educational system, was to produce students who could recognize instantly a fallacious argument and state for themselves a correct manner of reasoning. That skill is not developed by indoctrinating students in the political correctness of the day, or by suppressing disagreement and debate in the interest of creating safe spaces. “Trigger alerts” do not develop critical habits of mind or argument.

The greatest danger of digital manipulation appears to be for those who have come to depend on their internet sources of tweets, blogs, and discussion groups where no observation that might trigger them to think will ever appear. Trust in these social groups appears to have taken the place of critical thought and reflection. Internet communication becomes a true Garden of Eden for snowflakes, to mix an irresistible metaphor. Maybe a few bites of the snake in these gardens will lead to a healthy distrust – and even exploration of the world outside those who agree on everything.

If all else fails, the proliferation of technology for deception might just produce its own Darwinian remedy – the recognition that there are no safe spaces in the internet. If it is impossible to tell what is true or false in blogs or news channels or social media, their users will get the message and start to use more traditional methods of obtaining and verifying information. That would not be a bad thing.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America. David and his wife, Esther, live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

My Lizard Friends by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Gavin, who just turned five, knows I have a thing for lizards. We go around the house counting all my “lizard friends” as he calls them: one day we got up to thirteen but then had to start over because we weren’t sure if we had already counted one or two. His favorite is the lizard clock from Twigs and Teacups that keeps the time in his bedroom. Its little red tongue darts back and forth counting the seconds until he falls asleep.

I’m not really sure how all this began. I went through a Southwest phase many years ago. I spent several summers knocking around New Mexico and Colorado and maybe my love affair with lizards began then. I’ve toyed with the idea that they are some kind of spirit animal for me, but I can’t quite find the connection. One year I even spent several months working on a historical novel about the Pueblo Revolt which took place in 1680—the first truly indigenous American revolution against a foreign occupier. It was led by a mystical Native American named Popé who devised an ingenious method of coordinating an uprising by the various pueblo peoples against the Spanish colonizers in the province of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, present day New Mexico. The working title of my book was “Axolotl,” an Indian word for a type of salamander found in the region known for its adaptability to its high desert environment. (Interesting tidbit: salamanders are a New World phenomenon, hence the Indian nomenclature. Apparently there were no salamanders back in the Old World. Who knew?) Sad to say that axolotls are nearing extinction due to pollution and invasive species of fish, but I digress…

Lizards are part of a group of squamate reptiles of which there are more than 6000 species inhabiting every continent except Antarctica. They are as small as geckos and as large as Komodo dragons which can exceed ten feet in length. Lizards are quadrupedal and unlike my friend Eggman, they are carnivorous. Most are “sit-and-wait” predators who enjoy a diet of insects; Komodo dragons, however, have been known to eat an entire water buffalo which is perhaps why my fascination with lizards does not extend to Komodo dragons.

Lizards are good at fooling their predators. They often have natural camouflage but their best method of escape is their unique ability to sacrifice and then regenerate their long tails. If a predator snatches a lizard by its tail and bites it off, the lizard gets away and grows another. Maybe this ingenuous adaptability is why I have such a thing for lizards—not that I need to escape anything, mind you. Nor, for that matter, can I grow another tail, although I must admit I haven’t tried that yet.

Then there’s this: lizards like sunlight; so do I. I don’t know how you feel, but as the Beatles once sang, “little darling, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter,” so if it’s finally time for “here comes the sun,” then the lizards of the world and I am all in!

Back to counting with Gavin. We got to nineteen lizard friends around the house recently, but that’s not counting the secret one that only my wife and few close friends have ever seen. Hmmm…

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

Out and About (Sort of): Oysters, Science and Human Behavior by Howard Freedlander

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For two years, the future of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay has drawn the attention of 16 concerned “stakeholders,” as human beings with established viewpoints grappled with how to manage and increase the population of a bivalve that symbolizes the health of the Bay and drives the livelihood of the Eastern Shore’s iconic watermen.

Armed with a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the determined organizational leadership of Dr. Elizabeth North, the stakeholder group, comprising watermen, aquaculture producers, a seafood buyer and representatives of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, Philips Wharf Environmental Center, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the federal government sought a solution that will become public in May.

What’s known today, according to Dr. North, principal investigator for the OysterFutures project and associate professor of fisheries oceanography at Horn Point Lab, is that the quest for consensus in the oyster production arena was successful. As noted, details will follow shortly.

There’s no secret that the relations among watermen, regulators, advocacy groups and scientists have been tense and testy for many years. The watermen, understandably, want to fish for oysters and make a good living devoid of burdensome regulations and scientific data they may not trust.

On the other hand, natural resource managers in the state and federal governments intend to preserve the oysters, decimated over the years by disease, habitat loss and too much fishing pressure.

The backdrop to OysterFutures project was sensitive to say the least. Mistrust was a major impediment. Civil communication, as in any other discussion joined by people with ingrained differing opinions, would be a critical element to what participants hoped would be a favorable resolution.

A few years ago when I interviewed Dr. North for an article in The Star Democrat, I was dubious about the likelihood of a consensus. A week ago, Dr. North addressed my doubts. I’m now hopeful.

She said, “It has been very rewarding and challenging to be part of a process where people came together to find commonality…to find out what people agree on.”

Facilitated by two representatives of the University of Florida Conse4nsus Center, equipped with 25 years of experience working with the commercial fishing industry in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions, the process encompassed nine meetings conducted for 10-12 hours in each session at Horn Point Lab. Meetings included a research team, headed by Dr. North and that included natural and social scientists, as well as scientific communicators.

The goal of OysterFutures was to produce regulations and policies that would prove effective in improving the oyster resource, and focused on upgrading performance measures, such as oyster abundance, harvest and habitat in the Choptank and Little Choptank rivers.

What particularly fascinates me is another outcome sought in this project. NSF funded this project not only to produce results—whatever they might be–that could increase the threatened, often precarious oyster population–but also to study the human ecology necessary to grow a thriving industry.

What do I mean?

Simply, NSF and the OysterFutures team were intensely interested in the human relations required among the varied stakeholders to develop a consensus that would alter the economic and environmental viability of oysters.

North said, “We had honest, respectful and constructive dialogue. Each participant brought his or her own tree of truth., and we were able to integrate conflicting points of view into a broader collective understanding.

“The local knowledge of watermen was important. They stuck to their guns; they put forward what they considered honest and insisted that their insights be recognized.”

In some cases, preconceived notions fell by the way side, according to North.

Professor North is convinced that the “human dimension” of the facilitated consensus process could be applied to other natural resource conundrums. She believes it could be effective in driving solutions that might influence decision-makers.

I applaud the National Science Foundation, Dr. North and her colleagues for conjoining the study of human interaction and scientific research in the context of a highly contested environmental issue. It only makes sense.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.